First things first, let's clear out the nonsense. It says something about the poverty of this country's politics when a government minister uses the occasion of crisis for desperate point-scoring. But Javid is not alone. Plenty are the armchair brigade who urged war on Syria from Tweetdeck (as opposed to carrier decks) and are making broadly similar claims. The argument goes something like this. Because the US and its allies didn't rain cruise missiles down on Damascus, its opponents in Moscow and Beijing will conclude that the West have lost its nerve, more or less giving them a free hand.
It doesn't stand up to argument. Exhibit one: Afghanistan and Iraq. The Anglo-American invasion and occupation of these unhappy lands didn't clip Moscow's wings. It allowed Putin and Medvedev to crack down on Chechen and Ingush separatism in the name of the War on Terror. Exhibit two: Russia's brief conflict with Georgia and subsequent establishment of puppet states in Abkhazia and South Ossetia proceeded while the West was still bullish and with the neocons in the White House. Now, of course, Putin and his circle of advisors would have weighed up the reaction of "world opinion". But considering the actions of the US is a matter of routine. Russia knows the Americans are not going to intervene militarily in support of the new Ukrainian government, and it has never been a realistic proposition. Hence the "weak West" thesis is a complete red herring. We'd be here whether we'd flung cruise missiles into Syria or not.
The second point is the hypocrisy or select blindness of Western commentators, paid-for or unsolicited. I think it was Thatcher who said that there are no principles in international relations, only interests. Yes, "defence of Russian speakers" and such like is a flimsy pretext for Russia's military interventions. The good reason seeks to mask the real reason, and no one would doubt that Putin is motivated by what he understands as Russia's interests - of which more in a moment. But come on, let's bin the cringing naivete for once. The West in the shape of the US and European Union have as surely pursued their sometimes complementary, sometimes divergent interests as their Russian opponent. NATO and the EU have expanded eastwards consistently since the soviet collapse, and the US has military bases dotted about the USSR's former central Asian republics. You don't need to be an apologist for Putin - and I'm definitely not - to note that the Kremlin might feel a process of encirclement is in motion, and that it will be a long-term concern in its foreign policy deliberations. Russia's military incursion is conditioned by its perception of creeping threat - if you can grasp that then Putin's behaviour becomes understandable.
Understanding, however, does not excuse Russia's behaviour. There is absolutely no reason to whitewash Putin. His regime is a grotesquery as vicious and criminal as its democratic legitimacy is thin. To cosy up to it out of "anti-imperialism" or some residual Sovietist nostalgia is morally vacant and politically stupid. And to have Lenin's self-described disciples doing so would have that waxen figure back-flipping in his mausoleum. But condemnation and moral opprobrium is no substitute for analysing and dissecting, and Putin is pursuing a consistent strategy. As the New Atlanticist's Damon Wilson argues, Russia's strategy is about destabilising its former possessions and as a kind of ring of instability that would prevent their being turned against Moscow. The FSB and the Russian foreign office observed how the Baltic States were removed entirely from Russia's orbit and integrated into the EU and NATO. Acquiescing to that elsewhere could have relegated it from great power status to a "Saudi Arabia with trees".
But why? It's not just a matter of fear. The problem Russia has is three-fold. As Putin's administration becomes more authoritarian, the more brittle it becomes. If you cultivate the image as a strongman, you need to do the heavy lifting. Presently Putin does enjoy a large measure of popular support, largely because he is perceived as standing up for Russia in the world. Allowing the Ukraine to slip away and theoretically putting the large Russian-speaking minority in harms way would be political suicide. It's a good job for Putin that his natural political instincts keep this option off the table. Second, Russia's ruling clique of oligarchs and bureaucrats could teach the British bourgeoisie and its hangers on a thing-or-two about decadence. They represent the most parasitic forms of capital, forged by Yeltsin's sweeping privatisation of the economy and, since, have done little but gorged themselves on Russia's vast energy and mineral reserves. That money is funneled into prestige office blocks in Moscow but precious little is getting reinvested in the "real" economy. There's also the small matter of a flatlining population after nearly two decades of absolute reductions. Despite the BRIC hype, Russia is in a spiral of long-term decline.
Unfortunately for us in the West, the money markets of London, New York and Frankfurt are lubricated by cash looted from Russia's oil fields and mines. Neoliberalism has reversed the economics of 1914. Whereas then British and French capital was doing quite nicely under the Tsar, today it is Russian capital making cash in London from financial alchemy, property and football. An unstated and underestimated risk for Britain and the US is economic blowback.
Which brings us back to the West. Notwithstanding NATO's condemnation, the US and EU are urging restraint on the new Ukrainian government because they have no short, medium or long-term interest in action against Russia, be it open conflict, a ruinous proxy war ostensibly between West and East Ukraine, or sanctions. It is also wary of further cementing a de facto alliance between Russia and China. However, despite warning the new government against taking action, Yatsenyuk's ad hoc administration also have limited choices. For Ukrainians who fought Yanukovich's stooge regime this is another phase of Russian bullying. The political clamour to do something might be too great to resist, especially when you have open fascists in your cabinet.
This week will be crucial. Let's hope the outcome will be something other than 'nothing good'.