Ukraine and Military Intervention

Below a letter I wrote to the Financial Times correcting a statement in a letter from Tony Brenton, the wise ex-Ambassador to Russia, in which he wrote that the EU report into the Russia-Georgia war of 2008 pinned all the blame on Georgia.  I know the report and while I am full of respect for Tony Brenton I am not sure that is an accurate reading of the EU conclusion which are even-handed.

The FT did not not publish my letter which is perfectly understandable given space pressure but the Georgia conflict does not demonstrate Russia’s rejection of bellicism when Moscow thinks it is necessary and believes it can get away with it.

Here is letter:


We can all hope that Tony Brenton, the former UK ambassador in Moscow, is right to discount any Russian military intervention in Ukraine (Letter 25 February)  But he is wrong in affirming that the EU’s report written by the Swiss diplomatist Heidi Tagliavini put all the blame on Georgia for the war of 2008. In fact, her report made clear Moscow bore considerable responsibility: “The shelling of Tskhinvali by the Georgian armed forces during the night of 7 to 8 August 2008 marked the beginning of the large-scale armed conflict in Georgia, yet it was  only the culminating point of a long period of increasing tensions, provocations and incidents…there are a number of reports and publications, including of Russian origin, indicating the provision by the Russian side of training and military equipment to South Ossetian and Abkhaz forces prior to the August 2008 conflict. Additionally there seems to have been an influx of volunteers or mercenaries from the territory of the Russian Federation to South Ossetia through the Roki tunnel and over the Caucasus range in early August”.

Is this not traditional Russian tactics to create a climate of tension with small scale infiltrations in order to provoke a reaction that then justifies use of full-scale force?  Watching Russia Today broadcasts from east and south Ukraine one sees a worrying ratcheting up of rhetoric not dissimilar to that used by Milosevic in the late 1980s as he denounced any move to independence from Serb domination. War in or over Crimea or the Donetsk industrial heartlands may seem absurd but so did war in the Balkans 25 year ago.  Policy planners should be prepared for all contingencies now that Putin has lost Kiev.


Denis MacShane


Putin’s Divide et Impera Strategy

I sent this letter to The Times today

The democratic world’s confusion may indeed be handing Ukraine to Putin as Roger Boyes argues ( Comment 21 Feb) But our divisions are to blame. The anti-European right refuses to support European unity and the anti-American left refuses to support Atlantic firmness. Mr Putin plays everyone against everyone as he reestablishes a new Russian zone of influence and control. What is Russian for divide et impera?

Why National Egoism Should Not Undermine Human Rights

This letter was sent to The Times in response to one from Lord Jeremy Huttchinson QC

Dear Lord Hutchinson

Thank you for your letter in The Times today. It was a salutary reminder for someone, whose dead father took a Nazi bullet in order to create a Europe in which higher rule of law would obtain over national egoism.

I was sorry to read your quote from Lord Neuberger, the President of the Supreme Court, who I respect, about British people not liking superior European law. I am sure there are many of the ruling class in Ukraine or Russia and elsewhere who are nominal signatories to the ECHR who make the same point that their national law should not be held to account.

I will copy this letter to Lord Neuberger but such as the reversion to pre-1939 national populism in so many of the legislative-economic-media elites in European countries I doubt my small protest will have any effect.

Those who ignore history are sadly condemned to relive it.

Thank you for your good and true words.

Yours sincerely            Dr Denis MacShane

Why a Kosovan Can, Should Play for England

This was written in response to an article written by David Papineau, Professor of Philosophy at Kings College London.
Adnan Januzaj Should Play for England As Long as Kosovo Is Denied the Right to Play International Football by Russia, Spain and others.

This was written in response to a comment by David Papineau, Professor of Philosophy at Kings College London

What is a nationality and what is citizenship? Who decides? Adnan Januzaj? What passport will he use should Manchester United ever again play in Europe? As immigrant phobia rises to new heights whipped up by Government ministers telling us to shop an immigrant we see our football and rugby teams stuffed full of, eh, immigrant workers. Perhaps as we are all EU citizens even the Queen we should all be able to play for what – Europe? Only in golf. Otherwise nation uber alles prevails. The UK is very bad and confused. British Lions incorporate players from a foreign republic. But once a Brit leaves home he becomes an unperson in terms of UK citizenship rights. In contrast US or French citizens remains French or American when abroad and vote in US/French elections (France has deputés who represent French citizens overseas). Britain strips citizenship rights from Brits living overseas very quickly. So if you come to be born or live in England you cannot be British and if you live or are born of British parents abroad we cannot wait to remove your citizenship. This is a reflection of a fearful country unsure of its identity and still 60 years after Acheson searching for a role. The paradox of Kosovo is that while Gibraltar is a member of EUFA as well as other nations that are not states (Wales or N ireland) Kosovo is denied the chance play international football because it is not a UN member state. (Gib got in before the UN status was added to UEFA rules). Kosovo is blocked by Russia and some EU member states like Spain and the pro-Serb orthodox church influenced Greece and Cyprus. So Kosovan athletes of international status have to find other countries to represent – often Albania and now Switzerland which took in the highest level of Kosovans fleeing from Serb genocide in the 1990s. It would be great if Adnan could play for England and then to see him scoring goals against Spain and Russia and other football teams whose governments deny Kosovo its right to full status as an independent nation state.

A Blog Post by Laura MacShane

I’ve always had a good relationship with my parents, bar the odd door-slamming, key-throwing, screaming match with my mother here and there. They both travelled a lot for work – and still do -  and I’m sure that this somewhat regular absence from our daily lives is what made my brother and sisters and I become fairly independent. I went to boarding school, then left the continent and still haven’t returned – my sisters and brother have all travelled extensively – yet despite this globetrotting, this physical separation, we are still so close. This doesn’t manifest itself in the usual ways. Even with Skype, Whatsapp and cheapish phone calls, I rarely talk to my younger siblings, sporadically talk to my older sister and speak maybe twice a month to my parents, maybe. And even then only for 15 minutes max. And yet. Just as I absentmindedly always wind the same thick camel scarf around my neck every day, my family are always woven into the back of my mind. The closeness I feel to them doesn’t manifest itself in I love yous, or regular phone calls. It manifests itself in the stories I tell about my little brother who watched the Lion King every afternoon for a year, in the connection that I feel to my mother after spending Saturday morning at a gym class then cleaning the house just as she would, in the anguish and helplessness that overcomes me when someone talks about panic attacks because I’ve seen how they affect my sister, and in my laughter when I make my friend take a photo of me with a poor unsuspecting lad on the streets of Toronto, just because he ressembles my other sister’s boyfriend, who I’ve never actually met.

I started thinking about this fierce love bond after reading an email from my sister updating us about her visit to our dad in prison. Apart from for his work, his friends, and us, he has never given a flying fuck. And I couldn’t be more proud. I am so happy to hear of the speeches he gives to the other inmates, about the symposiums he holds where those who want to debate the rights and wrongs of the British justice system, the beautiful model aeroplane that another prisoner made him out of matchsticks and right now especially, about the 3 red cards that revoked his phone privileges. My sister didn’t tell us exactly why he had been given these 3 red cards, but we all know it will have been because he can’t keep his mouth shut. And if opening your mouth means voicing injustice, expressing discontent, and inspiring your children, I hope he never shuts it.

So right now, this is how the love I feel for my dad is manifesting itself: in the incomparable pride I have in calling myself his daughter.



Swiss Referendum To Cause Turmoil

A note on the Swiss Referendum Result

1) Those who live by referendums die by them. The Swiss result is a major rupture in Switzerland’s post-1945 reputation as Europe’s most open market. It is a triumph for domestic populist politics over the rationality of managing Switzerland’s role as a small country punching well above its weight in global economic terms by promoting liberal open market economics and employment policies
2) Martin Schultz, the EU Parliament President, was right to call for a calm head and not to rush to judgement. The Swiss 7 strong Federal Cabinet should also pause, take breath, enjoy Swiss hopefuls in Sochi and wait for the next session of Switzerland’s part-time parliament to debate what happens next.
3) The Swiss voted for a return to the status quo ante. When I moved to Geneva to work there in 1979 there were very strict limits on foreign workers. Many were seasonal, only allowed in for nine months of the year before returning, much richer, to southern Italy, Yugoslavia, Portugal and Spain. Nevertheless, Switzerland had and has a much higher percentage of foreign born inhabitants or citizens – upto 15 per cent of the population – than other European countries.
4) The referendum vote has been depicted as just an anti-EU measure. In fact, it applies to all immigrants. Switzerland took in so many asylum seekers from Kosovo during the decade of Serb genocidal atrocities in the 1990s that Albanian is the country’s fourth language. The low pay work – cleaning, hotels, cafés, domestic servants, all-night service stations, sandwich making, construction – once done by southern Europeans is now undertaken by workers from strife torn Muslim nations, Africa, and ex-Soviet republics. They are more visible, notably in Geneva which is Europe’s most multicultural, multi-hued city. (Predictably the Yes vote was higher in cantons with fewer immigrants. Xenophobic fear whipped up by the SVP (Swiss People’s Party, the Blocher-led rightwingers) is similar to UKIP’s appeal in the UK, the FN’s appeal in France and the Wilders operation in the Netherlands. Mainstream parties have been helpless in finding answers to the mass people movement of neo-liberal globalization.)
5) A particular problem in Switzerland was the number of Germans moving into the liberal professions or studying in Swiss universities. Medical schools in particular have been swamped with German and Austrian students unable to find a place at home. The reintroduction of a numerus clausus politics should come as no surprise. It is what David Cameron is seeking to do when he says he wants to limit total immigration into the UK to 100,000. Britain’s Interior Minister, Teresa May, was on the BBC today (9 Feb) boasting she had closed 70 English language schools in order to discourage young foreigners from coming to the Britain.
6) The big difference is that the Swiss referendum impacts on EU citizens. They may get work permits but will not be allowed to bring their families – a measure almost certainly contrary to modern interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights. This may lead to Switzerland having to quit the Council of Europe if it defies the European Court of Human Rights on the issue of families living together.
7) The referendum follows on the 2009 ban on minarets and the failed referendum seeking to create a limit on top salaries with a 12-1 ratio between top and bottom salaries. Unfortunately, the main campaign against Sunday’s referendum was spearheaded by big business and what Swiss MP and business executive, Alec Vongraffenried, calls Economiesuisse. The bankers and bosses are as popular in Switzerland as they are elsewhere. They have the money but have no voice nor political skills to tackle xenophobic and anti-Brussels populism.
8) What the referendum does is put into question the entire suite of 1999 bi-lateral agreements between Berne and Brussels. These were drafted in response to the Swiss referendum No in 1992 to joining the European Economic Area (where Norway is located). They include the gradually introduced free movement of EU citizens. In fact the agreements have benefitted the Swiss who could easily and legally move into neighbouring France, Germany and Italy and buy property and live there which was previously forbidden. After the Single European Act (1985) and Maastricht (1992) many Swiss suddenly found they had EU parents or grandparents to obtain EU passports as the red passport of Switzerland, once the most precious in the world, lost its value and the burgundy coloured EU one became more useful.
9) At the UK Foreign Office I helped change UK airport entry laws to allow Swiss citizens to enter with EEA and EU nationals as previously they had to queue up with Nigerians, Venezuelans, Bangladeshis and American citizens. Europe bent over backwards to be helpful to Switzerland. The pressure on banking secrecy came more from Washington than Brussels. With Luxembourg as Europe’s private on-shore banking secrecy centre as well as the City’s role in shielding oligarch’s money it was hard for Brussels to take action on banking secrecy though pressure was exerted.
10) Far more important were rules on Swiss banks and traders to comply with EU dictated regulations. Last year (February 2013) the Swiss government produced a major report on commodity trading which now generates upto 10 per cent of Swiss GDP with giant trading centres based in Zug and on the Lake Geneva shoreline. The report highlighted that Singapore, Dubai and other centres were making a major pitch to get commodity traders to operate away from Europe. Switzerland would have to make special efforts to attract and keep the best in the business. Many of these are foreign specialist employees may now fall foul of the referendum result.
11) Switzerland has also made huge efforts to promote itself as the ideal location for foreign companies to set up business. Easyjet’s European network, to take one example, is based at its Contrin hub in Geneva. If these firms cannot hire non-Swiss executives and specialists or can only do so on the basis they cannot live with their families, Switzerland’s attractiveness to foreign firms and investors will plummet. This is a golden opportunity for other EU capitals – London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam – promote themselves as foreign friendly and open for business. Paris should consider recasting its populist high-tax measures on big earners if it wants to win any foreign firms looking elsewhere to locate in Europe as Switzerland rejects non-Swiss employees.
12) But that will require a politics of standing up to populism. Already England’s most popular politician, UKIPs’ Nigel Farage as well as the Dutch Geert Wilders have hailed the Swiss result and urged similar plebiscites to ban European citizens from entry except on a restricted basis. In Britain there is discussion amongst some political writers about whether we are entering a ‘post-liberal’ era. Even the UK opposition Labour Party now wrings its hands and apologises for allowing Polish citizens to work in Britain. The pandering to the anti-EU and anti-foreigner prejudices goes well beyond the parties of the populist right.
13) According to the terms of the Swiss referendum, Berne has three years to negotiate a new agreement with Brussels. There are no specific figures set out. Does each EU member state get a quota? Or will Switzerland apply its new laws mainly to extra-EU citizens?
14) The Swiss have free access to the EU single market but as part of a package that includes free movement of people. We will have to wait for the arrival of a new Brussels team – a new Commission, a new Commission and Council President and a new Foreign Affairs chief as well as a newly elected European Parliament. This new EU leadership will not be in place until the autumn at the earliest so there is a pause for Berne and for national capitals as well as Brussels to reflect on exactly how to interpret and implement the referendum result.
15) There are already calls in France, for example, to bring in visa requirements for Swiss citizens. Populism can work in both directions. It is hard to envisage the EU denying free movement for its citizens while maintaining free movement for Swiss exports, especially of services, or pro rata allowing only so many Swiss citizens to live and work in EU member states.
16) Current tricky negotiations on banking rules (e.g. derivative trading, or capital requirements, or tax reporting) will get much harder with no incentive for Brussels to be helpful given the direct insult, if not assault on European citizens agreed on Sunday.
17) The Swiss referendum is part of the wider crisis of Europe and reflects the lack of leadership and drive and vision in the present EU leadership, both Commission and Parliament, as well as the pettiness of national leaders so visible on EU matters in recent years.
18) The Swiss have always been independent and refused to bow before orders coming from outside their borders. In the 1936 Winter Olympics in Bavaria, the British athletes all threw up their hand in the Heil Hitler salute as they marched past the Fuerhrer in the opening ceremony. The Swiss kept their eyes to the front and their hands to their side refusing to kow-tow to Hitler. The referendum result is now Switzerland seeking to dictate to the rest of democratic Europe. It is hard to see an easy solution just as it is hard to see how Europe finds solutions and leadership to the wider crisis of confidence and identity it is faced with.