One of the things about war is that it has a habit of running away with people. Whatever the lie of the land before the first shot was fired, attitudes tend to harden very quickly once blood is spilled.
We are not actually at war, of course. But the Government is still taking a harder and harder line.
Just this week, Liz Truss has called for a sustained rise in defence spending – “freedom must be better armed than tyranny” and warned that the war in Ukraine could last five years.
Ben Wallace, meanwhile, has been reported as saying that the goal must be to drive Russian forces from all of Ukraine, including Crimea.
Now in fairness to the Defence Secretary, his actual comments seem rather more guarded, emphasising that there is “a long way to go” before a theoretical push into the peninsula and reminding listeners of the abandoned Minsk Agreement. Ruling out a negotiated settlement he was not.
It also goes without saying that Ukraine deserves the West’s full support to fight for as long as she wishes to fight. Russia has launched an unprovoked war of aggression, in the course of which it has perpetrated outrage after outrage against the civilian population.
But as with the previous tough talk about prosecuting Russian war criminals, politicians should be careful that we don’t end up in a position where we are pressuring Kiev to keep fighting where it might otherwise wish to reach a settlement.
NATO is not actually at war with Russia. This means that whatever the hardships created by the breakdown in trade relations – and they may be severe – it is not our people dying on the frontline or getting displaced in their millions from their homes. It is therefore much easier for those waging proxy wars to strike uncompromising poses than those actually fighting them.
Insisting on the return of Crimea, especially, may end up backing the West into a corner wherein it cannot sign up to any realistic settlement.
Unlike the ‘People’s Republics’ in Donetsk and Luhansk, Russia annexed the peninsula outright in 2014 and has since administered it as an integral part of the Federation.
Life under Moscow rule has therefore played out very differently to that under the gangsters and nationalist militias running the Donbas, and whilst the situation in international law is quite straightforward there is nonetheless the question of whether or not Crimea would, given the choice, actually prefer to remain Russian.
This fact may not cut much ice with Western policymakers; they did not feel, for example, that the right of Kosovo to independence from Serbia should be accompanied by any reciprocal right for Serb-majority North Kosovo to choose to remain Serbian. Foreign policy is seldom, for all the rhetoric, actually about the even-handed application of universal principles.
But that sense of national feeling, if it exists – not to mention an extremely defensible geographic position and the sheer loss of face – could have a big impact on how far Russian leaders (including hypothetical post-Putin ones who might otherwise want to abandon his bid to conquer Ukraine) would be prepared to go to defend it.
If Ukraine chooses to invade Crimea, that’s its call and its right. But if the most realistic prospect of peace involves compromising on the peninsula, that choice should be Kiev’s to make. NATO is not fighting Russia, Ukraine is.