But the prospect of some kind of open war between Western Europe and the Russians over the Ukraine has been talked up over the weekend by the Telegraph, and we don’t need to be Telegraph readers to be nervous about that.
I have been putting finishing touches to a book about the Christmas Truce in 1914 (to be published by Endeavour Press) and it has made me more sensitive than I might otherwise have been about the accidental and unexpected outbreak of war.
You don’t have to condone the brutal tactics that Putin has been using in the Ukraine, nor his gargling with the nuclear threat, to understand the basic forces that are causing this escalation – and to realise how counter-productive the European Union’s tactics have been.
It would clearly have been intolerable for Russia to have had a neighbouring state like Ukraine as a member of Nato and the EU. It was where they parked their fleet after all.
Nor is this exactly unreasonable, just as it would have been intolerable in 1962 for the Russians to have put nuclear weapons in Cuba.
But the cold war warriors wanted to push the Russians into an impossible position. They wanted humiliation or over-reaction. They seem to have achieved the latter.
This is only a useful thought if it implied some kind of action now, and it does. You can imagine an agreement that might satisfy the pride of both sides:
1. Russian forces to help disarm the rebels.
2. A legal endorsed agreement the Ukraine would never be a member of Nato or the EU.
3. Ukraine to sign free trade agreements with the EU and with Russia.
4. Russia to pay a reasonable purchase price for the Crimea, along the lines of the Louisiana Purchase.
You could imagine this forming the basis for some kind of settlement, and the Financial Times proposed something along these lines over the weekend – but insisted that the Russians would have to withdraw before the negotiations could begin, which would make it extremely hard to happen at all.
Russian intervention is leading to greater Nato influence in eastern Europe. It can't be to Putin's benefit. But it would be insane for us to set up one global confrontation against Russia in the Ukraine and another one on the same side as Russia against ISIS. It makes no sense. We need a diplomatic settlement that can save Ukraine from dismemberment.