Stop whining, Ukraine

What a gas. I’m in two minds about Putin’s latest strongarm tactics – cutting off Ukraine’s gas supplies after they refused a price hike.

Ukraine’s been paying $50 a K for Russia’s gas – presumably mostly Siberian, with its price a hangover from Soviet times. Like many other recently independent republics, the Ukrainians are learning that you can’t keep the benefits of being a subject state when you go it alone. On the face of it, Russia’s ‘request’ (bear in mind a Russian request rarely has a No option) that they stump up $200+, in line with European customers, seems reasonable.

But like most of politics, it ultimately depends on where you draw the line in history. When countries split themselves in two (or twelve) they tend to leave disputed assets in place; the Black Sea Fleet, a web of oil pipelines, land-use rights…. with legal agreements and financial structures no less immutable for being intangible.

This stuff is the real hard work of independence – usually ignored by protesters camped out with their candles outside authoritarian architecture. Doing the numbers and the paperwork isn’t a mopping-up operation; it’s the whole show.

I wonder if the nationalists in Scotland (valid claim) and Wales (less valid) would be so enthusiastic after a proper economic impact study? Scotland’s economic viability depends entirely on where you draw the line in the oilfields; Wales isn’t a viable economic unit at all. Come to that, there are vast tracts of the North and Southwest of England that are hopelessly addicted to aid from Whitehall – and London feels more like a nation than a city, the neat line of the M25 as much a line of control as the DMZ between the Koreas.

Maybe I should declare independence for a certain 20 sq m footprint of southeast London. After all, my little mews house is a viable nation-state with legal title to its territory, high population density (equivalent to 50,000 people per sq km), a sound if slightly risky economic policy, a high PSBR but good overseas earnings to cover it, and interest rates and currency tied to its neighbouring countries. And if I ever have expansionary ambitions, the house next door is coming up for sale soon, which would double Chrisland’s surface area at a stroke.

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