What is going on at the Foreign Office? The Government seems to be getting its response to the Georgian crisis (rapidly becoming the Russian crisis) all wrong. Initially, the UK was invisible, allowing the publicity hungry Sarkozy to make the running for an EU diplomatic initiative. Our main contribution was a meaningless meeting between a holidaying David Cameron and the Georgian President.
Then, No. 10 and the Foreign Office seemed to contradict each other with David Miliband suggesting that the West should accept Georgia into NATO (if it continues on its path of democratic and economic reforms) only for Nick Brown, one of the PM's closest confidants, to say that 'he doesn't know anyone' who favours bringing Ukraine into NATO.
Now, Miliband has headed off to what is likely to be the next flashpoint in Ukraine (or should that be "the Ukraine"? I never know). Tensions are running high in Ukraine, with the Pro-Western President, Yushchenko, doing everything he can to bind his country to the West. If things with Russia do erupt, they are likely to be focused around the Russian naval base at Sebastopol in Ukraine, on which Russia has a lease until 2017. Yushchenko has made noises about renegotiating this lease and made masochistic threats, later rescinded, about not letting Russian ships that had participated in the Georgian mission back into port. Now he is talking about increasing the rent that Ukraine charges Russia.
Our intrepid Foreign Secretary has flown into this bubbling cauldron and instead of following a cautious line and attempting to defuse the situation, as might be expected, he seems to be following a policy intended deliberately to inflame the Russians, calling for a "coalition against Russian aggression". This (deliberately?) echoes the discredited "Coalition of the Willing" assembled by Bush and Blair that will always be associated with the mistakes of Iraq.
Pulling back from the inflamed tensions between Russia and the West will take time and a lot of careful diplomacy. It will undoubtedly be punctured by frequent outbursts from politicians on both sides seeking to reassure their domestic audiences. In flying into the white hot heart of the argument, however, to deliver such an inflammatory message, Miliband is not helping matters. He is far too keen on grandstanding and is seeming less than convincing as Foreign Secretary.
With everything that's gone on in the UK about his leadership ambitions, you've got to think he has one eye all the time on his domestic audience. In times of crisis, we need a Foreign Secretary who can see the big picture and not let ego cloud their judgement. Is Miliband that man and, if not, what does that say about his suitability for the top job?