Thursday, 13 April 2017

Boris Was Right to Try and Back Putin Into a Corner



The general narrative in the press this week, as exemplified by the cartoon above, in the wake of Boris's failure to secure strong sanctions against Russia, is that he has suffered an embarrassing humiliation and that the buffoon has been found out. Once again, as with the story about Michael Howard's intervention on Europe last week, this is a travesty of the truth.

Surely if ever there was a time for us to try and push for a united front against Russia then now was that time. Russia is backing a criminal and a murderer, a man who will stop at nothing even if it means launching proscribed weapons at civilians and causing agonising death in small children whose only crime is to be born in areas that are rebelling against Syria. Russia claims that the US launch of weapons against Syria was a criminal act against a sovereign state. Yet in so doing Russia is apparently claiming that a sovereign state, albeit one that is not in control of its own territory and is rejected by a majority of its population within that territory, is entitled to kill as many of its own citizens with whatever means it sees fit. Perhaps that is how Putin plans on reacting to the rising tide of rebellion in his own country, victim as it is to his venal, grasping, corrupt, greedy, kleptocratic regime.

Yet this week our supposed allies have decided that they would really rather not ally against this Russia thus endangering their own trading links with that country. Their excuse is that Russia must not be backed into a corner. Actually it must. Being backed into a corner is all that Russia will understand and respect. When it is not backed into a corner, when it exploits the weakness and divisions of the West is when it acts as it has been doing in Syria, Georgia, Ukraine, Crimea and in elections in a succession of foreign countries. If Putin thinks he can act with impunity then he will act with impunity. He will only stop if his actions have consequences he considers too costly.

It isn't as if Putin has not been given plenty of opportunity to reset relations with the West, to behave as a part of the civilised world, to be the spy who brought his country in from the cold. He has rejected this and chosen instead to behave like the arch cynic. He is the Hitler of the modern age. And yes I know that to invoke Hitler is allegedly to immediately lose the argument. But if the cap fits.....

Putin is using exactly the same playbook that Hitler used back in the 1930s. He is rearming a country that considers itself ill used by Western countries. He is using the divisions and war weariness of the West to get his way. He is using lies, propaganda and manipulation to confuse the narrative. He is using useful idiots in the West to make his arguments for him. Hell we even allow him to broadcast his skewed version of events on our own airwaves. Hitler had Lord Haw Haw, Putin has RT delivered into our homes courtesy of Sky.

Putin is single minded and an expert manipulator. But he also simply refuses to play by the rules. He exploits the West's tendency to play by those rules but also our tendency to hide behind grand statements of principle whilst being prepared to play fast and loose with them behind the scenes. Thus Germany and Italy claimed to be reluctant to back Putin into a corner. In truth they meant that they are reluctant to back him into a corner because of the way he might respond vis a vis their own commercial interests.

Boris was absolutely right to try and exploit this moment to try and back Putin into a corner, a corner he has put himself in thanks to his disgusting amoral behaviour. He does not want to lose face, but then when you back someone like Assad surely that is always a distinct possibility. The West's principles have not even extended to punishing the backer of a regime that deliberately uses banned weapons against its own people leading to the grisly deaths of children.

Perhaps Boris was naive to assume that those principles meant something. But that did not mean that he was wrong. The sophisticates of international diplomacy tell us that Boris got this wrong. Well in that case most of us would rather be wrong.

None of us know how this is going to end. What we do know however is that we have tried staying out of Syria and that led to Assad waging ever more violent war on his own people,  Russia going in, backing a dictator and to hundreds of thousands of deaths culminating in those last week. Syria is a hellhole of competing equally unpleasant people with civilians caught in the middle. There is no easy answer to Syria, indeed it's not clear what the question is. But we do know that Russia and Assad are clearly and unambiguously in the wrong and that their abhorrent behaviour is causing untold misery, suffering and death. Why? Because a dictator refuses to let go and because Russia wants to hold on to influence in key ports and perhaps to gain a greater foothold in the middle east. That is the realpolitik of what is happening. It is why the G7 could and should have imposed further sanctions on Putin's vile and lying regime. Boris was right to try. When history comes to be written who will be the buffoons, who will be the all seeing sophisticates? What is diplomacy for if it is not to defend the innocent and curtail and punish the murderous?

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