It's not just Nigel Farage who overlooks the threat from Russia. Whole European elites are at it too

Perhaps it is their own imperialist past that darkens British and French understanding of this conflict at grass root level


Russia is tearing Ukraine apart – it has snatched Crimea and continues to destabilize the eastern region around Donetsk. Ukrainian blood has been spilt and Europe finds itself under dark clouds from the East once again. Yet, in grand rooms in London, Paris and Berlin, important people in dark suits continue to believe Russia has a “historical right” to Ukraine.

There is no such thing as a “historical right” to a country – there is the belief that larger post-imperial states can do as they please with their smaller, weaker former subjects.

When eastern Ukraine is in flames, European capitals continue to host events at which multi-lingual lawyers, former diplomats, journalists and aristocrats affirm that Ukraine has no choice but to eternally live under Moscow’s watchful eye. The West, they insist, has stepped into Russia’s “historic territory” – conveniently forgetting that Ukraine is an independent country whose people have shown more courage and solidarity this year than any European nation since the Balkan Wars. It’s a narrative that makes the Ukraine crisis a zero-sum, sudden- death Cold War-throwback game.

These people, however, are not the only Putin apologists inside Europe. In 2014, on the eve of elections, the people of Europe awoke from their slumber to find that Brussels is full of Neville Chamberlains. Nobody has felt this more than Ukrainians.

Put aside Nigel Farage, Marine LePen and Gabor Vona. Forget Gerard Schroeder’s partying with the Russian President, too. At question is the mainstream European elite – across the political spectrum. In Britain, they are the Etonians in the City who “worked in Moscow” in the 1990s and are convinced they “understand” Russia. In France, they are the industrial giants whose profits are threatened. In Germany, a country where Putin’s propaganda has been particularly effective, even intellectuals reduce Putin’s crimes – often driven by their guilt for Russian suffering during the Second World War. All are drawn by a vague notion of Russian romanticism.

But there is nothing romantic about Putin’s Russia. As Putin drags Russians ever deeper into his ultra-conservative vision of the future, there is no room for a Chekhov, Nabokov or Solzhenitsyn in Moscow in 2014. The world’s largest country is a brutal police state where any opposition to the Kremlin, however muted, is forced underground. With Russian media, courts and businesses firmly in Putin’s hands, freedom of expression, rule of law and political representation are non-existent. Moscow is a hub of corruption, xenophobia and moral failure. As the Kremlin blasts ever-more nationalist rhetoric, Russia’s ethnic minorities are silenced.

So why do these genteel Europeans continue to apologise for Putin’s authoritarianism, and accept that the Russian president has the right to export his strong-arm tactics? Why are these views still acceptable in the birthplace of Western liberalism in what was meant to be the progressive 21st century?

There is little merit in the argument that Putin gets a free pass solely because the West has grown fond of Russian oligarch money. For Putin’s apologists, the problem is deeper. Nor does it necessarily go hand in hand with anti-Americanism and nationalist rhetoric – attributes that attract certain Europeans to the Kremlin. It is Europe’s greatest delusion of the decade: that Putin’s Russia is a semi-democracy. Like Putin, these people favour stability at any price.


Ignoring Putin ruling Russia with an iron fist is bad enough – but accepting his “historical right” to the “Russian world” (what Putin calls post-Soviet lands) ought to be beyond the pale. This 19th century thinking is too common in “Old Europe”, which has the good fortune of not sharing a border with Russia. Alarm bells ring in Warsaw, Vilnius and Tallinn when they see the nonchalance with which Western elites receive Putin’s power grabs. Perhaps it is their own imperialist past that darkens British and French understanding of this conflict at grass root level – or perhaps this arose within the search of an easy solution to an unwanted headache.

If anything, the Ukrainian crisis has taught us that European elites are broken and in dire need of a Renaissance. We Europeans need to realise Putin’s power play threaten our entire liberal democratic political system. Let’s keep that in mind when our pens meet the ballot today.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas