Putin is turning both left and right-wingers into apologists for despotism

Meanwhile, Britain retreats into splendid isolation



It’s difficult to think of a time when politics in Britain has been so parochial and solipsistic. International affairs have all but dropped off the Westminster political agenda, Nigel Farage’s Ukip looks set to do nicely in next month’s European elections and the public’s biggest fear is immigration – all symptoms of a gradual British retreat from the so-called ‘world stage’.

Despite the astonishing scale of the killing in Syria and the increasingly belligerent posturing of Vladimir Putin, turn on a television and you will largely hear gossip about the Royal Family or the latest Ukip racist scandal - and it’s debatable which is the bigger soap opera. A group of intellectuals recently questioned whether Britain was still a Christian nation; a more pertinent question might be whether Britain is a post-internationalist nation – the political ambitions of ‘Boris’ seemingly more important than Assad’s genocide or chauvinism in the Crimea. That, at least, is the impression you get from watching the news.

The reasons for this retreat into splendid isolation are actually quite straightforward. The noughties were defined by the so-called 9/11 wars, and our aversion to all things international is no doubt part of a more general backlash against the era of Blair and Bush. The economic crisis must also share some portion of the blame – today people are more concerned about how they are going to pay the bills than they are worried about bombed out Palestinians in Aleppo. “We have our own problems to deal with,” we solipsistically say.

But there is another reason we are less inclined to ‘do’ international affairs, and this is that nobody is quite sure where they ought to stand anymore. On issues relating to foreign policy, distinctions of left and right have dissolved and become about as useless as a milk bucket under a bull. This is why supposed left-winger George Galloway has a television show on BNP leader Nick Griffin’s favourite station; it’s why ‘neo-con’ is no longer an insult throw around strictly by the left; and it’s why Lord Tebbit's position on the situation in Ukraine is indistinguishable from that of the convenor of the Stop the War Coalition.

For an idea of just how confusing things have become, take a look at where the chips have fallen in light of the crisis in Crimea.

Not so long ago any serious conservative would have been the first to condemn Russian despotism. Today it is the shires and the City where one is most likely to hear someone singing the praises of the strongman in the Kremlin. Indeed, a short film produced by the Tory-dominated Bruges Group blames the Russian invasion of Ukraine not on Putin's well established desire to restore the Russian 'sphere of influence', but on the “meddling” of mild mannered EU technocrats. SNP leader Alex Salmond (and before you say it no, he's not left-wing, he's a nationalist) admires 'certain aspects' of Putin's leadership; and like the Tory MPs who cheered the news that British ships had been bombed by the Italian airforce in the service of Franco, Nigel Farage, the supposed champion of national sovereignty, has praised the Russian leader for “playing a blinder” in Syria (death toll 150,000 and counting). Putin, previously the gay-bashing leader of Europe’s most unfree country, has for many conservatives morphed into the plucky defender of traditional values and Russian ‘prestige’.

Useful idiots can also be found on the left. A Guardian columnist recently said that the Russian annexation of Crimea was the “fruit of western expansion”. It was, claimed the author, “a product of the disastrous Versailles-style break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s”.

Now that’s certainly a point of view, it's just not a reality-based one. The Soviet Union is no more largely because its member states could no longer stomach being ruled dictatorially by elderly men in Moscow. “Disastrous” for the Kremlin maybe, but hardly for the principles of democracy and self-determination. It's difficult today to imagine the people of Lithuania and Latvia, two modern and democratic states, pining to be taken under the wing of the ex-KGB man in the Kremlin, hence why they joined NATO as soon as they could.


Others on the left have pointed to the West's 'hypocrisy' in condemning Putin's incursion into Ukraine. Because of the invasion of Iraq (or Kosovo) this logic holds that we in Britain have 'no moral authority' to condemn others for violations of international norms, however egregious.

The problem with this sort of thinking is that it wasn't 'the West' that invaded and occupied Iraq at all. As far as 'we' are concerned it was a specific 2001-2005 administration of Tony Blair that participated in the toppling of Saddam Hussein, and Blair left office seven long years ago. That's the beauty of democracy you see: you can throw out the leaders who behave badly. As a consequence the West of today is not the West of 10 years ago. That's demonstrably not the case with Russia, where Putin has effectively stolen from the Russian people their right to depose of him peacefully via the ballot box.

It isn't hard to work out why Putinism appeals to a certain type of conservative. The gay-baiting ally of 'traditional values' puffing himself up like a bullfrog on the world stage is probably invigorating when set against the vacillating no-content conservatism of David Cameron. What should worry any thinking person is how run-of-the-mill it has become right across the political spectrum to praise or excuse the KGB thug, homophobe and butcher of Chechnya Vladimir Putin. Just as during the Cold War, Russia is making respectable people say very silly things. But this time they’re getting away with it.

Correction: The article originally claimed that Liam Halligan had worked as a strategist for RT (Russia Today). Mr Halligan has clarified that he has never worked as a strategist for RT

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing