Russian cheque books have led David Cameron astray from his natural allies

 

Share

Last week’s turbulent but long-predictable events in Kiev have once again exposed the flat-footedness of David Cameron’s foreign policy. Out of sync with Britain’s natural allies in Europe and in hock to the Kremlin, the Prime Minister found himself confronted by a popular uprising against a corrupt and blood-stained regime.

In similar circumstances, three years ago almost to the day, Mr Cameron flew to Cairo and strode confidently onto Tahrir Square after Egyptian rebels had removed the West’s corrupt but loyal ally, Hosni Mubarak.

Yet as the Polish, French and German foreign ministers rushed to Kiev to broker a peace deal at the height of the fighting around Independence Square, for an embarrassingly long time, there was a chilling silence from Number 10 and the Foreign Office. There are, no doubt, many reasons for this backwardness in coming forward but one is clearly the close links Mr Cameron and his Foreign Secretary, William Hague, have developed with Vladimir Putin.

Until Ukraine’s regime opened fire on its own people, Mr Cameron was reluctant to become involved in what he seems to regard as Russia’s “sphere of influence”.

Unlike the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the Polish Foreign Minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, both of whom understand the way the Kremlin operates and have a track record of resisting its bullying, Mr Cameron’s comprehension is limited, dictated by short-term domestic political interests and based on a misconception about how to deal with Moscow.

In common with every British Government since the fall of Margaret Thatcher, Mr Cameron’s coalition has shown that it sees Russia as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Over the past two decades, as the networks of old “Russia hands” in the MoD and the Foreign Office were phased out, successive British governments have sought to cajole or coerce Russia into supporting Western interests variously in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. The price has been a willingness to turn a blind eye towards Moscow, a reluctance to confront unpleasant realities and a readiness simply to put up with aggression in the “near abroad”.

Mr Cameron, and before him Messrs Blair and Brown, have been happy to allow Mr Putin’s friends to help bail out BP, to buy up London mansions or to invest their ill-gotten gains in the City. As Russian cheque books have been waved around the capital and the establishment has opened its doors to the Novyye Russkie, the fact that Russia is an autocratic kleptocracy has been conveniently forgotten. So too has rampant corruption, the disappearance of a free press, widespread fraud at the ballot box in the last presidential election, continuing repression in the northern Caucasus and the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, who was killed in London with radioactive plutonium, allegedly on the orders of Mr Putin who plainly sees Mr Cameron as, in Lenin’s words a “useful idiot”.

For Mr Cameron, however, such matters are inconvenient but trifling when compared to the opportunity doing business with Mr Putin provides for short-term domestic political gain. Egged on, no doubt, by those members of his party who have struck up a variety of questionable friendships in the former Soviet empire and by colleagues who leapt headfirst into Conservative Friends of Russia, a lobby group whose “contact” in the Russian embassy was the son of a KGB/FSB general, Mr Cameron has set about “normalising” relations with this most abnormal of regimes.

His party continues to sit with Putin’s United Russia in the Council of Europe and he escorts British businessmen to Moscow with great fanfare on special trade missions.

Last week’s events in Kiev, however, should perhaps encourage him to keep Mr Putin at arm’s length. After all, the violence on the streets of Kiev may be a prelude of what is to come in Moscow. Mr Putin has shown how he expects his clients to deal with opposition and Maidan should serve as a reminder that appeasement is rarely the best policy.

Harold Elletson is a former MP and a writer with a longstanding interest in Russia and Eastern Europe

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, with her boyfriend, fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes  

If children are obese then blame food manufacturers, not Zoella

Jane Merrick
Amos Yee arrives with his father at the State courts in Singapore on March 31  

Singapore's arrest of a 16-year-old YouTuber is all you need to know about Lee Kuan Yew's legacy

Noah Sin
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
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