It would be disastrous to imagine that Vladimir Putin can be appeased. Doing so would only feed the Kremlin’s delusions.
Janet Daley was born in America, and taught philosophy before beginning her political life on the Left (before moving to Britain, and the Right, in 1965) – all factors that inform her incisive writing on policy and politicians.
At one point in the press briefing and counter-briefing that seems to constitute diplomatic activity over Ukraine, the Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg suggested that there might be no clear resolution to the terrifying stalemate with Russia. This current standoff might represent a “new normal” in global politics. But it isn’t really new at all, is it? What we may in fact be seeing is a return to the old normal: the traditional power struggles between nation states that preceded the Cold War.
What is happening now on the media platforms of the developed world is not a contest of ideas. It is not an argument about how people should live, or what economic system produces the greatest human happiness. That was the concern of the great debate of the twentieth century which the West definitively won. What is happening now is an old-fashioned, down and dirty imperial demand for territory from a country that asserts – simply and boldly – that it has a blood tie with the people of another land which rules out any claim by its government to sovereign self-determination.
Vladimir Putin and his bellicose spokesmen may seem like sophisticated players in the new broadcast arena of global negotiation but the foundation of their claim lies in a medieval conception of Russian identity, and the mystical connection that exists between themselves and those peoples who, they would argue, share their history.
There is no rational dispute to be had here because the Russian case is beyond reason. There is nothing that Nato leaders can say about Ukraine’s right to choose its own alliances which can have any significant force against what Russia claims to be its sacred mission. So the Western principle of democratic freedoms and the rights of elected governments to act on behalf of their countries’ populations has no traction.
Of course it is true that much of this appeal to a sacrosanct vision of Greater Russia is fantastical nonsense being used to deal with a much more contemporary problem: the catastrophic decline of Russia’s economy and its demographic collapse with all the national demoralisation that follows. But in the end, it still matters. It is perfectly clear listening to Russia’s official spokesmen that their arguments are utterly at cross purposes with those who insist that democracies must have their sovereignty respected. So far as Putin’s people are concerned, that kind of talk is just an excuse to deny what they believe to be their moral claim.
It is important to remember that democracy never really took hold in Russia. The Western version of it was always seen as a con trick designed to humiliate the former Soviet Union after the great trauma of communism’s collapse. It is also worth recalling that the disintegration of the USSR, and the fall of the Berlin Wall which preceded it, was the most ignominious end that might have been envisaged.
No tumultuous, heroic war. No defeat by a richly endowed military enemy. Just a whimper of an exit from the world stage when its people walked out of East Germany, or refused to comply with its tyranny in the Warsaw Pact states. Put against that mortifying experience, any Western appeal for Ukraine’s independence is simply exasperating and beside the point.
There is an important strategic lesson here: to believe that Russia can be appeased into cooperation by satisfying its immediate demand – that Nato rule out any future membership for Ukraine – would be disastrous. Not only for the traditional reason that appeasement of aggression always encourages more of it but because it could create divisions within the Western alliance which would serve Putin’s purposes and, most important, it would feed Russia’s delusions.
Although listening to all that absurd bluster coming out of Moscow, one has to ask: do these people actually believe what they are saying? Are they genuinely delusional – in the grip of an orchestrated paranoia – or are they cynical, brazen liars?
My own view of this was influenced by the experience of hearing a man described as a former advisor to Vladimir Putin claim that Alexander Litvinenko was not murdered by Russian agents, as we in the West claimed, but had accidentally killed himself by dropping the polonium which he had intended to administer to the agents into his own tea by mistake.
Could he – or anyone – really have believed this? And what about the words of the Russian ambassador to the UK who giggled and smirked his way through an excruciating press conference after the Salisbury poisonings for which he denied any Russian involvement? Are these people technically insane or just thugs who believe they can say what they like without fear of retribution?
At the moment of writing this column – and with the caveat that all of this could look quite different by the time you read it – the forces of freedom and rationality seem to have gained from this Russian adventure. Nato, which had been in an existential crisis since the end of the Cold War, has been reinvigorated. Belief in the value of empirical evidence (photographic records of Russian troop movements) over dogma has been reinforced. Russia seems deeply confused about its strategy, absurdly declaring that it is unworried about economic sanctionswhile at the same time claiming that the imposition of them would break international law.
But isn’t there a risk, if the West brazens it out, of pushing Russia into a stronger alliance with China? Perhaps. But would China – which is only nominally Communist and whose superpower status relies on being a hugely successful competitive player in world capitalist markets – want to be tied for long to a corrupt, declining basket case like Russia? Especially if Putin goes on reiterating his deranged commitment to the old imperial doctrine of Peter the Great?
China is pioneering a new form of totalitarian capitalist domination. It might accept some of what Russia has to offer but not if it hampers its own very modern brand of expansionism. Putin might just have played this all wrong. And he may even have begun to realise it.
An obvious kremtroll named “Arthur Johnson” writes:
“I feel a sense of despair when I read your article. Educated people like yourself should be able to see both sides of the argument. Ukraine is a manipulative treacherous country which is trying to provoke a conflict between the US and Russia for its own benefit. The US appears to be happy to be manipulated. Understandably, since Russia is already surrounded countries which are hosting US nuclear military bases, it does not want to see numerous new US weapons based in Ukraine on the Russian border and pointed at Russia. There are a number of other former Soviet republics which might then be coerced into following Ukraine’s lead. The US is ceaselessly promoting conflict throughout the world in order to protect its commercial hegemony while at the same time being protected by its geographical location. Also the US relies on the self serving US Monroe Doctrine to justify attacking any country which dares to encroach in any way on the eastern border of the US. Janet, you know all of this and still you spew out ignorant propaganda. Why?”
Boy I’d like to have a quiet chat with “Arthur.”
Then, put on your mask, Scradge, because you’d be having a quiet chat with a brown log, if you know what I mean. He is very obviously a Ruskie troll. His methodology reeks of one.
“Vladimir Putin and his bellicose spokesmen may seem like sophisticated players in the new broadcast arena of global negotiation but the foundation of their claim lies in a medieval conception of Russian identity, and the mystical connection that exists between themselves and those peoples who, they would argue, share their history.”
This is a dangerous parallel to Adolf Hitler, who also daydreamed about the Germans’ past and even used old Germanic symbols to underline his wet dreams.
“China is pioneering a new form of totalitarian capitalist domination. It might accept some of what Russia has to offer but not if it hampers its own very modern brand of expansionism. Putin might just have played this all wrong. And he may even have begun to realise it.”
Like a broken record, I’ve repeated my warnings about China since 2014. At the latest, when mafia land gets bitten in the ass by bat virus land, will the mafiosi wake up to the cold, hard reality that bat virus land used them as useful idiots.