Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Putin




Putin is a shit. Yes, I am that supposedly rare breed (which really is not actually very rare) - a Brexiteer who doesn't like Putin. He has committed, or been responsible for, war crimes in Chechnya. I read a few years ago (in one of those crappy plane magazines) an account of the conflict by a Spetznaz soldier - allegedly, a common practice was literally to make dissidents disappear by placing explosives between their legs and next to their heads. That way, there were no bodies to find - horrible, and well worthy of the Hague. Putin has acted in a similarly unpalatable manner in Georgia, Syria and Ukraine.

But why the hell do we have to forgo our democratic rights and freedoms for fear of this non-threat? Britain is not Azerbaijan or Turkmenistan. We live safe in the knowledge that we don't have to care about what Putin thinks about us because there is very little he can do against us. Russia is Mexico with 4,000 nukes and some oil. We no longer live in the Cold War - there are no longer 'Reds under the bed' or a very real threat to our freedom in the form of communism. Putin's lack of a global ideology is what ultimately condemns him to insignificance. Putin is just another cockerel sitting on top of a heap of seething failed ambitions, crippling self-doubt and bitter irredentism in the secure knowledge that at any moment his economy might collapse or he might be killed by his political rivals. As such, he needs to make a noise on the world stage to appease Russian sensibilities - but this does not equate to the desire for global, or even regional, dominance, which would be impossible for post-1991 Russia to achieve anyway.

We won the Cold War in order to earn the right to be able to ignore this crap and get on with our lives. He is simply not a threat to Europe in the way that the 22,000 battle tanks of the red army and Soviet-backed Communist parties were (there are about 2,300 Russian tanks now in service) - he will, like some insidious liquid, seep into space we allow him, but not further. If NATO/EU/Hillary were even vaguely collectively competent, he would not have been given that space in the first place. Obama either would not have declared a red line, or would have enforced the red line that he declared, in Syria. The EU would not have condoned the new Ukrainian government's desire for closer relations with the EU without holding a free and fair general election first, or a referendum, instead of waiting until a sizeable chunk of opposition territory was a Putin-induced warzone and thus making a landslide victory inevitable from the remainder.

What they hell did they expect to happen? The Black Sea is incredibly strategic to Russia - the only reason we put up with Turkey's games in NATO is because they geographically have their foot on Russia's throat, permanently. The Dardanelles lost Russia the 1st World War (98% of Russian imports had passed through in 1913 - Russian economic collapse can be directly traced to the Turkish blockade), potentially allowing the balance of power in the Black Sea to be called the root cause of the 1917 revolution, communism and the Cold War in the first place. Similarly, the Crimean bases are very important strategically - and politically far more dear to the Russians than the Falklands are to us, having a plurality of ethnic Russians (following some huge relocations in the 1950s, doubtless designed to make such a strategically vital region politically sound). The domestic political backlash had Putin not acted would have been enormous.

Yes, Russia should not have invaded, and yes, the democratic wishes of the Ukrainian people should be respected, but given the situation, this thinking is as naive as throwing a supermodel into a Miami Maximum Security jail and expecting her to come out in one piece in the morning because of laws and stuff. If we were going to support West Ukraine's desire for European help, we should have sent our own green men in to stop Putin - and if we were not willing to do that, as per international law, we should have sought a properly worked out compromise before everything got to hot and everyone started lobbing rockets at each other. Instead, we funded pro-EU opposition parties against pro-Russian, Putin-funded groups, leading to a successful revolution in our favour - at which point we just buggered off into the ether to let the whole thing sort itself out. With this kind of leadership, is it any wonder that Putin seems to be winning despite his weak position?

And yet, we are ordered by Remain to vote remain because voting leave is what Putin wants - apparently forgoing our democratic rights equates to winning the peace of the Cold War. Well, I for one don't give a flying fuck what Putin wants either way and I assume that the right to do so was the main point of fighting the Cold War in the first place. If I was planning to build a steelworks in Yekaterinburg, then I probably care about Putin's opinion, but now as I am planning to vote on whether Britain remains a sovereign nation or whether it should sign up to the European integrative process, I reserve the right not to have to consult the feelings of distant autocrats about my political future.

In realistic terms, Brexit makes little difference to Western Grand Strategy in Eastern Europe - as a continuing member of NATO, Britain's defence commitments will not change. What will actually happen on 24 June is that pretentious commentators of all shades of the cloth will realise that the widely feted signs of disunity and political fracturing don't actually alter the material situation on the ground at all. They can then go home and find something else to bitch and moan about. What fledgling EU practical defence cooperation there is will remain that - cooperation, not integration.

As for the US pipedream of a self-sufficient European integrated defence as a second pillar of NATO - that isn't happening. It is politically implausible and economically impossible for such a debt-ridden continent to even afford the amount of hardware needed (unless Germany were to fulfil her traditional role, the one that we and she have been trying to avoid her taking on for the last 70 years). If push ever comes to shove, we will come running to hide behind Uncle Sam's coattails - trying to teach us to fish for ourselves rather than furnishing our continent with weapons and planes is simply not going to work.

Our right to self-government should not be sacrificed on the alter of such a futile ambition and the Brexit vote should have nothing to do with Putin, because in terms of the importance of issues that the referendum addresses, he comes in lower than 20.

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