I'm somewhat amazed, every now and again being confronted somewhere on social media by a fellow eurosceptic who offers praise of Vladimir Putin. Whether its Diane James, Lubos Motl, Donald Trump, Peter Hitchens, Nigel Farage, George Galloway or Marine Le Pen people have somehow worked their way into this odd line of thought that "my enemies' enemy is my friend" even when the subject of that redemption is an authoritarian war criminal.
Let me be clear, I voted to leave the European Union, I value the rule of law, parliamentary democracy and personal liberty. Which the EU has replaced with the endless political integration, an unelected ruling body of bureaucrats and a tidal wave of unamendable regulation which has made us both poorer and our markets less liberal. But when I extend that same political philosophy to what goes on in the Russian state, where journalists and dissidents are murdered, where anti-corruption opposition (Mikhail Khodorkovsky) are imprisoned and where neighboring countries are under constant threat I'm lead to that same understanding.
So ingrained in his ideology is totalitarianism, that before Putin had ever even become president, while he was still Prime Minister under Boris Yeltsen, in 1999 he lead an intervention and annexation of Chechnya in reaction to several apartment bombings that took place across Russia. The war indiscriminately killed at least twenty five thousand people - but here's the truly perfunctory catch - there's no actual evidence that Chechen terrorists were ever responsible because it was never investigated. When Boris Berezovsky uncovered a public call connected to the attacks, in Ryazan shortly after, it was traced back to the Federal Security Services of the Russian state, itself. Others critical of the Chechen war like journalist Anna Politkovskaya were subsequently murdered.
Though you'd still be forgiven perhaps, for believing that we've never tried to work with Putin, if some of the people I mentioned earlier were all you had to go by. George Bush back in 2001, when US-Russia relations were strong, sought after long term friendship with Russia but by 2008 found himself engaged in a proxy war over Georgia when Russia invaded the country.
Again when Barack Obama was newly elected, he lifted the sanctions on Russian arm exports which were equipping Iran with a deadly stock pile of weapons, signed a nuclear arms reduction treaty that drastically reduced armaments and even opened a transit root through Russia to supply American troops in Afghanistan. But this too was short lived, as just a few years later Putin's Russia would invade another neighbor, Ukraine and this time annexed Crimea, after protests in Kiev lead to the ousting of Viktor Yanukovytch as president. Pro-Russian Ukraine separatists supported by Putin, would shoot down the Malaysian air line, all while intimidation tactics through military exercises were gathering at the border during the Crimea status referendum of 2014.
Just imagine how Crimean tartars, many ethnically cleansed from their land by Joseph Stalin, must have felt after a long anticipated dream of democratic independence, only to have been met over the horizon by Russian tanks, to be subsumed into a shadow USSR - the Eurasian Economic Union - all for the sake of self-sufficiency off the tax receipts of oil and natural gas revenues. Yet still having contracted for more than two consecutive quarters the Russian economy is in recession, the intervention incurred sanctions and disrupted important trade links. Not least, the greater tragedy of the many lives lost in Donbass. Like Mussolini's Italo-Ethiopian war no measurable advantage was gained, other than a display of power, a postponing of electoral defeat and the retention of influence in the region.
The case of Syria isn't far removed, under the guise of repelling ISIS, Russia has bombed hospitals, schools and civilian populated areas to target anti-Assad forces immersed in the population. He's backed the Syrian dictator, supplying him with weapons and fighter planes. Leaving us all to wonder if he is really incapable of shame. Meanwhile across Europe he's launched propaganda campaigns against Petro Poroshenko, Emanuel Macaron and Angela Merkel.
Domestically Putin's regime is entirely corrupt. He's spent his carrier in politics rising through the echelons of the Kremlin on a wave of money laundering, both collaborating and propping up crime monopolies all while squandering public money on loans for close personal friends. The state has been reduced to a shallow imitation of a democracy, even excluding from consideration the monopoly the state has over the media, the most recent election he won on the pretext that opposition candidates were not allowed to campaign and were only selected on the ballot with granted permission of the Kremlin.
Should we engage with Russia for mutual interest? Absolutely but should we seek an alliance? Certainly not, if Putin throws down the gauntlet over the territorial integrity of Eastern Europe, Donald Trump must be willing to pick it up. Because truly nothing can shame this man . . .