Why conservatives can’t be trusted on Russia


Conservatives of all stripes increasingly can’t be trusted on the biggest geo-political issue of our time, writes James Bloodworth

Cameron PutinjAnyone on the left will have been accused at some point not only of being insufficiently patriotic but very probably of loathing their country.

We saw it last year when Ed Miliband’s late father, Ralph, was slandered as a man who “hated Britain”. It also rears its head any time Britain goes to war – those who fail to obediently line up behind ‘our boys’ are automatically portrayed by the right-wing press as subversive fifth columnists.

And indeed, in the past in was forgivable to view a certain portion of the far-left with an element of suspicion. I say this because, until the Berlin Wall came down, a not insignificant number of people clung to the idea that, if it came to the pinch, one ought to side with the Soviets rather than the United States and her allies.

Even many on the non-communist left clung to the vague notion that, rather than being a new type of totalitarian despotism the USSR was in fact some sort of ‘deformed workers’ state’; or in other words, it simply needed a bit of tinkering around the edges rather than fully fledged democratisation.

But how things have changed. Today one is far more likely to hear a conservative making excuses for Russia than a socialist or social democrat. Certainly there are a few Russophiles knocking around the hard left who remain mentally marooned in the Brezhnev era, but in 2014 it is in the Shires and the City, rather than the working men’s clubs, where one is most likely to hear admiring remarks about a Russian strongman.

For those brought up against a backdrop of post-Cold War triumphalism it might seem strange to see the heirs of Margaret Thatcher lining up alongside a strategic enemy of the West who yearns for the restoration of the USSR.

And yet it shouldn’t.

Conservatives in the both the UK and the US have long admired Russia President Vladimir Putin for his unapologetic assertion of Russia power, his promotion of ‘traditional’ values and his utter cynicism when dealing with Western diplomats. UKIP leader Nigel Farage publically described Putin’s handling of the Syria tragedy as “brilliant”, but as so often with Farage, he was only daring to say what many on the right of the Conservative party privately think but keep to themselves.

At the tail-end of last month an email appeared in my inbox from the Bruges Group, a self-described “neo-liberal think tank” which “spearheads the intellectual battle” against the European Union. The group is an all-party one, but in practice it draws its recruits largely from the right flanks of the Tory party. Norman Tebbit is the group’s President and Lord (Michael) Howard, Lord (Norman) Lamont, Lord (Stanley) Kalms, Lord (David) Young, and UKIP’s Lord (Malcolm) Pearson sit on its board.

Looking at the list of names it won’t come as a surprise to learn that the main aim of the group is to cut ties with Brussels. What’s interesting is where the group’s detestation of the European project has led it politically. Not only are the group opposed to any kind of punitive action against Russia for its annexation of Crimea, but according to one of the group’s Tory MPs it is the actions of the EU (rather than Putin’s flagrant aggression) that is to blame for the situation in Ukraine.

A short film produced by the group claims that Ukraine is “close to becoming a failed state”, not as a result of Russian interference, but because of, you guessed it, “EU meddling”. Russia may have behaved badly, but the EU “also did a lot of bullying”, the narrator assures viewers.

The film also veers into comedic understatement when it comes to the record of former Ukrainian President Yanukovych, whose biggest flaw was not that he ordered the shooting of Euromaiden protesters before fleeing his palace for Russia, but that he was “hardly a role model for selfless public service”. To top matters off, the Bruges group insultingly refers to ‘the Ukraine’ rather than ‘Ukraine’, a phrasing Ukrainians got rid of after the fall of the USSR because it literally means ‘the borderland’ – i.e. a part of Russia.

Ok you say, so it may be true that there is a sneaking sympathy for Putin on the right flanks of the Tory party, but less ideological Conservatives such as prime minister David Cameron are surely capable of dealing with Russia with at least a modicum of principle and intelligence. It’s certainly true that one is unlikely to see David Cameron wholeheartedly adopting the Russian line in the fashion of UKIP or the Bruges Group.

And yet the prime minister is hamstrung by his own mercantilist ideology. This was revealed in the cabinet papers, photographed by the Guardian, cautioning against sanctions targeting Russia which might hurt the City of London. According to Savills estate agency, 4 per cent of buyers in ‘prime central’ areas of London, such as Chelsea and Westminster, are Russian, spending an average of £6.3m. Russian wealth has permeated the upper reaches of society in Britain more completely than in any other Western country, according to the Economist.

Despite events in Ukraine, one suspects that many conservatives will be far more concerned about their beloved City than about the national sovereignty of a faraway foreign country. As was demonstrated during the Arab Spring when Cameron travelled around the Middle East hawking British arms to autocrats, commerce will come before principle even for many of the so-called ‘modernisers’.

Ultimately, it isn’t only Nigel Farage who believes that Putin has played a “blinder” in Ukraine. Conservatives of all stripes increasingly can’t be trusted on what is potentially the biggest geo-political issue of our time.

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  • treborc1

    Sorry but I’ve not heard a hell of a lot from Miliband either, he cannot even tell us what he’s going to do at home never mind the Russians.

    Now then Germany needs the gas, France has Billions in deals with Russia so do a few other countries and sadly I do not think the EU has any illusions over Ukraine, the Crimea will get Billion in funds from Russia so will the East of the Ukraine which has been annexed by the Russians in what is seen as a bloodless battle. The Russian think Putin has been out standing and to be honest so do a lot in the UK, he tested the resolve of the EU and Nato and the UN and it’s bloody useless .

    But I do not want to see my grand kids putting on Uniforms or me joining a dads army over the Ukraine, but I suspect that’s it for Putin for now.

  • Amanda Kendal

    The world is rarely un-naunced right v wrong.

    To say that Putin’s handing of the Syrian chemical weapons issue was decent – ie, let’s not all go to war and let’s not all assume that Assad = bad & rebels = good (as the West in general has done and the UK government in particular) – does not mean that everything else he does is good.

    And in terms of Farage liking that – well even a broken clock is wrong twice a day.

  • swatnan

    The Tories would always opt for War War, not Jaw Jaw. Its an instinctive thing.
    Someone needs to tell them that Britain is no longer a World Power,. Wars cost money and lives. Some Wars are worthwhile but most futile, usually over barren pieces of land and nomadic sheep. And to suggest that you have the moral high ground to go to War is a silly argument. Your opponent has equally moral grounds for seeking redresses.

  • Doug Smith

    I’d be interested to hear how you think EU ‘meddling’/involvement has improved the situation in Ukraine.

  • Alb Einstein

    “Despite events in Ukraine, one suspects that many conservatives will be far more concerned about their beloved City than about the national sovereignty of a faraway foreign country”

    oh please – and Gordon Brown didn’t love the city either. Tories, Labour are as bad as each other, both like a baby’s nappy.

  • McRobbie

    Amazing conclusion after blair and iraq and afghanistan…tories only go to war when its absoutely necessary..falklands invaded by argies, libya to save millions from gaddafi (the man who was hugged by bliar) syria..no military action as it was a fine balance as to who was most at fault. Where as labour..say no more except hasn’t bliar done well on the USA talk circuit !!!
    Unfortunately with expansionist putin it is possible that it may become necessary..when he invades sweden for example…when a mad man starts to act the big man they find it difficult to come back to earth…putins on a rush of blood..and its running in the ukraine at the moment but wont stop there.

  • madasafish

    So what should we do?

    Declare war on Russia. After all, that’s what Blair would have done …illegally.. of course.

    This article makes as much sense as suggesting we bring back the Dalai Lama to Tibet by blockading China…

  • Eric the Blue

    Audacity! Labour sits with Putin’s socialist stooge party “Fair Russia” in the Council of Europe.They actually proposed the Duma Bill that led to the annexation of Crimea.

    When it comes to lining up with Putinistas, Labour’s official association vastly outranks various scattered noises off to the right.

  • GnosticBrian

    A minor point Mr Bloodworth, you say that Russians referred to Ukraine as “the Ukraine”, but there is NO definite (or indefinite) article in Russian. So how did they do that? In Russian, “Ukraine” is simply “Ukraine” – Украина.

  • obbo12

    Well perhaps if Miliband had not decided to change his mind over Putin’s Syrian allies gassing people, west would have looked like a bunch playground pushovers.

  • Kevin T

    Why, as a British citizen, should I be concerned about what is basically a territorial dispute between Russia and Ukraine? Which has been relatively bloodless and in which both sides have a reasonable case? What I mistrust are the people in the British, American and European establishments who have been working overtime to demonise Putin and set up Russia as a villain, in pursuit of NATO interests. I find it especially ironic when the British left does it, since I’m old enough to remember when no one on the British left would say a bad word against Russia no matter what it did. Cathy Ashton at the time was treasurer of CND and dedicated to getting rid of our nuclear defence against the USSR. Now we’re supposed to get behind her as she stands up to Russia? — off.

  • S&A

    Yeah, I mean what can we say about the task-force of masked Spanish and Italian troops that took over Crimea, and forced its citizens to hold an illegal referendum at gunpoint? Or about the ‘anti-terrorist’ units of the SBU that gunned down protestors at Maidan on 20th February – all of whom were trained by the GIGN and the GSG-9? Or about the suspiciously well-equipped ethnic Polish gunmen who’ve stormed those buildings and started those gun-battles in Sloviansk, Donetsk, and Horlivka.

    It’s obviously all part of a sinister conspiracy concocted by Van Rompuy and his evil number two, Ashton, innit?

  • Doug Smith

    I’d say that you’re somewhat off the wall with this: “the task-force of masked Spanish and Italian troops that took over Crimea,”. As far as I know, no such thing happened.

    Perhaps we could start with the message of support for the street protests from the EU’s unelected foreign policy chief, Baroness Ashton, delivered on 11th of Decemeber, 2013:

    “I am still in Kiev. I was among you on Maidan in the evening and was impressed by the determination of Ukrainians demonstrating for the European perspective of their country.”

  • Chris Kitcher

    It’s quite simple the Tories can’t be trusted with anything except screwing the poor and vulnerable. Bastards.

  • S&A

    ‘I’d say that you’re somewhat off the wall with this: “the task-force of masked Spanish and Italian troops that took over Crimea,”. As far as I know, no such thing happened’.

    It’s called ‘sarcasm’, you oaf.

    ‘Perhaps we could start with the message of support for the street protests from the EU’s unelected foreign policy chief, Baroness Ashton, delivered on 11th of Decemeber, 2013′.

    Yes, because without that, there would have been no protests and no uprising. Because the Ukrainians were all so terribly happy with their corrupt and kleptocratic excuse for a President.

    Seriously …

  • matt

    The Bruges Group are, in actual fact, correct on what really has happened so far. If the EU, and your left wing mate George Soros, via his Foundation, had not actively encouraged the Ukrainian metropolitan liberal elite to believe that EU membership was theirs for the asking, without the slightest thought as to what the Russian reaction would be, then the world would not now be faced with the situation it faces in the Crimea. If you poke a Bear with a sharp stick, then the chances are it will react by biting your head off. So it is with the Russian Bear and Putin’s aggressive reaction could and should have been predicted by anyone, with the slightest knowledge of the history of the region or who lives in the real world as opposed to the EU/Leftist dream world in which they can do what they like, but nobody else can.

  • Sun

    “Despite events in Ukraine, one suspects that many conservatives will be far more concerned about their beloved City than about the national sovereignty of a faraway foreign country.”

    Is this supposed to be a bad thing? What a moron. Yes, you’re supposed to be your own tribe/country/interest first. Something that the degenerate left doesn’t understand.

    Loyalty isn’t something that these people know. They hide behind the fact that they are doing their part by criticizing the country but such criticism doesn’t deconstruct the supremacy of a society.

  • Alex McLeish

    Yes, those evil right wingers. We’d be much better off having Marxists like Jack Straw and co. in power. I mean, Leftists have never started wars have they.

    The simple fact is that Ukraine, like Syria, isn’t worth a single drop of English blood. If the hand wringing Leftists or the right wing Zio Capitalists are so desperate to ‘intervene’ then I’m sure we can all have a whip round and buy them some packs and rifles.

    It’s none of our business. The end.

  • derekemery

    A new cold war over the Ukraine is unlikely in part due to trade interests see http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2014/03/panelists-new-cold-war-over-ukraine-unlikely

  • mdc

    I don’t see much difference between the right blaming the EU for the Ukraine situation and the left blaming the US and Israel for terrorism. In both cases, the intention is to bash a fellow Western political opponent (the EU, or the US and Israel respectively), not to support the actions of Putin or of terrorists. I think they’re both wrong and stupid, but not intentionally evil.

    In terms of action, Cameron’s do-nothing approach seems much the same as Obama’s do-nothing approach. In reality there just isn’t much that can be done, since Russia is a nuclear power and Ukraine is not a formal ally. In that regard it isn’t a partisan question at all.

  • Cole

    Yep, I guess we shouldn’t have worried when those Germans invaded Poland in 1939. Nothing to do with us, mate. Anyway, that Putin chap is a strong leader, just the sort that Ukip types apparently admire.

  • Cole

    Jack Straw a Marxist? Very big LOL.

  • FuglydeQuietzapple

    Only Putin trusts Farage on the Ukraine, no-one trusts Cameron’s judgement on anything much.

  • FuglydeQuietzapple

    In English Украина is The Ukraine.

  • GnosticBrian

    And you point is? Do you actually speak Russian or Ukrainian? I doubt it very much.

  • FuglydeQuietzapple

    The point is that you don’t have one and aren’t necessarily English. Perhaps you were schooled abroad. ;-)

  • GnosticBrian

    Wrong on all counts as usual.

  • Doug Smith

    “you oaf.”

    I thought you’d resort to childishness.

    And I’m sorry I’m not disappointed.

  • S&A

    I’m sorry that there are trees working hard to produce the oxygen you’re wasting.

  • Cole

    Except that a lot of right wingers think Putin is an admirable guy. He isn’t.