The UK must not fall for the Putin smokescreen

Reactionaries from Sir Edward Lewigh to the Stop the War Coalition want us to forget the crimes, past and present, of Putin - and we absolutely should not

assad putin

Reactionaries from Sir Edward Lewigh to the Stop the War Coalition want us to forget the crimes, past and present, of Putin – and we absolutely should not

We are on a very dangerous path on foreign policy, or at least we will be if we follow the supposedly expert advice of some commentators looking at Russia today.

We have previously heard, and indeed must take heed of, the fact that Putin does not like defeats. At all costs he will want to come out looking like the international heavyweight in Ukraine: but apparently this consideration should matter over and above what his policy is regarding those parts of the world.

Recently General Ban Ki-moon said there could be “no military solution” to the crisis in Ukraine, but any reasonable observer can see that Putin began and continues to be the great aggressor in this conflict: with him ceasefires are a meaningless word to throw about as a means to belittle political dissent.

Furthermore, some are already putting forward the excuse that Putin doesn’t pose a threat to UK interests, therefore we should wind our necks in; in fact we should be clubbing together with the Russian leader to fight the good fight in the Middle East.

Sir Edward Leigh, talking on the Today programme today, said that there isn’t a single British parent who would want their child to sign up and conscript only to find themselves fighting on side of the Ukranians with whom they have had no previously dealings.

He went on in his patronising diatribe to suggest that we have to accept what’s going on the ground, and try to accommodate Putin, as Tony Blair once did, on the grounds that the real threat is Islamic extremism.

However, and not forgetting how terribly dangerous movement towards war, perish the thought, would be with Russia, clearly some people need reminding that in actual fact Putin does affect and pose a threat to UK interests, and that before the UK and Russia could even think about working together with the aim of ridding the world of Islamic extremism Putin must accept his part in the creation of its latest mutation.

Russia continued their support for Assad even at a time of considerable scrutiny of the Syrian leader’s crimes. In January 2013, as the UN were numbering the dead at 60,000 in Syria, Russia was still selling arms to the Assad regime. Losing custom from Iran and Libya after Gaddafi was overthrown, Russia’s arms export industry faced losing a massive £13 billion, meaning that they had to rely on those lucrative Syrian deals.

Of course it will be remembered that Russia and China vetoed the first UN Security Council Resolution in October 2011. Enough people could see this error at the time, but with hindsight we can see that by not providing the rebels with enough support at the time created a power vacuum that was eventually filled by groups such as the one we today call IS.

When the Free Syrian Army first arose in Syria it was a rainbow coalition that had a very distinct colour of democracy to it. It called on Western allies to help it in the face of the genocidal Assad – whose weapons were being footed by Russia, and its war efforts legitimised by it.

After time international Islamists infected the group. The dream of those who urged the UK government not to help out the Syrian rebels had come true: the rainbow coalition of the Syria rebels had been broken.

Where are we now? There is a pressing reason as to why Putin should direct scorn towards IS, as he has. Today they release a video threatening Russia over its ties to Syria’s Assad with a promise to ‘liberate Chechnya and all the Caucasus’. But before UK critics find common cause with Putin they must remember that, vitally, when push came to shove Putin stuck with Assad’s murderous regime.

It won’t do to forget that, as has done the isolationist reactionaries from Sir Edward Leigh to the Stop the War Coalition (who cheerlead for Putin) – and I for one am glad that David Cameron hasn’t.

Russia vetoing UN Security Council Resolutions had, and has, an impact on the lives of those in the UK. That matters. By supporting Assad as a convenient business partner a vacuum began to be filled in the region with islamists who now enjoy enough presence that British jihadis are fighting with them. This in turn has raised the threat of jihadis returning to the UK and threatening violence here.

It is likely that one British IS member is responsible for cutting off the heads of two US journalists on camera, and threatens to do the same to another from the UK.

Putin should accept the part he has to blame for all of this. But I’m almost certain he never will.

Carl Packman is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.