Very shrewd, very capable

David Aaronovich looks at a disparate (not to say eccentric) group of populist Putin fans/NATO dislikers.

There’s Stop the War, Nigel Farage, Alex Salmond, and of course the RCP/Spiked gang.

In that strangely influential nexus created by the implosion of the Revolutionary Communist Party and its re-communion in the Brexit Party, the Institute of Ideas, Spiked Online, numerous discussion programmes and the House of Lords, the view was the same. Through January Spiked warned of western “meddling” in Ukraine, and mocked the “disarray of the West” and its insistence on an outmoded alliance. Last week their leading columnist on this subject denounced western warnings concerning Putin’s intentions. Despite all the hyperbole concerning hostilities, “of course, nothing happened. Russian soldiers didn’t cross the border.” Spiked’s authors then went back to talking and tweeting about the foreign issue most exercising them — the authoritarian regime of Justin Trudeau of Canada.


Meanwhile on another Russian TV station, this time in Russia, Donald Trump’s former secretary of state and putative Republican candidate Mike Pompeo was shown saying of Putin that he is “very shrewd, very capable. I have enormous respect for him.”

Pompeo calls him shrewd, Trump calls him savvy. The boot in the face and its fan clubs.

Weeks away from the presidential election in France the far-left and far-right candidates were also agreed. Marine Le Pen opined that “like it or not, Ukraine belongs to the Russian sphere of influence” and the EU and Nato should butt out, while Eric Zemmour advocated the dropping of all sanctions against Russia, including those imposed after the Salisbury attack. The main left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon defended the Russian military build-up, given that Ukraine was “associated with a hostile power”, ie America.

And then Putin gave his speech, explaining that Ukraine belongs to Russia, end of story.

The speech might have been rambling and emotional but its motivation was clear. And it immediately created a quandary for many West-blamers and Putin-understanders. How would you square your belief in national sovereignty and the effective declaration by the Russian president that Ukraine shouldn’t have any? Over on Spiked the headline suddenly appeared: “Hands off Ukraine: Russia must immediately withdraw from Ukrainian territory”. The territory, you will recall, that days earlier was only threatened in the West’s imagination. For softer Corbyn supporters the condemnation of Putin by their other great hero Bernie Sanders allowed an opportunity for a quiet retweet and you could almost hear the sigh of relief as the “send” button was pushed.

For over a decade now left and right populists alike have opposed western policy towards Russia. Corbyn famously, like Salmond and the Spiked outfit, questioned whether Russia was behind the Salisbury poisonings. On the left Russia stood as a flawed bulwark against imperialism, on the right against the supranational machinations of the New World Order (the EU, Nato, the UN, whatever). 

What if Putin is just a bad guy, like Trump? Just an alumnus of the KGB who likes power and bullying?

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