Why has an odd alliance of leftwingers, Tories and bankers come out for this fascist kleptocracy?
Edward Lucas, 3 September 2008
On Russia, at least, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg think alike. Belatedly and perhaps emptily, all three party leaders have condemned the invasion of Georgia and demanded a tough response. Yet a different and even odder alliance is taking shape on the other side. Its members include such unlikely figures as Andrew Murray of Stop the War Coalition, David Davies, the Tory MP for Monmouth, and historian Correlli Barnett, as well as anonymous but influential City bankers and lawyers.
The Kremlin’s most constant allies are the old pro-Soviet left: people such as Bob Wareing, the veteran leftwing MP for Liverpool, West Derby. He recalls warmly the wartime alliance with Stalin’s Soviet Union, and the promise of social justice in the communist system. In the Morning Star, Andrew Murray blames the war in Georgia on American imperialism and contrasts it with the success of “Soviet nationalities policy” in promoting “the cultural, linguistic and educational development of each ethnic group, no matter how small or how historically marginalised”. Chechens, Crimean Tatars and other victims of Stalin’s murderous deportation policies presumably don’t count.
A simpler approach is pure Russophilia: people who love Russia’s culture or language, and rejoice in what seems to be a national rebirth under Vladimir Putin. A wider group is sparked chiefly by anti-Americanism. If you hate George W Bush then you may cast a friendly glance on the people who make life difficult for him, such as Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, or Putin in Russia. It is countries such as Russia, however spiky and unattractive, that can derail the new world order. Yet that’s odd. If, say, you feel that Muslims get a hard deal from America, then surely the Russian torture camps in Chechnya should make your blood boil?
In odd alliance with the anti-globalists are the champions of international business: those who do well out of selling goods and services to Russia. In the City, investment banks, law firms, accountants and consultants have enjoyed a bonanza thanks to their Russian clients. Auditors such as PricewaterhouseCoopers have not flinched at doing the Kremlin’s dirty work – for example in withdrawing their audit of Yukos, once Russia’s biggest oil company, which conveniently coincided with Kremlin allegations of fraud. For this pinstriped fifth column, business is business, and worries about human rights or the rule of law are tiresome distractions.
David Wilshire, a leading Conservative member of the Council of Europe parliamentary assembly, has lobbied hard to make Mikhail Margelov, a pro-Putin Russian parliamentarian who used to be a KGB language instructor, the next president of the organisation, which is supposedly devoted to promoting human rights. Then come those such as the polemical Peter Hitchens, who have no great liking for tycoons, but a deep admiration for the nation-state. He writes: “I often wish we were more like Russia, aggressively defending our interests, making sure we owned our own crucial industries, killing terrorists instead of giving in to them, running our own foreign policy instead of trotting two feet behind George W Bush.” Russia, he says, has come to stand for national sovereignty and independence, while we give up our own.
Correlli Barnett praises the regime in Russia in a similar vein. In the past few days, for example, Barnett has said: “World peace? Give me Putin any day!”; and “the West should jettison moral indignation and global do-goodery as the basis of policy, and instead emulate Russia’s admirable reversion to 19th-century realpolitik”. The main motive here is dislike for the whole apparatus of modern diplomacy – multilateral organisations governed by international treaties and at least a notional commitment to human rights.
It is all very odd. Russia is an oil-fuelled fascist kleptocracy ruled by secret police goons and their cronies. It is authoritarian: critics risk forcible incarceration in psychiatric hospitals, or are simply murdered – such as the shooting dead in police custody of Magomed Yevloyev, an Ingush journalist, this week. It is imperialist: bullying neighbours with oil and gas cut-offs, let alone the occupation of Georgia, where Russia’s proxies have practised ethnic cleansing on a scale that recalls the atrocities of the wars in former Yugoslavia. And it is deeply corrupt and lawless: something that even Putin’s successor as president, Dmitry Medvedev, has acknowledged publicly. However bad other countries may be, it is hard to find anything there worth emulating.
* Edward Lucas is the author of The New Cold War: How the Kremlin Menaces Both Russia and the West