Which of these two categories of people is more likely to murder you while you’re lying on a beach in Tunisia/shopping in the Westgate mall/enjoying a rock concert in Paris/sightseeing in Bombay/checking out the delights of Ouagadougou/watching a marathon/attending a Christmas party in San Bernardino?
a) agents of Vladimir Putin
Ooh tricky one. Before I give my answer, can I just make one thing clear: I’m not in any doubt of the devilish capabilities of Putin and his Federal Security Service (FSB). As the detailed report last week by High Court judge Sir Robert Owen made clear, they were almost certainly responsible for the clandestine assassination using Polonium-210 of the naturalised UK citizen Alexander Litvinenko. It also seems more than likely that they murdered Gareth Williams, the MI6 agent whose body was found mysteriously zipped into a sports bag.
Putin, quite evidently, would not be any liberal Westerner’s idea of the perfect Russian president: everything from his killing of journalists and political opponents to his monstrous corruption to his meddling in Ukraine (and even Western allies like Estonia) is proof enough of that.
All that said, the answer is still b)
And I think that may explain the curious response to a BBC radio phone-in I heard the other day where callers were giving their verdict on the Litvinenko report. Basically – and much to the chagrin of the show’s presenter – none of them gave a damn. They thought it was a Russian problem, not a British one. Yes, Litvinenko may have been a UK citizen – but he was also a former FSB agent. This is just the sort of thing that happens in the murky world of espionage, went the callers’ thinking. We’ve got bigger things to worry about.
Now I’m not saying they’re right to be quite so blasé about Putin. Clearly, it is an arrogant provocation when foreign intelligence services murder our own citizens — putting other citizens at risk of Polonium-210 poisoning — on our soil. Also, Litvinenko was a decent man — with a wife and son — doing good work exposing the links between organised crime and the Putin regime.
But I do understand the sentiment behind it which seems to me to show a grasp of Realpolitik quite beyond that of our naive political leadership.
Putin is never going to be our friend. This doesn’t mean though, that he shouldn’t be our ally against the greatest threat facing us all right now: the rise and rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
It has become fashionable for our media and our political leaders to virtue signal their loathing for Putin, whom they would like to portray as some kind of cross between Hitler and Stalin.
This, he clearly isn’t. Earlier this week, Putin did what no Russian leader has done in the last 100 years by denouncing his country’s Communist legacy.
Putin’s assessment of Lenin’s role in Russian history during Monday’s meeting with pro-Kremlin activists in the southern city of Stavropol was markedly more negative than in the past. He denounced Lenin and his government for brutally executing Russia’s last tsar along with all his family and servants, killing thousands of priests and placing a time bomb under the Russian state by drawing administrative borders along ethnic lines.
As an example of Lenin’s destructive legacy, Putin pointed to Donbass, the industrial region in eastern Ukraine where a pro-Russia separatist rebellion flared up weeks after Russia’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea. More than 9,000 people have been killed in the conflict since April 2014, and clashes have continued despite a February 2015 peace deal.
He said Lenin’s government had whimsically drawn borders between parts of the USSR, placing Donbass under the Ukrainian jurisdiction in order to increase the percentage of proletariat in a move Putin called “delirious”.
He also, of course, has been very active in the war on Islamist terror in Syria. Sure, he doesn’t always hit the targets his Western non-allies would like him to hit. But then, Putin doesn’t play the bizarre game we’ve all elected to play in the West whereby we have to pretend that the survival of President Assad’s secular regime is as inimical to our interests as the Yazidi-crucifying, Christian-killing, child-raping, West-hating, atrocity-planning Islamist thugs trying to overthrow it.
Not so long ago, it would have beyond most Western strategists’ wildest dreams to have Russia being run by a democratically elected president who had renounced Communism and wanted to help destroy the West’s most implacable enemies.
Now, suddenly, we seem to have got a lot more picky. And also — given some of the other regimes we suck up to, such as China’s, Saudi Arabia’s and Iran’s — a lot more hypocritical.
I wish there were some high moral principle involved here: that the reason for our newspapers’ and politicians’ fulminations against the Putin regime is because it breaches the universal standards of good governance to which we insist, without fear or favour, that the whole world must adhere.
But I think the truth is much uglier than that. Putin is a bogeyman of convenience. You can slag him off — in the West certainly — without fear that you’re going to be bumped off, secure in the knowledge that you’re not going to offend any of your sensitive minority voters. It’s a form of virtue-signalling, also, which requires no action to back it up. (Because, what are you going to do? Declare war on Russia?).
Confronting the real threat — Islamism — requires much more mettle, strategic intelligence and honesty: all qualities which our current political leadership is totally lacking, from the US to the UK and most especially Germany.
If you want to get really depressed about the future of the world, read this Douglas Murray piece in Standpoint called ‘The Establishment Is In Denial — Yet Again.’
It sets out — with Murray’s usual piercing insight and black-as-your-hat world-weariness — just how useless the political establishment has been in facing up to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
Three weeks after Islamic State slaughtered 130 people in Paris, Murray sarcastically notes, the British House of Commons “rose to the occasion” with a debate concerned mainly with whether or not we should call them “Daesh” because, apparently, that’s a name they really hate.
Amazingly, this is not a joke. It actually happened — and was then enthusiastically supported by Cameron’s mini-mes, such as Twitter’s Louise Mensch who now loyally and ostentatiously refers to IS as “Daesh”.
Here is Murray’s sardonic account to remind us that where the West’s approach to Islamism is concerned, satire is dead:
This was personified in the form of a new and otherwise obscure Conservative MP called Rehman Chishti. In response to the rise of IS this young member has been trying to make his name by petitioning politicians, the media and especially the BBC, to call IS “Daesh”. The fact that “Daesh” simply means IS in Arabic makes it a fatuous demand. The claim that IS dislike being called Daesh because it sounds like something rude in Arabic makes it pathetic. Perhaps Chishti and Co think we can “bait” IS into submission?
So up he popped during the Prime Minister’s opening statement and was credited by Mr Cameron with persuading him that it is indeed “time to join our key ally France, the Arab League, and other members of the international community in using as frequently as possible the terminology Daesh rather than ISIL”. Equally importantly the government instructed all of its members to refer to the group by this new formulation — a formulation which had the advantage of giving everyone an instant patina of knowledge. Many needed it.
During the debate the Scottish National Party leader in Westminster, Angus Robertson (representing a grouping whose foreign policy thinking has rarely stretched beyond Berwick-upon-Tweed), struggled to demonstrate much insight, but right on cue gave way again to Chishti. He honoured Chishti’s campaign, and noted across the floor what an important intervention it was. From thenceforth almost everybody talked of “Daesh” or “ISIL-Daesh”. Some tried a vaguely Arabic accent, as though pretending they could speak Arabic. Others, aspiring to the same impression, satisfied everyone with a glottal stop. All were aware that were they to err they might not only provoke the jack-in-the-box Chishti but the ire of the whole House. Paris had burned and in response Westminster quibbled.
The barbarians are inside the gates. Western Civilisation is on its knees. But so long as we all go on finger-pointing at Vladmir Putin, maybe it will make the nasty things go away.