Brendan O’Neill

I stand with Diane Abbott

Nato's expansionism is a recipe for war, not peace

I stand with Diane Abbott
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Not for the first time in her political career, Diane Abbott is getting a lot of flak online. She’s being trolled, heckled and denounced as an enemy of the United Kingdom. Only this time Ms Abbott is being hauled over the coals not for saying something silly, but for saying something sensible. Something true. Something fundamentally correct. Namely, that Nato bears a great deal of responsibility for the current crisis in Ukraine.

Browsing the Abbott-bashing headlines you could be forgiven for thinking she had upped sticks, flown to Moscow, and sworn lifelong allegiance to Vladimir Putin. ‘Diane Abbott backs Russia!’, says the Express. In its regular feature on mad things said by leftists, published under the banner ‘Loony Left’, Guido Fawkes grips its pearls over Abbott’s apparently bonkers belief that ‘Nato [is] to blame for Ukraine crisis’. Abbott is ‘parroting Kremlin press releases’, says Guido Fawkes, resuscitating the frankly crude old prejudice about Corbynistas being lackeys of the Russian regime.

In truth, Ms Abbott made a lot of sense on the Ukraine crisis. For me, anyway. Last Thursday, in an online chat for the Stop the War movement, she said Russia is not the only sabre-rattler in the Ukraine stand-off. ‘We see that the United States has decided that it needs to send US and other Nato troops to Russia’s borders’, she said. ‘This alone should tell us that the claims that Russia is the aggressor should be treated sceptically. The destabilisation in the entire region comes from the continued eastward expansion of Nato.’

For this — this reasonable, factual observation — Abbott is being subjected to sub-McCarthyite jabber about being a bootlicker of Putin’s regime. It’s crazy. In truth, Abbott is right that Nato expansionism is a problem, and a significant contributor to the current tensions over Ukraine.

Since the end of the Cold War, Nato has been encroaching ever eastwards. In the late 1990s it won over Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. In 2004, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia joined the crew. Croatia and Albania followed suit in 2009. Around that time, Nato officials hinted that Georgia and Ukraine — such close entities to Russia — would become members at some point, too.

You don’t have to be a Putin fanboy to understand why Russia might feel a bit peeved, and possibly threatened, by the march of Nato into eastern European territories, and right up to Russia’s border. The elite Nato cheerleaders — shocked that Russia is displeased at Nato forces and weaponry being a stone’s throw from its borders — are staggeringly naive, or worse, dishonest.

Imagine if there was a global institution that was implacably hostile to the UK and it successfully coaxed Ireland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands to become members. Don’t you think we would feel at least a little put out? Possibly even under attack? Well, now you know how Moscow feels as it watches the creaking, warmongering Cold War entity that is Nato – an institution founded in opposition to Russia — getting ever closer to its sovereign terrain.

The Abbott-bashing of the past few days has been incredibly revealing. It confirms that Diane Abbott remains the favoured punchbag of both the right and the supposedly respectable centrist left, both of which have been more than happy to publicly denounce Diane as a Russian stooge. This is an unfair and infantile accusation.

It also highlights the hypocrisy, arrogance and flagrant double standards of the pro-Nato set, who think it is fine for the military alliance to spread further eastwards, but that it’s a veritable crime against humanity for Russia to respond by assembling troops on its own borders. I hate the overuse of the word ‘racism’, but there is something iffy as hell in this idea that western military manoeuvres are neutral and normal and good, while Russian manoeuvres are unspeakable and evil and akin to the actions of Nazi Germany (as Ben Wallace suggested over the weekend). Russophobia, much?

What the assaults on Abbott most clearly confirm is how intolerant the interventionist lobby remains. Those of us who opposed the reckless, destructive invasions and incursions into Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya are very familiar with the low tactics currently being deployed against Diane Abbott. ‘You love Saddam!’, ‘You are an apologist for Gaddafi!’, ‘You want to snog Assad!’ — these were the morally infantile, politically vacuous slurs that were hurled at everyone who questioned the wisdom of dropping bombs on already fractious, desperate nations.

Now we can add ‘You are a Putinist stooge!’ to these ad hominem attacks that are so clearly designed to quell dissent on Western interventionism and force everyone to conform to the bonkers idea that bomb-dropping is a good way to bring peace.

So, in this instance I stand with Diane. She is raising important issues that our Russia-bashing elites have flat-out refused to countenance. She is cutting through both the right-wing neocon and liberal-hawk thirst for war by pointing out that the west is not blameless in the Ukraine crisis. She is reminding us of the geopolitical complexities that the virtue-hungry political set would rather we ignored as it tragically tries to rehabilitate the Cold War and derive a sense of purpose from slamming Moscow. For this, we thank you Ms Abbott.