My friend, the novelist Alan Judd, emails with the right quotation for those who argue that Putin should be given an ‘off-ramp’. It is from Henry V: ‘How can they charitably dispose of any thing when blood is their argument?’ It really is Putin’s argument. I have been studying an astonishing piece from RIA Novosti, the official Russian news agency, earlier this month, called ‘What Russia should do with Ukraine’. Barbarously written (or possibly barbarously translated), and barbarous in thought, it is about the need to extirpate every ‘Nazi – read Ukrainian –’. The Ukrainians have for years supported ‘total terror’ in ‘Odessa, Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk, Mariupol, and other Russian cities’, apparently, and so there must be ‘a set of measures in relation to the Nazified population mass, which technically cannot be subjected to direct punishment as war criminals’: ‘All of them are equally involved in extreme cruelty against the civilian population, equally guilty of the genocide of the Russian people, do not comply with the laws and customs of war. War criminals and active Nazis should be exemplarily and exponentially punished.’ There must be ‘re-education’ through ‘ideological repression’.
It is quite inadequate, the article goes on, for Ukraine to become a neutral state between East and West, so anything called ‘Ukraine’ must go. ‘The collective West itself is the designer, source and sponsor of Ukrainian Nazism…Ukronazism carries not less, but a greater threat to the world and Russia than German Nazism of the Hitlerite version.’ All ‘armed Nazi formations’ will be ‘liquidated’. The nationalist elites must be ‘eliminated’ and the ‘social “mud”’ beneath them must atone for their guilt. Russia will ‘act as the guardian of the Nuremburg trials’. Russia was so patient but was rejected. It ‘did everything possible to save the West in the 20th century… The last act of Russian altruism was the outstretched hand of friendship from Russia, for which Russia received a monstrous blow in the 1990s’. So, ‘Russia will go its own way, not worrying about the fate of the West, relying on another part of its heritage – leadership in the global process of decolonisation’. Ukraine itself will be decolonised by Russia, ‘which the population of Ukraine will have to understand as it begins to free itself from the intoxication, temptation and dependence of the so-called European choice’. Reading this, you can see why Ukrainians, as they confront the new Russian assault, cannot believe in any deal. They are being told they have no right to exist.
Attitudes to Russia bring out the mysteriousness, to a British way of thinking, of French political attitudes. Although the invasion of Ukraine has made the presidential candidates back off a bit, all the main ones – Macron, Le Pen, Éric Zemmour and even the leftist firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon – have tended to be pretty nice to the Russian leader over the years. They have made the sort of sympathetic noises towards him that in Britain one hears only from Jeremy Corbyn and elements of old Ukip. Why might there be French votes, left, right and centre, in Putinism? Apart from the embarrassing fact that Putin seems to have bought up some on the French right, there seems also to be some romantic idea, going back more than 200 years, that France and Russia have a spiritual bond incomprehensible to brutish Teutons and unimaginative Anglo-Saxon shopkeepers. Related to this is the belief that only the French have the civilisational depth and subtlety to ensure European peace. That is why President Macron has frequently spent more than an hour on the phone to his counterpart in the Kremlin. So far the benefit to European civilisation has not been discernible. But whether Macron or Le Pen wins on Sunday, this strange tendresse will persist.
In the Guardian last week, Sonita Alleyne, Master of Jesus College, Cambridge, sought to continue the argument about the court case which her college had brought of its own free will and had lost. She did so even though the college has decided not to appeal. On 23 March, Judge David Hodge ruled that the college could not remove the listed memorial to its 17th-century benefactor Tobias Rustat, who had links with the slave trade. The Master wrote that: ‘The presence of the memorial is deeply offensive to many in the college community. Teaching them more about Rustat’s benevolence, as the consistory court judgment suggests, will not bring them back into the chapel. Rustat’s personal generosity pales against the mass rapes, torture and murders that occurred as a result of the transatlantic slave trade. An increasing number of students refuse to enter the chapel to pray, reflect, hear our wonderful choir, or take part in social and cultural events due to the presence of the memorial.’ If she is right about that, it will be largely due to the college council’s determination to rubbish the judgment. Besides, how does she know about this ‘increasing number of students’? The college has been on vacation since before the judgment and returns only this week. She is putting herself and, indeed, the Dean of Chapel, in a strange position by effectively telling undergraduates to boycott her own institution’s place of worship. Looking at the chapel programme for the coming term, I see that, on 17 May, it will hold a ‘Vigil for the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBiT) followed by port and cocoa’. Will it be colluding with racism and colonialism to attend this event?
Most politicians tend to say it when they can’t think of anything else to say. Sir Keir Starmer says it almost every time he opens his mouth. ‘The British people deserve better,’ he declares. Do we? Why? His implication is that if we vote for him, we will get what we deserve. Perhaps he is right.