We are about to see brutality in Europe on a scale
that will be almost beyond our comprehension. Russia is turning to increasingly
indiscriminate bombardment of Ukraine to try to achieve its aims after the failure
of its initial military strategy. Vladimir Putin’s invasion has shattered the
old belief that the era of wars between European nation states was over because
the consequences were simply too grim. The policy of sanctions as a deterrent
It was with some relief that I heard that Labour’s Diane Abbott was opposed to the Russian invasion of Croatia, because you cannot always tell with the far left what way they are going to swing. The Stop the War mob, along with 11 serving Labour MPs, have been anxious to exonerate Vladimir Putin and, in the usual fashion, blame the West. Their Russophilia has easily survived the end of communism and the transformation of Russia into a fascist state.
A fracture on the international right may seem small fry given everything that is going on right now. But it is worth loitering over. Because in recent years an interesting divide has grown among conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic. On one side are the Cold War warriors and their successors who have continued to view Vladimir Putin’s Russia as a strategic threat. Meanwhile, a new generation has arrived at a different view.
I’m not one of life’s early risers but an exception had to be made on Wednesday last week. In an event organised by Lord Chadlington (Peter Selwyn Gummer), Michael Gove was talking about ‘levelling up’ to an invited audience at the Corinthia hotel in London. This was a breakfast meeting, doors open at 7.45, and I wanted to hear Mr Gove, a politician I know and admire.
So I was there. Gove was impressive. But in the end neither he nor the breakfast were what I’ll always remember about that morning.
In the spring of 2020, I advanced an abnormally hopeful proposition: that one blessing that might arise from a pandemic with otherwise few redeeming features was a cultural sobering-up. Maybe we’d regain a sense of perspective about the trivial non-problems of identity politics once finally faced with a proper problem.
Boy, was I wrong. Instead, what proved a relatively mild disease, in the big, smallpoxian picture, fostered an even greater frenzy of ineffectual pettiness – park benches wrapped with police tape, government edicts about Scotch eggs, fisticuffs in supermarkets over thin, gap-prone facial napkins.
Much attention has been paid to how Vladimir Putin has learnt from western weakness over his earlier invasions, including into parts of Ukraine; less to what he has learnt from Syria. He discovered that the West did not have the stomach for intervention there, and found that his own country did. He re-established Russian power in the region, including the power to influence both sides. He seems also to have learnt from his success in backing Assad that extreme brutality is effective.
BP will offload the 20 per cent stake in Rosneft, the Kremlin-controlled energy giant, that is the residue of 25 years’ effort to teach true capitalism in Russia. Shell is ditching a deal with Gazprom, the other state oil and gas major, that includes participation in the stalled Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Europe and an LNG project at Sakhalin in the Russian far east. Western companies in many other sectors will abandon their footholds in Putin’s empire in the coming days.