It is easy for me to say "I told you so". For years this blog has warned about the aggressive despotism of Vladimir Putin. For years, the use of violence and money to corrupt and weaken the West has eroded our ability to work against one of the most vile regimes ever seen. For years these warnings, and those of people like Edward Lucas, have been ignored.
Now we are paying the bitter price of our greed and hypocrisy in our dealings with the Kremlin.
The fact is that democracy is not all about creating the best economic standards for its citizens- although that tends to be the result of good democratic governance. At the heart of democracy is a core of moral values which have little to do with money. An open society: the rights to free opinions, freedom of assembly and the right of every citizen to not just debate but to decide and control what is best for them, both individually and collectively, is a just cause.
After a serious of pin pricks- the Iraq war, expenses scandals of various kinds- our society now views much of this moral core with great cynicism. The rise of massive inequality has also marginalized the majority of citizens, whose stake in such an unequal society grows less every year. Huge state bureaucracy has created a clientele of workers now dependent on patronage who do not respond to the will of the people, but serve their own agenda.
We have reduced even citizenship to a matter of dollars and cents. Disgracefully the old proposal to auction visas, and therefore a fast track to citizenship, has recently been resurrected. It is of a piece with the fact that Russian oligarchs have already corrupted us, buying members of the House of Lords to serve on their boards, paying corrupt accountants and shyster lawyers to sanitize the money they gained from murder.
The Russian state is in the hands of a criminal gang who regard government- any government, including ours- as a conveyor belt of wealth and power from the mass of the population to those who can exploit them. Too much of the West, including- especially- the City of London has been happy to become accomplices to the Putinists.
Now, however, the invasion of Ukraine shows the folly of that monstrous conspiracy.
Putin is almost a tragic figure: runty little Vova, from the back streets of Leningrad was long ago subsumed into the embracing will of the KGB. His narcissistic publicity stunts demonstrate a very fragile ego. Now, he is psychologically isolated. He is divorced from his wife of 30 years, Lyudmila, and despite rumours of affairs with various women, there is a high chance that Vladimir Putin is in fact a repressed homosexual, as are others of his circle. Those who simply disagree with him- even on trivial matters- can end up in the GULAG or, more often, dead. He is certainly badly adjusted, and probably he is now severely mentally ill. His rage at being defied has long been violent, it is now a country sized rage. He will seek to mutilate or crush Ukraine, as he has done in Georgia and Moldova in the past. This is not a rational interlocutor.
The West may not take action in the immediate term- the reversion of the G-8 to G-7 is a small slap on the wrist. Yet it is now clear that, as with Hitler in the 1930s, Putin intends to take "defending Russian interests" to a level where Russia seeks an aggressive confrontation. This will ultimately lead to a war, and no matter what happens in Ukraine, a confrontation could arise almost anywhere that Putin deems to be "defiant": Estonia, Finland, Poland, even Germany (where Vova has a deep psychological connection). As with Hitler, that means sooner or later he will come up against unbreakable interests. That is why the West must now accept that Russia is lost, and that aggression must be contained: to follow the model of the cold war and avoid the model of the 1930s.
It is not my purpose in this particular blog to advocate specific policies, however, I think that we must not merely seek to establish priorities in how we can prevent further Russian aggression and limit the impact of the invasion of Ukraine. We must also set an agenda for our own moral renewal. That is a holistic process, and one which never ends, but the greed and immorality that have lain at the heart of our relationships with tyrants must now be addressed. This not merely an external process, the cynical way that the NSA, for example, has betrayed the democratic trust now means that the West is in many places regarded as the moral equal of the Putinist regime.
Unless we renew our commitment to the idealist principles of Democracy, I fear that we may even become the moral equal of Putin. We need to rebuild an agenda of freedom and fairness. We need to rebuild our own democratic institutions and eliminate too the double think that lies at the heart of media and government cynicism.
Putin is a genuinely wicked human being. He is also an immature and weak man. He can be defeated. In fact he must be defeated and driven from office at the earliest opportunity. However the way to do that may have more to do with non-violence, democratic renewal and the superior morality of freedom than with the diplomatic, military and even economic mechanics that are being contemplated in chanceries of around the world this afternoon.