Wednesday 21 March 2018

Boris Johnson and Russia

Ian Austin. Now there's a Labour MP no one will ever remember in a hurry. Nor does he deserve to be recalled by future political historians, save as a 21st century exemplar of a place seeker and non-entity. Oh, and for helping out Boris Johnson. Yes, helping. As readers know the foreign secretary got himself a few headlines this evening for repeating the line fed to him by Austin, that this year's World Cup in Russia will prove comparable to the 1936 Nazi Olympics. The government have subsequently confirmed that Johnson was speaking in an official capacity and on their behalf.

Needless to say this is grotesquely offensive. Is Putin looking to use the World Cup to show Russia off and, crucially, do a good PR job for his government? Yes. Does he have a record for doing so? Yes - see the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. On the other hand, inviting comparisons of Putin's gangsterism with the 20th century's most notorious and disgusting regime is stupid, not least because of the scale of the crimes separating them, but for the small matter of Operation Barbarossa, Nazi Germany's invasion of the USSR. Around 26 million Soviet citizens perished in the largest and bloodiest conflict the world has ever seen, and this remains within living memory. When Johnson says Britain has "no quarrel" with the Russian people, likening their government - as corrupt, brutal, decaying, and criminal it is - to the Nazis is a funny way of showing it.

So too is the Tory response to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. Talking tough is one thing, but being all mouth and no trousers is quite another. We've had the tit-for-tat expulsion of diplomats from the missions in London and Moscow, and the rhetoric. But, here's the funny thing, despite the best efforts of the Tories, their friends in the press and their enablers on the Labour benches, they find themselves catching up with Jeremy Corbyn both in terms of the formal identification of the nerve agent used, and importing America's Magnitsky Act and cracking down on the use of London by Russian officialdom to wash its dirty money. For a party with financial links aplenty to Russian oligarchs, pro and anti-Putin, this is not a painless matter.

And yet, if they were so minded, there's even more the Tories can do. According to Foreign Direct Investment figures for Russia in 2015, the UK has some leverage. While only accounting for 2.9% of FDI, the crown dependencies of the British Virgin Islands and Bermuda have 3.8% and 4.3% shares respectively. Add in the semi-detached Bahamas at 6.9%, the UK "family" of investors were, three years ago, responsible for almost a fifth of all inward investment into Russia. Who knows how much more was channelled through Ireland (7.7%) and Luxembourg (11.5%)? Seems business isn't that put off by Putin's adventures in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.

If the government was serious about pressure instead of grandstanding for favourable editorials, FDI is a lever it could threaten to pull. But it doesn't. The Tories haven't even mentioned it. And that in itself raises a whole load of other questions.


Boffy said...

Given that 30 million ordinary Russian people died at the hands of Hitler in WWII, or about 5 times the number of Jews who died in the Holocaust, should Austin's comment be considered as five times more offensive than the comments of those who have made a comparison between Zionism and Nazism? Shouldn't Austin be suspended from membership for those comments using the same logic?

Given the similarities between the Israeli regime and Putin's regime, including ideological commonalities going back to National Bolshevism, the willingness of both regimes to carry out assassinations and so on across the globe, and to make military incursions into surrounding territories, to confiscate other people's land, to occupy it, and so on, are such comparisons also now verboten, given that Austin, and no less a personage than Bojo have likened Putin to Hitler, because by extension, any comparison of the the Israeli regime to the Russian regime, is then a comparison of the Israeli regime with the Nazi regime?

If someone now compares some other country to Russia, does that mean that any secondary comparisons of that country to Israel are also by extension a comparison to Nazi Germany? Does that mean ultimately that all comparison becomes illegitimate, and a potential cause of you getting suspended down the road for having at some time made a comparison or comment that someone somewhere later finds to be not in accordance with their own views, and thereby offensive to them?

At what point does this safe spaces mentality make the Labour Party - or any other organisation - one in which it is only ever possible to have one member who hopefully can then be fairly confident that they will not say anything that will be offensive to themselves? There again, perhaps even then they had better not read anything they said previously, or they might find that they disagree with something they said themselves several years previously, and which they now find deeply offensive to themselves, and would have to suspend themselves from their own organisation.

asquith said...

Have you read The Moscow Trilogy by Simon Montefiore? I find fascinating the life of Benya Golden, who was pointlessly victimised and incarcerated by Stalin, but volunteered to fight for the man he called "the bastard" anyway because as a Russian he felt the need to defend his motherland against the fascist invader.

Obviously he wasn't a real person but he encapsulates in a memorable way what a lot of real people did.

The comparison with Hitler is stupid and crass, I'd argue that Putin has more in common with Erdogan (his supposed enemy, though they've come to terms over a mutual loathing of liberal democracy) and other small-time dictators. As noted before, the orangeman, Ben Netanyahu, UKIP, and several Eastern European kleptocrats are taking notes.

I generally abhor the government's "response". We can't influence what happens in Moscow, and intervention has been tried and failed. We can influence what happens in London, by freezing the assets of oligarchs (not just Russian but also Saudi, Qatari etc) but when will Maybe and her phalanx of "patriot" supporters in the press call for that?

George Carty said...

"30 million ordinary Russian people died at the hands of Hitler in WWII"

30 million SOVIET people actually – I suspect many of them were Belarusians and Ukranians rather than Russians.

Boffy said...

Corbyn's instinct was absolutely correct. The people that British workers should be looking towards, and solidarising with are the Russian workers themselves oppressed by Putin and his regime, just as the German workers were oppressed by Hitler. May, of course cannot do that, because she is the enemy of the working-class too. She has no interest in promoting the interests of Russian workers any more than of British workers. She is only interested in promoting the interests of British capital, not even global capital.

If we want to ally ourselves with Russian workers we cannot be seen to be allied to May and the British ruling class, especially when those elements attack Putin as an equivalent of Hitler, and enable Putin to wrap himself in the flag. As Trotsky said about the same approach against Hitler himself,

"The democracies of the Versailles Entente helped the victory of Hitler by their vile oppression of defeated Germany. Now the lackeys of democratic imperialism of the Second and Third Internationals are helping with all their might the further strengthening of Hitler’s regime. Really, what would a military bloc of imperialist democracies against Hitler mean? A new edition of the Versailles chains, even more heavy, bloody and intolerable. Naturally, not a single German worker wants this. To throw off Hitler by revolution is one thing; to strangle Germany by an imperialist war is quite another. The howling of the “pacifist” jackals of democratic imperialism is therefore the best accompaniment to Hitler’s speeches. “You see,” he says to the German people, “even socialists and Communists of all enemy countries support their army and their diplomacy; if you will not rally around me, your leader, you are threatened with doom!” Stalin, the lackey of democratic imperialism, and all the lackeys of Stalin – Jouhaux, Toledano, and Company – are the best aides in deceiving, lulling, and intimidating the German workers."

Replace Entente with NATO, Germany with Russia, and the actions of the West since the fall of the USSR, and the comparison is complete.