I’m conservative, so it’s hard for me not to love Vladimir Putin. His ripped torso, the way the sweat glistens on his pecs, the steely gaze, the cheeky smile. How much does he bench press, I wonder?
And of course the main reason why conservatives like me aren’t desperately keen to get stuck into the Ruskis over their occupation of Crimea is because, deep down, we really love Putin’s authoritarian style of nationalist chauvinism. Especially the beating up the gays part, because deep down we’re all secretly gay; or have micropenises. Whichever one would be more embarrassing.
A lot of people actually believe this, and that those of us who are wary of conflict with Putin are the equivalent of the dastardly old aristocrats of 1938 who guffawed at the idea that we might go to war with the Germans because of some bally Jews.
But it clearly isn’t 1938 and Putin isn’t Hitler. True, there are some superficial similarities between Weimar Germany and modern Russia; both have lost an empire, which means that large numbers of fellow ethnics have been stranded in new neighbouring countries. Both feel an abiding sense of humiliation and grievance towards the West. In the Russians’ case they quite rightly feel that after Communism their country was ransacked by a bunch of crooks and that Americans played no small part in this episode. If I were an ordinary Russian I’d feel pretty bitter, too.
But it’s part of our mindset (whether it’s human or specifically western or modern I can’t say) to link different things via some very superficial similarities and categorise them together. And the comparisons are pretty thin; the Nazi party transformed Germany, abandoned long-held ideas about the rule of law, removed the rights that minorities had held for several decades, and put large numbers of people in detention or in euthanasia programmes. It also began expanding fairly quickly.
Russia has a poor human rights record, and on any measure it qualifies as unfree [here and here]. But this does not make it an existential enemy in the way that Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union were; Saudi Arabia, our ally in the Middle East, is far closer to being such an enemy, and, unlike the Russians, it is seriously trying to spread its ideas in our country, rather than just laundering ill-gotten gains into London’s property market.
And Russia is not expansionist enough to justify confrontation. In the 14 years that Putin has been in charge (I know that technically the Farage-lookalike Dimitri Medvedev was president for a while) Russian expansion has in total consisted of Abkhazia, which is about the size of North Yorkshire (and which hadn’t even been a de facto part of Georgia beforehand anyway).
As for Crimea, we’re not going to fight the Russians over it because they have a very good historical and present claim to the region. So there’s no point our mouths writing cheques our bodies can’t cash; that’s a sign not of strength but of weakness. If Russia threatens Estonia, then that is another matter, but it probably won’t.