We need to talk about Russia

by Rob Marchant

When even the Guardian, which has sustained some fairly alternative views on world geopolitics in recent years – including running a propaganda op-ed by the Russian foreign minister – starts acknowledging that modern-day Russia has slid into a new Cold War with the West, well, it’s time to sit up and take notice.

Like a hostage with Stockholm Syndrome, the West – led by an American president who scornfully told his opponent in the 2012 election that “the Cold War has been over for twenty years” – has spent the last decade trying to convince itself that Russia was friendly and no longer a threat, in the face of stark evidence to the contrary. Obama is now choking on his unwise words, but it’s a bit late for that. Eight years of “engagement” with the US has only encouraged Vladimir Putin.

The charge sheet against Russia’s authoritarian leader is lengthy: the 2008 conflict with Georgia; the 2014 invasions of Crimea and the Donbass; sabre-rattling over the Baltics; the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko; encouragement of homophobia by Putin allies; gradual curtailment of most independent media and increasingly dubious elections (including a referendum in Donetsk whose result was apparently known before its taking place); encouraging the rehabilitation of Stalin; and finally, interfering in US presidential elections, dammit, through Russian hacks to the Democrats’ email system and its clear allying with Julian Assange and Wikileaks in favour of the Trump campaign. Not to mention the recent, utterly reprehensible bombing of civilians in Syria, which surely constitutes a war crime in any meaningful interpretation of international law.

The absurdity of it all was highlighted last week, when Putin’s perennially-misleading propaganda channel, Russia Today (RT), was finally threatened by RBS with terminating its business and predictably cried “foul”. In an irony-free intervention, RT tried to make it into a free-speech issue, conveniently omitting to mention that it has so far been reprimanded fifteen times by media regulator Ofcom. (For the record, RBS subsequently seems to have backed down in the face of a strong reaction from Moscow.)

The best resumé of where the RT controversy leaves reasonable people was last week made by LBC’s James O’Brien (hat-tip @paulocanning):


Where is Labour in all of this? In the middle of useful idiot territory, of course. All of the above can happen in Russia with scarcely a word of criticism from Labour’s current leadership.

On the contrary, in fact: Jeremy Corbyn, who has appeared on Russia Today on a number of occasions and whose views tend to chime unusually well with its Kremlin-pushed angle, was only five years ago openly inviting people to watch it as an “alternative” source of news. And as recently as last year’s leadership election, he came up with this gem (check out the video from 9:31 here):

“Look, if you believe in peace, believe in human rights and you believe in a foreign policy that sets those at the heart of it rather than the ability to militarily dominate the world, then there are people that won’t agree with that and won’t like that, but I’m sure they will understand the need for peace and justice.

This paragraph about “peace and justice” was made with a straight face on a Russia propaganda channel, mouthpiece of a regime which had just invaded three – count ‘em – regions of a neighbouring sovereign state and whose recent record on human rights is appalling. Was any of that challenged by Corbyn in the interview? Was it hell.

With so much broken in today’s Labour Party, it seems almost superfluous to use the phrase “wrong side of history”. But that is exactly where we currently are, in terms of the leadership’s position on Russia.

It seems increasingly clear that while Barack Obama’s domestic agenda has notched up some qualified successes, his foreign policy will be looked back on in years to come as somewhere between poor and disastrous.

And if that is the case with Obama, for all his faults a man who has held down the most powerful job on the planet, how will it look for a mere opposition leader who has openly courted the regime and embraced its political stance?

In short: if Russia continues in its current mode of an ever-more aggressive power, and we continue to argue for placating it, the damage will be lasting to Labour.

Foreign policy, like defence, does not tend to make people vote for one party above another in peacetime, it’s true. But the credibility gap that bad policy in these areas creates can decide on who people do not vote for, as Michael Foot discovered in 1983 when Labour stood on a unilateralist platform. And, as the 2013 Syria vote and subsequent foreign policy controversies have shown, they can also make decent members leave in droves.  Britain is not a nation of appeasers any more than we are a nation of pacifists.

It seems uncontroversial to say that the Labour Party under Corbyn is no longer respected by the vast majority of opinion-formers in the country, as the polls and most media coverage will attest. But with this kind of stance on foreign affairs, ignoring mass murder and cuddling up to ugly regimes, it may yet come to be despised.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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17 Responses to “We need to talk about Russia”

  1. Tony says:

    There are legitimate criticisms that can be made of Putin and some of them appear in this article.

    However, we should not forget also that Russia has seen NATO expand right up to its borders. Many people such as Denis Healey and Paul Nitze, the US architect of the original Cold War, argued that this was a bad idea. Would the United States be happy if the Warsaw Pact had expanded to include, say, Mexico? I very much doubt it.

    Let us not forget that the United States and Britain invaded Iraq killing up to a million people in the process. Afghanistan was also invaded whilst Libya and Kosovo were also bombed.

    Many of the people who are so concerned about Russian behaviour were enthusiastic cheerleaders for these military adventures!
    The United States has regularly interfered in the elections of other countries and has launched many coups to overthrow such governments. It is hard to believe that the author of this article is unaware of these basic facts.

    “It seems uncontroversial to say that the Labour Party under Corbyn is no longer respected by the vast majority of opinion-formers in the country”

    I agree and am reassured by it.

  2. Corbyn doesn’t cuddle up to the Saudis or Gaddafi – like the Blair cultists do.

  3. AnneJGP says:

    To the site admin:

    I can no longer access the comments on any article. Links that ought to take me there only end up at the top of the article with no comments below.

    I use Google Chrome and Firefox. Both behaving the same.

    Any solutions, please?

  4. AnneJGP says:

    LOL. The solution is: submit a comment and now I can see comments on other articles too.

  5. Mike Homfray says:

    What a surprise…..Marchant thinks we should go to war with Russia. Please carry out your threat and leave the party – the last thing we need is ill conceived clumsy intervention about things which are none of our direct concern

  6. Annoyingmouse says:

    Could Mr Marchant, with his obvious love of bloodshed, please don his tin hat, and toddle off to join the Foreign Legion – or something similar.

    It seems that he is worried about a country that can be wiped out in a few missiles; we now have open borders to any would-be ISIS warrior, and that seems to worry him not one jot.

    I suggest that when the civil war comes in this country – and it will – Mr Marchant will be cowering in his bunker fiercely fingering his computer keyboard.

  7. David Walker says:

    Is there any point in commenting on this article? Comments take hours or days to pass your rather pointless vetting process, which means any kind of interaction between those who have commented is virtually impossible. Sometimes, as with the last article, comments don’t get published at all.

    Your anti-spam defence has been to require contributors to type the word ‘Blair’ in the same box for as long as I can remember. I very-much doubt this is going to thwart spammers, as it’s no longer 1998 and they have upped their game a bit.

    Why not just let comments be published automatically from any device that has previously sent a genuine comment? It’s only us same few idiots that keep visiting the site, anyway.

  8. Dave Roberts says:

    Who or what exactly is an activist? I keep hearing about these people and would like to meet one, one day!

  9. The Tory-lites need to talk about Yemen.

  10. James Martin says:

    Rob’s stand up is getting funnier by the week, “ignoring mass murder and cuddling up to ugly regimes” he writes without a hint of irony at a time when his old coup plotting mates in the PLP, the Progress supporting, Henry Jackson, bomb dropping wing of the PLP led by the likes of John Woodcock, didn’t even bother to turn up for a vote this week on opposing the head chopping Saudi regime war crimes in Yemen.

    Besides Rob, remind us again who invaded Iraq in an illegal war that killed half a million civilians (and counting) and led directly to the creation of ISIS? Remind us again who it was that took part in an illegal regime change in Libya that led to a failed state and ISIS ciontrol of large parts of it? Because it sure as hell wasn’t the Russians was it pal!

  11. Tafia says:

    You need to read the chapter on Russia in Tim Marshall’s excellent book ‘Prisoners of Geography’ It answers all those questions and more and explains not only why they happened, but the fact that they were inevitable and how our actions in the west have exacerbated things.


    Something to ponder.. How many countries has Russia attacked in the last 25 years in comparison to the USA. How much bomb tonnage has been used. Who is the larger power nuclear wise. Who has the larger standing army and who is the most technically advanced and therefore has the most destructive capability. Who has the most troops and assets deployed outside it’s own borders.

    I’ve seen 1000lb bombs being dropped. No matter how smart they are, in an urban area the majority of casualties will ALWAYS be civilian. If you are stood up, in direct line of sight, within two football pitcheds distance then you are dead – end of story. It isn’t illegal to bomb civilian areas if there are military personnell or positions there (ask the Israelis). It isn’t illegal to bomb infrastructure – no matter how vital it is to the civilian population. It isn’t illegal to bomb anything supporting the enemy military – warehouses, factories (including the workers), ports, airports, rail networks amnd rollingstock, water treatment plants, shared accommodation etc etc etc. If an anti-arcraft postition – or even just a radio mast is on top of a block of flats full of civilains it is perfectly legitimate to bomb it. Thermobaric weapons? Hell we and the Americans invented them, specifically for the purpose the Russians are now using them (and ours are more powerful and we used smaller ones in Afghanistan). Cluster munitions? No international accord banning them. It’s a pure;ly voluntary code, adhered to only buy the countries that signed it. Both we and the US are signatories. Russia isn’t and not only that, we still make and export them. UK made cluster munitions are being used in Yemen, on civilian areas, by the Saudis. Chemical weapons? Both sides in Syria have used them. Luckily the terrain and the prevailing weather for the dated type they are using means they are largely a waste of time and effort.)

    You off course know all of the above and almost certainly have read Tim Marshall’s book so are only asking things you already know the answer to. Which begs the question as to why you wrote the piece. The answer of course is transparent – a snidey childish way to have a dig at Corbyn.

    However, beforehand you need to find out which dullard thought using RSS feed for commenting was an improvement when it quiute clearly is not. It doesn’t work properly with Google Chrome (which is the largest domestic browser in the UK) nor with FireFox. It’s also clumsy. When you’ve found them, dress them in a seal pup skin and send them to Canada. The choice of RSS is extremely retrograde, especially when there are foar simpler and far more efficient commenting tools such as Disqus etc.

  12. Mark Livingston says:

    Up with socialism. Down with the Blairite cultists! Fight them. Fight them. And fight them again!

  13. Steve says:


  14. Tony says:

    Where are the comments for this article?

  15. John P Reid says:

    See Rod liddle a article in the Speccie, Love bomb it’ in NATO, moving NATO to the each frontiers

  16. Mr Origami says:

    Some folk talk about Russia – other folk do business.


  17. Feodor says:

    We may need to talk about Russia, but it seems the author would much rather talk about Corbyn. Says something when a writer can’t even stay on a topic of his own choosing…

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