I’m not, I must admit, a huge fan of Vladimir Putin or his grisly Kremlin regime. Quite the contrary. So why do I find myself warming to the bastard? It must have something to do with the style he’s shown slapping it up the Brits in the current diplomatic crisis.
The pretext for all this hoo-hah is the Brits’ request for the extradition of some bloke called Lugovoi, who is apparently the chief suspect in the Litvinenko poisoning case. Whether he did it, or even whether there’s any evidence against him, I have no idea, but the Brits fingered this Lugovoi and then demanded the Kremlin hand him over. No doubt they had in mind the actions of the neo-Jacobin government in Belgrade some years back, which happily kidnapped Milošević and gave him up to the Hague Inquisition, in breach of about a dozen federal and republican laws. No such luck with Putin – if the Russian constitution forbids extraditing Lugovoi, the Kremlin strongman is not minded to breach the constitution for the Brits’ convenience.
So what we then have is the Brits, in a fit of pique, expelling four Russian diplomats. Tellingly for the new spin-free Brown government, the expulsions were accompanied by a statement from the FCO that any retaliation would be unjustified. So then the Russians do four expulsions of their own, and are met by lots of moaning and groaning from the new Foreign Secretary, nine-year-old wunderkind David Miliband, who reckons there is no excuse for the Russians doing, er, what the Brits are only after doing.
What interests me is the question of why the Brits have such a bad relationship with the Russians, while the French, the Germans and the Yanks are getting on quite well with Putin. I’m tempted to blame the FCO minister responsible for Russia, prize gobshite Jim Murphy, but he’s only just in post. A big element, no doubt, is the Brits’ recent decision to grant political asylum to the glorified spiv Berezovsky, whom the British media seem to be treating as a kind of Mandela figure, instead of being the Russian analogue to Conrad Blackadder.
But there’s also the element of Britain’s asylum policy in general. I realise of course that the likes of Melanie Phillips and Nick Cohen are always griping about mad Muslims getting into the country. They might have a point if they picked the right targets. What they actually do is focus on relatively harmless groups like Hizb-ut-Tahrir and Jamaat-e-Islami. (I know all about Jamaat’s record of thuggery in its native Bangladesh, but there have been no indications that it poses any danger to the British public.) Where Nasty Nick and Mad Mel go wrong is in ignoring the people who’ve made the most sensible criticism of Britain’s record, the government of France. Ironically, they consider the French to be unsound on “terror”.
The French raise the example of the Algerian GIA, who, unlike the blowhards of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, are a genuinely scary bunch. When the GIA got kicked out of France in the 1990s, where did they go? They went straight over to London on the Eurostar and set up their HQ in Peckham. One may speculate on the reasons for this, such as the possibility that, since France is backing the secular junta in Algiers, an Islamist victory may see Algeria swing towards Britain in its alignments.
Nor does it stop with Algeria. I don’t know what interests the Brits have in Sudan, but an awful lot of distinctly dodgy Sudanese have been setting up shop in Britain in recent years. Then there’s the British practice, which annoys the Russians no end, of granting asylum to Chechen separatist warlords. War on Terror, how are you. And that’s without even mentioning Altaf Hussein, capo of Pakistan’s mafia-style MQM party, who runs Karachi with a rod of iron from his base in North London.
What this demonstrates, I suppose, is that behind New Labour’s moral humbug, British foreign policy continues to run along lines of Palmerstonian ruthless pragmatism. This will escape the Russophobes who devoutly wish a new Cold War, but the Kremlin actually does have a legitimate complaint here.