The Blog

Some Pity for Putin

Good old Vlad is propping up the news again as the shiftiest world leader. Apart from Kim Jong Un. Or Xi Jinping. Or King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Or - who's that bloke who controls the biggest, most notorious 'intelligence' agency in the world? Oh, of course, US President Barack Obama. Or, for that matter, his chum David Cameron...

Good old Vlad is propping up the news again as the shiftiest world leader. Apart from Kim Jong Un. Or Xi Jinping. Or King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Or - who's that bloke who controls the biggest, most notorious 'intelligence' agency in the world? Oh, of course, US President Barack Obama. Or, for that matter, his chum David Cameron.

Despite whatever they're doing, media attention of late has been focused almost entirely on Vladimir Putin. He's sent his troops into Crimea (which is interchangeably also called "the Crimea" by a ton of news networks, and is known as the Autonomous Republic of Crimea to those people who like to add extra words onto countries - I'm looking at you, Democratic People's Republic of Korea).

Crimea was a state within Ukraine, as well as the city of Sevastopol, which was a city not in the Autonomous Republic but within the Crimean Peninsula. It was all very complicated, but now they've had a vote and decided to become part of Russia, which would have made things much simpler. However, the West didn't like that and decided the vote was "illegitimate" before it had even happened.

These Russian troops have invaded Crimea, and look like they've gained the precious territory of the local allotments.

Now, I have absolutely no idea whether the vote was legitimate or not. I wasn't there, I'm not an electoral observer, I'm not Ukrainian, I have little to no personal connection with the region. But I do harbour some pity for Putin.

Firstly, to call a vote "illegitimate" before its occurrence is the very definition of presumptuous. Of course, Putin had troops occupying the area, but that was "for security reasons". Sure, you might argue that "security reasons" is just a euphemism, and you might be right.

Who else would need to put troops in a country to oversee an election on the basis of security? The United States of America, apparently. To celebrate my birthday, the people of Afghanistan are having elections, but US security forces will still be present in the country against the wishes of its democratically elected President, Hamid Karzai. Those forces have been present in every single Afghan election since 2001. That's thirteen years.

If having foreign troops in a country really biased an election turnout, then what will the rest of the world have to say about the upcoming Scottish independence referendum? Westminster doesn't just have some of its armed forces in Scotland, it has its entire nuclear arsenal. That's quite a threat, and it's certainly not elected representative Alex Salmond who gets to choose which buttons get pressed and when.

I appreciate that it's totally ridiculous to say that Westminster might nuke Scotland in the event of a vote in favour of independence, and even more ridiculous to think that might swing Scottish voting. However, it's still a possibility. So, what makes Russia's situation so different?

Huw Edwards, on the BBC News at Ten, managed to explain the difference, probably without intending to:

Good evening. President Putin of Russia has tonight signed a decree recognising Crimea as an independent state, despite the warnings of the USA and the European Union.

As news-monitoring blog Media Lens put it, "obviously, the 'warnings' from those peaceful, democracy-loving entities must come before the wishes of the plebiscite in Crimea".

One could argue that the result of the vote wasn't truly representative of the population. A good proportion of them boycotted the vote, and the ballot paper itself only gave voters the option to change rather than maintain the status quo.

This is probably a good time to remind people how this all kicked off in the first place. Last month, Ukraine was in conflict, with civilian riots, police shooting on unarmed citizens - the whole place was collapsing into turmoil. At that point, if your central government was swimming in that level of dog mess, would you want to maintain the status quo?

There's also another brilliant set of double standards here, and it comes from another link to Scottish independence. Most Scots support 'devolution max', which won't be on the ballot paper come October. I have a sneaking suspicion the rest of the western World won't claim the Scottish independence vote is "illegitimate" if it swings towards Westminster's "better together" wishes.

As far as boycotting the vote goes, that's almost a Russell Brand level of stupidity. If you don't vote, then don't complain about the result of the vote. If the Crimean Tatar demographic had all gone out to vote, Putin wouldn't have got the ridiculous, over 90% majority he did.

Bizarrely, Vlad's also being a good Russian representative in that he's doing what his electorate want. His popularity ratings were already at a high of 67% after the Winter Olympics in Sochi, but the deployment of troops in Crimea has sent them soaring to 80%.

Those are popularity ratings the government in France, Germany, the UK, or the USA would kill for. (Obama and his security drones may well be doing that already.) Yet those wealthy nations, formerly known as the G8, have decided Putin was getting too popular, and have therefore excluded him from their club, which will henceforth be known as the G7.

They've even set up the media with shots like this to explicitly highlight the fact Russia isn't allowed to play any more. I wish I was joking.

Rather than getting all the world leaders to talk to each other and work out their problems, they've actually decided to have a meeting about how much we can punish them. The international community has taken childish politics to a new level.

On top of that, President Obama is going to Saudi Arabia on Friday. As I'm sure most readers of my blog are aware, the Saudi regime has a human rights record that is more than substandard. The French also have their own problems they ought to be worrying about, such as the fact pollution levels in Paris surpassed those of smoggy Beijing last week. Our own government have more than enough mirrors to be looking in before they go around judging others (I would link to an example, but honestly? Just pick up any newspaper).

While it's impossible to fully defend Putin's actions, you do get the feeling he's being singled out rather unfairly by a diplomatic world that's consistently cautious of his power. Poor Putin.

The last word on the farce of the whole Crimean issue ought to go to the people in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, which was originally founded by a Welshman. As a result, residents of Donetsk have bucked the Scottish trend and started an online referendum to secede from Ukraine and join the United Kingdom. You win some, you lose some...