Though it isn't something I shout about very often, I like Vladimir Putin.
I wish I didn't, but I can't quite help myself. Like supporting the policy of the death penalty or airstrikes in the Middle East, such political position-taking is bound to attract animosity, just or not. Despite some lingering reluctance, my own unwavering British patriotism has allowed me to see Putin's side of the coin. Because unlike so many in the west, I've taken the time to understand him.
Vladimir Putin is a sinister tyrant, no question. I don't think any rational person would deny this. Links to sporadic poisonings, unruly imprisonment and a rather blatant disregard for civil liberties have certainly soured his presidency. Western hard right-wingers and a few other social pockets aside, the Russian president has attracted the criticism of just about anybody to the west, from European Union officials to Human Rights campaigners.
Putin has helped to galvanise his critics in recent years though, I'll freely admit. I don't like his attitude towards homosexuals, nor the ruthlessness with which he has taken on opponents in business and politics in Russia. Anybody with any knowledge of Russian society knows that the country is in desperate need of the due process of law. Lawlessness in the form of poisonings and the imprisonment and censorship of journalists is now well attested.
A tyrant? Undoubtedly. Uniquely intolerable and deserving of endless (and often hypocritical) criticism? Sorry, no.
Without attempting to excuse the inexcusable, it would be reasonable to suggest that the role of Russian president, largely in part to the country's turbulent history and lack of western trust, will occasionally demand fierce leadership. Contentious borders shared with NATO, China and the Middle East, as well as heavy competition in the Black Sea from Iran and Turkey require the guise of a strong-willed, determined leader; a checklist Putin fills rather nicely.
Under President Yeltsin, Russia was a much closer ally to the United States and to Europe. Democratic, capitalist policy-making, though, made Russia much more appealing to foreign investors, and as a result, corporate greed and corruption took hold of the newly-independent state in the late 90s. The perils of privatisation were mercilessly exposed, and it became clear to Putin that a new economic strategy was in order.
Corruption, while still rife in Russia, has returned to normal, satiable levels similar to those in western countries. Putin knew that, though his policies may marginalise his country from western powers, a more socialist approach was necessary to encourage national economic recovery. Taking advantage of plentiful supplies of gas and oil, the Putin-styled Russian government managed to increase export revenue, maintain key allies and ensure Russia's place among fellow world powers at the very top tables.
Vladimir Putin's resistance against open borders, free trade, internationalism and stupidly fluid, hypocritical Human Rights conventions is a particularly refreshing aspect to his tenure. Hallmarks of governance in Europe and the United States, Putin has decided not to be drawn in by politically libertarian policies and things which we now know make countries weaker, less sovereign and cause social disruption.
'Russia does not need ethnic minorities, ethnic minorities need Russia' he famously coined in a speech a few years ago. Whether you agree with him or not, his determination to preserve Russian-dominant communities and a single culture must be admired. A failed campaign to enact a cross-continent policy of multiculturalism in Europe (through neglecting to encourage migrants to integrate and adopt western norms) has stirred a far-right uprising and social decay which likely will not end any time soon.
Putin also stands for national sovereignty and patriotic pride; two concepts now extremely unfashionable in the northern hemisphere. The Russian president has, through defending his country's interests in both Eastern Europe and Syria, bolstered Russia's importance on the world stage, and ensured that the same, silly mistakes made by foreign powers are not made all over again. Or that, at least, viable alternatives exist.
Vladimir Putin remains an important political figure because he is willing to stand up to the US and say: 'No, you're wrong'. His foreign policy and military record isn't too shabby either. He was right on Crimea, right on Georgia and right on Syria, yet still finds himself marginalised in the grand scheme of things. Had the world's major powers taken notice of Putin back in 2003, the Middle East would perhaps not be the volatile power-vacuum that it is today.
Tyrannical and thoroughly disagreeable though he is, Mr Putin stands for nationalistic pride, a crucial buffer against the perils of American foreign policy and a determination to defend a revived Russia on the world stage, and her citizens abroad. Three things I respect, and three things a shrinking world desperately needs.
And that is why I like him.