Friday, 12 September 2014

Vladimir Putin is not a conservative but is trying on social conservative clothes


Here is an interesting article by Sir Anthony Brenton, former British Ambassador to Russia, (like the Prime Minister he served he prefers to use the chummy cognomen, Tony) arguing that Western countries handled Ukraine very clumsily, sanctions against Russia won't work and that Russia is entitled to insist that Ukraine not join NATO. I agree with him on the first and third points and on the desirability of calming things down to a certain point, but some sort of sanctions are certainly needed. 

He is right when he says

Negotiating an acceptable level of autonomy for East Ukraine will be much harder. The Russians are in possession, and will not let go until their concerns are met. Meanwhile Ukraine’s President Poroshenko has to deal with a nationalist Right whom every concession will enrage. Here, finally, sanctions could be of some use, with the offer to lift them helping to lubricate the way towards an agreement.
The whole affair raises serious questions about the competence of Western policymaking towards Russia. The one route out of this mess has been visible for months. But let us not recriminate. There are still big prizes to play for. A democratic, prosperous, Western-leaning (but not allied) Ukraine is bound to become an important exemplar for the Russians next door. And the reopening of Western economic ties with Russia is crucial to the process of pulling that country, however slowly and erratically, towards European normality too.
I have given the view that Putin is a conservative more thought. 

Marxism is inherently violent but the brutality of Lenin and Stalin is specifically Russian. So was the brutality of the Tsars and the far sighted Stolypin, who came close to making Russia a modern economy, with a constitutional monarchy and representative government. Stolypin, bloodstained as he was, was the only important Russian figure who does deserve to be called a conservative.

Clearly Mr Putin, who has a portrait of Czar Peter the Great in his room, is no more a conservative than the Czars were. They were reactionaries, which is something else, and very brutal, absolutist reactionaries, not nostalgic reactionary-aesthete-fogeys like me. Mr. Putin is a brutal reactionary too, if only because democracy threatens his regime as freedom threatened the Communists and the Tsars. Increasingly he has created an ideology of traditionalist social conservatism but, though no doubt his contempt for much of what in the West are called human rights is sincere, the former KGB do not become conservatives so easily. 

I don't think it is useful to call him a fascist because he is not one, but he is as antidemocratic as a fascist or any communist.

The principle objection of conservatives to many of the misnamed human rights which nowadays obtain in the EU is that they restrict freedoms (the freedom to say what you like about various sensitive subjects, for example). Freedom of speech is not something that Vladimir Putin can credibly defend, though he did it when he sheltered Edward Snowden, nor are other freedoms.

Conservatives do not only believe in freedom, of course, or they would be (classical) liberals. Conservatives also believe in hierarchy and tradition and a divine order in the world - which is why most conservatives dislike, for example, single-sex marriage - but no Burkean or Disraelian can like the hierarchy of the former KGB, turned business leaders, or a tradition that includes Stalin as the hero of the Great Patriotic War. Owen Matthews finds Strelkov, the Russian who ran the Donetsk 'republic' more frightening than Putin and he probably is, but does, at least, seem genuinely to believe in a Christian, anti-Communist tradition and he knows Putin is a corrupt KGB man. 

Mr Putin says that the Americans provoked war in Ukraine to revive NATO - an interesting idea that he may well really believe.  Whether this was the intention, it is certainly the effect. Interestingly, unlike the Americans, the EU probably didn't really have much interest in Ukraine. The EU has its problems, including with Eastern European immigrants, especially Romanian gypsies, and doesn't want more enlargement for a long time to come. 

Mr Putin does not understand that for America spreading democracy and spreading American influence come to much the same thing. Or rather he does.

The truth is that American attempts to help Ukraine be a free democratic society succeeded far better than anyone dared hope - at one point there were said to be a million people in the Maidan. They were people wanting the whole corrupt system to go, as people in Romania want the whole corrupt system to go, which is why I had demonstrators encamped near my flat for weeks in early 2012 and had to walk home through tear gas. I am with those people, who included some fascists, some leftists, some homosexual activists and a very wide spectrum of hopeful people, rather than with the Kremlin or the KGB or the foreigners who back the Kremlin - or, for that matter, with the American hawks or neo-cons either.

In the end, this is not 1938 all over again, as Edward Lucas, Anne Applebaum and Ben Judah think, but one thing does stand out - that Putin is a brutal and authoritarian leader, not any sort of democrat. Russia may never become a democracy, her tradition is autocracy, but if Eastern Europe prospers within the EU it will in the long term be hard for Russia to take another path. For Ukraine I think things look more hopeful. 

There is a good chance that Ukraine will move towards Europe and away from Moscow, thanks partly to Putin's invasion, but the problem remains that a good outcome for Ukraine - some degree of prosperity, democracy and clean government - is a grave threat to Putin's own hold on power in Russia and he is in a position to do a lot to prevent this outcome.


  1. In my opinion the uprising in Maidan was mainly genuine and not "engineered" by the West. Ukrainians are right to want independence and democracy (though they will not get it from the EU). They are also right to resent Russian domination. Those on the Right who are taking the Kremlin's side against the Maidan are blinded by their hatred for the neoconservatives and the EU. But I don't see a qualitative difference between Putin and our own leaders in the West. It seems you keep trying to fit him into an East-west Cold War paradigm but it doesn't work because the paradigm is obsolete.Yes putine is brutal and authoritarian but the political class in the west today is equally brutal and authoritarian towards groups it hates: conservative whites and traditional Christians. Of course Blacks are allowed to riot like chimps and loot shops in Ferguson because a white policeman shot a black criminal, "British" Muslims in Rotherham were deliberately enabled for Years to rape English girls. No authoritarianism for them. But the British government can suddenly become very authoritarian if you voice anti-sodomite or pro-white opinions in public or even in what you think is private company. Brutal authoritarianism per se is not bad and is sometimes necessary. It depends on who it is directed against. Stolypin and the Tsars were clearly not brutal enough towards the Reds.
    Roxana, United States.

  2. Furthermore I don't understand how they are more democratic than Russia. If this is what you believe then Please explain why you think this. At least Vlad Putin can plausibly claim to be represent the popular will. Cameron, Hollande and Obama cannot. The governments of the USA, UK, France, Germany, Russia have more similarities than differences. They are all pseudo-democratic and the polity they most resemble (especially Uk, France, Germany) is the post-Stalin USSR only with capitalism and (except for russia) extreme social anti-conservatism. The post-Stalin USSR was not a terroristic state regarding its own citizens even if there was no free political process. If you departed from communist Orthodoxy you were rarely sent to the gulags or shot. Instead the softer Communism used career destruction as its preferred control method. Exactly the same in western "democracies" today. The social consequences of violating the rules of the system's censors are catastrophic for the individual, unemployment or even prison sentences for hate speech (aka truth speech). We all know of examples and we could spend all day listing them. So how is the late-USSR different from what happens in Britain, France and US? "Freedom" and "democracy" do not belong in the same sentences as the "West". Not anymore. The Cold War paradigm is psychologically comforting. Wasn't it all simpler when it was unfree East versus free West when we prayed for the conversion of Russia? This view is out of date.

  3. More to the point, Democracy and freedom are supposed to be means to an end: good government and a healthy society. These things are a thing of the past. And prosperity is leaving the west too so it looks like the Ukrainians are behind the times in looking Westward.
    The allegation that putin is bloodstained is also true but not so interesting. Yes he is. Western leaders are killers just the same. Anti-Christian Liberal politicians are against capital punishment for murderers but they often do not mind killing innocent foreign civilians in aggressive wars and calling it collateral damage (as did Putin in Chechnya.) So what's the difference? Why is Putin supposed to be more brutal than Blair, Bush, Obama or Cameron. Russia allows abortion but so does America and Britain. Is putin Corrupt? Yes more so than western leaders but corruption is not necessarily the worst thing to affect a country. China is way more corrupt than Russia and yet they are overtaking the US to become the worlds largest economic power. Mr. Putin is otherwise very similar to Western leaders except for the fact that he is popular and he is relatively "socially conservative" since he opposes sodomitic marriage and softly champions orthodoxy. No matter what liberals say Democracy and freedom is NOT more important than religion and morality. Yes Putin may be sexually immoral himself since he divorced his wife to fornicate with a younger gymnast but he does not directly attack Public morality. Tony Blair himself was a good "family man" but his government promoted rampant degeneracy and lowering the age of consent for sodomitic sex. If Putin is bad it is because he has not been brutal enough in punishing sexual lewdness, pornography and homosexuality.

  4. Brenton was former ambassador to Russia at time of Tony Blair - I think that says enough! Not particularly bright - even defended National Bolsevists! Listened to him on a Chatham House seminar, apologist for Russia, I am afraid...


    I think Putin is a conservativer, just not a typical anglo-saxon conservative

  6. From the beginning read all comments on the Western articles about Russia. Then think,read History, then you understand, what a fool you were.