Putin’s murderous assault on Ukraine has shocked the world and produced a justified wave of support for the beleaguered nation. But true to form, the breast-beating sections of the western commentariat assume that the fault lies elsewhere than the Kremlin. They refuse to see Putin’s war of aggression for what it is, namely an imperialist conquest designed to remove a democratically elected government, replace it with a puppet regime and merge Ukraine with ‘mother Russia’.
Instead, the Putin apologists blame NATO for expanding its boundaries eastwards in apparent contravention of promises made decades earlier. It is a foolish argument, not least because Ukraine’s desire to join NATO, an alliance designed to deter threats from non-democratic regimes, was predicated on the very threat it now faces.
It is part of the narrative of appeasement that refuses to see Putin for what he is, a warmongering autocrat who targets his enemies at will and defies the laws of war with impunity. If anything is oxygen to the modern ‘Vlad the impaler’, it is not the expansion of a western alliance. It is the sense that his adversaries are too weak and cautious to intervene when Russia flexes its military muscle.
In 2013, the Russian backed Assad regime crossed a ‘red line’ by using chemical weapons against rebel held areas in Syria. The British Parliament, to its shame, voted against military intervention, led by a Labour leadership that wanted to present itself as the post Blair anti-war party. Doubtless, that spurred Barack Obama to backtrack on intervening in Syria, reneging on a pledge to take action and allowing Russia to seize the initiative.
With every Russian breach of international law that followed, whether it was the invasion and annexation of Crimea, anti-western cyberwarfare or the poisoning of the Skripals, European politicians continued to insist on resetting relations with Moscow. In 2016, Macron was in favour of lifting sanctions against Russia that were imposed after it annexed Crimea, undermining western unity in the process. Europe’s addiction to Russian energy further reduced its leverage over Putin.
Sadly, we are now seeing a parallel with the Iranian nuclear talks that are taking place in Vienna, another abject tale of appeasement and political folly. As things stand, the path towards a renewed JCPOA is stalled, given Russian demands to guarantee that international sanctions over Ukraine will exclude its trade with Iran.
But until recently, the deal being proposed was even worse than the one that was concocted in 2015. Not only would all the flaws from the original deal still be present, including a lax inspection regime and sunset clauses, but there was talk of removing the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps from the Foreign Terrorist List and ending human rights related sanctions on Iran’s bloodthirsty President Raisi. It was proposed that other bloodthirsty terrorists would be free from US sanctions too, including two of the chief culprits in the AMIA bombing that killed 85 people in 1994.
The IRGC is an active participant in acts of terror, including the 1983 bombing of the US marine barracks in Lebanon that killed 241 American personnel and the bombing of the Saudi Khobar Towers that killed 19 US servicemen. Its proxies are estimated to have killed more than 600 American soldiers in Iraq and carried out attacks on civilian infrastructure in the Middle East.
Removing sanctions on Iran would be a slap in the face for victims of Iranian terror and empower the regime to spend more on its terrorist proxies, entrenching the chaos that it fuels throughout the region. Worse, such abject capitulation would legitimise Tehran’s path to the bomb, albeit with a decade’s grace, making it as hard to oppose Iran in the future as it is to oppose a nuclear Russia today.
It is understandable if such developments are viewed with alarm and despondency in Jerusalem. Israel’s allies, who have pledged to confront rogue regimes, have too often strengthened them through inaction or half-hearted responses to aggression. Thus, Western policies on Russia and Iran only remind Israelis that their country’s defence must never be entrusted to outside powers. The state’s destiny is in their own hands.