Putin has his Useful Idiots on the Left and the Right
Stalinist solidarity: Communists protest outside the Ukrainian embassy in London in May (credit: PA)
With Russia's seizure of the Crimea, one European state has annexed the territory of another through force of arms for the first time since the Second World War. While since 1945 there have been cases of European states sending in their troops to occupy the territory of their neighbours — Turkey in Cyprus, Serbia in Croatia and Bosnia, Armenia in Azerbaijan, Russia in Georgia — this has always been done by the establishment of proxies and a proclamation of "independence" of these puppet states, never through the formal annexation of another state's territory. Russian President Vladimir Putin's behaviour has broken what had seemed a very solid, unbreachable taboo.
One might have imagined that this would have been universally condemned by British politicians and opinion-formers. Putin has, however, found his defenders, or at least apologists, across the political spectrum. They include the usual suspects — those who can be relied upon to stand up for the West's enemies whoever they may be — but also more unlikely converts. It encompasses figures who have consistently been pro-Moscow and who now have great influence upon the decisions of the Labour party and also former Conservative party leadership hopefuls who had been strong Cold Warriors. These apologists for the Kremlin have not been bribed, blackmailed or otherwise cajoled; they are taking the positions they are due to misguided ideology.
The London-based Australian journalist John Pilger has since the Sixties and the Vietnam War been seen by some as an intrepid lone voice willing to uncover the machinations of powerful, opaque vested interests and to stand up bravely to the perfidy of the United States — a journalistic Noam Chomsky with an Antipodean accent, if you will.
So what did Pilger have to say in the Guardian about the overthrow of the brutal and deeply corrupt regime of Viktor Yanukovych after its forces had opened fire on protesters? "In February, the US mounted one of its proxy ‘colour' coups against the elected government of Ukraine . . . Since Washington's putsch in Kiev — and Moscow's inevitable response in Russian Crimea to protect its Black Sea fleet — the provocation and isolation of Russia have been inverted in the news to the ‘Russian threat'."
In Pilger's world, the United States is the aggressor and Russia's invasion of the Crimea-Ukrainian, not Russian territory whatever he might imagine — is merely an act of self-defence. The "Russian threat" — all too real when parts of your state have already been annexed, Russian forces, albeit without insignia, have entered the east of your country and are supporting surrogate militias there and the Russian army is massing on your borders — is merely a US-contrived chimera.
A month later Pilger wrote, again in the Guardian, "Why do we tolerate the threat of another world war in our name? . . . For the first time since the Reagan years, the US is threatening to take the world to war . . . Having masterminded the coup in February against the democratically elected government in Kiev, Washington's planned seizure of Russia's historic, legitimate, warm-water naval base in Crimea failed." There was I thinking that Crimea had been seized by Russia — but no, Pilger tells us that Russia had merely resisted the US's nefarious plans. This article was so outlandish — quoting supposed victims of "pro-Ukrainian Nazi radicals" from spurious, since deleted Facebook pages — that the Guardian's own Moscow correspondent, Shaun Walker, described it as "inexcusable".
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