Tyrants are bad news – not just for those living under their rule, but for the countries around them and others further abroad. They have a nasty habit of shoring up internal support by flexing their muscles internationally.
It has long been clear Vladimir Putin has tyrannical tendencies – from the slaughter in Chechnya to the mysterious deaths of various of his critics, from his seizure of opponents’ property to Russian police brutality against protesters, his government has consistently pressed down its boot.
Putin is a hard-headed logician – one of his first steps was to nationalise Gazprom, which should have led Europeans to consider their energy supply.
Europe and Britain responded by spending ten years becoming more dependent on Russian gas, mostly failing to develop new nuclear and dragging our heels on shale gas.
Almost a decade ago, when the US proposed a missile defence shield for Europe, he responded by threatening to point nuclear weapons at European cities.
The Obama administration later cancelled the missile defence shield.
When Alexander Litvinenko, a British citizen, was murdered using radioactive poison, Britain did nothing – despite allegations and evidence suggesting a former KGB officer, now an elected representative of Putin’s party, was involved.
Since Putin’s accession to power, Russia has taken every possible opportunity to veto any UN condemnation of totalitarianism, aggression and mass murder – from Assad to Ahmadinejad, oppressors everywhere have enjoyed the cover of Russian vetoes.
When the Ukrainian government began beating, torturing and eventually shooting protestors, Moscow continued to support it. The West wrung its hands and sent Catherine Ashton.
When that government eventually fell, Putin annexed Crimea. The West introduced limited sanctions, but gave public notice to those involved, allowing them time to withdraw their assets to the safety of Russia.
When the Kremlin sponsored, supplied and supported rebels in Eastern Ukraine, the West tutted and made disapproving noises.
When those rebels shot down a civilian airliner, killing almost 300 people, the West started talking tough on more sanctions. The US introduced a raft of restrictions described as “the toughest since the Cold War”. The EU exempted key figures in the Russian gas industry, and EU subsidiaries of Russian banks, for fear of affecting their own gas supply or harming their own economies.
Throughout, we now learn, NATO failed to prepare adequately to defend against a Russian attack – even though attacks by other means, such as cyber-assaults on the Baltic states and gas cut-offs, have been regular occurrences over the last decade.
Is it any wonder, given each of these steps and the feeble response at each stage, that Putin has become bolder and more aggressive? Far from provoking him, as his apologists claim, the West has invited and encouraged him to throw his weight around – if each time he does it, he gains and gets away with doing so, why are we surprised he has continued?