Thursday, 8 August 2013

Stephen Fry, Sochi and Stalin 2.0

Stephen Fry is right when he calls Vladimir Putin’s regime the “new autocracy” of Russia. Putin’s dictatorial repressions extend beyond Russia’s embattled LGBT community. His suppression of dissent and opposition, the suspicious deaths of journalists and activists under his regime and the politically motivated trials of Alexei Navalny and others are all part of his regime's efforts to keep itself in power and in control. And behind it all is Putin himself.

Vladimir Putin is Josef Stalin 2.0. He’s smarter, more subtle and less paranoid, but equally brutal, equally savage and equally dangerous. Where Stalin had show trials, mass purges and collectivisation, Putin has corruption charges, disappearances and manipulative nationalistic slogans. Vladimir Putin is a 21st century dictator. He has learned the crucial lesson that his 20th century predecessor never learned. You don’t need to have all of the power in the state, or to silence all of your critics. You just need to have enough of the power, in the right areas, and to neutralise only those critics you can’t buy off, smear or paint as being unpatriotic.

Putin is at the centre of a power network that embraces both state repression and state corruption. Roubles serve where the secret police might be too obvious. Fabricated charges are used instead of regime show trials. And the regime’s most serious foes die in fortuitous accidents, in cases that are never properly investigated. Putin doesn’t need to use the police to suppress dissent, he just needs them not to do their job when he has it silenced by other means.

I have always held that getting involved with dubious dictators and autocrats like Putin is not the business or in the interest of the West. It leads to what can only be described as morally compromising situations. Russia is a case in point. By engaging with Putin and sending delegations to the Games in Sochi, Western governments are saying that the values they hold dear like equal rights, equality before the law, transparent government and at a basic level some semblance of democracy are just talking points, and that dictators like Putin can do as they please and still get to preen and prance on the world stage.

While Western governments have no business getting involved in the internal affairs of other countries (see my posts on Syria and Iraq for that particular can of worms) non-involvement most definitely includes not giving despots like Putin a platform like the Olympics. As Stephen Fry points out, witness Berlin 1936 for the results appeasement of this sort. When I say don’t engage with Russia, I mean it in the fullest sense of the word. For obvious reasons, its enormous nuclear arsenal being the main one, Russia is in no danger of military intervention by the West. That does not mean the default position should be to ignore the Putin regime's appalling crimes and blithely give them carte blanche in Sochi.

All nations who value human dignity should boycott the Winter Games of 2014. Putin’s particular brand of despotism should not be given international sanction with such a high profile event. We cannot realistically influence what happens inside Russia, not with Putin’s iron grip on power. But we can deny him the exposure and international approval that he craves. Let him fume and rant, and claim that there is a western conspiracy against Russia. But let him do it without a world stage to do it from.

The world should disengage from Russia in every sense. Boycott Sochi. Downgrade Russia’s membership of the UN and other global organisations. Putin’s thuggish regime is so far gone that Russia’s membership of these bodies is not only hopeless in terms of changing anything, it is downright farcical. Stop holding international summits in Russia, and start making its participation in others like the G8 and G20 dependent on reforms. Of course Putin, much like his dictatorial predecessors won’t reform. But thats the point. If someone won’t change their ways, you stop engaging with them. You isolate them.

Putin is a dictator, and like all dictators he will be hard if not impossible to dislodge. His crimes will undoubtedly continue. By boycotting the Sochi Games, the international community can start disentangling itself from Putin’s crimes, and stop giving Russia’s latest autocrat a platform for his tyranny.

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