On Tuesday, Boris Johnson raised more than a few eyebrows when he called for “demonstrations” to take place outside Russia’s embassy in response to the Kremlin’s war crimes in Syria.
But the Foreign Secretary’s comments were soon overshadowed by the Labour Party’s official spokesman, who said that if the Russian embassy was to be picketed then so too should America’s.
His ludicrous statement sought to equate Russia’s bombing of civilian targets in Aleppo with the West’s efforts to help anti-Assad forces and supply aid to beleaguered Syrians.
It exposed the anti-Americanism that drives many on the Left, to the point where they will overlook the most appalling crimes committed by other countries.
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) October 11, 2016
But none of this is new. And it is also true of the Right, which sees Moscow as a defender of conservative values and a bulwark against the corroding influence of liberalism.
When Russia seized the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, in March 2014, one European state annexed the territory of another through military force for the first time since the Second World War.
Vladimir Putin’s behaviour broke what had seemed a very solid taboo, and one might have reasonably imagined that this would have been condemned across Britain’s political spectrum.
Alas not. Instead, Russia’s President found a ready-made supply of defenders, or at the very least apologists.
Others on the Right are similarly blithe in expressing their support. James Dowson, formerly of the BNP and a founder of Britain First, told a conference in Moscow last year that “Vladimir Putin understands… the west has been polluted by the virus of decadence, of liberalism, of homosexuality, of the destruction of the family.” Nick Griffin, formerly of the BNP, recently called on Putin to save “Christendom”.
@andrewsberry68 Try Russia Today. Free of Royal Wedding and more objective on Libya than most
— Jeremy Corbyn MP (@jeremycorbyn) April 26, 2011
On the Left, Jeremy Corbyn’s chief advisor Seamus Milne travelled to Russia in 2014 to interview Putin as part of the Valdai International Discussion Club, an annual propaganda and ego-boosting event for the Russian President (for which he was allegedly paid by the Kremlin).
Corbyn himself has described Russia’s annexation of Crimea as being “not unprovoked”, while Lindsey German, of the Stop the War coalition, has argued that since 1991 Russia has been surrounded “with military bases and puppet regimes sympathetic to the West”.
Both the Right and Left have been united in their support for RT, the Kremlin’s chief propaganda outlet and television channel in the UK.
UKIP regularly supplies speakers for the channel, including Nathan Gill (its leader in Wales) and Paul Nuttall (its former Deputy Leader).
Over the past few years, Nigel Farage has made almost monthly appearances, and he was recently rumoured to have been offered his own show.
The Left can go one better than this though. George Galloway, the former MP for the Labour and Respect parties, does actually have his own show, Sputnik: Orbiting the world with George Galloway.
All manner of left-wing organisations have also provided guests to the channel, from the Scottish Socialist Party to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Stop the War (whose record Heat Street deconstructed earlier this week). Jeremy Corbyn has even encouraged his supporters to watch the network.
Vladimir Putin has turned Russia into a grotesquely corrupt, oil-fuelled kleptocracy ruled by the secret police and guided by an increasingly sinister anti-Western and nationalist ideology.
The blindness of the Left and Right is not unique to Russia, but it is particularly grotesque.
- Dr Andrew Foxall is Director of the Russia Studies Centre at The Henry Jackson Society. He tweets @DrewFoxall