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The West has forgotten why it matters that our enemy Putin doesn’t win - by Charles Moore - 18.02.22

Since Russia's president has chosen to live by his doctrine of enmity, Britain and her allies should recognise that he is unappeasable says Charles Moore in the Telegraph.

Our culture disapproves of sustained hatred. Partly because of our Christian inheritance and partly because we still see ourselves as top dogs, we in the West like to forgive our enemies and “move on”.

This is an admirable human trait, but it can cause trouble in international relations. We find it hard to understand that some people truly are our enemies and won’t change.

Vladimir Putin is our enemy. I do not mean that he personally nurtures burning hatred towards us (though he may do, despite parking his ill-gotten billions with us).

I mean that he believes that the West is the eternal enemy of Russia and that Russia’s best future lies in defeating us wherever possible. Our loss, Russia’s gain; and vice versa. The concept of a “win-win” situation is not one he understands.

The West has been shockingly slow to see this. We should have learned it at Munich. I am referring here not to Neville Chamberlain’s famous agreement with Hitler in 1938 (though that contains a few lessons), but to the annual Munich Security conference which is taking place this weekend.

15 years ago this month, Putin addressed that Munich gathering of world leaders and defence experts. He spoke bluntly. He attacked the “unipolar world” created by the end of the Cold War, as “pernicious”.

The expansion of Nato, he said, “represents a serious provocation”. During the Cold War he argued, peace had been “reliable enough”; now it was “not so reliable”.

Russia had an “asymmetrical answer” to the Western threat. It was “nothing personal” he said, in that way gangsters talk, “it is simply a calculation”.

With one of those menacing jokes he enjoys, Putin began that 2007 speech by warning the German chairman of the meeting not to turn on his red light when he heard his words. The chairman obeyed.

Since then, the West has repeatedly tried to make up to Russia. Two years after Putin’s Munich denunciation, Barack Obama’s new Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, announced, with fanfare, a “reset” of relations.

In 2020, hoping to hurt China, president Donald Trump tried to get Russia to rejoin the G7. After coming into office, President Joe Biden talked to Putin in Geneva, “without preconditions” in June last year, even though Russia, by its accumulation of troops, had set its own precondition - a gun held to his head.

But Putin went on making his simple calculation. As early as 2008 he was intervening militarily in Georgia. In 2014 he invaded Crimea, and holds it to this day, thus achieving the first alteration of Europe’s borders by force since the Second World War.

At the same time, his proxy forces occupied or infiltrated other bits of Ukraine. Now he feels secure enough to hold more than 130,000 troops on the border ready to invade Ukraine, or rather, re-invade it.

Because of our temperamental aversion to conflict, the West has tended to think this might be our fault. We feel guilty about the Russian accusation that the United States and its allies broke assurances to the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, in 1990, that Nato would not expand eastwards after the reunification of Germany. Putin makes this sound as bad as the grievances about the Treaty of Versailles which helped give Hitler his big break.

In fact, however, proper evidence of such assurances is hard to come by. In November 1990, at the summit in Paris attended by Margaret Thatcher, while she was suffering political assassination at home, Gorbachev committed Russia, as all the other signatories were committed, to “fully recognise the freedom of states to choose their own security arrangements”.

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The West has forgotten why it matters that our enemy Putin does not win - by Charles Moore
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