David Cameron has today met with a thug - Vladimir Putin - in Moscow. Simon Tisdall´s column in the Guardian is very much to the point:
Cameron's role, in Putin's eyes, as modern-day useful idiot may be further enhanced by the former's cautiously oblique references to bilateral concerns including corruption, legal swindles encountered by British businesses and human rights issues. In Putin-land, where "democracy" is clumsily stage-managed, theft is institutionalised, free speech is largely illusory and the whole concept of civil liberties is viewed as suspect and potentially subversive. The mention of such matters by a visiting national leader who plainly has other, more pressing, priorities means they may more easily be discounted and pushed aside.
The de facto, unthinking legitimisation of Putinism, if this were indeed the result of Cameron's foray, would be unfortunate in the extreme. It hardly seems worth the £215m in trade deals and 500 British jobs that Downing Street reckons it may get out of it. For the Litvinenko affair is but the tip of a rather large Arctic iceberg whose full, submerged extent is not widely appreciated in Britain or in other EU states, notably Germany, blinded by energy dependency and other unlovely manifestations of "realpolitik".
It was only last Christmas, after all, that pro-democracy opposition street protests were repressed and leading campaigners such as Boris Nemtsov arrested. The crackdown followed last year's expansion of the powers of the FSB secret police and Putin's exhortation to the security apparatus to "crack heads with batons" if people protested without permission. All this against the backdrop of the show trial of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an arch-opponent of Putin, and other more recent abuses.Nor is it that long since Britain was complaining about what officials called a "huge Russian intelligence operation in the UK" and the two countries were expelling each other's diplomats. Is Cameron suggesting that this espionage problem, like the Putin regime's human rights record, can now be safely ignored? Are Putin's policies in the Muslim Caucasus, where his mishandling of Chechen separatism has kindled something akin to a region-wide conflict, now a matter for British silence or, worse, indifference? And what of Russia's continuing obstructionism on Syria and its ongoing nuclear collaboration
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Verdict: Cameron - like so many of his international colleagues - is a person without principles. Which is sad, because in these difficult and challenging times there is a desparate lack of politicians of stature.