Sunday, 1 March 2015

Goodbye, Boris Nemtsov

As if to highlight the worsening of Russia's already-disastrous political situation, last Friday night opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was found dead, after four shots in the back as he walked on a bridge in Moscow. Nemtsov was a decent man and, as a former deputy prime minister, one of Putin's most high-profile remaining critics.

Hilariously, the administration's investigating committee has attempted to blame it on (a) people wanting to destabilise Russia (no, because then they would hit someone in the administration, not the opposition) or (b) - wait for it - Islamist terrorists! Because they're really known for shooting people in the back, right? (You may remember that individual jihadist murders generally do not involve firearms at all.)

Despite the near-impossibility of proving it, a much more credible explanation has been offered by Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko: that he was about to reveal evidence of Russia's direct involvement in Ukraine.

There is also the small matter of an anti-Putin rally to be held today, to which Alexei Navalny, another opposition politician, will not be able to attend either, because he has been jailed for 15 days.

Despite clear evidence obtained by Western journalists, it has to be said that evidence regarding Russia's Ukraine invasion from a high-profile figure inside Russia, with access to Russian media, has thus far been noticeable by its absence. Following Nemtsov's murder, I suspect it is likely to continue to be.

Once, Nemtsov was a member of the political elite. Two years ago, he was writing about the death in custody of whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky and how his death should not be in vain, how it could be used to create a law to stop the gangsters. Now he, too, is dead.

It is clear that it is becoming increasingly unsafe for any Russian to criticise the Putin administration.

UPDATE: today's above-mentioned opposition demo - a fairly rare event nowadays - has now, as might be expected, turned into a funeral march for Nemtsov. Moscow's streets, where I spent so much time walking around this time last year, are filled with angry people. 

Perhaps, just perhaps, some good might come of this.

There are also reports that the Ukrainian woman who was walking with Nemtsov has been detained and that the Ukrainian consul is not being allowed to speak to her. Ukrainian, note.

Vladimir Putin has, according that same BBC report, condemned the murder as "vile and cynical". Irony's not one of his strong points, as you may have observed.

UPDATE II: the young woman's lawyer reports she is staying at the house of a Nemtsov supporter. Which is good news.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

If you want to know how our foreign policy has gone badly wrong, you need ask yourself only why IS now sits on the shores of the Mediterranean

What IS wants, in a picture
As if it were not enough that the EU’s two principal member states – in the form of their leaders, François Hollande and Angela Merkel – spent much of the last few weeks happily handing to Vladimir Putin parts of another European country on a plate in return for “peace”, chickens have now come home to roost in another benighted country only a few hundred miles from the EU.

It was not, as some have tried to maintain against all logic, that the West intervened in Libya and provoked a reaction against it. It was self-evidently that it did not intervene enough. In timidly restricting itself to a no-fly zone, it did not remotely attempt to help set up a functioning democratic state in the aftermath or prevent a power vacuum being filled by jihadists. In fact, NATO left early, against the wishes of the new government.

It is by now painfully obvious that wherever there is unrest in the Muslim world, jihadists will not be slow in moving in. The trick is not to let them get established. Proactive, not reactive; a stitch in time.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

A little dignity, a little pride

While Labour has not had a brilliant last couple of weeks in the election campaign – its barely-coherent policy on the NHS being a case in point – the jury is still emphatically out on who will win, thanks largely to this parliament’s highly unusual electoral arithmetic.

With things so tight in the polls, a big part of winning for both main parties is surely about their MPs keeping their heads down and their eyes on the prize. In other words, it is as much about thinking that they will win and convincing others of that fact, as pounding the streets of Britain on the “Labour doorstep”.

So discipline is vital. The Tories, now battle-hardened after “holding the line” through five years of government, seem to be making a reasonable fist of it (even Boris Johnson has had the good sense to absent himself abroad, rather than be a distraction to the Tory campaign).

Labour, well, not so much.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Podemos: it's not what you think, British left

After the electoral success of Syriza in Greece, comes a massive demonstration in favour of Podemos in Madrid's Plaza del Sol. The British left has been quick to see Syriza as the start of something. Surely there is about to be an Iberian repeat of that anti-austerity win, which will kill the Euro-zone's austerity policies off for good?

Hmm, not necessarily. Things are still a little more stable in Spain, despite some serious economic challenges, such as having one in four people unemployed. And the movements aren't really the same, either.

As usual with these things, there is an easy narrative: in this case, to class both movements as popular uprisings of the left against capitalism. But whereas Syriza really is essentially an unreconstructed party of the radical left, more the equivalent of Respect in the UK, Podemos is a more anti-politics-as-usual force, not so clearly aligned and mostly supported by Spaniards of all stripes who are genuinely disgusted with traditional parties.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

It’s still all about leadership

For the last few years, Labour Uncut - and this blog - have been repeating pretty much the same message: the Tories will mainly fight this election on two things: leadership and the economy.

They haven’t disappointed. So far, they seem to have been talking about little else.

Thing is, at this point the argument over the economy is a difficult one. To the politically-attuned, the Tories may just be perceived – even among their own supporters – as having called their last Budget badly and overdone austerity. But among ordinary folk, the reality is that Labour is still not trusted on the economy and that this would tend to trump unease with the Tories.

The logic is not exactly complex: “Labour will borrow more” is the Tory attack line. Labour’s strategy is to reply with the economically correct, and yet politically inept, response that we will leave the door open to borrow, but only to invest.

As if the average voter is likely to distinguish between leaving the door open and doing, or between capital and expense accounting in their feelings about the two main parties.

As if.

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