Much to the chagrin of John Major, whose favourite PM Chamberlain characteristically is, old Neville hasn’t come back in the flesh. Yet the toxic spirit of appeasement associated with him is very much in the air.
On 29 September, 1938, Chamberlain et al. primed a bomb under Europe. Less than a year later, the bomb went off.
Instead of delivering “peace in our time”, which Chamberlain promised the next day, waving a piece of paper in the air, the Munich agreement pushed a button for the most devastating war in history.
That ought to have taught people a useful lesson: though the words ‘peace’ and ‘appeasement’ are cognates in etymology, in real life they are mutually exclusive. Appeasement is a path to devastation, not to peace.
However, the lesson was never heeded, vindicating Paul Valéry’s aphorism: “History teaches precisely nothing.” For further vindication, consider the recent actions by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and Donald Trump.
Both have taken the course of appeasing Putin’s kleptofascist regime, reversing their original opprobrium of Russia’s crimes. These are numerous and richly varied.
As John Kampfner writes in today’s Times, “For the past five years, the Kremlin has masterminded a campaign to undermine western democracy. It has been spectacularly successful, helping to boost the far right and far left (Putin is Catholic with his tastes) from France to Hungary, from Italy to Finland, from Germany to the UK. Fake news, the feeding of conspiracies, the denigration of institutions, the bullying of individuals. All of these are now the political norm.”
(If I knew John, I’d buy him a drink. None for his sub-editors though: it should be ‘in’, not ‘with’, his tastes, and in this context Putin’s tastes are catholic (meaning universal, and not Catholic, meaning beholden to the Vatican.)
And let’s not forget trying to affect elections in Western countries, committing acts of nuclear and biological terrorism, sending soldiers to prop up Maduro’s regime in Venezuela and so on, ad infinitum.
Yet quite apart from the overall criminality of the Putin regime, relevant to the appeasement theme are two items currently in the news.
The first one deals with PACE’s intention to readmit Russia into that august organisation from which she was expelled following the theft of the Crimea in 2014.
Since committing that crime, Putin’s regime has attacked the eastern Ukraine, killing 13,000 Ukrainians in the process; got involved in the Syrian war with murderous consequences; attempted to engineer a coup in Montenegro, complete with the murder of her PM; used a nerve gas on British subjects; interfered with elections in the US, UK and elsewhere; and, most recently, successfully bribed Austria’s vice-chancellor to plunge the country into a political crisis.
(Leaders of the Freedom party there are happy to canoodle not only with Putin but also with frankly odious figures, such as Dugin, the principle ideologist of Russian fascism; Malofeyev, its active practitioner; and Kadyrov, the Chechen chieftain taking care of some of Putin’s ‘wet work’. So much for freedom. A bit of a misnomer, isn’t it?)
Putin has been a busy boy, and he has done many things along those lines. However, one thing he hasn’t done is return the Crimea to its legal owner, the Ukraine.
In other words, he hasn’t eliminated the reason for which Russia lost her PACE vote five years ago. This, however, hasn’t prevented Heiko Maas, German foreign minister, from announcing that Russia is about to be readmitted.
That way, he explained with most refreshing cynicism, “millions of Russians will be able to appeal for protection to the European Court of Human Rights”. If Maas really believes what he said, either he’s monumentally stupid or thinks we are.
The real function of the ECHR isn’t to protect the legal rights of European citizens but to override the legal institutions of the EU members. In that role it’s succeeding famously, while any salvation acts, if they have occurred at all, are few and far in between.
That’s in reasonably free countries, whose legal institutions are more than just a rubber stamp in the leader’s hand. In Russia, an appeal to the ECHR would be as effective as one to Zeus.
What we’re witnessing here is the EU inhaling the spirit of Munich with both nostrils, as the ghost of Neville Chamberlain floats overhead in thin air, whispering “appeasement in our time”.
As to Donald Trump, I’m not going to comment on his possible collusion with Putin, other than saying that so far no corroborative evidence to take to court has surfaced. But this doesn’t mean there’s no evidence, full stop.
The president has had his arm twisted by Congress to introduce sanctions and other punitive measures against Russia. But he has always done his level best to sabotage such measures, taking particular care never to utter a single derogatory word about Putin (America’s NATO allies don’t rate a similar courtesy).
Yet in November 2018, Trump cancelled a meeting with Putin following an act of piracy committed by the Russian navy in the Strait of Kerch, where it seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and imprisoned 24 sailors.
That was the only reason for the cancellation, explained Trump, adding he’d be happy to meet Putin when this little problem has been solved. One could infer that, until it has been solved, no meetings would take place.
Half a year later the situation hasn’t changed. Those sailors and their ships are still in Russian captivity, and yet Trump is now ready to talk to Putin face to face. The ghost of Chamberlain is looking on, whispering “That’s my boy”.