I started the week thinking that the manufactured furore about Alex Salmond’s remarks on Putin was a storm in a tea-cup best ignored. However, the desperate attempts of the unionist parties, the BBC and the right wing press to smear Salmond and divert attention from their failing campaign has reached a level of absurdity that is so disrespectful to the rights of people in Ukraine and Russia that I feel compelled to respond.
I have been working to support human rights defenders in Russia since the bad old days of the Soviet Union. I contributed to the article published in the name of my colleague Masha Chichtchenkova in the Irish Times last week detailing Putin’s repression of human rights defenders in Russia. Masha was herself in Kiev on Maidan square during the worst of the violence there. Putin may not have ordered the killing of human rights defender Natacha Estemirova in Chechnya but he almost certainly was personally involved in the decision to prosecute Memorial’s Oleg Orlov for saying that the Putin supported Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov was responsible. I knew Natacha quite well, she spent 3 months on rest and respite working alongside us in Dublin, she was abducted and murdered on 15 July 2009.
You can conclude that I do not admire Putin or what he is doing to Russia or Ukraine, but I found nothing outrageous in Salmond’s interview with GQ. Understanding that Putin has been successful at beating a populist Russian drum is entirely relevant to understanding how best the international community might respond.
“Well, I don’t approve of a range of Russian actions, but he is more effective than the press he gets and you can see why he carries support in Russia.”
“Admire him?‚” asked Campbell. Salmond replied: “Certain aspects. There are aspects of Russian constitutionality and the intermesh with business and politics that are obviously difficult to admire. He’s restored a substantial part of Russian pride and that must be a good thing. Russians are fantastic people, incidentally; they are lovely people.”
We are fortunate to live in a country with a free press, the rule of law and a peaceful democratic process to resolve the issue of our self-determination. Putin has brutally repressed self-determination and used a Government controlled media to smear anyone who challenges his rule. The UK Government is currently trying to find a way to avoid imposing sanctions that would damage Londongrad as much as Putin and his cronies. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office sought to enlist Putin’s help in opposition to independence. There is an obvious irony in how the unionists imitate Putin’s methods in their fake outrage whilst showing little serious respect for Putin’s victims.