Bernard Ingham: Putin’s contempt reveals the weakness of the West

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LONG after the Argentines had been expelled from the Falkland Islands, Margaret Thatcher had a chat in Moscow with some Russian generals. One of them confessed that they had never expected the British to try re-take the islands. He implied that we had caused them to think again. They had not imagined we had it in us.

Now they know we don’t.

Before I go any further, don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that we should do anything rash about Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and its
 bullying approach to the Ukraine. 
These are deep Slav waters with long tribal and real or imagined Cold War injustices. We do well to keep our boots out of them.

In any case, I doubt whether, given our impaired defences, we could – or should – do more than signal our disapproval with rather unconvincing sanctions and call for a diplomatic solution. They may make us look wet, but they are all we have in our quiver.

In any case there are enough conflicts around the world without starting another, whether out of outrage over international law breaking or to draw a line in the sand.

No, what worries me is how we have got into the position where the ex-KGB dictator called Vladimir Putin can effectively sneer at the West as he preens himself on the world’s stage, having recovered the Crimea for Mother Russia.

It is not as though Putin has failed to signal his ambition to rebuild the old Soviet Union. Nor has he left us in any doubt about his rather totalitarian view of democracy.

I personally experienced the creeping cold hand of his authoritarianism in my later years as a lecturer at the Moscow School of Political Studies – an institution without premises or academic staff funded by the West to plant the seed of true democracy in Russia. It was clear from the students that their limited freedom was steadily being curtailed.

We have had nigh on 14 years of Putin in the Kremlin to assess the nature of the beast. And what have we – the West – done? The short answer: play into his hands.

Let us set on one side attempts to
 bring Russia into the comity of nations such as the G8, from which it has now been expelled, and G20. That made 
sense.

What does not add up is the way the West has let itself go in a whole variety of ways. It is up to its eyes in debt. The USA’s public debt amounts to $16 trillion (thousand billion). The UK’s runs to £1.3 trillion. France is probably as much a basket case as Britain was in 1979. The whole of southern Europe is being crucified by the euro. The West is impoverished by its self-neglect.

While the USA pinches jobs from Europe through cheap shale gas, the EU and its environmental fifth columnists do their best to keep fracking out of its geology. At the same time, the EU has made a mess of by-passing Russia as a source of natural gas and therefore
 relies on the Kremlin for a third of its supplies.

Over and above this, Germany erodes its ability to compete in the world – along with the UK and the rest of eco-loony Europe – with a ridiculous energy policy that favours renewable sources of energy over nuclear security.

As if all this were not bad enough, the USA and UK have had enough of war after 14 years in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting against Islam’s assorted terrorist fanatics who have no doubt reached the same conclusion as Putin: their politicians lack the will to fight. As for the rest of Nato, they have never been distinguished by their backbones.

When you add all this up, it is clear there is an imbalance of power in the world. The expansionists – notably Russia and militant Islam – are encouraged rather than deterred by the weakness of the West. We have got ourselves into a dangerous state and are likely to remain in it for years to come, if only because public debt on the West’s current scale is not easily redeemed.

We can be absolutely sure that blinkered environmentalists like Greenpeace will continue to do their utmost to ensure that the European economy remains hogtied by its pathetic desire to save the world from something – CO2 – that may not even be a threat.

Nowhere is there evidence of hard-nosed strategists at work to strengthen the West’s hand and make dictators think twice.