Telegraph Editorial on Russia

This editorial ran in yesterday’s Telegraph:

Time to stand up to the Russians Vladimir Putin is making himself our problem. There is a difference between persecuting political opponents at home and doing so in neighbouring states; between presiding over the murder of dissidents within your borders and sanctioning their death abroad. The moral distinction may be slight, but the legal distinction is vast: the international order rests on the principle of territorial jurisdiction. The latest country to suffer the Kremlin’s bullying is Georgia. Since electing Mikhail Saakashvili on a pro-Nato ticket in 2003, Georgians have been roughed up by their giant neighbour. Their exports are impounded, their citizens rounded up and deported. President Putin backs separatist rebels in South Ossetia, a stance that sits oddly with his insistence that the bestial repression of Chechen separatism is an internal Russian matter. Now, Russia has doubled the price of its gas. Georgia is only the latest country to feel the weight of Russian energy diplomacy: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania and Ukraine have suffered similarly. Mr Putin’s foreign belligerence, like his domestic authoritarianism, is fuelled by oil and gas. Earlier this year, Russia overtook Saudi Arabia to become the world’s largest oil producer. At the same time, Gazprom overtook Shell and BP; but it differs from them in being largely run by the state. Kremlinologists point out that Moscow’s assertiveness correlates closely with oil prices. In 1979, during the last boom, the USSR sent its tanks into Afghanistan. In 1991, when oil collapsed, the Soviet Union broke apart. Why, though, is this Britain’s problem? We are a long way from Russia, and less dependent on energy imports than other EU states. The answer is that when Mr Putin seizes control of parts of Shell, as he has, he strikes at our livelihood. When he harasses our diplomats, he deliberately insults us. If it turns out he winked at the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, he will have committed an act of war. The reason Mr Putin treats us this way is because he sees us as a base for anti-Putin exiles. While we are in no position to defy him directly, we can at least stop supporting him. It is absurd that we hold back from condemning what is happening in Chechnya. It is ludicrous that we admit Mr Putin to the G8, when Russia qualifies neither economically nor politically. It is preposterous that we give him dinner at Buckingham Palace. Yes, Russia is an important energy supplier; but we are an important customer. We should stand up to him. We should, in short, treat him just like any other dictator.