The European Authoritarians

British Labour MP Denis MacShane writes in the Financial Times about the interesting swing taking place in today’s Europe whereby political parties of the centre-right, once known for their tough line on Russia, have become the prime apologists for the Putin/Medvedev brand of authoritarianism.  Other than Germany’s SPD, this appears to be the case.

Instead of asking the Russians to ratchet down talk of a new missile race in Europe, Mr Sarkozy told a beaming Mr Medvedev at a European Union-Russia summit in Nice that the real problem was the decision of the Poles and Czechs to accept a US proposal to base a missile shield on their territory. This prompted a furious reminder from Poland and the Czech Republic that they were sovereign nations and would decide their own foreign policy and military alliances, merci beaucoup. Mr Sarkozy has alienated eastern Europe with his pro-Kremlin leanings.

Otherconservative governments in Europe constantly find excuses for theKremlin. Italian politicians say Italy’s energy dependence requiressoft words with Russia. Mr Berlusconi has delivered a near-fatal blowto the Nabucco project to deliver oil from the Caspian without goingover Russian-controlled territory. Now he has signed the so-calledSouth Stream project with the Kremlin which will place Italy at themercy of Russia’s energy politics.

In Britain, the conservativeforeign policy establishment of retired ambassadors found plenty ofexcuses to justify Russia’s invasion and deplore Georgia’s response.Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary and Tory grandee, defendsMr Putin in the House of Commons while Conservative ministers ofparliament sit in the same groups as Mr Putin’s Duma clique at theCouncil of Europe.