Credit: Houses of the Oireachts on Flickr Licence CC BY-SA 4.0

Clare Daly demands to know: Why is everyone so mean to Putin?

“Endless Russophobia”, she says, stalks the halls of the European Parliament in Brussels. More on that in a moment. But first, watch the whole thing, and pay close attention to what she says about Putin’s recently imprisoned political foe, Alexei Navalny:



Is Navalny, as she says, a “vicious, anti-immigrant, racist”?

Well, on the one hand, if you know anything about vicious anti-immigrant racists, then you’ll know that they’re not usually found supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States. And yet, here’s Navalny, just last year, saying that BLM is a “vital movement to combat racism and discrimination, not just in the US, but around the world”.

You may disagree with him on that, of course, but they’re hardly the words of a racist.

On the other hand, this video, which is several years old, does back up her point to some degree:

It’s true that Navalny was, for years, a Russian ultra-nationalist, who allied himself with the extreme right. But as the New Yorker (not a publication known for sympathy with the extreme right) notes, his politics have evolved significantly over the years. Calling him an extreme right winger today isn’t very far removed from calling Putin a communist, because he once worked with the KGB:

“According to Volkov, Navalny now regrets making the 2007 video in which he advocated for deporting Central Asian migrants, but he has not deleted it from YouTube “because it’s a historical fact.” Navalny stands by his support for gun ownership, an issue on which he and Volkov disagree. On immigration, Navalny has refined and reframed his position: when he advocates for a visa regime with Central Asian countries now, he emphasizes the need to protect the rights of migrant laborers.”

As to the question as to Navalny’s support being at 4%, well. It’s not especially difficult to keep someone in Russia away from the public eye by denying them media coverage, as Putin regularly does. In a 2013 poll, only 37% of Russians had ever heard of Mr. Navalny. And his support was at 14%, not 4%, as Daly says.

And her statement that if this happened in any other country, nobody would care? That seems very strange, in the light of ongoing western concern about the coup in Myanmar, for example. We’re quite fond of speaking out about political prisoners, here in the west. Perhaps Daly wasn’t paying attention.

What’s more interesting about all of this, of course, is that Daly’s speech hits pretty much all the points one might expect to hear from, say, Vladimir Putin himself. And for a politician who has spent her life railing against right wing politicians, dictators, and authoritarian rulers, that’s mighty strange.

Is Europe, as she claims, riddled with “endless Russophobia”? That may well be the case in some of the EU states which share a border with the Russians, to be fair. If you are a Latvian, or an Estonian, or a Lithuanian, then you’ll probably have eyed Russia’s invasion of the Crimea with a certain nervousness. And you’d probably want a strong commitment from your European friends and allies that if President Putin were to decide to make incursions into your territory, Europe would respond.

But would it?

It’s a genuine question mark. The incoming leader of Germany’s largest party, Armin Laschet, who is likely to succeed Angela Merkel later on this year, is the holder of very pro-Russian views. So much so, in fact, that it was a real issue for him during his campaign:

“One of the controversial interviews that have resurfaced in recent days is one he gave in March 2014, around the time Russia annexed Crimea, criticising what he described as the “marketable anti-Putin populism” that was spreading in Germany. He quoted Henry Kissinger as saying: “Putin’s demonisation is not a policy, but an alibi for the absence of one.”

The interview that appeared in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung established Mr Laschet as one of Germany’s most prominent Putinversteher or defenders of Mr Putin. In it, he noted that there were 1,200 companies in North Rhine-Westphalia that traded with or had invested in Russia, and stressed the region’s dependence on imports of Russian natural gas.

Four years later, Mr Laschet in a Twitter message said there was a lack of evidence to prove that Russia was behind the novichok attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury in 2018.”

It’s fairly clear that Russia carried out that attack, unless you are willing to believe that a Russian native, and an enemy of Putin, was randomly poisoned by a nerve agent used by the Russians by some third party. If you’re willing to profess belief in Russia’s innocence, as Laschet was, then it’s hard to describe you as Russophobic.

And why would Europe be Russophobic to begin with? Russia supplies vast amounts of natural gas and other energy to the EU. Europe can’t afford to be Russophobic.

So, there’s not particular reason to believe that criticism of Putin in the EU will ever go much beyond “ah now Vladimir, that’s a bit far”.

In other words, Daly is talking nonsense. On both counts.

But why? Why is an Irish MEP over in Brussels making ranty speeches in favour of Vladimir Putin? This is hardly the purpose for which she was despatched to Brussels by the good burghers of the Dublin constituency, when they cast their ballots.

Is it a simple matter of the enemy of my enemy is my friend? She’s famously opposed to most US foreign policy positions, and the US, especially under this new administration, probably has few more active foes than the Russians. Siding with Putin might rankle under ordinary circumstances, but if it’s a choice between the Americans and literally anybody else, Clare can always be relied upon to side with A.N. Other.

I was going to ask whether her views reflect the opinions of most of her constituents, but let’s be honest: the voters don’t care. We elect these kooks on the basis that they’ll “be a voice for us in Europe”, and when we’re casting our ballots we vote mainly on domestic politics. In a few years she’ll be up for election again, ranting about the badness of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Then she’ll get re-elected, and head back off to Brussels to spend another five years talking about Palestine, Basque independence, and the socialist revolution in South America.

Nice work, if you can get it.


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