Russia and the G8: Is Russia isolated or does it represent the global majority?

JRL/2013/ 117/42

Is Putin really as isolated on Syria as we are told? There is plenty of evidence that he is in general agreement with world opinion. He is in better agreement with Americans about intervention than Obama is: a number of polls show opposition to US involvement in the 60s. Better with the British than Cameron is: similar results in the UK. As to the rest of the world, a recent Pew survey shows there is little support for intervention anywhere else either. Putin’s opposition to outside interference much better reflects world opinion than the interveners do. Which may be why there is such an intense campaign against Russia and Putin: he must be discredited.

He does not “support Assad” – that is an accusation to drown out what he is really saying. Putin opposes intervention in Syria (and Iraq… and Kosovo… and Libya…) for three reasons: principled, practical and personal. Intervention violates a key international principle because, like it or not, Assad’s regime is the recognised government of the country. By what right does a fraction of NATO, unsupported by its population, decide to pick a side in a vicious civil war? Once upon a time, interventions were legitimised by the UN (1st Gulf War); then by NATO (Kosovo); now by only some of NATO (Libya). Secondly, there is nothing to suggest that the end result will benefit anyone. Russia is a cautious country that plays by primum non nocere – first, do no harm. Previous Western/NATO interventions have done little for stability and have often resulted in aiding and comforting their enemies (a definition of treason in most countries). Finally, he fears that Russia might be on the list of undesirable governments to be overthrown. He has seen the appetite for intervention grow with the feeding.

Therefore, Putin opposes intervention in Syria because it is questionably legal, sets (another) dangerous precedent, will almost certainly leave behind it a more chaotic, miserable and dangerous situation (vide Kosovo or Libya) and because he fears the extension to Russia. It has nothing to do with any “alliance”, “support” for Assad, the so-called naval base or arms sales. There is no alliance, he does not “support” Assad, the naval base is a corner of a small port with few facilities and most of the arms sales contracts have been placed on hold. But it is necessary to demonise Putin to drown this out. The fuss about the Russian air defence missiles which never appeared was a useful distraction from the (US-crewed) air defence missiles which did appear. The fuss about the so-called naval base distracts attention from new US bases. The ritual reiteration of Putin’s support for Assad smokescreens the surreptitious support for his enemies.

So: not only will Putin be proven correct in that some-of-NATO’s interference will not have a happy ending, not only is his condemnation of intervention in accord with majority world opinion so far as can be determined but it is even in accord with opinion in the countries whose leaders are cheering on NATO’s next adventure in “humanitarian interventions”.

While Putin may be out of step with the G8 majority (somewhat smaller than it pretends to be – does anyone seriously think Tokyo has signed on? Berlin kept out of the last adventure, who expects it to participate in this one? Is Rome on board?), that pseudo-majority is itself out of step with public opinion in its own countries and, so far as can be determined, out of step with world opinion.

Calling him isolated is an attempt to shout down the reality that the interveners’ own electorates do not support intervention.