Why This Shameless Grovelling? as Tony Blair Takes Putin to Tea with the Queen .

Daily Mail (London), April 18, 2000 | Go to article overview

Why This Shameless Grovelling? as Tony Blair Takes Putin to Tea with the Queen .


Byline: ANN LESLIE

SOMETIMES you have to feel sorry for the Queen: just look at the number of monsters she's had to entertain, willy-nilly, over the years. I wouldn't blame her if she rebelled one day and decided to jack it all in ('Oh, please, Foreign Secretary, not yet another mass-murderer to tea!').

They have, of course, included President Mugabe, currently trying to cling on to power by conniving at the murder and torture of white farmers and the firebombing of his black political rivals.

And Jiang Zemin, China's Stalinist president. And, of course, the baroquely grotesque rulers of Romania, the late Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, who murdered and tortured on a vast scale and who, what's more, allegedly nicked the odd antique bibelot from the royal b&b when they checked out.

And now her latest tea-party guest, President-elect Vladimir Putin of Russia, a former boss of the KGB.

Since the Queen is, despite her publicly tactful and graciously vague manner, formidably well-informed, she'll know all about his murky past, his extremely 'convenient' war in Chechnya (which propelled this obscure spy to power on a wave of Russian-nationalist feeling), and she's probably heard about the human rights protests over the rapes and war-crimes being committed by his troops in Russia's so-called 'filtration' camps in that benighted region.

But of course, although the sovereign, the Queen is - as a constitutional monarch - the servant of her government. And her government, aka Tony Blair, has announced that he is 'comfortable' with Mr Putin and therefore the latter is fully entitled to a bout of Earl Grey and cucumber sandwiches at Windsor Castle. Funny how 'comfortable' Mr Blair is with Putin, but how 'uncomfortable' he is with Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic - so 'uncomfortable' he felt that he should bomb the latter's bedraggled capital city and kill large numbers of his innocent and poverty-stricken civilians.

Neither Putin nor Milosevic has personally slit anyone's throat but, through their self-serving nationalism and lust for power, both men have encouraged the two-bit thugs down the line to do so on their behalf.

Yet one gets tea and cucumber sandwiches with the Queen, and the other gets indicted as a war criminal.

The difference is, of course, that Milosevic is merely a third-rate psychopath with no power to threaten us directly - and Putin presides over the second largest nuclear arsenal in the world. So how should we treat Putin?

Should we decide that, until Russia behaves with a greater sense of proportionality in its war against Chechen terrorists, we should not 'do business' with him?

Of course not. If we decided not to 'do business' (in Margaret Thatcher's memorable phrase when she endorsed the communist boss Gorbachev) with nasty regimes around the world, we'd soon find we were not 'on speakers' with a goodly chunk of the globe.

But it is one thing to 'do business' with the rulers of repellent regimes (in the hope, of course, that contact with civilised norms might improve their behaviour). It is quite another to fall over backwards to kow-tow to them.

Not long ago I was in Moscow exploring the past and present of Vladimir Putin, speaking to those who'd known him in his home town of St Petersburg and those who'd been in contact with him when he'd been a spy in East Germany.

Those Russian liberals I spoke to were appalled by his sudden rise to power (understandably, given their experience of the KGB). His surprise endorsement by Yeltsin as his Presidential successor was, they told me, a 'KGB coup'. …

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