• Richard Farr

Our responsibility for Putin



It's comforting, in this terrible time, to complain that Vladimir Putin is a thug, or a maniac, or evil. And if it's not all his fault, there's certainly plenty of blame and we can spread some to his pet kleptocrats, who have ransacked Russia of her rightful wealth, and to Donald Trump and his family and minions for being such greedy, oafish, principle-free enablers. Bad guys are comforting: their badness relieves us of the need to look in a mirror. But as Marcus Aurelius reminds us, it's childish and a waste of time to wish for a world in which there are no Valdimir Putins, no Paul Manaforts, no Donald Trumps. There always have been and always will be such men: everything is the same as it was in the time of those we have buried. The only interesting question is how you should behave in such a world. And there's the rub. Why has a man like Putin had the power to become dictator for life, and turn Russia (back, yet again) into an impoverished prison camp, and invade Crimea, and destroy Ukraine - and, now, ruin the sleep of an entire planet? To a great extent it's because of decisions we in the West have found it convenient to make, and fail to make, since 1989. We did far too little to help Russia build its first ever attempt at a modern civil society: in retrospect, a Marshall Plan costing trillions would have been the bargain of the epoch. Meanwhile we were far too eager (London is the poster child for this particular sin) to make a percentage while making the kleptocracy possible. We were pathetically feeble about the Crimea. We balked at letting Ukraine into both NATO and the EU when it could still have been done. In short, we did what was easy and convenient, and thought it would turn out OK. And now the people of Ukraine - devastated by Stalin, then by the Nazis - are gathering in yet another infinitely bitter harvest.


I don't pretend that it's at all obvious what, in detail, the West should have done to avoid this. What's clear is that we didn't get it right - and that the Hollywood "bad guys" reaction merely shifts the blame and distracts us from the ethical task of thinking about how to get it less wrong next time.


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