Blair on Putin

Blair black coffin. London, January 2010.

Every now and then, Tony Blair pops up out of nowhere and reminds us all he’s still out there on his private jet. It’s almost routine now. Of course, it should go without saying that politicians like Blair have never been as interested in combating genuine issues, like climate change, as they have been in waging wars in the Middle East. Blair adds to toxic overall trend, and frequently for his own benefit.

The former Prime Minister has asked that the West put aside its differences with Rusia over Ukraine. Obviously, by “Russia” we know that the former statesman means “Putin.” This is no surprise. Although Putin didn’t back the occupation of Iraq, he has ensured that the Russian Federation has been an integral part of the NATO-ISAF occupation of Afghanistan. Many statesmen like Blair are aware that Putin could make life very difficult for foreign troops by barring NATO supply and logistical routes from its territory.

However, the main reason that the tussle over Ukraine is a non-issue for Blair is because direct confrontation may interfere with one of his post-executive jobs: advising the Nazarbayev regime in Kazakhstan. Prolonged diplomatic or even military engagement with Russia over Crimea would reverberate across Central Asia, not to mention endanger the monetary interests of Nazarbayev and his cronies. It would also disrupt the activities of Russian elites in Britain itself, especially London.

It is not as though this level of cynicism is above Blair. After all, he is currently the Middle East Peace Envoy for the Quartet, formed by the United Nations, United States, European Union, and Russian Federation. The position is essentially ceremonial, similar to his advisory roles to the al-Sabah family of Kuwait, and King Abdullah II of Jordan.

G8 protest. Rostock, 2007.
G8 protest. Rostock, 2007.

In his capacity as Middle East Peace Envoy, Blair spends a week out of every month in Jerusalem and maintains warm relations with the Netanyahu government. He was conspicuously absent during Operation Cast Lead though, choosing to extend his holiday rather than addressing the crisis. Putin has worked hard to build strong relations between Russia and Israel, so much so that Netanyahu abstained from a March 27th UN General Assembly vote on a Crimean resolution. No doubt, Putin’s popularity with refuseniks now living in Israel was the main consideration. Blair just went along for the ride.

This quickly carried through to the Egyptian revolution, and the Syrian civil war. Blair was likely displeased about the Obama Administration’s last minute change of policy towards Hosni Mubarak, along with Russia, and Israel. The reasoning was obvious. Putin wanted to expand Russia’s ties in defense of the regional status-quo, and Israel had no interest in seeing a rejuvenated Arab state on its borders. This is what realists mean when they talk about “regional stability.”

Not many commentators seem to recall (or perhaps they don’t want to) Blair’s remark that Hosni Mubarak is “a force for good.” As the military was displaced from power and democratic elections were being held in Egypt, the path ahead was clear. After insisting that democracy is not just a way of voting, but also a way of thinking, he began to emphasize the need for proper institutions, pluralism, and a modern economy.

When the Muslim Brotherhood was inevitably overthrown last summer, he was then able to reiterate these words as justification for the coup. The Arab masses didn’t know how to think about democracy, and as always, needed a strong leader. Here, he found more agreement with Putin, who backed the presidential bid of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi when the Obama Administration was floundering in the aftermath of the June uprising.

Blair’s relationship with Putin’s Russia in complicated. Sometimes, there are hard material reasons for it, as is the case with his stance on issues like the annexation of Crimea. Other times, it is more abstract. Putin and Blair frequently have an aligned interest in protecting the regional status-quo, albeit for different reasons.

It is obvious in any case that the comments in defense of “stability” are meaningless from a man that has backed every potential war in the Middle East for the past few decades. Blair’s motivations are self-interest, and solidarity with the world’s strongmen. We can expect that to continue.


Photographs courtesy of Chris Beckett and Oxfam International. Published under a Creative Commons License.

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