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Behind the headlines

Putin’s fellow travellers

Anti-war protesters in Washington DC in January. Win McNamee/Getty

The war in Ukraine has put me in a tricky spot, says George Monbiot in The Guardian. I’m an anti-imperialist, and I strongly oppose what Russia is doing. But many of my fellow travellers on the left – who’ve often been staunch allies – are so blinded by hatred for Western imperialism that they have swallowed Putin’s lie that Nato is as much to blame for the conflict as Moscow. The Stop the War coalition’s deputy president Andrew Murray says it’s a myth that Ukraine wants peace. Former Labour MP Chris Williamson calls the government of Ukraine a “post-coup, neo-Nazi backed, corrupt regime”.

Nor is this the first time these leftists have rallied to Putin’s support. When Russia threw its weight behind Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria in 2015, prominent journalists like John Pilger, Seymour Hersh and the late Robert Fisk all tried to undermine credible reports of Assad’s use of chemical weapons – helping to “airbrush some of the world’s worst atrocities”. It’s madness. Not only are elements of the left doing the Kremlin’s propaganda work for it. They are also undermining their own cause. Anti-imperialism means opposing “all imperialism” – be it in Western, Russian or any other guise.

Parts of the right aren’t much better, says Douglas Murray in The Spectator. Because the woke West has “deranged itself with assaults on its own history, on biology and much more”, some American conservatives have come to see Putin as a kind of bulwark – “even an admirable corrective” – to the madness of our own societies. As a guest on Steve Bannon’s talk show put it recently: “The Russian people still know which bathroom to use.” Donald Trump has hailed Putin’s “genius” for creating a (ludicrous) pretext to invade, and admiringly described his “peacekeeping” force as “the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen”.

This is a theme that resonates with the American right, and there are echoes of it in Europe too: “We are weak, Putin is strong.” As Arizona state senator Wendy Rogers said recently: “Putin’s military gets Ukraine. Our military gets trannies and face masks.” These people need to learn that it is possible to “admit your own society has gone a bit crazy but that the man in the Kremlin has gone crazier still”.