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Garvan Walshe

Garvan Walshe: Putin - proof that size doesn't matter. Because he doesn't know what to do with it.

Garvan Walshe was National and International Security Adviser to the Conservative Party until 2008. Follow Garvan on Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-09-09 at 19.21.47“A small country that nobody listens to.” The unnamed Russian official   stung David Cameron where it hurts most: in his national pride. This Prime Minister – often attacked for having only the most superficial grasp of the very idea of a principle; a man for whom ideas carry a nasty whiff of those twin Tory monsters, the Left and the Continent; a gentleman whose favourite predecessor is reported to have been the decidedly low key Lord Derby – has begun to develop a taste for foreign adventure that owes more to Gladstone than Metternich.

His has grown out of a very different sensibility than that which underlies globalist doctrines of humanitarian war (it is indeed about as far from the formerly Marxist New York-Jewish intellectuals of the New School for Social Research, who became famous as neo-conservatives, as it is possible to imagine in a modern democracy). Indeed, he dismissed their universal ideas as dropping democracy from a plane at “40,000 feet”. Rather, he feels that Britain should stand up for the week against the strong, be on the side of the good against the big battalions, and should still count for something in this world. In this he owes more to Boy’s Own and the basic decency immortalised by Richmal Crompton than the rarefied pages of Commentary. Thus his engaging, if undignified, impersonation of Hugh Grant that’s now been set to patriotic music by a thousand bloggers.

Yet by responding to that Russian put down with his Richard Curtis skit ,Cameron gave Putin exactly what he craves.

There was once a time when Moscow's foreign policy was a riddle wrapped in a mystery concealed inside an enigma, to which the key was supposed to be the Russian national interest. Those days are long gone. Nor is it driven by Russia’s insistence that it has not become, as I think a foreign minister recalling the declining Soviet Union bitterly growled, “a piece of furniture”.

Now it’s become the personal codpiece of its diminutive leader – he of the staged archaeological driving expeditions (think of the ageing medieval king whose servants would tie deer and boar to trees so they wouldn't escape the shaky royal arrow); the grubby divorce from his long-invisible wife; and the repeated release of ineffectually homoerotic topless pictures in the wilderness culled from Brokeback Mountain 2: Riding in the Urals.

Where Putin had once been concerned with the exercise of raw power, as he – what Machiavelli would call a “new prince” – took control of Russia's ramshackle post-Yeltsin institutions, he now only craves their trappings. Gone is his deftly ruthless timing: exploiting the horrific takeover at the school in Beslan and the theatre siege in Moscow to cow opponents and replace elected regional governors with Kremlin appointees; defanging Khodorkovsky before it was too late, and putting other unfriendly oligarchs to flight.

Now he’s saddled with expensive winter Olympics in the Caucasus and a football World Cup. They will focus the world's attention on Russia and provide an international audience for dissent instead of a circus to distract his people. It’s perhaps still a means of disguising economic failure. The R in BRICS might as well stand for resources rather than Russia – resources that have been stolen, spent, exported and converted into overpriced stationary yachts, now composing entire streets in Knightsbridge and South Kensington; and resources that don't fetch as much on the market as they did before the crash.

Obstruction - over missile defence, of Polish agricultural efforts and now in Syria - keeps him on the map; to his mind makes him a contender, saving him from the fate of Marlon Brando’s Terry in On the Waterfront. Without Damascus he would be reduced to muttering to himself about Russia’s destiny, boasting about the size of his country; stuck on the fringes of the international playground - a man we would warn small countries not to go near.


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