With Vladimir Putin's forces poised to invade Ukraine, UK is cosying up to an even more powerful dictator – Scotsman comment

As Joe Biden warned American citizens to leave Ukraine amid fears of a Russian invasion, he stressed, “we’re dealing with one of the largest armies in the world... and things could go crazy quickly”.

Vladimir Putin's open hostility towards liberal democracy was a warning the West failed to heed (Picture: Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)
Vladimir Putin's open hostility towards liberal democracy was a warning the West failed to heed (Picture: Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)

But the process by which Vladimir Putin has acquired dictatorial power in Russia has hardly been rapid. The signs have been there for years.

Putin has destroyed democracy at home, annexed part of Ukraine, propped up brutal Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, sought to interfere in the democratic process of other countries, and sent agents to murder dissidents in places like Salisbury.

And yet, despite the Russian president’s obvious hostile intent, many in the world’s liberal democracies have continued to treat Russia as if it is a country like their own, one to do business with for mutual benefit. It’s almost as if we don’t believe Putin could be as dangerous as he clearly is.

In failing to recognise his true nature, the West has helped to create a monster who could, within the next few weeks, send his troops to kill thousands of innocent people for no good reason.

However, there is an even more powerful, illiberal and undemocratic state in the world, with a much, much bigger army – China.

Now Boris Johnson’s government has reportedly asked officials to organise high-level trade talks with Beijing for the first time in four years.

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Post-Brexit desperation for international trade deals may partly explain the decision but, as a number of Conservative MPs, including former party leader Iain Duncan Smith, have made clear, the timing is bizarre given accusations of genocide of the Uyghur ethnic minority, concern over a possible invasion of Taiwan, and the crackdown on peaceful protest in Hong Kong.

China’s economy is so large that it cannot be ignored. However, all liberal democracies need to realise who their true friends are and the value of those relationships, and recognise the dangers posed by autocratic dictators whose only real concern is power.

Johnson’s Brexiteer Cabinet may be loath to admit it, but their demonising of the European Union and the UK’s departure from it has been a long-term geopolitical blunder that not just Britain, but the world may come to regret.

As history shows, things can “go crazy quickly”, but the warning signs are usually there if we care to look.

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