Vladimir Putin's appeasers in West must not make same mistake over Iran’s despotic regime – Struan Stevenson

The barbaric war in Ukraine should have sent a resounding wakeup call to Western appeasers.

Those same leaders sat on their hands when Vladimir Putin effectively annexed more than 20 per cent of Georgian territory in 2008. The regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, both scenes of violent separatist conflicts which left thousands dead and tens of thousands homeless in 2008, are now virtual no-go areas controlled by Russia.

At the time, UK Prime Minister David Cameron expressed his outrage at the Russian seizure of Georgian territory and famously said: “Where next… Ukraine?”

Cameron was right. Putin marched his troops into Crimea and Sevastopol in 2014, citing his usual ‘false-flag’ excuse that he was mounting a “military operation” to protect Russian citizens.

Before the invasion, the war in Crimea and eastern Ukraine had killed over 14,000, but once more, the Western appeasers did nothing.

Putin’s next target was Salisbury. In March 2018, he sent trained Russian assassins to the UK cathedral city to murder Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer, and his daughter Yulia. They survived poisoning with a deadly nerve agent, but a local woman, Dawn Sturgess, died after handling the discarded Novichok container.

It should have been clear by then that we were dealing with a deranged tyrant. But business-as-usual was quickly resumed and EU reliance on Russian hydrocarbons and minerals continued to swell the Kremlin’s coffers. Now, we are paying the price of appeasement.

The West has been looking on in shock and horror as Russia invaded a sovereign neighbour, shelled Europe’s biggest nuclear plant, destroyed cities, bombed hospitals and schools, forced mothers to give birth in tube stations, killed and maimed thousands of men, women and children, and forcefully displaced over ten million refugees – all while claiming to be fighting a Nazi government, despite the fact its president is Jewish.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran in 2018 (Picture: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)

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It seems incomprehensible that any sane person could contemplate involving Russia in the signing of an international treaty and yet that is what is happening in the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, last week called for a pause in the Vienna talks. Most people assumed that this was because of Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine.

But it now seems it was more to do with giving time to negotiators in Tehran to facilitate the release of dual-nationality hostages like Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anousheh Ashoori, both of whom were allowed to return to the UK. There is little doubt that the payment of a £400 million ransom to the Iranian regime and the release of hostages by them were integral parts of the nuclear talks.

Indeed, Iranian officials disclosed last week that they were working with the Americans to negotiate a potential prisoner exchange in tandem with the signing of the nuclear deal.

The Iranians have also demanded the removal of their Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) from America’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) as part of the agreement. The IRGC and its extra-territorial wing the Quds Force are the Iranian regime’s equivalent of the Gestapo and have been behind countless terrorist operations in the Middle East and wider world for decades.

Given the unfolding genocide in Ukraine, many feel that it would be madness for the Biden administration to consider renewing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal with Iran.

The deal never stopped the mullahs from developing nuclear weapons or spreading terror across the Middle East and worldwide. Indeed, a renewed deal would simply ease tough sanctions on Iran, enabling them to sell more oil and gas and re-double their spending on their nuclear and ballistic missile programme.

It will also enable them to continue funding Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the brutal Shi’ia militias in Iraq, the terrorist Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. De-listing the IRGC would be an historic mistake.

Russia, as a signatory to the original 2015 JCPOA, must give its consent to any renewal. There can be no credibility in any treaty signed by Putin. He has proved himself to be a liar, a cheat, a swindler, a gangster and now a mass murderer, who happily ignores the UN Charter and even tramples over the Geneva Convention on humanitarian standards in war.

Putin’s ruthless targeting of the civilian population in Ukraine has turned him into another Hitler. There can surely be no question of signing any agreement with such a monster.

But now Russia has added its own list of demands to the revised JCPOA. Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said on March 16 that Moscow wanted additional provisions in the deal covering future cooperation between Moscow and Tehran on nuclear projects. She blamed “hostile attacks of the United States and the European Union on Russia” for the request. If we fall for such a preposterous plan, we will surely rue the day.

For years the West has allowed itself to slumber. We celebrated the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War with decades of reduced military spending, convinced that the world had become a more tolerant and democratic place.

The invasion of Ukraine and the horrifying spectacle of war and suffering in Europe has jolted our generation out of its torpor. We now recognise that while we slept, Putin was planning his genocidal aggression.

The forces of good must once again align against the forces of evil. The West must tear up the Iranian nuclear deal and slam the door on Putin and his allies. Murderous dictators like Ebrahim Raisi, the president of Iran, and Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, should be indicted for crimes against humanity and genocide and tried in the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Struan Stevenson is coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change and chair of the In Search of Justice committee on the protection of political freedoms in Iran

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