Is Vladimir Putin the most powerful – and dangerous – man in the world? With Putin in the Kremlin, we have returned to an era where former Russian spies are mysteriously poisoned on British soil and where Russia feels emboldened to roll its tanks into an eastern European state. The Kremlin uses deadly force to wipe out opponents and stifle dissent at home, while overseas it props up Bashar al-Assad, the butcher of Damascus, who slaughters civilians with barrel bombs and chemical weapons. And that’s not to mention Moscow’s alleged meddling in the US election, which may have played a decisive role in the rise of Donald Trump. Tensions have increased so much in recent months that the UN secretary general António Guterres has warned of a ‘full-blown military escalation’ between Russia and the West.
So what should we do? Some argue that the West has been appeasing Russia for too long, and that it’s finally time to get tough. Putin’s crimes in Syria and Ukraine – and allegedly on the streets of Salisbury – can’t be allowed to go unchecked, so we need to start ramping up the military pressure. Others claim, however, that the West is culpable for the new Cold War. After all, it was NATO’s decision to expand eastwards and take in former Soviet states that kick-started this new era of conflict. So should we instead show some humility and try to rebuild trust and fresh channels of communication with Russia?
And what about the billions of pounds of dirty Russian money being laundered through the London property market and financial system? Much of Putin’s power stems from Russia’s kleptocratic economy, where his cronies control vast swathes of the nation’s wealth and hoard it overseas. By allowing the oligarchs to stash their cash in the City, are we not bolstering Putin’s grip on power?