Tough sanctions against Russia – but what about Israel?
New measures risk a return to Cold War relations while some ask: why no action over Gaza crisis?
David Cameron faces a possible backlash at home over the decision by Europe and the US to get tougher with President Vladimir Putin – and risk an unwelcome return to Cold War relations with Moscow - while doing nothing to halt Israel's bombardment of Gaza.
The new measures against Russia, which are expected to hit EU exports of high-tech energy technology, future arms sales (though not the French contracts for two warships) and Russian investments in the City of London, won the immediate approval of the former Tory Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind.
Appearing on Radio 4's Today programme, Rifkind dismissed earlier sanctions involving travel bans on Putin’s cronies as “pretty useless” and said the tougher sanctions were needed to make Putin change his policy of interference in the Ukraine.
Rifkind, today a respected if rather pompous Tory backbencher, also took a hefty sideswipe at Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, for calling for Fifa to stop Putin hosting the 2018 World Cup. “I was not very impressed about that,” said Rifkind. “It was pretty amateur.”
No doubt Rifkind is speaking for many in his party who think Putin needs to be brought down a peg or two after the downing of Flight MH17 over Ukraine. Their view is that tough measures are the only language that a bully like Putin understands.
But the Tory press is not so sure. A Daily Telegraph editorial calls for calm heads: "This exercise seems largely designed to damage the City of London, while enabling other EU countries to carry on with the essentials of their relationship with Moscow largely intact...
"Europe needs to spell out what its objectives are, while avoiding steps that lead to a new Cold War, or worse. That means talking directly and firmly to Putin with a clear goal in sight – and without the strident grandstanding that ends up punishing us more than him."
The Times claims the curbs on Russian investors could cost the City of London "hundreds of millions of pounds". The paper also comments on today's parallel announcement that Britain is to send more than 1,300 troops and tanks to join a training exercise on Nato’s eastern border in Poland.
"The move is designed to reassure allies in Eastern Europe," says the Times, "but the stark return to Cold War tactics will further inflame tensions in the region."
So, are we looking at a return to the Cold War, Checkpoint Charlie, Zil lanes in Moscow, the re-erection - metaphorically if not literally - of the Berlin Wall? No! Rifkind responded cheerily, claiming that the sanctions will all be chucked overboard the moment Putin changes his foreign policy over Ukraine.
An academic invited onto the same programme, Sergei Markov, director of the Institute of Political Studies in Moscow, warned against the sanctions, however, saying all they will do is create “more popularity for Vladimir Putin”. Markov added: "It will lead to a consolidation of the Russian people around President Putin."
Rifkind: "That is not the point – this is not about his popularity; this is about sanctions that will oblige him to change his policy."
The one issue that was not raised in Today's sanctions slot was waiting in the wings – the Israeli army incursion into Gaza.
A cursory glance at social media shows that outside Broadcasting House there is boiling resentment that while the West is taking measures against Putin over the Ukraine, it is not proposing sanctions against Israel over its continuing bombardment of Gaza.
A tweet by Norman Smith, a BBC political correspondent, on the sanctions against Russia provoked a landslide of furious posts about Israel. They included this: “Sanctions for SM gossip, hearsay & BS while Israel murdering people & are allowed to get away with it.”
A BBC tweet announcing that Rifkind was due on the Today programme to discuss the Russian sanctions was met with an equally angry response: “How have we ended like this with Russia but not Israel? Just shows how selective our moral obligations are.”
These could be orchestrated tweets, posted by anti-Israeli Palestinian campaigners, or they could suggest that while Cameron and his EU partners are marching in step with Obama over Russian aggression, they are avoiding an issue that raises far greater public outrage.