In Depth

Blair: we must look beyond Ukraine and work with Russia against Islamism

Former PM tells London audience the West should ignore 'differences' with Russia to combat extremism

TONY BLAIR believes that Western leaders must co-operate with other countries - "in particular, Russia and China" - regardless of "other differences" in the fight against Islamic extremism.

The former PM used a speech in London this morning to call for religious extremism to be placed at the "top of the agenda". His remarks were seen by some as a call to overlook Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian province of Crimea, but he later denied that interpretation.

"Ukraine is a separate issue where we should take a very strong position indeed," he said, during an interview with Sky News. "What I am saying in the speech today is that this rising threat of Islamism is a threat that we share in common, West and East."

The Guardian quotes Blair at length: "The threat of this radical Islam is not abating. It is growing. It is spreading across the world. It is destabilising communities and even nations.

"It is undermining the possibility of peaceful co-existence in an era of globalisation. And in the face of this threat we seem curiously reluctant to acknowledge it and powerless to counter it effectively".

Speaking to the BBC ahead of the speech, Blair said the UK would pay "a very heavy price" for not intervening in Syria and added that he would have pushed for the imposition of no-fly zones, if he had still been in power when the civil war there erupted three years ago.

Not everyone is impressed by his comments. The Huffington Post observes that "it is unknown what the former Labour leader would like to happen to the people of Ukraine and Crimea in the interim [while Islamism is tackled]."

Blair is now a Middle East peace envoy for the EU, US, UN and Russia - and his speech was an impassioned plea for the West to take sides and engage in the Middle East.

He said: "The important point for Western opinion is that this is a struggle with two sides. So when we look at the Middle East and beyond it to Pakistan or Iran and elsewhere, it isn't just a vast unfathomable mess with no end in sight and no one worthy of our support.

"It is in fact a struggle in which our own strategic interests are intimately involved; where there are indeed people we should support and who, ironically, are probably in the majority if only that majority were mobilised, organised and helped."

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