London Diary: Putin’s lifeline to Boris Johnson

Until the spotlight turned to Ukraine, all the bad news in the British, European and even American media was all about Johnson’s alleged misdemeanours and his shambolic Downing Street operation

UK PM Boris Johnson
UK PM Boris Johnson

Hasan Suroor

Putin’s lifeline to Boris Johnson

Whatever the outcome of the Ukrainian conflict, it has already done wonders for at least one world leader. Boris Johnson couldn’t have asked for a better gift fromVladimir Putin than an “oven-ready” opportunity (an expression Johnson made popular in another context) for grandstanding on world stage at a particularly low point in his career after a series of political scandals involving him.

Until the spotlight turned to Ukraine, all the bad news in the British, European and even American media was all about Johnson’s alleged misdemeanours and his shambolic Downing Street operation. Remember the “party-gate” scandal being investigated by the police? The stuff about influence-peddling by his wife? And allegations of “selling” knighthoods and peerages to rich cronies for bankrolling his leadership campaign and donating money to the party? It had come to a point that there was speculation if he would survive another year.

Thanks to Putin, all that is old news. And the man who until a few weeks ago was widely seen as a laughing stock is now going around posing as a doughty champion of “democratic values”, “rule of law”, and international treaties designed to ensure peace and protect national sovereignty. This from a man who is threatening to tear up parts of the Brexit agreement he signed with the European Union, and is forever ready to rewrite any law that doesn’t suit his political interests.

For all his public show of anger and despair at what’s happening in Ukraine, the fact is that Johnson is having a great war, and is loving it. And why not? It’s the great distraction that has nearly saved his prime ministership, at least for now.

Diplomatic, Moi?

Another British politician who has shamelessly tried to milk the war to burnish their image is the Foreign Secretary Liz Truss as part of her campaign to replace her boss in Downing Street.

She has been popping up everywhere issuing ever more dire threats to Putin and his allies, calling the Russian President names, saying things like “nothing is off the table”, and even having herself photographed sitting inside a tank.

Shortly before the war broke out, Truss went to Moscow to meet her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov who was so irritated by her style of diplomacy that he said it was like talking to a deaf and mute person. Earlier, she was mocked by Russia’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, for failing to know the difference between the Baltic and Black Sea, which are more than 700 miles apart.

A senior Kremlin official has called British diplomacy as “absolutely worthless”.

No to refugees

Even as Britain claims to be “leading”the war aid effort, it is facing criticism for its less than hospitable attitude towards Ukrainian refugees wanting to come here. It’s effectively off-limits even to those who have close family relations in Britain.

Ask Marianna Pavliuk. She travelled all the way to Poland to rescue her eight-year-old daughter at the Poland-Ukraine border. But she was barred from bringing her to Britain and told she didn’t fulfil its visa rules. While the European Union has waived visa requirements for Ukrainians for up to three years, Britain’s refugee scheme is more restrictive and involves a complicated application process.

Meanwhile, a large number of Ukrainian refugees are reported to be stranded at Calais border crossings into Britain. France has accused Britain of showing a “lack of humanity” towards them as pressure grows on the government to introduce emergency refugee visas.

“The situation is urgent and the first priority has to be to get people to safety,” said Labour Party’s shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper.

Community spirit

There’s a substantial Ukrainian population in Britain but until now it was barely heard or talked about. Suddenly, it has been thrust into spotlight becoming the public face of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine.

Most have family members back home desperately in need of help. Not surprisingly, the community is doing everything it can to rise to the occasion. A mechanic from the English coastal town of Kent has become the poster- boy for its efforts to rush relief material to war victims.

Arthur Smith has bought an old coach to take doctors and paramedics to Ukraine – as well as to rescue refugees from the war-torn country. Besides, he is fundraising £5,000 to organise a convoy of vehicles and medical supplies to the Kyiv.

“We’re taking a bus full of paramedics, doctors, humanitarian aid personnel and Ukrainian nationals who are trying to get back to protect their country,” he said.

He has never been to an area of conflict before, and admitted that he was “worried”. But he is going ahead nevertheless.

And, lastly, there’s concern that the growing anti-Russian sentiment could tip into Russophobia—and a witch-hunt against all Russians living in Britain. There have been reports of Russian schoolchildren being bullied, and employers reluctant to hire Russian workers. A shame.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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