Russian forces look out at the Ukrainian navy ship Slavutich in the harbor of the Ukrainian city of Sevastopo. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

How the west can match Putin's grand strategy

Ukrainian and Georgian NATO membership should be fast-tracked and energy security pursued with far greater vigour and speed.

Putin’s endgame is clear. As former US defence secretary Robert Gates noted, he "knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s trying to re-establish influence over the former states of the Soviet Union." The west desperately needs similar strategic clarity if it is to avoid losing not just the Crimea but more of the former Soviet Union back to a resurgent Russia with no respect for democracy, human rights or the rule of law.

That clarity needs to start with a stronger response by western powers to Russia’s aggression. The start of what would prove a stronger response could be seen at Prime Minister’s Questions today as Ed Miliband began outlining an alternative to surrender to Russia’s illegal invasion. He rejected the government’s own narrow list of options and offered a constructive alternative that would exact a measured toll from Putin. In contrast, Cameron’s own revealed Downing Street national security brief appeared to indicate that a greater concern for the British government than international peace and security was the wealth of the city of London.

Miliband quoted Cameron’s own 2008 remarks on Russia and Georgia that "Russian armies can’t march into other countries while Russian shoppers are marching into Selfridges"and used this as the hook for a call for serious consideration of trade sanctions. This is exactly the kind of response that is needed to show that Russia cannot invade with impunity. But for the approach to be effective it must be in concert with a series of other actions which pave the way for the West’s own endgame.

As Left Foot Forward argued earlier this week, short-term moves should include an asset freeze, trade sanctions and the suspension of Russia from the G8. In the medium-term, Ukrainian and Georgian NATO membership should be fast-tracked in a clear and unequivocal signal to Moscow that Putin’s territorial ambitions will be curtailed. Long-term, the EU should pursue energy independence from Russia. With Germany dependent to it for nearly 40 per cent of its oil and gas supply, EU energy security needs to be pursued with far greater vigour and speed.

Taken together, this approach would allow the west to develop its own endgame to counter that of Putin’s. The alternative is years and years of further meek reaction to Russia’s rising bellicosity.

Marcus Roberts is deputy general secretary of the Fabian Society

Marcus Roberts is an executive project director at YouGov. 

Felipe Araujo
Show Hide image

Manchester's Muslim community under siege: "We are part of the fabric of this nation"

As the investigation into last week's bombing continues, familiar media narratives about Islam conflict with the city's support for its Muslim population.

“You guys only come when something like this happens,” said one of the worshippers at Manchester's Victoria Park Mosque, visibly annoyed at the unusual commotion. Four days after the attack that killed 22 people, this congregation, along with many others around the city, is under a microscope.

During Friday prayers, some of the world’s media came looking for answers. On the eve of Ramadan, the dark shadow of terrorism looms large over most mosques in Manchester and beyond.

“People who do this kind of thing are no Muslims,” one man tells me.

It’s a routine that has become all too familiar to mosque goers in the immediate aftermath of a major terror attack. In spite of reassurances from authorities and the government, Muslims in this city of 600,000 feel under siege. 

“The media likes to portray us as an add-on, an addition to society,” Imam Irfan Christi tells me. “I would like to remind people that in World War I and World War II Muslims fought for this nation. We are part of the fabric of this great nation that we are.”

On Wednesday, soon after it was revealed the perpetrator of last Monday’s attack, Salman Ramadan Abedi, worshipped at the Manchester Islamic Centre in the affluent area of Didsbury, the centre was under police guard, with very few people allowed in. Outside, with the media was impatiently waiting, a young man was giving interviews to whoever was interested.

“Tell me, what is the difference between a British plane dropping bombs on a school in Syria and a young man going into a concert and blowing himself up,” he asked rhetorically. “Do you support terrorists, then?” one female reporter retorted. 

When mosque officials finally came out, they read from a written statement. No questions were allowed. 

“Some media reports have reported that the bomber worked at the Manchester Islamic Centre. This is not true,” said the director of the centre’s trustees, Mohammad el-Khayat. “We express concern that a very small section of the media are manufacturing stories.”

Annoyed by the lack of information and under pressure from pushy editors, eager for a sexy headline, the desperation on the reporters’ faces was visible. They wanted something, from anyone, who had  even if a flimsy connection to the local Muslim community or the mosque. 

Two of them turned to me. With curly hair and black skin, in their heads I was the perfect fit for what a Muslim was supposed to look like.

"Excuse me, mate, are you from the mosque, can I ask you a couple of questions,” they asked. “What about?,” I said. "Well, you are a Muslim, right?" I laughed. The reporter walked away.

At the Victoria Park Mosque on Friday, Imam Christi dedicated a large portion of his sermon condemning last Monday’s tragedy. But he was also forced to once again defend his religion and its followers, saying Islam is about peace and that nowhere in the Koran it says Muslims should pursue jihad.

“The Koran has come to cure people. It has come to guide people. It has come to give harmony in society,” he said. “And yet that same Koran is being described as blood thirsty? Yet that same Koran is being abused to justify terror and violence. Who de we take our Islam from?”

In spite of opening its doors to the world’s media, mosques in Britain’s major cities know they can do very little to change a narrative they believe discriminates against Muslims. They seem to feel that the very presence of reporters in these places every time a terror attack happens reveals an agenda.

Despite this, on the streets of Manchester it has proved difficult to find anyone who had a bad thing to say about Islam and the city’s Muslim community. Messages of unity were visible all over town. One taxi driver, a white working-class British man, warned me to not believe anything I read in the media.

“Half of my friends are British Muslims,” he said even before asked. “ These people that say Islam is about terrorism have no idea what they are talking about.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.

0800 7318496