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Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Reuters

REUTERS

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Reuters

The courage of our troops in Syria should remind us that an increasingly dangerous world exists beyond the borders of a West whose main concern last week appeared to consist of the theft of iCloud-based photographs of naked celebrities. In the age of the 'selfie' the medieval viciousness of the Syrian conflict and the throat-cutting actions of Islamic militants appear to belong to an utterly different world. In fact, fundamentalist Islamic imperialism and Mr Putin's 19th century-style territorial designs live cheek by jowl with the West to such an extent they are poised to impact significantly upon the apparent tranquillity of our lives. This is particularly the case when it comes to Mr Putin, whose resurrection of old imperial ambitions poses a threat to more than our tremulous economic recovery.

Last week, former Taoiseach John Bruton, for once, was right in his warning that European peace faces its greatest threat since the lead-in to World War II. For now it would be fairer to say that Mr Putin is more of an adventurer than an aspirant Great Dictator. He is an opportunist who has taken a punt that our demilitarised, morally-enervated European democracies will, in a reprise of the appeasement of the equally miserable 1930s, allow Mr Putin do as he will in the Ukraine, in the hope that the West might be allowed to enjoy the quiet life. History, though, tells us such expansionism is rarely sated by success. And if Mr Putin is to have his way in the Ukraine what is to stop him turning avaricious eyes to the Baltic democracies of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania? Or, for that matter, to Russia's former Balkan back garden?

European diplomacy now has to fundamentally reinvent its relations with Russia in a manner not seen since Winston Churchill's "iron curtain" speech ushered in a four-decade-long Cold War. In the 1980s the strength of Western democracies broke the chains of that curtain. Sadly, in a very different time, a new iron curtain is rising, with the only thing remaining to be satisfied being the stark issue of where the new boundaries will be set. The Western response to this will undoubtedly be informed by the stark reality that Russian irredentism is not conducive to Western prosperity. In particular, German dependence on Russian oil and gas means the European economic recovery depends more on the actions of Russia's unstable iron man rather than ECB president Mario Draghi.

We might not want the costs associated with another Cold War. But the ultimate cost of turning an appeasing face may be far higher. Meanwhile, the uncertainties of the geopolitical outlook have been intensified further by the dismal spectacle of the Middle East being dragged into a growing black hole of fundamentalist sectarian violence.

Those who, when faced by this witches' brew, blithely condemn Israel, the sole functioning democracy in the region, need to discover some political maturity. Israel is a closer friend and more appropriate role model for Irish democrats than Palestine. Like Czechoslovakia in 1938, Israel is the inconvenient frontier state of democracy. Abandoning it in favour of some romantic kinship with Palestine is a choice that is bereft of moral rigour. As for the Ukraine, we must remember Mr Putin's gamble is based on the premise that the West are weak and decadent. Little, beyond the Irish troops holding the line of the Golan Heights, contradicts the rigour of Mr Putin's case.

Sunday Independent