For a while now I’ve had a private theory about the way our world used to work. It goes like this: although communism may have been bad for the people of Russia (and of the Soviet satellite states), it did a useful job in keeping the west honest through negative example. Free speech? Yes, we in the west have that. Imprisonment without trial? No, that would be evil and wrong. Peace through international treaties? Naturally. As long as communism was going on, a sense that it would be better to be on the side of the angels permeated western society, its institutions, and its way of conducting relations abroad.
Anyway, I don’t expect that this suggestion won’t be falsified through multiple counter-example, and all to the muffled sound of laughter. But I thought it might give some colour to the background of this week’s events. For one, we have the French president in Moscow, brokering some sort of deal in which the Russians agree to (mostly) stop moving their tanks in the direction of the Georgian capital. Today we have the German chancellor meeting Medvedev in Sochin. And Condoleeza Rice, the US foreign policy chief, is in Tbilisi to show the Aghmashenebeli the surrender document he doesn’t know he’s already signed. It looks more like peer cooperation to me, and not so much like the dismal, chauvinist picture of a monopolar world that kept getting pushed our way circa Iraq.