Imagine for a second that you have been vested with some decision making power in a small country. Specifically, you’ve been asked to make decisions pertaining to long-term strategic alliances. Now, for some of you, the correct plan will be to tell the West to buzz off and then join a People’s Axis in order to wage eternal war on Capitalism and Neo-Imperialist hegemony. Well, guess what? Unfortunately, you’d be dead right.

In the soon-to-be Obama-led West there will be even fewer risks to doing so than now and the pitfalls of the opposite course have just been made absolutely clear. The only rational choice available to you is to cosy up to whatever thug regime you have the best cultural, economic or geopolitical affinities with. If you don’t and take the Georgian gamble instead, then you know where the West will be when said thug regime comes knocking: anywhere but helping you.

Why does this matter? Aside from self-interest it matters because in the long term thuggish, barbarian regimes find it easiest to get on with each other, as do, on the other hand, law-abiding and civilized ones. Alliances cannot be cordoned off in a box marked ‘Foreign Policy’: they have inevitable socio-political consequences. The dominant power will, almost unconsciously, remodel its satellites in its own image. This is not, please note, a point about democracy; there is no reason to suspect that Putin is substantially less popular than he appears to be. Rather, the distinction to be made is between states where public life basically consists of gangsterism and ones where it doesn’t. Standards of rectitude in public administration here fall short of Gladstonian norms and are getting worse, but there an ocean of difference remains.

Russia is an economic and social basketcase, the same goes for Venezuela and Iran: to emulate them would not be a sane choice in a sane world. However, to make decisions that entail doing so is often the rational choice in a world that isn’t. Ignore all the inevitable cant about western hypocrisy and Russia’s status as a ‘proud nation’ because only one thing really matters. If we want the planet to become more rather than less civilized we must once again properly incentivize alliance with the West.