If selected, the Nobel Peace Prize nomination for Vladimir Putin would be the final nail in the coffin of the award’s credibility. In what many expected to be the punch line in a satirical news piece by The Onion, the Russian President was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize on the 2nd of October by the advocacy group International Academy of Spiritual Unity and Cooperation of Peoples of the World (IASUCPW) for his recent role in the Syrian deal regarding chemical weapons. It is a telling sign of the many controversies surrounding the award, particularly of the dangers in its increasing politicisation.
Vladimir Putin, put simply, is a tyrant and a bully on both the international and domestic stages. His recent success in avoiding US air strikes does not diminish this fact in the slightest, much less make him a role model for peace. Putin may have prevented an extra bomb in the air of Syria, but 10 per cent of his own state’s military budget goes towards funding Assad’s corrupt Syrian regime – about US$1.5 billion in total. The direct funding and support of any undemocratic regime that stands accountable for tens of thousands of deaths is directly at odds with the promotion of peace. Even assuming that Alfred Nobel’s criteria for the prize provides a number of loopholes in the Syrian case, there is a plethora of other evidence to suggest that Putin should be the last of the nominees to accept this award. His campaign in Chechnya has promoted indiscriminate brutality and violence, completely in opposition to Nobel’s assertion that the prize winner should work to promote “fraternity between nations.” Estimates of 160 000 combatant and non-combatant deaths from the two Chechnyan wars annihilate Putin’s positive rhetoric on freedom, democracy and international law. His 2008 involvement in the Georgian conflict with South Ossetia and subsequent invasion of Georgia displayed a “blatant disregard for the safety of civilians.” Furthermore, his targeted discrimination of the LGBT+ community and assertions that protesters “should have their livers smeared on the asphalt” is an unquestionable violation of ideas of peace and toleration.
Yet the IASUCPW argue that Putin deserves the award more than the current US President Barack Obama who won it in 2009. They credit Obama as “the man who has initiated and approved the United States’ aggressive actions in Iraq and Afghanistan [and is] preparing for an invasion into Syria.” This rhetoric from those in Putin’s camp points to the persistent problem of the politicisation of the prize. Amongst former controversial figures to receive the award are Liu Xiaobo, Barack Obama, and the European Union. There are complex reasons for protests against these individuals and organisation, but the general idea behind them is that one peaceful statement or action does not a peaceful idol make. It seems like the Nobel Peace Committee, and indeed the world, need a reminder of this.
If awarding a peace prize to Barack Obama has taught the world anything, it is to avoid pre-emptive honours. Drone strikes in Pakistan may be an issue of intense ethical contention, but objectively they are not something that a winner of a Nobel Peace Prize should advocate, much less associated with.
The Nobel Peace Committee, based in Oslo, is unlikely to select Putin for the shortlist of nominees, let alone hand him the prize. However, his very nomination poses a problem in global perspectives on the man. The recent chemical weapons deal, for which he received his nomination, was a well-timed diplomatic success for Putin. Previous to striking the deal, he was facing strong international condemnation for his discriminatory and dangerous policies targeted against the Russian LGBT+ community. This all seems to have been conveniently forgotten by Western diplomats who are now, predictably abandoning the cause of human rights for easier diplomatic cooperation on Syria. Many have heralded Putin’s op-ed in the New York Times and the subsequent chemical weapons deal as a win for non-violent diplomacy. But Putin’s actions paint the story of a man who is not an advocate of peace in the slightest, especially not in the Syrian region. His military support of the Assad regime denotes that Putin’s pleas for non-intervention are based on self-interest, in both the military and diplomatic sense. He will undoubtedly get much in the way of anti-Western propaganda from his nomination. At the very least, he will be strengthened in his belief that there are people in the West who are swayed by his hypocritical rhetoric. The very fact that Putin can now call himself a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize is a dangerous thing for international diplomacy and the credibility of the prize itself.
Ultimately, Putin will most likely go down the same path as other incredulous submissions to the Prize (Stalin and Hitler were once both named as nominees). The nomination, however, does highlight a fundamental problem with the institution. The very fact that such people can call themselves “nominees” for a peace prize is highly problematic, and in Putin’s case will only add to the slew of anti-Western propaganda he regularly espouses. It is a title that in context of the prize itself means little. Politically however, it means much more. It puts Putin on more equal footing with the West, and provides an excuse for his many indiscretions against the cause of peace. The Nobel Peace Committee should seriously consider the amendment of their application system and titling. Even in an age of cynicism and war, if Putin is the best we can come up with, then peace is in serious trouble.