David Cameron: West must resist ‘evil’ Putin and never back down

DAVOS, Switzerland — It feels like the 1930s all over again but with Russian leader Vladimir Putin playing the role of Hitler, U.K. Foreign Secretary David Cameron told POLITICO.

The war in Ukraine remains Cameron’s “absolute number one priority,” he told POLITICO’s Power Play podcast during an interview on Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“This is the challenge for our generation,” Cameron said. “This is like being a foreign minister or a leader in Europe in the 1930s, we have got to not appease Putin. We have got to stand up to the evil that his invasion represents.”

The former U.K. prime minister’s remarks come as the West scrambles to keep Ukraine topped up with high-tech weaponry to fend off Russia’s full-scale invasion, while bracing for the potential return of NATO-skeptic Donald Trump to the White House.

“One thing we can do is demonstrate during the course of this year that Putin isn’t winning,” Cameron said.

Israel’s war on Hamas

Turning to Israel’s war on Hamas in the Middle East, Cameron defended Britain’s refusal to call for an immediate cease-fire, as the Israel Defense Forces bombard Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

“I think that just wouldn’t have worked because if you want a two-state solution, if you want a sustainable cease-fire, you can’t ask the Israelis to have a two-state solution with the people who perpetrated 7th October in command in Gaza, still able to launch rockets into their country,” he said.

Cameron said he felt “deeply moved” by the suffering on both sides of the conflict. “I have been to a kibbutz in the south of Israel and seen the results of what happened on 7th October and the true horror of it,” he said.

“I’ve also listened to [accounts from British Embassy staff in Cairo] coming out of Gaza and what they’ve seen, what they’ve experienced, and the loved ones they’ve lost, and the family members they’ve seen killed,” Cameron added. “You know, a life is a life. I feel deeply about this, but I’m a very practical person and I want to know how do we bring this to an end?”

Cameron also kept open the door for future airstrikes against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have been attacking commercial and Western naval vessels in the Red Sea, resulting in a major bombing retaliation from an allied coalition last week.

“I think it is important ultimately to show you are prepared to follow up words with actions,” Cameron warned the Houthis, adding, “bear in mind when you make warnings, you have to be prepared to take action.”

Rwanda policy strife

On the domestic front, Cameron said he is “absolutely” behind Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s attempts to tackle undocumented migration by sending asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Cameron defended the policy despite describing it as “unorthodox” and “out-of-box thinking.” Asked whether he would have devised the policy when he was prime minister, Cameron said: “Yes, my heart is absolutely in it.”

After passing a crucial stage in the House of Commons on Wednesday, the legislation is expected to go on to meet stiff resistance in Britain’s upper chamber, the House of Lords, where Cameron now sits as a peer.

Reflecting on his return to front-line politics compared to his time as prime minister, Cameron said “it certainly makes you think a lot about how about making decisions, about trying to find the time to think through decisions. It’s still very, very difficult.”

Cameron said: “You can’t determine how people see you,” in response to a question on whether he was sensitive to personal criticism.

“I remember once bumping into Steve Bell, the Guardian cartoonist, and saying, ‘why do you always portray me with this sort of condom over my head? What is it I’ve done to deserve this?’ And he roared with laughter and said, ‘oh, you’re just too smooth.’ And that’s the only way I could put it. Strange way of putting it, but there we are. You have to take the rough of with the smooth in this job,” Cameron said.