It’s about UK, not just Ukraine

History is a good teacher, but unfortunately it has indolent and inept pupils: us, Westerners.

That’s why I only have a glimmer of a hope that, this once, the Chamberlain lesson will be heeded. He taught it on 27 September, 1938, in a radio broadcast on Hitler’s plans to annex the Sudetenland.

Describing the impending aggression as “a quarrel in a far-away country, between people of whom we know nothing”, Chamberlain sent a go-ahead signal to Hitler. We know what happened next.

Read the Ukraine for Czechoslovakia, Putin for Hitler, current Western leaders for Chamberlain, Daladier et al., and here endeth the lesson. Are we paying attention? Or are we playing truant? Have we finally learned that aggression against far-away countries about which we know nothing can trigger a worldwide cataclysm?

The Russians are amassing on Ukrainian borders a formidable force of several divisions (up to 85,000 men by some reports) armed with tanks, missile launchers and long-range artillery. The official explanation is some sort of exercise, but no one takes that seriously.

Some sort of military action against the Ukraine must be in the works, and there are many signs of that. For example, hospitals and morgues are being mobilised in various parts of Russia, suggesting that Putin doesn’t expect a bloodless cakewalk, similar to Hitler’s occupation of Czechoslovakia.

Also, a planeload of Russian war correspondents has landed in the Russian-occupied Donetsk and Lugansk provinces of the Ukraine. The hacks went into action immediately, concocting stories of little boys crucified by the dastardly Ukies and a genocide of all Russian-speakers being planned by Zelensky’s ‘fascist’ government.

Such genocide would have to have an element of suicide to it, since Zelensky himself is a native Russian-speaker, as are most members of his government. But such petty details are unlikely to douse the hacks’ fervour.

All the signs point at an imminent outbreak of hostilities, making commentators wonder what it is that Putin wants. His desires are doubtless two-fold, involving both strategic and tactical objectives.

The strategy is crystal-clear: if Ivan III went down in history as “the gatherer of the Russian lands”, Putin wants to be known as the re-gatherer. He has never concealed his aspiration to bring the whole post-Soviet space back into Russia’s fold, and the Ukraine was the jewel in the Soviet crown.

Putin’s long-term strategy is to reassemble the Soviet Union, thereby correcting what he calls “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”. That is the demise of an ogre that had devoured at least 60 million of its own children.

Hence Russia doesn’t recognise the independence of her former colonies and satellites, especially the Ukraine. Statements to the effect of Ukrainians and Russians being the same people are bulging the papers, most of them controlled by the Kremlin. This touching sentiment is strictly unilateral since Ukrainians jealously asserted their national identity even when they did belong to the Soviet Union, never mind now.

The immediate tactical objectives are harder to surmise. Putin may want to enlarge the occupied territory of the Donetsk and Lugansk provinces. He may also wish to have those enclaves of terrorism and banditry reincorporated into the Ukraine proper, thereby putting paid to Ukrainian independence.

Another possible plan may be to expand the occupied territory southwards to incorporate the Black Sea areas of Odessa and Mariupol. This may include the capture of the Northern Crimean Canal through which the Ukraine used to supply the Crimea. Now that lifeline has been blocked, the population of the occupied Crimea is fleeing in droves, to escape the growing shortages of basic necessities, including water.

Whatever such tactical objectives may be, they’ll always only be stepping stones on the way to conquering all of the Ukraine and stamping out her independence. How will the Ukraine react? How will the West?

The Ukraine will fight to the last man, the way Ukrainian partisans continued to fight the Soviets for at least 10 years after the war. That was a heroically hopeless struggle of several thousand barely armed men against the formidable might of the Soviet Union.

Ukrainians are no longer barely armed – thanks to Western supplies, they’ve been steadily increasing their battle-worthiness. Their army is approaching modern standards of armaments and, though it may not be able to defeat Russia, it’s certainly capable of inflicting the kind of casualties the Russians haven’t suffered since Afghanistan.

Somehow I’m not sure that the warmongering hysteria whipped up by the Russian media will survive tens (hundreds?) of thousands of death notices reaching their towns and villages. It’s doubtful that Putin’s regime itself will survive.

But suppose Russia does have a go. How will the West respond? How should it respond?

According to the press release issued by US Secretary of Defence Lloyd J. Austin III, he “spoke by phone today with Ukrainian Minister of Defence Andrii Taran to discuss the regional security situation. Secretary Austin reaffirmed unwavering U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and Euro-Atlantic aspirations. He condemned recent escalations of Russian aggressive and provocative actions in eastern Ukraine and offered condolences to Minister Taran on the deaths of four Ukrainian soldiers on March 26.”

Unwavering US support means unwavering Nato support, and Britain is its second-ranking member. But what does that statement mean?

The West responded to Russia’s aggression against Georgia in 2008 and the Ukraine in 2014 with token sanctions and expressions of concern. Will we this time ratchet our response up to expressing grave concern and tightening up the sanctions?

It’s reasonably clear what the West will not do: send troops to fight in the Ukraine. The US Navy has moved two frigates into the Black Sea, but this is merely a symbolic gesture.

And here’s what the West can’t afford to do: nothing. Should Russian armour roll, neither statements of grave concern nor mere token sanctions will do.

We must continue to supply the Ukrainians with everything they need to fight for their freedom and inflict the heaviest possible casualties on the Russians. At the same time, Russia’s status must be downgraded from somewhat naughty to a pariah.

The West has the means to collapse Russia’s economy, and this is what must be done. Russia should be cut off from the international trading system SWIFT, with an embargo imposed on both Russians imports and exports. Let them eat their gas and drink their oil.

At the same time, the ‘Russian trillions’, the ill-gotten assets Russian gangsters keep in Western banks and other financial institutions, must be impounded or, better still, confiscated. That will deliver a blow where it hurts: the ostentatious luxury in which the kleptofascist junta lives.

Vetting such assets to decide which are ill-gotten and which aren’t is like shooting fish in a barrel: you can’t miss. All Russian holdings numbering in many millions are proceeds of crime – such wealth can’t be acquired there by any other means.  

Putin’s junta can’t be allowed to get away with a full-blown offensive against the Ukraine. If it is, the whole system of European security, including Nato, will collapse.

If we go back to those history classes, bold aggressors always stagger their forays by gradual escalation. Thus the Rhineland came first, then Austria, then Czechoslovakia, then the Benelux, then France and then those bombs rained on London.

If the West displays limp-wristed impotence again, Putin’s next targets will be the Baltics, which are Nato members. Having allowed today’s answer to Hitler to swallow up the Ukraine, it would be illogical for us to resist the occupation of, say, Estonia.

And then we may be reminded of the etymology of the word ‘escalation’: it’s a cognate of the Latin for stairs. We’ll climb up one step at a time, and a nuclear holocaust may well await on the top floor.

Sorry about coming across as a doomsayer, but someone has to be. The situation is dire, and it can quickly become cataclysmic.

I feel diminished

“Any man’s death diminishes me,” wrote John Donne in his well-known poem. A beautiful sentiment, that, but is it true?

I don’t mean philosophically or poetically true. It probably is. But is it something we really feel in our viscera when a public figure or, for that matter, any stranger dies? Do we ever have a sense of personal loss with the passing of someone we didn’t know personally?

Possibly. Sometimes. Twice, in my life. The first time was in 1982, when Glenn Gould died. The second time was on Friday, when the news of Prince Philip’s death broke.

This feeling caught me by surprise. After all, there have been other public figures – writers, musicians, thinkers, even the odd politician or two – who occupied a larger niche in my life. When they died, the words “so sorry to hear that” crossed my lips, and I usually meant it. But I didn’t feel that their death diminished me.

Some of my friends met Prince Philip, and everything I’ve heard about him is eminently likeable, as is everything I’ve read. But then some other dignified, honourable, sage, witty, irascible and likeable men have died in my lifetime without producing this sense of personal loss.  

Why now then? It has taken me two days to get my head around this, and I still can’t explain my grief cogently enough. I see no structure in my mind’s eye, just the blinking lights of single words flashing through.

The brightest of them are love and unity, the two words that can go a long way towards explaining England, and therefore Prince Philip, to the uninitiated.

“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh,” wrote Paul, and this is the starting point of my meandering journey.

The sacrament of marriage turns two people into one before God. However, for many couples this remains a purely metaphysical concept, even assuming – and this is an unsafe assumption nowadays – that they believe in it.

Peeking into other people’s marriages is a futile pastime, but from everything one hears, reads and sees the Queen and her lifelong consort embodied Paul’s prescription in every sense. Yet they were no ordinary couple, and their love and unity transcended just any old happy marriage.

For Prince Philip was one flesh not only with Her Majesty, but also with the monarchy, which in turn is one with the country. This unity is a ship sailing on a reservoir of love.

Just as the Royal spouses were inseparable, so are the monarchy and Britain. And love makes it so by reinforcing the monarchy’s legitimacy.

At this point pedantic scholars will throw their arms up in horror. The legitimacy of the monarchy derives from the whole constitutional history of the country, not from some nebulous touchy-feely emotions.

The monarchy is the link between generations past, present and future. Even though devoid of executive power, it’s a key institution not only for Britain but also for the whole Commonwealth.

All true. However, observing the on-going mayhem of constitutional vandalism, one has to believe that political tradition alone can’t protect our vital institutions. Had our monarchy depended solely on constitutional probity, it would have gone the way of the House of Lords, succumbing to subversive sentiments sprouting at the grassroots, as they are generously watered by assorted malcontents.

The reason it hasn’t, yet, is that most Britons love their monarchy. For them, it’s the same as loving their country, being one flesh with it.

This is a British love, undemonstrative, taciturn, but so much the firmer for it. Most people may even be unable to declare it, to put into words or express it with gestures, such as putting a hand over the heart.

They just know they and their country are one, and therefore they are one with the Queen and her lifelong consort. Let’s not ask them to rationalise that feeling – if they try, it may well wither like a poppy plucked out of the ground.

A politician may be liked, respected, venerated even. But a politician can seldom, if ever, be loved in the same intuitive, unspoken way.

Yes, a ship sailing on a reservoir of love. But that reservoir can be depleted, which is why one looks with apprehension at His Royal Highness’s descendants. As Burke put it, “To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.” The same applies to those who are one with their country – they must continue to deserve love.

That’s what Prince Philip did, over a long life of duty and service underpinned by love.

Men like him used to run mighty kingdoms, but mighty kingdoms no longer exist, and neither do men like him, not in any significant numbers at any rate. But he did exist, one flesh with his wife, his monarchy and his adoptive country.

Hence anyone who loves Britain as I do is bound to feel diminished by the death of His Royal Highness the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. May he rest in peace.

December, 1984, was a special month

When I was growing up in Russia, the dissident Andrei Amalrik wrote a pamphlet, Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?. The Soviet Union did, barely, but Amalrik didn’t: he emigrated to Spain and died in a suspicious road accident.

Marshal Ustinov, victim of cardiac arrest

That happened in 1980, but the writing was already on the wall. And in December, 1984, it became legible.

That one month holds the key that opens a chest of secrets. For those with eyes to see and brains to interpret, the events of December, 1984, explain the subsequent history of Eastern Europe, Russia, glasnost, perestroika, post-communism – the lot.

By analysing that one month I knew straight away that the much-vaunted collapse of the Soviet Union was merely a game of musical chairs, with the KGB bumping the Party off the seat of power. Conversely, those who missed the significance of that month – a group that included most analysts – accepted the subsequent developments at face value.

What was merely a transfer of power from the Party to the KGB was hailed as a triumph of democracy and even – by particularly inane commentators – as the end of history. Since Western governments use such analysts as advisers, they were caught off guard when the KGB, fronted by Col. Putin, took over Russia in 2000 and created a kleptofascist regime presenting a greater threat to the West than even the Soviet Union did.

Four events evenly spread throughout that month had no business being practically simultaneous. Yet simultaneous they were, vindicating the ironclad rule of intelligence analysts: if coincidences number more than two, they aren’t coincidences.

On 2 December, Army General Hoffmann, East Germany’s Defence Minister died of cardiac arrest. On 15 December, Army General Oláh, Hungary’s Defence Minister, died of cardiac arrest. On 16 December, Army General Dzúr, Czechoslovakia’s Defence Minister, died of cardiac arrest. On 20 December, Marshal Ustinov, Soviet Defence Minister, died of cardiac arrest.

Since it’s statistically improbable that four defence ministers of communist countries succumbed to the same diagnosis during 18 days of the same month, one has to doubt either the cause of their deaths or its natural, unassisted aetiology.

A doubting Thomas will put those events in the context of communist history and crack a knowing smile. For throughout the entire history of the Soviet Union (and therefore its satellites), the army and the secret police were at each other’s throats.

The pitched battle was like a kaleidoscope, with today’s winners instantly becoming tomorrow’s losers and vice versa. The Party was able to control the hostilities, acting as a referee in a sporting contest. When either side became too powerful, the Party threw its weight behind the other lot.

Thus in 1937-1938, the army was getting ideas above its station. The Party pushed the button, and the NKVD, as it then was, went into action. Practically the entire high command, some 40,000 ranking officers, including three of the five marshals, were wiped out.

Marshals and generals were savagely tortured, with NKVD interrogators urinating on their heads as a final nice touch. Those who survived the torture (Marshal Blyuher, for one, didn’t) were then dispatched with a bullet in the nape of the neck.

The army got its own back in 1953-1954, after Stalin died. Beria, Stalin’s secret police chief, was charged with… well, the usual things: espionage, attempted coup, placing the MGB (as it now was) above the Party. The Soviets then presaged the MeToo movement and livened things up by also charging Beria with a whole raft of sex crimes. Those were so numerous that one wondered how he managed to do any work at all.

It was the army, led by Marshal Zhukov, that arrested and executed Beria. It was also the army that inundated Moscow with tanks to prevent any resistance on the part of the MGB (as a little tot, I was impressed by the roar of those machines driving through the city centre).

Once in control, the Party, ably assisted by the army, proceeded to arrest and eliminate hundreds of top MGB officers, some of ministerial rank. The KGB, as it then became, had to lie low until 1980, when its head, Andropov, ascended to the post of General Secretary, effectively dictator.

It was in the subsequent few years that the KGB began to lord it over not just the army, but also the Party and therefore the country. As the only part of the triumvirate that had regular contacts with the West, the KGB came up with a blueprint for a more flexible system, one that could appear less threatening to the West and hence able to request and receive vast subsidies.

The other two powers didn’t go easily. Two of Andropov’s closest lieutenants, Politburo member Kulakov and Byelorussian boss Masherov… I almost wrote ‘died under mysterious circumstances’, but let’s not equivocate: they were killed.

Andropov himself died in 1984, with foul play also alleged. But, as the standard Bolshevik eulogy went, ‘Our comrade died but his cause lives on’. The relay baton was eventually passed to Andropov’s appointee, Gorbachev, who several years later was to go down in history as a great democrat. However, there were many indications that the army reacted to the advent of the new order with hostility.

The KGB, and its clones in other Warsaw Bloc countries, had to act decisively – after all, the brass might have been short of brain, but certainly not of brawn. The traditional competitor of the secret police had to be put down quickly.

Hence the pandemic of cardiac arrests simultaneously befalling the military leaders of four communist countries, including the Soviet Union. After they were buried with honours, both the armies and the communist parties fell in line.

The only exception was the Romanian dictator Ceaușescu, who turned his nose away from the wind of progress. He wasn’t going to go without trouble, like, when the wind turned into a hurricane sweeping old-fashioned communist dictatorships away. That’s why Ceaușescu had to be shot in the gutter together with his wife – the only communist leader who perished in the regime change for being slow on the uptake.

Those developments signalled the victory of the KGB that emulated Julius Caesar by scoring a triumph over the other two members of the triumvirate. At first it ruled through two Party leaders that had close links with the KGB throughout their careers: Gorbachev first, then Yeltsyn.

Then, in 2000, the FSB, as it had become, decided to abandon subterfuge and rule directly through one of its middle-rank officers, Putin. To what extent its sister organisations in Eastern Europe have relinquished control is open to discussion.

Suffice it to say for now that things in that part of the world are seldom what they seem. Hungary and Poland, for example, may belong to the EU and Nato just like Germany and France, but take my word for it: they aren’t just like Germany and France.

Decades of communist rule sully a nation so thoroughly that a scrubbing operation, even assuming that it’s undertaken in good faith, must take even more decades. And if it’s not undertaken in good faith… oh well, let’s not go there.

EU plays politics with people’s lives

The EU sees the Oxford-AZ vaccine as dangerous – to the EU.

Like all political contrivances brought to life by fiat and therefore lacking historical legitimacy, the EU regards life solely through the prism of politics. Or, more specifically, of its own survival.

Since Britain’s apostasy sets a bad example for others, the EU has to see her as an existential threat. An enemy, in other words. Once that assumption is made, an elaborate scorecard comes into existence.

Britain’s successes are chalked up as the EU’s failures and vice versa. And on that card, Britain’s record of Covid vaccination pulls her way ahead of the EU.

The warped logic of European federalism hence demands that Britain’s success be made less striking, and the EU will try to achieve that goal at any cost – including the cost to the lives of its own citizens.

It’s only in this context that the EU’s total or partial rejection of the Oxford-AZ vaccine can be understood. Outside the political realm, the vaccine is perfectly usable, meaning it saves thousands of lives.

It’s perfectly usable, but is it perfectly safe? No, it isn’t – for the simple reason that we in this world aren’t blessed with medicines that are 100 per cent safe. Even everyday analgesics, such as aspirin, ibuprofen and paracetamol can kill some people under some circumstances.

In fact, as few as eight tablets of paracetamol have been known to produce a lethal outcome, and over 150 people die every year of a paracetamol overdose. (A note to aspiring suicides: don’t use the drug for that purpose. You’ll die of liver failure, which is a ghastly way to go.)

Nevertheless every year medical authorities all over the world approve many drugs for prescription or OTC use. To get its drug approved, the manufacturer has to present heaps of evidence proving that the benefits of the drugs far outweigh the risks.

Even so, the law requires that every possible side effect, no matter how unlikely, be listed in the in-pack leaflets. These documents can be long and scary, with death often mentioned as a possibility. It’s easy to get frightened and shun the medicine, especially for people who played truant when arithmetic was taught.  

For the issue of drug approval is decided on the basis of statistical data correlating clinical success with the incidence of side effects. This may be higher or lower, but it’s never nonexistent. If a drug has no side effects, it has no effects, which is why homeopathic medicines enjoy their sterling reputation for safety.

So far the Oxford-AZ jab has been administered to 20.2 million people, of whom 79 (51 of them young women) have developed a rare type of blood clot and 19 died. This is tragic, but it’s no reason for the hysterical scaremongering campaign whipped up by the EU’s functionaries, such as Manny Macron and Angie Merkel.

As far as they are concerned the evidence against the vaccine is overwhelming, but it’s political, not medical. The trouble with the Oxford-AZ vaccine isn’t that it’s too unsafe, but that it’s too British.

Hence Manny, Angie et al. are prepared to deny their own people a potentially life-saving treatment to prevent Britain’s success from becoming even more spectacular. And they have an attentive audience.

Most people respond to data with their emotions, not reason. That’s why so many, for example, refuse to fly. Yet those same people will happily drive across the continent, even though the risk of doing so is exponentially higher than with flying.

Crossing the street, even in a quiet part of town, presents a much higher risk than an Oxford-AZ jab, but such arguments are futile in the face of a massive propaganda offensive. Manny’s and Angie’s scaremongering is louder than the quiet whisper of statistical evidence.

Europeans aren’t even deterred by the weathervane turnarounds performed by their peerless leaders. First Manny declared that the Oxford-AZ was lethal to the over-65s. Then suddenly it was fine for the wrinklies, but a real killer for the under-55s. Then Manny stated publicly that, though he himself was in the threatened age group, he’d gladly be vaccinated with the British poison.

Nevertheless the vaccine has been banned for the under-55s in France and the under-60s in Germany. And Holland, Norway and Denmark have banned it altogether.

Our own regulatory agency, MHRA, understandably undeterred by the British provenance of the vaccine, has taken a sensible position, and I thought I’d never say this about a government medical institution.

While stressing that Oxford-AZ vaccine has saved thousands of lives and is continuing to do so, MHRA advises that “careful consideration be given to people who are at higher risk of specific types of blood clots because of their medical condition”. And even the European regulator recommends the same approach.

But this is medical advice informed by evidence and reason, not political propaganda animated by hatred of Britain. The EU mandarins and other fruits are prepared to sacrifice lives at the altar of a corrupt political idea – and we’ve seen that sort of thing on the continent before.

France is about to lose respect

Writing in Le Figaro, the novelist Michel Houellebecq put it in a nutshell: “A civilisation that legalises euthanasia loses every right to respect.”

A lost cause, Mr Houellebecq, but a noble one

In addition to being correct, this statement is topical. L’Assemblée Nationale, the French parliament, is this week debating this very issue. I don’t know if that body listens to public opinion, but if it does, the motion is likely to pass.

For 96 per cent of France’s population are in favour of legalisation, preferring assisted suicide to physical suffering. The supporters of euthanasia cite ‘compassion’ and ‘dignity’ as arguments in favour, and Houellebecq is merciless to them.

Whenever compassion is invoked, he writes, “the lies are palpable”. And with dignity, “they become even more insidious”.

Dignity is increasingly understood as a capacity to act, with any loss of the latter spelling diminution in the former. This, writes Houellebecq, veers far away from Kant’s definition of dignity as a moral, rather than physical, concept. In fact, morality doesn’t seem to enter into the argument at all.

Fair enough, the Catholics, as well as the Jews and the Muslims, oppose euthanasia, but Mr Houellebecq correctly thinks they’ll lose this argument, as they’ve lost all others. In any case, the media close ranks and refuse to report any religious objections.

With this article, and many others he has written on this subject, Houellebecq has entered into my good books, a distinction his novels failed to earn. In fact, until a few years ago I hadn’t even heard his name, which, according to my French friends, punched a gaping hole in my erudition.

At first, I thought they were talking about the writer’s near homophone, the English centre forward Danny Welbeck. Since none of them was known as an ardent football fan, I was quite taken aback. Having at last realised the depth of my ignorance, I then tried to redeem myself by reading a few of Houellebecq’s novels.

I found out that, on balance, I still preferred Danny Welbeck. The novels struck me as floridly overwritten, rather gynaecological pornography with some astute social observations drowned in pseudo-philosophical musings. Then again, Houellebecq can’t help being French.

However, even in his novels one can only detect lapses of taste, never those of intellect. He is undoubtedly an intelligent man, which he showed yet again in this article, unencumbered as it is by the slightly forced artistry of his novels.

Mr Houellebecq is distinctly unimpressed with the examples of euthanasia provided by the countries where it is already legal, namely Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg. He doesn’t specify what it is in particular that fails to impress him, but such things must be numerous.

Doctors in the Benelux countries have been vested with divine power over life and death. In Holland, some 6,000 people were euthanised last year, and Dutch health officials proudly announced that 92 per cent of them were terminally ill.

However, if my arithmetic serves me right, that means that some 500 people were killed simply because they didn’t feel like living any longer. And even that requirement wasn’t always observed.

One woman, for example, first stated her desire to die, but then changed her mind. She was killed anyway – no self-reprieves are allowed. The doctor involved actually went on trial, but the tendency is unmistakable. In any case, the doctor was only charged with not following proper bureaucratic procedure, not murder.

Houellebecq realises that in due course any restrictions on euthanasia will disappear one by one. It’s clear to him, as it should be to any sensible person, that, once euthanasia has become legal, sooner or later it’ll become compulsory, with the state deciding who deserves to live and who must die.

This is what happens when man no longer recognises absolute morality given by an authority infinitely higher than any human institution. Kant’s categorical imperative is a poor substitute, and the humanist morality of anthropocentrism is no substitute at all.

It’s a harrowing thought that the birthplace of Catholic scholasticism, a country whose landscape is punctuated by thousands of glorious Romanesque and Gothic churches, is being sucked into the moral mire of modernity so rapidly and irretrievably.

One just hopes that those French parliamentarians for once ignore vox populi and listen instead to vox dei. Nothing in recent history suggests they will.  

Our hacks’ effrontery knows no bounds

An ability to write on unfamiliar subjects with supreme confidence seems to be a job requirement for today’s journalists.

Comrades-at-arms: Gen. Guderian and Brig. Krovoshein receiving a joint Nazi-Soviet parade at Brest-Litovsk

As if to prove this point, David Aaronovitch reviews Sean McMeekin’s book Stalin’s War with avuncular condescension. Looking down on the historian’s work from the vertiginous height of his own ignorance, Aaronovitch describes McMeekin’s take on his subject as “nuts”.

Ideally a reviewer of an expert’s book should himself be an expert on the subject. Barring that, he at least ought to be an enlightened layman familiar with a broad range of current scholarship.

Even a relatively uninformed reviewer may still write a decent piece, provided he sticks to generalities. What he must never do on pain of coming across as an arrogant ignoramus is mock the author’s research and conclusions.

Aaronovitch treats this requirement with blithe disregard. He correctly identifies McMeekin’s book as “an argument” and then tries to establish his own credentials to engage it. Alas, he only establishes his lack thereof.

“For a layperson I know quite a lot about this war,” writes Aaronovitch, “but even so there was something in almost every chapter that I hadn’t seen before, whether it was the 1926 occupation by the Red Army of Tannu Tuva, …or the reliance of the young Soviet Union on the sale of artworks to finance its debt.”

I submit that no one who didn’t know those two facts, especially the second, is qualified to review a book on Soviet history. That’s not being “a layperson”; that’s being ignorant.

And, out of interest, what debts was “the young Soviet Union” trying to finance? One of the first things the victorious Bolsheviks did was repudiate all the debts incurred by the Russian Empire. The sales of artworks that started under Lenin and proceeded apace under Stalin, pursued quite different ends. Their purpose was to produce another source of hard currency, to be used as an aggressive weapon.

Lenin swore by a world revolution, with the Soviet Union acting as the catalyst of simultaneous workers’ uprisings in all ‘capitalist’ countries. The Bolsheviks didn’t believe they could hang on in Russia and were preparing to decamp to European countries, which Lenin believed to be ripe for a revolutionary outburst.

To that end, the Bolsheviks quickly robbed Russia of all her wealth accumulated over centuries – not just numerous artworks from museums, churches and private collections, but also the gold, jewels and hard currency kept in institutional and private accounts in Russian and foreign banks.

The money was supposed to grease the wheels of the impending revolution to be fomented by the Bolshevik immigrants. (McMeekin described this wholesale robbery in his earlier, brilliant, book History’s Greatest Heist.)

It was then that the Soviets developed their unmatched expertise in money laundering that still stands them in good stead. They were creating various brassplates and offshore havens for parking their loot. Yet neither did they mind eschewing laundering and using their personal accounts.

The New York Times revealed at the time that in 1920 alone 75 million Swiss francs was sent to Lenin’s account in a Swiss bank. Trotsky had $11 million in just one US bank, plus 90 million francs in his Swiss accounts. Zinoviev kept 80 million Swiss francs in Switzerland, Dzerzhinsky had 80 million francs, while Hanecki had 60 million francs and $10 million – the list went on and on.

However, by the time Stalin took over, two things had become clear. First, workers of the world didn’t wish to unite under Soviet banners: communist uprisings in Germany and Hungary were quashed with ease, while the greatly outnumbered Poles uncooperatively stopped the early Soviet thrust at the gates of Warsaw. But, on the plus side, the Bolsheviks unexpectedly got entrenched in the Soviet Union.

Hence Stalin revised Lenin’s doctrine. If Lenin believed that a communist revolution would succeed either everywhere or nowhere, Stalin came up with the theory of a communist victory in a single country, namely Russia.

Yet, contrary to what Aaronovitch thinks, he didn’t abandon the idea of a world revolution. Stalin merely switched from reliance on indigenous forces to the strategy of imposing communism by direct conquest. To that end he had to create an unstoppable military juggernaut capable of rolling over Europe.

That’s why, rather than sitting in foreign banks, the hard currency had to be used to finance history’s greatest construction project: turning Russia into a unique combination of a boot camp, concentration camp and armament factory.

The wealth flowing out of Russia now had to come back in the shape of Western technologies, turnkey factories, machinery and weapons. Rather than financing some mythical debts, the money was now used for that purpose only.

Having thus established his ignorance, Aaronovitch forged right ahead to prove his effrontery as well. Here he invoked the authority of popular TV comedies to take issue with McMeekin’s version of events:

“The Second World War is usually characterised as being Hitler’s war, because as we and Basil Fawlty all know the Führer started it by invading Poland. Sean McMeekin’s contention … is that in fact it was Stalin’s war. The murderous Soviet dictator wanted there to be a conflict between Germany and the other capitalist powers, connived to bring it about and succeeded; planned to invade Germany before Germany invaded him…”

This notion “provoked in me the greatest number of NOs I’ve ever scribbled on the pages of a proof. The first of which came on p50 with McMeekin’s assertion that by 1938 ‘the ultimate aim of Soviet foreign policy – the weakening of capitalist regimes by any means necessary and the concomitant global expansion of Communism – remained the same’ as in the revolutionary days of Lenin.

“This is questionable, to say the least. I am reasonably certain that a consensus of historians of the Soviet Union in this period would argue that Stalin’s doctrine of socialism in one country subordinated everything – world revolution included – to the survival of the Soviet Union, with him at its helm…”

Aaronovitch knows next to nothing about the subject on which he is enlarging with his reasonable certainty. In fact, McMeekin is supported by all historians who have no vested interest in peddling Stalin’s version of the war.

This was that of a Soviet Union quietly going about its peaceful business, only to be treacherously attacked by the Nazis. In their naivety the Soviets didn’t even prepare for the war properly, which explains their initial setbacks. However, the heroism of the Soviet people and their devotion to the cause of Lenin and Stalin eventually prevailed, if at a great cost.

In reality, the Soviet Union was militarised to an extent never before seen in history. It wasn’t for peaceful – nor indeed merely defensive – purposes that by 1941 Russia could field a greater force than the rest of the world combined: 303 divisions, 23,000 tanks (some without analogues anywhere), 17,000 warplanes, 220 submarines, 40,000 artillery pieces plus mobile rocket launchers kept in strict secrecy.

It wasn’t for defensive purposes that the entire Soviet industry had been working in a wartime three-shift mode since the early 1930s, something Nazi Germany began to do only three years into the war.

It wasn’t for defence that Stalin pushed through his 1939 Non-Aggression Pact with Hitler, effectively an alliance dividing Europe between two totalitarian dictatorships. It wasn’t for defence that the Soviets pounced on the former Russian territories of Finland, East Poland, the Baltics and Bessarabia – and also Bukovina that had never belonged to the Russian Empire.

It wasn’t for defensive purposes that Stalin supplied Hitler with all the raw materials without which Germany wouldn’t even have been able to defeat Poland. Nor was it for defence that Stalin replenished the dwindling Nazi supply of bombs raining on London.

As to Stalin’s intention to attack Germany once she got bogged down in a European war, ideally after landing a force in the British Isles, this is amply documented in current histories, those produced after the Soviet archives were opened ajar. On this a consensus of historians, even such conventional ones as John Erickson, does exist – irrespective of Aaronovitch’s ignorance of it.

Historians only argue about the planned timing of the Soviet onslaught and the length of time by which the Nazi strike beat the Soviets to the punch. The range varies from one day (Mel’tuhov) to a couple of weeks (Suvorov, Hoffmann, Bunich) to a month (Solonin) to several months (Erickson et al.).

In the past few weeks the Russians have reclassified all the war archives, barring historians’ access to tens of millions of documents. What does Aaronovitch think they have to hide? If those documents proved Stalin’s – and Aaronovitch’s – mendacious version, the Russians would be advertising them in every media.

As an ex-communist, Aaronovitch must feel some residual affection for his former spiritual beacon. He refuses to accept that Stalin’s role in history’s most devastating war was at least as pernicious as Hitler’s – and nor is he familiar with the scholarship proving this fact.

However, his reservoir of youthful communist aggression hasn’t been depleted. Hence he has the effrontery to describe as “nuts” a historian who has forgotten more about that war than Aaranovitch will ever know.

I’m surprised he used such a restrained term. How about “hireling of Wall Street”, “jackal”, “parasite”, “scum” and other terms of scholarly debate straight out of the communist lexicon? I’ll be pleased to provide a full list.

What a day

Easter is a happy holiday, a time for laughter and joy unsullied by troubles, problems and annoyances. So let’s rejoice together, laugh together and celebrate together – let’s be together.

For on this day in particular, we ought to remind ourselves that: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Happy Easter, wherever you are, whatever you believe and whatever language you speak!

Christ is risen!

Le Christ est ressuscité!

Christus ist auferstanden!

Cristo ha resucitado!

Cristo è risorto!

Kristus on üles tõusnud!

Kristus er oppstanden!

Xристос воскрес!

Chrystus zmartwychwstał!

Kristus vstal z mrtvých!

Cristo ressuscitou!

Kristus ir augšāmcēlies!

Christus is verrezen!

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη!

Krisztus feltámadt!

Kristus är uppstånden!

Kristus prisikėlė!

Kristus nousi kuolleista!

Hristos a înviat!


Suckers pay well

Denise Coates, the CEO of the online betting service Bet365, paid herself £469 million last year, a decent wage any way you look at it. More decent, in fact, than the combined incomes of the remaining 99 CEOs of the FTSE 100 companies, and they are no paupers.

Bet wesponsibly? Who do you think you’re kidding, mate?

Comments on that record pay are replete with words like ‘obscene’, ‘undeserved’ and even ‘criminal’. Yet libertarians among us won’t cede their ground to egalitarians quite so easily.

They argue that the company has made its profits legally, and it’s nobody’s business how much its founder paid herself. Miss Coates is an icon of free enterprise. Her company paid taxes on billions last year, and it employs 5,000 people. If anyone deserves a lifetime statue, it’s Denise, not Greta.

If I had to come down on either side of the argument, I’d probably go with the libertarians. Their views partly overlap with mine, which is more than I can say for the egalitarians.

However, ‘partly’ is the key word there. I find doctrinaire libertarianism almost as objectionable as its opposite.

Unwavering commitment to free enterprise über alles often takes morality out of the argument, reducing it to unvarnished utilitarianism. Yet utilitarianism tends to refute itself even on its own terms.

For example, libertarians wish to legalise drugs, first marijuana, then even the hard ones. They insist on people’s right to control their own destiny and health. If a chap has no fear of addiction, then by all means he should be allowed to mainline heroin or smoke crack if he so wishes.

Yet the social consequences of decriminalisation are unpredictable and therefore frightening. It’s possible that drug use would increase so much that herds of addicts would be roaming the streets, making them well-nigh uninhabitable. This isn’t the kind of possibility that conservative, which is to say intelligent, people are happy to bet against.

Proponents of legalising drugs argue that levels of addiction wouldn’t increase, while organised crime would be crippled. But gambling, which used to be another mafia pursuit, punches this argument full of holes.

Organised crime is flexible: if one income source goes legal, it intensifies the other sources, or explores new ones. As to the volume of the activity decreasing once it’s legalised, there are 469 strong arguments against this. That’s how many millions the online bookie Denise could afford to pay herself last year.   

Our secular world equates morality with legality. If, say, necrophilia were legalised tomorrow, we’ll be expected to welcome morgues advertising on TV, with slogans like “Bed the dead”.

Similarly, because online betting companies like Bet365 are allowed to inundate the box with their publicity, no moral objections are ever raised. Yet I for one regard habitual gambling as morally reprehensible – and it’s habitual gamblers who keep Miss Coates in country estates.

W.C. Fields inadvertently came up with the core principle of the gambling industry: never give a sucker an even break. The industry lives by that maxim, and everyone knows that. Yet suckers keep coming back for more, making one wonder which side to such transactions is more immoral. About a toss-up, I’d suggest.

Most punters are driven by greed, a base hope to get something for nothing. Yes, the house always wins in the end. But that’s in the end, when large-number statistics come into play. This doesn’t mean someone won’t walk away with the jackpot along the way. Hit me again!

It’s not just greed that drives suckers, but also hunger for cheap thrills. Yet many find out that cheap thrills can be dear at the price.

In a society that extols egotism as a virtue, many people lack natural mechanisms restraining their appetites. That’s why in both Britain and the US personal indebtedness far exceeds personal income. People don’t mind using one pack of credit cards to pay off the debts incurred on another, and they apply for bank loans to pay for a holiday without too many second thoughts.

Such rapacity extends to their gambling. Since every vice is these days medicalised, it’s fashionable to talk about ‘gambling addiction’, a disease that supposedly absolves the sufferer of any guilt. Yet gambling beyond one’s means isn’t an addiction in any physiological sense.

It’s a deficit of self-control, responsibility, foresight and – consequently – morality. It’s putting either greed or hedonism or both before reason, prudence and moral restraint.

Catering to, and profiting from, such human frailties is immoral even if legal. That’s why, much as I love to hear Ray Winstone’s rich London accent as he intones “Please gamble wesponsibly” in Bet365 commercials, the company is being dishonest there.

All such businesses depend on what’s called ‘heavy users’. Be it alcohol, cigarettes, fast food or gambling, the old 80-20 split is always at work: 20 per cent of the customers account for 80 per cent of the consumption.

A chap who bets the odd tenner on a football match a couple of times a season isn’t going to keep Denise in personal jets. It takes millions of suckers irresponsibly betting away their rent money because they find Ray Winstone oh so seductive.

Anyone who has ever seen people go for it at a casino, on a race course or in a betting shop is unlikely to describe the emotions contorting their faces as laudable. One sees tasteless, unbridled joy over winning and often real grief over losing, both preceded by unsightly gesticulation and incoherent shrieks.

Would I ban gambling? Probably not. But I’d certainly make it less accessible. Ideally, it should be contained within private clubs charging high membership fees, which would perform a useful vetting function. A chap gambling at Aspinall’s is less likely to become destitute than one doing so on line.

What I would definitely ban is TV advertising for online betting, even at the risk of knocking a zero or two off Miss Coates’s income. After all, we do ban cigarette advertising, so such paternalism is nothing new – and in this case it would be more justified.

I’m sorry I was nasty to Greta

The unveiling of a statue to Greta Thunberg at Winchester University made me feel ashamed of myself, for two reasons.

First, I didn’t realise the poor girl had died, which she must have done – after all, even saints only merit statues posthumously.

Actually, I’m cross with our news media for failing to inform us of Greta’s tragic demise. This conspiracy of silence testifies to the wicked nature of our establishment, even though it fulsomely claimed to accept the validity of the cause Greta championed so passionately.

And then I’m mortified at the abuse to which I subjected Greta while she was still alive. I called her retarded, hysterical, strident, devil’s spawn, ignorant – even an evil child with learning difficulties. Mea culpa!

Numerous were the occasions when I thus besmirched the girl’s character, while describing her cause as a hoax lacking any scientific justification and only propagated by the enemies of our civilisation specifically for the purpose of destroying it.

Now, I must admit I still have some residual misgivings about global warming and those who take it up as a cause. However, Greta’s untimely death is akin to martyrdom, and that, as we know, can redeem…

Hold on a second… Oh dear. Penelope has just looked over my shoulder and said I should really read the whole article before jumping to premature assumptions. This, she says, is typical of my tendency to reach conclusions on the basis of slapdash research.

Turns out Greta is very much alive, and the monument is Winchester University’s way of casting in bronze her status as the immortal legend in her own time.

So sorry I’ve misled you. I’m hereby taking back everything I’ve taken back that I ever said about Greta. By this process of double negation, we arrive at my true position:

Great Thunberg is indeed a retarded, ignorant, strident and genuinely evil child with learning difficulties. And her cause is indeed a shamanistic crusade drawing under its banners every manner of malcontent on a wicked mission to destroy our civilisation — which group manifestly includes the administration and faculty of Winchester University.

I’m glad we’ve sorted this out – thanks, Penelope. Please remind me to abuse the statue mingently next time we’re in Winchester.