The top NATO brass fear this is possible. Echoes of some such fears reach the public – enough to give the matter some serious thought.
Yet when it comes to Russia, the pundit Peter Hitchens only has emotions, not thoughts, serious or otherwise. He can’t understand why our soldiers are in Poland, taking part in the NATO exercise. “A Russian attack in the region,” he writes, “is about as unlikely as a Martian invasion.”
Now, Hitchens would consider a Russian attack unlikely even if a Spetsnaz division landed in Kent – the Russians can do no wrong, especially if they’re led by a strongman with sculpted torso muscles. However, those less enamoured of raw masculinity aren’t so complacent – the memory of the late 1930s is still alive.
For all I know, a Russian attack may not be imminent. It’s possible that Putin only wants to rattle a few MIRVed sabres, scaring the West into taking him seriously. Yet it would be suicidal idiocy not to prepare for another possibility, that Russia is actually planning for war.
Si vis pacem para bellum, the Romans used to say: if you want peace, prepare for war. That means that those who don’t prepare for war are likely to get it, a point driven home by the Luftwaffe’s Soviet-made bombs raining on London in 1940.
So does Russia’s ruling KGB junta want war? Here I can’t claim to be privy to any classified information pointing one way or the other. All I have is the modest analytical ability God gave me to make sense of what’s in the public domain.
That may suffice: no matter how hard a potential aggressor tries to keep his plans secret, there are always telltale signs: official rhetoric, the recent record of aggression, the build-up and strategic deployment of the armed forces, fluctuations in the military spend. All of these show that Russia is gearing up for war, though of course it may all be empty braggadocio.
The rhetoric of Russian chieftains and their principal mouthpieces is more bellicose than I’ve ever heard. Every day Putin or another KGB thug in his government or employ (85 per cent of Russia’s top officials have a KGB background) screams about “turning the US into radioactive dust”, lays claim to “traditionally Russian territories”, such as the Baltics and the Ukraine, reminds the West that Russia is a nuclear power not to be trifled with or promises to regain all the bailiwicks lost after the break-up of the USSR, which Putin describes with refreshing candour as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century”.
The recent record of aggression is there for all to see, in all its explosive glory. Chechnya, Georgia, Crimea, the Ukraine, Syria all testify to the belligerently acquisitive nature of the KGB junta. Even in the absence of such forays, the very fact that Russia’s government is indeed a KGB junta would be sufficient to worry any reasonably intelligent and unbiased observer – but Putin provides physical reminders with obliging regularity.
The build up of Russia’s armed forces and the nature of their deployment are hardly a secret either. The former is proceeding at a pace not seen since the 1970s, and possibly not even then; the latter shows a clear westward bias. Not since the heyday of the Cold War have so many new weapon systems been brought on stream, nor so much manpower concentrated on Russia’s western frontiers.
This is made possible by expenditures unseen in any country at peacetime. A few days ago Russia’s PM Medvedev was visiting Crimea, where he was cornered by the local starving pensioners. Pointing out that 8000 roubles a month (less than £100 – this in a country where the staples cost only marginally less than in Western Europe) isn’t enough to live on, they angrily demanded why even those miserly giveaways weren’t being indexed according to inflation.
Medvedev replied with a phrase to make Dave turn green with envy: “We have no money, but do hold on. I wish you all a good mood.”
There may not be any money to feed starving pensioners, but there’s plenty for really important things, as shown by the analysis by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the world’s most reliable authority on military spends.
Its research shows staggering findings. Russia’s military and ‘security’ expenditure equals 5.5 percent of her GDP and close to 50 per cent (!) of the federal budget – something seldom matched by any country even at wartime. By contrast, China, another potential aggressor, is only spending 1.2 per cent of her GDP on war needs, just over a fifth of that spent by a country with no money to feed old people.
At the same time, between 2010 and 2015, Russia’s combined spend on education and healthcare went down to 6.4 per cent of the budget, which shows where Putin’s priorities are.
I don’t know how the Martians, Mr Hitchen’s control group, break up their budgets. The way Russia breaks up hers should make us pay attention at the very least. Instead we’re disarming even faster than Russia is arming, but then there are foreign aid and EU contributions we have to worry about.