Putin poses a ‘real and present danger’ to the Baltic states and therefore to Nato, says the Defence Secretary. Nato, according to him, is getting ready to repel any aggression.
The first part of the statement is easy to welcome. The second is hard to believe.
The welcome part is that Mr Fallon realises Putin is a great threat to the West, as great as that presented by ISIS.
What makes Putin dangerous isn’t necessarily the scale of his current aggression. It’s the steady escalation from one stage to the next, with each probing the West to test how far he can push.
“SO WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?” is the perennial implicit question.
This didn’t start a year ago. The opening shots in the war on the West were fired in 2008, when Georgia was the immediate target.
As his booty, Putin got two provinces of Georgia, veto rights over the country’s policies and, most important, a reply to his question. The answer, in deed not in word, was – eh, not much. Nothing, if truth be told.
That’s exactly what he wanted to hear. The time had come to up the stakes and move on to the table where the game is bigger. Hence the brutal attack on the Ukraine.
Even that unfolded gradually, though the time lines were now compressed. First Putin used Russian troops modestly withholding Russian insignia to occupy the Crimea and pose his lapidary question to the West.
Again he got the answer he wanted: next to nothing. Some derisory sanctions, a few stern words and no single-minded response across the board. Some misguided Western opinion-makers even went so far as to argue that perhaps Putin had a point.
Didn’t Crimea belong to Russia before Khrushchev transferred it to the Ukraine?
It certainly did – for almost exactly the same number of years as India belonged to the British Empire.
Granted, the British Empire no longer exists. But then neither does the Russian Empire, for which Prince Potemkin annexed the Crimea, or the Soviet Union, within which Khrushchev moved it sideways.
The colonel was listening and drawing conclusions. Time had come to attend to serious business.
The serious business was to use his proxy bandits, armed to the teeth by the Russians and reinforced with regular Russian troops (again without insignia) to grab two eastern provinces of the Ukraine.
This time the reply to Putin’s question came in rather higher tones. Russia was hit with mild sanctions, which nevertheless had a deleterious effect on the country’s economy, especially when accompanied by oil losing half its wholesale price.
Moreover, there were some consequences for Putin personally, which was the worst bit. Rather than being fêted as a world statesman, friend to US presidents and German chancellors, he began to be treated as a leper belonging in a quarantine.
This started in Brisbane, where Putin found himself in shunned solitude. Merkel tried to talk to him, and her subsequent accounts clearly discouraged all other leaders from conversational conviviality towards Putin.
He now felt like a pariah, with precious little he could do to regain his seat at the table. One possible way out of the conundrum was to stop the carnage, withdraw the troops and start playing honestly, without swiping some chips off the table when no one was looking.
That, however, was out of the question. Putin’s early life was guided by the unwritten code of street gangs: if you start a fight, you can’t stop it until either you or your opponent writhes on the tarmac sputtering blood.
Either way you’ve earned respect (rispetto, in the Italian equivalent). If you lose that particular fight, there will be others. But if you sue for peace, there won’t be – because there won’t be any respect. Your former mates will turn on you, join forces with your enemies, and you’ll be history.
That’s the only code Putin knows, the only one that has left a deep imprint. He acted accordingly.
His sinister propaganda machine, otherwise known as Russian media, was cranked up, and the messages it spewed out got more and more menacing.
If the West arms the Ukraine, Russia will use low-yield nuclear weapons. To start with. Make no mistake about it, screamed one Putin Goebbels after another, we can turn any foe, including the USA, to radioactive dust.
We’ll burn Paris and London to cinders with napalm, screamed another acolyte. Russian military doctrine, explained Putin’s high command, no longer excludes a nuclear first strike.
Putin himself used the trick beloved of all fascist dictators: he sacralised his aggression.
Before Grand Duke Vladimir baptised Rus, he himself had been baptised in the Crimea, explained the colonel. That, and not Khrushchev’s administrative shenanigans, is what gives Russia the right to claim the peninsula.
And isn’t Kiev known, since time immemorial, as the Mother of Russian Cities? Well, then it’s time for Russia to return to her mother, or rather it’s time for the wayward mother to return to Russia.
Putin then declared that Russia is the hub not of the world proletariat and all oppressed masses, but of a mysterious entity called Russian World, a sort of Pax Russica.
His, Col. Putin’s, task was henceforth to protect not just Russian citizens but all ethnic Russians, regardless of where they live. If they see themselves oppressed, then oppressed they are, and it’s Putin’s sacred duty to spring to their defence.
Long-term this may sound worrying to any country that includes a Russian minority. For example, I know quite a few aggrieved Russians in Paris, London and New York.
But those aren’t the immediate targets. What Putin sees in his evil mind’s eye is Russia’s reoccupation of the former Soviet republics, all of which have considerably bigger Russian minorities than Paris, London and New York.
Putin is on record describing the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”, a rating not countenanced by a single former Soviet republic other than Russia herself.
But Putin is president of Russia, so he owes it to his namesake who baptised Kievan Rus a millennium ago to bring the republics back into the fold.
The Ukraine’s turn is now – who’s next on the list? Belarus? Possibly. Kazakhstan? Even more likely.
Still, the West could live with the rape of those former provinces of the Soviet Union, as it’s currently living with the rape of the Ukraine.
The real problem could come from Putin’s attack on Latvia, with her 556,422 Russians, Lithuania, with 174,000 and Estonia with 321,198 (a whopping third of the population). The three Baltic republics are Nato members, and Article 5 of the Nato Charter says that an attack on one member is an attack on all.
This realisation dawned on Merkel, Hollande and other European leaders, especially since Putin was using nuclear blackmail as a prompter.
If, encouraged by Europe’s inactivity, Putin acts on his threat, Nato will have only two choices: fight or surrender. The second option is really a non-option: surrendering would be such a show of testicular weakness that Putin would almost certainly press on to the Channel at least.
Fighting, on the other hand, isn’t a valid option either. Europe has nothing to fight with – no arms, no armies, no will above all.
It was 26 years ago that Western leaders pretended they believed that Russia had gone vegetarian. Now we will all get fat on the peace dividend, was the universal hope.
That promoted a demob-happy mentality, which led to demob-happy policies. The Nato target of military spend equal to two per cent of GDP was never met by Europe. Britain’s defence budget stands at 1.7 per cent, and going down. Germany and France are even more parsimonious.
Hence Merkel and Hollande rushing off to Moscow to offer surrender, while begging Putin to let them keep face. They don’t want to fight, they can’t fight, they hope Putin won’t make them fight.
Amazingly Western papers are describing this cowardly act as a peace initiative. The Russians read the situation better: their papers are full of headlines like “Europe got scared”, “Europe crawled to us on her knees” and “Europe has to welcome Putin”.
The blackmailer’s ploy has worked.
So what exactly does Mr Fallon mean when claiming that “Europe is getting ready”. How is Europe getting ready?
Is it embarking on a rapid rearmament programme? Is it firming up relationships within Nato to make sure all members present a united front? Is it setting up lines of defence at depth? Is it communicating to Putin that we aren’t necessarily averse to a nuclear first strike either?
Don’t be silly. It’s election year, and the blessed electorate knows nothing about Putin and cares even less.
Spending large amounts on armaments would mean not spending them on buying the votes of the underclass, and we can’t have that, can we now?
Britain had started to rearm in the nick of time before Hitler marched. The 21st-century nick of time is now, and all we get from our leaders is talk. Which, as we know, is cheap.