Putin has instructed Russian manufacturers to be ready to mobilise and switch into a war mode at a moment’s notice. For all intents and purposes, this means the country is already at war, for mobilisation has since time immemorial been regarded as tantamount to a hostile act.
It’s not as if the Russian economy has been particularly pacific until now. While in absolute terms Russia’s military spend is below that of the US or China, her relative spend is impressive, considering that her economy is ten times smaller than in either of those countries.
New weapon systems are coming on stream at a rate far exceeding America’s and China’s. These include the new generation of state-of-the-art battle tanks, nuclear weapons, submarine missile launchers, infantry weapons – and electronic attack systems.
The latter have already been deployed in a systematic contamination of the global information field. FCB-run Russian trolls have interfered with elections throughout what’s left of the free world, sowing discord wherever they can, confusing Western decision makers who are sufficiently confused already.
This is accompanied by an unprecedented campaign of fake news, drowning real news in torrents of lying effluvia. The obvious aim is to paralyse the West’s will to resist any subsequent Russian aggression, while also testing systems designed to render military communications and command structures ineffective.
“Why should Russia do this?” asks the British hack Nick Robinson. “One answer is her leaders have long believed that they are under assault from the West.” This ‘explanation’ is nothing new, as I’ve discovered.
A couple of weeks ago I spoke, on an unrelated subject, at a quasi-conservative conference. The speaker after me was a British academic seen in those circles as a Russian expert.
I couldn’t decide whether he was a paid troll or an honestly misguided ‘useful idiot’. One way or the other, that amiable chap faithfully regurgitated and endorsed Putin’s propaganda on every point, including Russia’s amply justified fear of Western aggression.
The presentation received much approbation, rather than the opprobrium it so richly deserved. My objections were drowned in an outburst of febrile indignation. Obviously, telling the truth on this subject is tantamount to blasphemy in those patriotic circles.
It’s true that Putin’s totalitarian propaganda portrays Russia’s aggression against the Ukraine as engaging the United States on a proxy battleground. But then predators always look for excuses.
In 1939 Nazi Germany attacked Poland having first staged a bogus raid, supposedly by the Poles but in fact by SS special troops, on a German radio station. Russia attacked Finland in the same year having first shelled its own border outpost and blamed the attack on the Finns.
Nazi aggression against Poland and, a year earlier, Czechoslovakia was justified as a humanitarian concern for the plight of the oppressed German minorities. The Soviets preceded their rape of Hungary by a massive disinformation campaign aimed at showing that theirs was a last-ditch action to save the country from an American invasion.
Such is the fine tradition within which Putin’s propaganda operates, ably assisted by our own trolls, useful idiots and governments that have neither the brains to perceive Russia’s aggression nor the courage to resist it.
On what basis do the Russians believe they are “under assault from the West”, which belief my co-speaker thinks is legitimate? Does Putin seriously think Nato may launch a preemptive nuclear attack? Is it going to deploy massive tank armies on Russian borders, poised to roll across like a steel juggernaut?
Well, the three biggest European armies, French, German and British, have, respectively, 423, 408 and 407 tanks. By contrast, Russia officially boasts 15,500 tanks in active service – and there are also tens of thousands of older but still perfectly serviceable models mothballed until the right occasion.
Tanks are a quintessentially offensive weapon. So are airborne troops, of whom Russia has about 60,000, roughly four to five divisions. By contrast, the US army has only one fully trained airborne division, the 82nd. (Some others are called airborne but don’t do any jump training.) So who’s showing aggressive intent?
As proof of Russia’s well-justified fears, the chairman of the aforementioned conference explained that the very fact that Nato is obligated to defend all its members, including the Baltics, constitutes a factor of danger.
Agreed. But the danger can only arise in case of Russia’s aggression against the Baltics. Portraying the situation as evidence of Western bellicosity is cloud cuckoo land.
True, the West is beginning to scrape together some will to resist Russia’s malevolent presence in the world. Token contingents of Nato troops, numbering in hundreds, rather than the more appropriate hundreds of thousands, have been deployed near Russia’s borders.
Does their presence give Putin sleepless nights? Does he toss and turn, worrying that his 3,371,027-strong army is too small to resist a couple of Western battalions? If so, step up the training, I’d suggest. And perhaps getting pissed on duty isn’t ideal.
Putin and his junta don’t actually believe they’re under assault. Their clamour to that effect is a cynical attempt to exploit traditional Russian paranoia lovingly cultivated for centuries.
The fantasy of being encircled by enemies seeking her destruction is as essential to Russia as the American Dream is to the US. To feed this self-legitimising myth, Russian propaganda has always castigated every attempt to check Russia’s predation as the actual aggression.
Ever since the early sixteenth century, when Russia announced herself to be the messianic saviour of the world, “third Rome” in the words of the monk Philoteus (“and there will not be a fourth”), the West has resisted being saved by Russia. Observing from afar the circles of hell into which the world saviours were turning their own country, Westerners cringed.
When the perceptive observer Marquis de Custine visited Russia in the 1830s, he gasped: “This country is always on a war footing; it knows no peacetime.” What was true in the reign of Nicholas I has been 100 times as true in the reign of Vladimir II (Lenin) and his successors.
It’s as true in the reign of Vladimir III (Putin). Half the population are undernourished, pensioners are starving, a third of the people dwell under the official poverty line of about £250 a month.
The only realistic food substitute is the froth sputtering off the mouths of Putin’s Goebbelses. And those poor Russians, zombified by centuries of subsisting on that poisonous fare nod their agreement.
I don’t know if Putin will go to war. But I’m absolutely certain that he’ll maintain the present war hysteria gripping Russia in a strangulation hold. Without it, neither he nor his gang will survive.
In any case, the West should marshal its resources and communicate to the Russians in no uncertain terms that their attack on the West will result in the end of not just their regime but their country.
Appeasement, abetted by Russia’s witting and unwitting agents, mostly on Europe’s right, won’t work any better than it did in 1938. Unless we prepare for war, there won’t be peace in our time.