The famous, if probably apocryphal, headline in a London newspaper said “Fog over Channel, continent cut off.”
Whether real or made up, the phrase has become proverbial for the same reason proverbs become proverbial: it conveys a simple truth.
People tend to view geography from the vantage point of their own country. It is central; other lands are peripheral.
Never mind that the continent is somewhat larger than Britain. For an Englishman his country is larger than life.
The headline proceeds from this assumption and yet also has a chuckle about it. Sure enough, most Englishmen would agree with Cecil Rhodes that “to be born English is to win first prize in the lottery of life.” But they’ll do so with an ironic and self-deprecating smile.
It’s partly because of its ability to laugh at itself that this island has never become insular. While singing about England’s green and pleasant land providing the site for a new Jerusalem, the country has always happily intermingled and traded with other nations in every corner of His creation.
Russia lacks this ability. Her patriotism is served neat, undiluted by self-irony, good taste or any sense of history and her real place in it. That’s a heady drink, with enough punch to intoxicate the nation into crazy behaviour.
Thus for much of her history Russia, despite straddling two continents, has found herself in isolation from the rest of the world. Or rather, it is the world that has been isolated from the glorious Third Rome, if the Russians are to be believed.
If the world refuses to share Russia’s view of herself, she can go it alone. If the world isn’t with Russia, it’s against her, and so much the worse for the world.
It’s in the context of this mentality that Putin’s Russia and her current actions are to be viewed. Perceiving correctly that the demob-happy West has neither the stomach nor the wherewithal to fight, Putin has begun an aggressive war against a sovereign European state.
In spite of that the West has refused to let on that it’s aware of the savage nature of Putin’s Russia. In spite of imposing mildly painful punitive sanctions, Western leaders continue to wipe Putin’s sputum off their faces and invite him to come back into their eagerly awaiting embrace.
One such invitation was to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, and you’d think Putin would RSVP with an enthusiastic acceptance.
Here’s his chance to present Russia’s case, which does need presenting. As the sanctions, feeble though they are, begin to bite, gnawing at Russia’s brittle economic bones, and the price of oil drops below $80 a barrel (at least $20 under the level at which Russia’s Nigeria-style economy can remain solvent), what better moment to negotiate? What better time to fake friendliness even if it’s not sincerely felt?
Instead Russia crumbled the proffered invitation and flung it into the West’s face. Neither Putin nor even his poodle Medvedev will be attending the Davos talk shop, it has been declared.
The underlying message is as simple as it’s eternal to Russia. If the West, and industrialised East, choose to isolate themselves from Russia, let them. With Putin in the lead, and his poodle on the lead, Russia will henceforth decline any mollifying peace offers.
Meanwhile, Russian tanks and personnel carriers are driving into the Ukraine, with President Poroshenko honestly admitting they can’t be stopped by any military means. The Ukraine has to rely on ‘negotiations’ instead, which is akin to negotiating with a mugger to leave you two quid for the bus fare home.
For the first time since 1945 a European country is being dismembered by invaders. However, in this instance the invader has no just cause.
The situation is fraught with danger. By refusing every overture offered by the West, Putin is painting himself into a corner and may feel he has to fight his way out.
The West doesn’t have much room for manoeuvre either. Just like those Left Bank Parisians shrugging their shoulders and asking rhetorically “Mourir pour Danzig?” in 1939, it’s reasonably clear that Europeans won’t want to die for Kiev in 2014.
Even if they felt differently, Nato no longer has enough presence in Europe to stop Putin’s tanks in their tracks. The only possible restraining mechanism is the same one that so far has prevented major wars in Europe since 1945: and it’s not the EU, as it mendaciously claims. It’s the American nuclear umbrella.
However, by effectively declaring war on what’s left of our civilisation, Putin implies he has no fear that this umbrella will be opened over Russian cities as he’s devastating Ukrainian ones. He’s probably right.
So what countermeasures are left? More sanctions? Driving the price of oil down artificially?
Such measures may prove devastating to a country where millions already subsist on the brink of starvation. Yet anyone who thinks that starving Russians are ever a burning concern for Russian leaders, should read a few textbooks on modern Russian history.
Putin’s billions are intact in Western banks, and so are the billions of his cronies. If not all of them can have access to their purloined wealth at the moment, so what?
Their money will simply accrue interest, while Russia finds herself one on one with the world – not for the first time, nor for the last. It’s just that at this time the world seems more impotent than ever.
My new book, Democracy as a Neocon Trick, is available from Amazon and the more discerning bookshops. However, my publisher would rather you ordered it from http://www.roperpenberthy.co.uk/index.php/browse-books/political/democracy-as-a-neocon-trick.htmlor, in the USA, http://www.newwinebookshop.com/Books/0002752