Where there’s smoke, there’s war

Multiple Warsaw sources are reporting smoke coming out of the Russian embassy, which is consistent with the burning of documents.

One hopes those Russians won’t set their whole embassy on fire

Exactly the same was observed in Kiev a week before the Russian invasion. Russian diplomats were busily burning their files, those they didn’t want to fall into enemy hands.

Three days ago, 45 Russian diplomats, or rather spies working under diplomatic cover, were expelled from Poland, with the Russians promising a swift tit-for-tat retaliation. Juxtaposing the two developments, one could be forgiven for entertaining macabre premonitions.

Against the backdrop of some Russian diplomats in Warsaw packing their bags and others burning their papers, the Nato summit in Brussels looked especially pathetic. Our, in a manner of speaking, leaders were all mouthing the same line, often in the same words: “We must do all we can to make sure the war doesn’t escalate, and we aren’t dragged into a direct conflict with Russia”. Implicitly, that was leaving the Ukraine to her own fate.

Col. Putin must have been grinning like the Cheshire Cat. I suspect he felt like Hitler did after the Munich Agreement was signed. Speaking of Chamberlain and Daladier to his coterie, Hitler sneered: “What nonentities!”

Our, in a manner of speaking, leaders are all in the throes of wishful thinking, schizophrenically divorced from both observable reality and any sensible ratiocination. They think that wishing will make it so, whereas in fact their cynical cowardice is an ironclad guarantee of exactly the outcome they dread.

It takes myopia bordering on total blindness not to see that Putin’s whole reign is a gradually escalating war on the West. That war is conducted in increments more or less evenly spaced.

In 2000-2001, Putin’s air force levelled Grozny, the capital of the breakaway republic of Chechnya. No breakaways will be allowed, was the message.

In 2008, Russia attacked Georgia and helped herself to some of its territory. Same message, different geography.

In 2014, in a direct prelude to the current war, Russia annexed the Crimea and a large part of Eastern Ukraine. Everybody who had eyes to see, and especially ears to hear, knew the aggression was exactly that, a prelude.

Putin consistently refused to recognise the Ukraine’s sovereignty, treating the country as part of Russia’s patrimonial estate. It’s just that he wanted to repossess the Ukraine piecemeal, rather than all in one go.

Yet the propaganda rhetoric accompanying those heinous acts was only partly aimed at Chechnya, Georgia and the Ukraine. Another motif began to sound in a crescendo soon reaching dominance: all those enemies of Russia weren’t free agents.

They were puppets whose wires were pulled by the US, Nato and the West in general. Hence Russia wasn’t just reclaiming her birthright possessions. She was using their territory as the initial battlefields in the war on Russia’s historical enemy: the West.

That’s what our, in a manner of speaking, leaders refuse to see: you can’t prevent what has already happened and neither can you avoid what is bound to happen. The war is going on and it will definitely escalate, that’s not even up for discussion.

The only questions are where, how and on what scale. Every hope of eventual de-escalation is going up in smoke at the Russian embassy in Warsaw.

Much is being made of Russia’s reorienting her war effort towards consolidating her control of the areas she occupied in 2014. Our papers are blowing triumphant bugles: Russia is retreating, the Ukrainians are vanquishing.

This reminds me of Herodotus, writing about the ancestors of today’s Russians some 2,500 years ago. When confronted with resolute defence, marauding Scythians would retreat at a gallop, encouraging pursuit. Their enemies would fall into the trap and gallop after them, extending their lines more and more. At the right moment, the Scythians would suddenly turn around and rout their pursuers.

It’s possible that the Russians are trying to lull the Ukraine (and the West) into a false sense of security before regrouping and relaunching their offensive. It’s also possible, in fact likely, that Putin has milked this stage in the war for all it’s worth.

He knows that the West can be manipulated by nuclear blackmail. He has learned that, come what may, the West will be feverishly looking for any reason, conceivable or otherwise, not to stop Russia by force. QED.

Putin has also been reassured that Nato won’t respond in kind to his use of WMDs, especially tactical nuclear strikes. This reassurance, along with the clearly demonstrated inadequacy of Russia’s conventional forces, points to the next stage of escalation: a one-time use of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

Poland has been mentioned in that context for several weeks now, since most Western supplies reach the Ukraine through her territory. Polish eastern airfields especially are believed to be a likely target for a tactical nuclear strike, to be followed by an ultimatum similar to the one preceding the attack on the Ukraine.

That ultimatum was dismissed by the West out of hand as an empty threat. Our, in a manner of speaking, leaders ought to have followed Putin’s pronouncements more closely. Roughly at the time of that ultimatum, Putin explained his philosophy in simple words even Biden should have understood: “You should never threaten anyone. If you brandish a pistol, shoot.”

The West has never understood Putin or Russia in general, displaying most lamentable failure of either morality or intellect or, typically, both. That’s why, trying to avoid a nuclear exchange, Nato is hastening its arrival.

The question isn’t, or rather shouldn’t be, whether or not Putin will use tactical nuclear strikes (to begin with). It should be whether the ostrich strategy so blatantly displayed at the Nato summit is more or less likely to prevent that crime.

My contention, based on my understanding of Russia in general and Putin’s plans in particular, is that Nato’s refusal to engage Putin and even to supply the Ukraine with adequate defensive weapons makes further escalation, possibly with nuclear weapons, a dead certainty.

President Zelensky knows this better than I do, which is why he sounded positively Churchillian in his post-summit speech: don’t give us fulsome reassurances of sympathy, he was saying. Give us the tools to do the job – on your behalf, ladies and gentlemen.

If you give us just one per cent of your tanks, aircraft and AA systems, Zelensky was saying, not only the Ukraine but all of Europe and the world will be a hundred per cent safer.

And please, “never tell us again that our army does not meet Nato standards… We have shown how much we can do to protect against aggression everything we value, everything you value. But Nato has yet to show what the Alliance can do to save people.”

I disagree with Zelensky there. So far Nato has shown exactly what it can do: express deep concern and sympathy, supply some weapons except those that can stop mass murder, and hope, fingers crossed, that the aggression steadily escalating for 20 years will somehow peter out of its own accord.

The smoke people smell in the Warsaw air is the stench of blood, cordite and noxious fumes. It’s the stench of war into which we are sleepwalking thanks to the soporific guidance of our, in a manner of speaking, leaders.

P.S. The exact tempo of escalation is hard to predict. However, considering Putin’s age and reportedly failing health, he certainly won’t wait many years before taking the next step.

1 thought on “Where there’s smoke, there’s war”

  1. “never tell us again that our army does not meet Nato standards…”

    “It is not so much the size of the dog in the fight, it is the size of the fight in the dog.” – – Eisenhower.

    Think Finland 1940. There are some parallels with the current Ukraine Conflict.

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