Cold War: happy days are here again

A friend of mine sent me an e-mail the other day, saying “Good piece by Edward Lucas in today’s Daily Mail: Putin’s Russia and the New Cold War.”

Since this particular friend hardly ever gets things wrong, I read the article and sure enough – it was good.

Mr Lucas in general is one of the few mainstream journalists who have a secure grasp on Russia, which is as commendable in someone without native knowledge of the place as it is rare.

Peter Hitchens, for example, has no native – and not much of any other – knowledge of Russia either, but he does have a strong ideological bias. This is often deadly and, when combined with both ignorance and arrogance, invariably so.

Thus his ex-Trotskyist loins ache for a strong leader like Putin, someone he wishes we had. Now a desire for a powerful man at the helm usually arises in a weak society. Mr Hitchens correctly diagnoses ours as such, but the treatment he’d dearly love to administer is worse than the disease.

A version of Putin’s kleptofascist regime can’t cure any of our ills. Thinking it can is both immoral and stupid; not knowing Putin’s regime is kleptofascist is ignorant.

Mr Lucas harbours no such illusions. He knows the true worth of Putin’s Russia and he correctly identifies it as a great threat to the West, greater even than the Soviet Union was.

Actually anyone who just follows the news, without refracting it through nostalgic ex-Trotskyist longings, shouldn’t need expert opinion to reach the same conclusion. Facts alone should do the job.

Russia is clearly reviving Leninist-Stalinist ambitions of gaining control over as much of the world as feasible, definitely including Europe.

Unlike Lenin and Stalin, however, Putin can add hydrocarbon blackmail to the levers operated by Lenin and Stalin: military conquest and relentless propaganda.

This isn’t to say that Putin ignores either military or propaganda offensives. Far from it.

Like Hitler in his heyday, Putin is probing the West to see how much he can get away with. Like Hitler, he is getting the answer he needs: as much as he wants.

The West has swallowed the unlawful annexation of the Crimea with nary a whimper. Ditto, the effective dismemberment of the Ukraine, with an eventual Anschluss no doubt in the works. Ditto, the non-stop violations by Russian nuclear bombers of the airspace over the three Baltic republics and several Western European countries.

From Turkey to Finland, Nato interceptors are being scrambled almost every day to escort Putin’s death machines a safe distance away. One wonders if the Nato fighter planes carry live ammunition. If they do, five gets you ten they’re under orders not to use it even as warning shots.

We have ample historical evidence to support the commonsensical view that cowardly passivity on the part of the West doesn’t so much deter fascist aggressors as embolden them. But the West traditionally has learning difficulties when it comes to the lessons of history.

Mr Lucas knows all this, and he communicates it in a lucid and forthright manner, as his regular readers have been accustomed to expect.

But one short paragraph in his narrative partly undid the good work done by all the other paragraphs. In it Mr Lucas describes his sense of unbridled joy at the sight of the Berlin Wall coming down.

Finally, he felt, democracy had triumphed in Russia and everywhere. History had ended, although, being a more intelligent man than Francis Fukuyama, he didn’t express himself so crudely.

“How high the hopes were then,” concludes Mr Lucas. “And how empty they seem a quarter of a century on.”

Now I differ from Peter Hitchens not only in my understanding of Russia, but also in my reluctance he doesn’t share of saying I told you so (as, for example, in today’s Mail: “As usual, I first wrote about this subject long before it was fashionable to do so.”).

So suffice it to say that those who really do know and understand Russia had no such ‘high hopes’ even then – especially if they applied proper criteria to rating foreign countries.

Too many Western commentators don’t ask themselves the question “Is the country good?” Instead they ask “Is it democratic?”, implicitly equating democracy with virtue.

Since by now democracy has been reduced to its empty shell even in its native habitat, such commentators, especially if they espouse neoconservative views, tend to apply purely formal criteria even to the question they do ask. As long as the citizens of the country under the spotlight go to voting booths at regular intervals, the commentators are satisfied.

This creates a mighty potential for wicked sham democracies to trick the West into a wrong understanding, and therefore a wrong policy based on such understanding (to cite a recent example, witness the Arab Spring, which may yet turn into a nuclear winter).

Hence, rather than realising instantly that the USSR’s evil energy was vindicating the First Law of Thermodynamics by merely transforming into a different but equally evil kind, they tossed their hats in the air and hailed the advent of goodness.

Virtue had prevailed, history had ended, no further debate was either needed or possible. Well, even assuming that history can ever end this side of the Second Coming, it always restarts – as it did after Hegel first made this feeble claim following the Battle of Jena.

Simply put, the West allowed itself to be duped by cynical villains who knew that its adulation of democracy was but half a step removed from wishful thinking. They were right: after the ‘collapse of the Soviet Union’, the West, especially its European vanguard, hastily disarmed, hoping to get fat on the peace dividend.

Now all but strident ideologues with multiple chips on their shoulders realise that Soviet Russia never changed in its evil essence. It has merely been rebuilt (which is what ‘perestroika’ means), and so has the threat it presents to the civilised world.

Similarly, the penny dropped on 1 September, 1939, or, for some, a week earlier when the Soviet-Nazi pact was signed, pushing the button for the carnage. By then it was too late as, one fears, it may be now.


Next week my new book, Democracy as a Neocon Trick will be available from Amazon and the more discerning bookshops. However, my publisher would rather you ordered it from or, in the USA,

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