The world is being threatened by a blight, and the only salvation lies in isolating its source. No, I’m not talking about Covid. Everyone is aware of that threat, even though not everyone draws the same conclusions.
The deadly menace in question is Putin’s Russia, and the real possibility that she might plunge the world into a nuclear holocaust. This isn’t scaremongering but a sober attempt to analyse the situation.
To wit: last week Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov, an old KGB hand, threatened that Russia was ready to cut ties with the EU, and the West in general, should serious sanctions be imposed. However, Western commentators failed to pay due attention to the threat, especially its last sentence. This is what Lavrov said (the emphasis is mine):
“We do not want to be isolated from global life, but we must be prepared for this. If you want peace, then prepare for war.”
When the Russian government was asked to clarify the last sentence, Putin’s spokesman Peskov explained that Lavrov didn’t mean that the way it sounded. He simply meant Russia should hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
That’s not giving Lavrov the credit he deserves: he uses words precisely and advisedly. His message is indeed a not-so-veiled threat of war.
When Russia dismissed contemptuously the EU’s threat of sanctions over the poisoning and then imprisonment of Navalny, she was sending a coded message that today’s Alan Turings failed to decipher.
They interpreted it as Russia’s movement towards self-isolation. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Putin’s Russia, just like Lenin’s and Stalin’s, doesn’t want to isolate herself from the world. She seeks to remake it in her own image.
To that end, Russia systematically undermines the post-war world order based on international law, respect for human rights and a lattice of treaties. This system is far from perfect, and it leaves much room for abuse. But at least it establishes a framework within which countries may be brought to account without resorting to military force.
As the unwarranted invasion of Iraq in 2003 showed, some Western countries may practise a rather selective approach to international law. Yet that’s widely seen as an aberration, a regrettable deviation from the norm. This implies that a norm exists.
But not for Putin’s kleptofascists. They strive to plant a bomb under the West, and they rate their chances of success quite high. Hence their new-found respect, not to say admiration, for Hitler and Mussolini I wrote about the other day.
Like those gentlemen, Putin wants to create a new world order, one cleansed of any commitment to legality, non-violence and human rights. His rhetoric resembles Hitler’s almost verbatim.
Hitler ranted about the humiliation of Versailles and how the plutocratic, decadent, soulless West stamped Germany into the dirt. Putin’s equivalent is a stock phrase he has been uttering for at least the past 15 years: Russia must get up from her knees.
The cause of said genuflection is identified as the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, “the worst geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century”, as Putin describes it. Worse, in other words, than the two world wars and the Bolshevik revolution that proceeded to murder 60 million people.
And the agent of Russia’s kneeling shame? Why, the plutocratic, decadent, soulless West of course. After all, historically all Western aspirations can be reduced to one: bringing Russia to her knees and keeping her there.
The logical reaction to such beastliness is counterattacking the West with the objective of blowing up its world order. To that end Russia is assuming the role of a schoolyard bully who abuses bespectacled teachers’ pets, brushing aside their protests with “Oh yeah? So what are you gonna do about it?”
What are you, Mr West, going to do about Russia turning into a global Mafia state? Laundering trillions through your own institutions? Corrupting your politicians and indeed political systems? Annexing, against every international law, the Crimea, along with large chunks of Georgia and the Ukraine? Conducting a brutal campaign in Syria? Poisoning and otherwise dispatching people, including Western citizens, on your territory? Using nuclear and chemical weapons to do so? Ignoring your international laws? Imprisoning anyone Russia wishes despite loud protests all over the world?
Nothing? Well then, that proves that the rickety world order so dear to you is tottering. One slight push and it’ll collapse altogether.
The nature of the push isn’t hard to predict. When Putin and his gang decide that the West is sufficiently enfeebled and demoralised, Russia will test the waters by attacking a Nato member, most probably one of the Baltics.
It’s possible that a one-off use of tactical nuclear weapons will act as a question posed to the West: Are you ready to risk an all-out nuclear conflict? You are not? Splendid. So this is how it’s going to be from now on. We say jump, you ask how high.
Such is the implicit message of Lavrov’s threat. And it’s important to understand that the Russians aren’t bluffing. Threats of nuclear war, which they issue with monotonous regularity (“We can turn America into radioactive ash” and some such), aren’t PR bluster. They are statements of geopolitical and military doctrine.
For, unlike Nato, the Russians abandoned the concept of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) even before an obscure KGB colonel emerged as the Supreme Leader. Since the late stages of the Soviet Union, Russian strategists have believed that a nuclear war was possible to fight and win.
As a child growing up in a violent neighbourhood known as Russia, I learned that the only response a bully understands is a punch on the nose or, better still, a blow with half a brick. You can’t talk a bully into changing his ways. You can only force him to conduct a cost-benefit analysis and conclude that he’d be better off leaving you alone.
Extrapolating that childhood experience to the situation in hand, the West must send a message of strength. Yes, we may be plutocratic and decadent, but don’t test our resolve. We still have enough left to face up to geopolitical bullies.
The West in general and Nato in particular must issue an unequivocal statement of unity. As its essential part, they should put Russia in quarantine, a present-day cordon sanitaire, refusing to deal with her on any level until Putin’s kleptofascist junta has begun to behave in a civilised way.
Putin isn’t a gambler – he won’t embark on a military adventure unless sure of victory. It’s the crutch of that certainty that the West must kick away.
Worryingly, no hint of such a response is discernible. When the Russians curtly told the EU where it could stick its notions of human rights, the reply came in the shape of sanctions against four (!) Russian officials who hardly ever leave their country anyway.
Such meekness can only embolden the bully, encouraging him to escalate his assaults. When that time comes, don’t say I didn’t warn you.