A conflagration is imminent, if you believe Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the Russian General Staff and the mind, as it were, behind the concept of hybrid war.
As behoves the highest-ranking strategist in Russia’s armed forces Gen Gerasimov analysed the geopolitical situation with penetrating acuteness:
“In the Baltic countries and Poland, and the Black and Baltic seas, [Nato] military activity is increasing, the intensity of the bloc’s military exercises is growing… Their scenarios point to a purposeful preparation of Nato for the engagement of its forces in a large-scale military conflict.”
Can’t argue with that. Military exercises are by definition a preparation for war, as the rankest of strategic amateurs could have pointed out. But what kind of war?
A country that builds fortifications on one side of the border and one that deploys troops in an offensive formation on the other are both preparing for war. Yet the former is out to defend itself against an aggression, and the latter out to launch it.
Contextually, Gen Gerasimov sees, or rather wishes to portray, Russia as a peace-loving country in dire danger of invasion by Nato. The picture he and his accomplices flog to all and sundry tends to include the Smolensk Road as its centrepiece.
It’s along that thoroughfare that Polish, French and German invaders advanced on Moscow in different centuries. By implying that Nato is about to follow in their footsteps, Gen Gerasimov displays some knowledge of history, which is a good thing.
However, his assessment of the current situation can appeal only to madmen or idiots, useful or otherwise. Those who are both compos mentis and unsullied by ideological afflatus will find it hard to play out the implied scenario in their minds.
Doing so would necessitate believing that Nato’s high command, following orders from their respective governments, can launch an unprovoked attack on a major nuclear power. Let’s mull this over for a second.
Trump, Johnson, Merkel, Macron and various Nato small fry have a conference. “Guys,” says Trump, “We wanna hit them goddam Russkies with all we got.” “Righty-ho,” agrees Johnson. “Jolly good idea, that.” “Ich stimme voll und ganz zu,” nods Merkel. “Quelle bonne idée,” smiles Macron.
“We got a deal, guys,” says Trump. “I’ll go push the button then.” Cut to the final scene of Dr Strangelove, with nuclear bombs raining on Russia, clearing the way for Frau Merkel’s entire force of 300 panzers to roll along the Smolensk Road.
If you find this scenario cloud-cuckoo-land, you are sane. If you find it realistic you are Gen Gerasimov or, closer to our shores, Peter Hitchens.
Yet the imminent threat posed by “Nato’s eastward expansion” is the mantra screamed from the pages and screens of every Russian propaganda medium, or any British medium featuring Peter Hitchens and his ilk.
They whine that the US missile defences deployed in Poland and Romania undermine Russia’s nuclear deterrent. Is that so? And what, pray tell, do the Russians wish to deter with their nukes? The insane doomsday scenario I outlined earlier? A Nato first strike? Pull the other one, lads, it’s got the Tsar Bells on.
But let’s not forget the massive build-up of Nato land forces in Eastern Europe. After all, it’s boots on the ground, not missiles, that will march on the Smolensk Road. And the build-up is massive indeed.
After Russia’s 2014 aggression against the Ukraine, Nato deployed 16,000 soldiers in Poland and the Baltics. That’s a full division, a force supposedly capable of dispersing more than a million Russian troops in active service – even if they call up their two million reservists.
Still not convinced? Well, then perhaps you’ll find the alternative more palatable: the defensive shield and the meagre land forces have been deployed to protect Eastern Europe, especially the three Baltic Nato members, from Russian aggression.
And it’s not Russia’s nuclear deterrent that the shield is expected to nullify, but her ability to launch a first strike, or at least to blackmail the West with the possibility.
Of course the notion of being encircled by enemies thirsting for Russian blood is close to the heart of every Kremlin patriot. Since time immemorial, Russian tyrants have used it to rally their enslaved, half-starving subjects – and to explain why they were enslaved and half-starving.
Because over the past century that effort has been supported by total, and unchallenged, propaganda, the Russians refuse to countenance that the defensive measures taken by Nato, along with some mild disapproval of Putin’s actions worldwide, may actually be Russia’s fault.
All Western governments would disarm in a minute if they felt that no threat is present. Come to think of it, Manny Macron has already mouthed words to that effect, although even he didn’t promise to retrain French soldiers as social workers.
Yet it takes criminal irresponsibility, or else being Manny, to ignore the evidence before our very eyes. And that points to a brutally realistic scenario developed on the premise enunciated by Putin years ago.
“The collapse of the Soviet Union,” he said, “is the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” Implicitly, this wasn’t something he was going to put up with. Explicitly, he hasn’t.
Putin’s kleptofascist regime has already pounced on two neighbours, Georgia and the Ukraine, making Russia the first country to annex the territory of European states since 1945.
Threats to restore Stalin’s Soviet Union to its past satanic grandeur are standard fare in Russian media, issued against the familiar background of crocodile tears spilled over the plight of the Russian minorities there (remember Hitler and the Sudetenland?).
The hybrid warfare, of which Gen Gerasimov takes parental pride, is proceeding apace. New technologies are being tested on Western political institutions with the clear aim of creating a capability to jam Nato command centres.
Russia’s navy commits piracy on the high seas. Her air force stages provocative flights over, or right next to, the West’s borders. Russian agents of influence infiltrate Western institutions, typically using the billions the kleptofascist elite has purloined from the Russian people. Russian hitmen are operating with immunity all over Europe, with tacit support from the “Putin has nothing to do with it” brigade.
And yet Foreign Minister Lavrov has the nerve to whinge that Nato’s Eastern Partnership has resulted in “a split away from Russia of our closest neighbours linked to us with ties formed over centuries.”
The KGB veteran should ask those “closest neighbours” how dearly they cherish those ties. He should ask the citizens of the three Baltic republics how they feel about losing a quarter of their population to the atrocities committed by Lavrov’s colleagues in the ‘40s and ‘50s.
He should ask Ukrainians whether they remember Holodomor, the artificial famine staged by Stalin that starved millions of peasants to death. He should ask Hungarians and Czechs whether they remember 1956 and 1968 respectively.
Lavrov won’t ask. But if he did, he’d find that Eastern Europeans regard those ties as chains binding them hand and foot, or else a garrotte crushing their necks.
He’d also find out why Nato didn’t have to twist their arm to draw them into the alliance. They begged to be admitted because they didn’t fancy their freedom again trampled underfoot by their criminal neighbour.