Sunday, 23 January 2022

Rubbing Russia's nose in it.

I claim no expertise in foreign affairs; nor do I have any instant solutions on offer to avert the current prospect of war between Russia and Ukraine,  which could easily expand to involve the Western democracies.  But I do believe  the present dangerous situation is the result of a failure of diplomacy, not in ancient history  but in my lifetime, and a change of approach is needed.

 In defeating Nazism in the Second World War the United States suffered                       407 000 military casualties, the UK 383 000 military casualties and France 210 000 military casualties.*

 The losses incurred by the Soviet Union  in defeating Hitler were on an altogether different scale, estimated as between 8 and 11 millions.

The Soviet Government had every reason to be suspicious of their Western Allies.  After all, "we" had intervened, albeit sporadically, on the White Russian side in the Russian Civil War, (that, I emphasise, was before my lifetime) in which the Bolsheviks eventually prevailed.  And there was a strongly held view that the Western Allies may have  delayed their invasion of Normandy and the opening of the Western Front, to enable the Soviets armies to be weakened if not exhausted on the Eastern Front.

Be that as it may the Soviet Union's leaders and peoples were entitled to expect some sort of gratitude from their Western Allies, and considerable respect.

 Sadly, rather than moving along  in happy harmony the victorious allies grabbed the bits of Europe they had occupied.  The Soviets imposed their "system" on the East, like it or not, and the Western Allies imposed  "our "system on the West , assuming that they liked it, which by and large they did (though there were "iffy" moments in France and Italy and Greece.)

The "Cold War" continued for the next 35 yeas or so.  The NATO military alliance was set up to defend the interests of the West, the European Union established to develop our economies.

Around the end of the 1980s the Soviet political and economic systems collapsed.

Now was the time to show the proud Russian people and their government respect and offer constructive assistance if required.

Instead, not to put too fine a point on it, we gloated.

Hard line monetarist economists surged into the Soviet area and urged privatisation.  Kleptocracies developed and oligarchs found, and still find,  the London (Londongrad!) a convenient centre in which to launder and hoard their gotten gains.

 Former Soviet satellites were invited to join NATO, the very alliance set up to oppose their  Soviet masters (though there is some talk of a secret undertaking  that this would not happen.)

 Formers satellite economies  (largely at Margaret Thatcher's instigation) were welcomed into the European Union.

 We rubbed the Russian government's nose in it.

 Like previously weakened sates (eg Germany in the 1930s) they turned form tipping their toes into democracy to the election of a strong man.

 We now need tact and diplomacy to get us out of the predicament we have created.  This will involve showing Russia "some respect."

So far we have had the opposite. 

*This list is not meant to be comprehensive.  i know there were lots more countries involved and millions of civilian deaths.




  1. The losses incurred by the Soviet Union in defeating Hitler were on an altogether different scale, estimated as between 8 and 11 millions.

    Have you forgot that the USSR entered the war on Germany's side?!

    And no, it wasn't 'in order to buy time to build up their forces'. They didn't 'always intend to fight Hitler'. That is an after-the-fact Soviet propaganda lie, an attempt to rewrite history (a common pursuit in the USSR).

    Stalin wanted to invade Poland, Finland, etc, and his deal with Hitler was designed to allow that. If Hitler hadn't betrayed him and launched Barbarossa in 1941, Stalin would have happily let Hitler keep all the territory he was able to grab, and to do whatever he liked with it (the man who killed millions of Ukrainians, who liquidated the kulaks as an entire class, was hardly likely to shed a tear over a few million Jews).

    The Soviet Union was not one of the goodies in the second world war. Its alliance with the West was only ever one of convenience, that they were reluctantly forced into by Hitler's betrayal (without the massive supplies of food and materiel provided to them by the USA, the USSR would have fallen to the Nazis), and if Stalin didn't trust the Western allies, they had far more reason not to trust him.

    1. That's the past. As for now, you seem to be trying to make the case that the present crisis* is in some way our fault. But in fact this pretty pass is entirely Putin's doing. Until the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Ukrainian politics was basically a see-saw, in which neither the pro-Western faction nor the pro-Russian faction could muster a long-term majority; as a result the government would swing back and forth every few years.

      But when he grabbed Crimea, and with it a large number of the pro-Russian Ukrainian population, Putin ensured that the remainder of Ukraine was decisively pro-Western (or perhaps anti-Russian might be more accurate).

      And hence we are where we are: not because of any action of the West, but because Putin invaded and partitioned his neighbour.

      What we need is not to 'show Russia respect', but to uphold the basic principle — that I would have thought you would have approved of? — that a state gets to determine its own future, and that no neighbouring state can bully or have a veto over what happens in its internal politics (because make no mistake, that is what Putin wants: to have a veto over Ukraine's future actions, such as joining NATO**).

      * in the technical sense of a point of inflection, a decisive moment

      ** not that that would really be on the cards without substantial democratic and anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine, but the important point is the principle that Russia doesn't get a veto over what agreements Ukraine signs

  2. I'm afraid you are evading the point. At the end of the First World War the victorious Allies deliberately rubbed Germany's nose in it. Maybe they deserved it; maybe not? But it was this humiliation which led to the rise of Hitler and the Second World War. Maybe respect for the German people, if not for their previous government, would have led to a better outcome.

    Similarly the Cold War of the late 1980s ended in a "victory " for the Western Democracies. Instead of treating the Russians with respect we have rubbed their noses in it. The outcome is another populist dictator and the possibility of another war. Cock-a- Hoop belligerence does not lead to good outcomes.

    Thoughtful diplomacy is what was required then and is urgently needed now.

    1. Instead of treating the Russians with respect we have rubbed their noses in it.

      Rubbed their noses in it… by insisting on the right of self-determination for the countries that the USSR occupied and terrorised for nearly four decades?

      If that's 'rubbing their noses in it' then I think rubbing their noses in it is a jolly good thing. Do you not? What would you have done differently? Allowed Russia to have a veto over whether states like Latvia, Poland or the Yugoslav and Czech successor states were allowed to join NATO, or the EU?

    2. Ye. Indeed, there are suggestions that at the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union such an undertaking was given, but sadly not kept. Had it been tensions might have been reduced rather than exacerbated and there may have been by now no further need for NATO.

    3. Indeed, there are suggestions that at the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union such an undertaking was given, but sadly not kept

      Really? You think that we should have allowed Russia to dictate whether Latvia was allowed to join NATO? And when Latvia had applied to join NATO, we should have said, 'No, I'm sorry, but you are only allowed to join with Russia's permission, because though you may think you are an independent country, you're not fully independent because we recognise that you are within Russia's sphere of influence'?

      I am shocked. And, frankly, appalled.

      Out of interest, do you think that Britain should have the same amount of control over its former colonies? Do you think that, say, the UK should have a veto over what international organisations New Zealand, or India, or Ghana, or Jamaica, are allowed to join? If not, what do you think is the difference?

  3. Had it been tensions might have been reduced rather than exacerbated and there may have been by now no further need for NATO

    A sort of peace for our time, you mean?

  4. Replies
    1. Precisely

      Walter Duranty and Neville Chamberlain! Such range.

    2. I don't know much about Walter Duranty, but chamberlain was facing very different circumstances to those of the late 1980s. In the late 1930s the German economy was booming and its military capacity expanding. At the end of the 1980s the Russian military forces were strong but the economy to support them was on its knees. There was no immediate danger. The West had "won" the Cold War and a period of "live and let live" would have been more appropriate than the triumphalist expansion of NATO and the EU. Tact and diplomacy should have been the watchword. Our (or rather President Biden's" diplomats now need to find a way for Putin to stand back without losing face. A physical military conflict is in no one's interest, least of all the young Russians and Ukrainians who would bear the brunt of it.