Sunday 8 April 2018

Why I'm A 'Russlandversteher' - A 'Russia Understander'.

Political Hard Man: Is Vladimir Putin, a former KGB colonel, a hard man? Yes, he is. But after the democratic delights of the Yeltsin years, a hard man was exactly what the Russian people were looking for - and are happy to keep voting for.

BEFORE CRITICISING THOSE who continue to treat Russia as an “evil empire”, I should first explain why I am happy to embrace the German title of Russlandversteher - Russia Understander. It’s not only because I know that without the extraordinary sacrifices of the Russian people during the Second World War (twenty million dead!) the United States and British Empire losses would have been much, much higher. It is also because our side – the West – has consistently demonstrated the most appalling bad faith towards the Russians. How any nation on the receiving-end of such strategic malevolence could end up being anything other than defensive and mistrustful is difficult to imagine.

Consider the fact that the Manhattan Project (the United States and British effort to create an atomic bomb) was deliberately kept secret from the Soviets. A weapon which, had it been used against Nazi Germany, could have saved millions of Russian lives (as it almost certainly saved millions of American lives when used against the Japanese) was withheld from the nation that was doing all of the heavy-lifting against fascism.

How would you have reacted to the news that your allies were developing a new super-weapon without you? Do you think it would have increased your level of trust in the USA and the British Empire? Or, would it have pushed your paranoia to new heights? Would it have caused you to be relaxed about the political complexion of post-war Eastern Europe? Or, would it have led you to create a series of socialist buffer-states under strict Russian control?

Never forget, the Cold War began at a time when the Soviet Union lay in ruins: its people and economy utterly exhausted; and its armed forces completely vulnerable to the USA’s growing stockpile of atomic weaponry. Was Joseph Stalin really going to risk the total annihilation of what remained of the Soviet population by ordering the Red Army to advance all the way to the English Channel?

It is also worth remembering that even after the Soviet Union acquired its own atomic weapon in August 1949, not one Russian combat-boot was ever stamped upon the soil of the so-called “Free World”.

Fast forward to the collapse of the Soviet Empire between 1989 and1991. Was there ever a more auspicious moment to turn the page on mutual and assured destruction and demilitarise the entire European continent? The last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, certainly believed that such a moment was at hand. He sought – and was given – the personal assurance of the American president, George H.W. Bush, that the Nato powers would not attempt to fill the power vacuum created by the collapse of the Warsaw Pact.

Did Nato keep its promise? Like hell it did! Within the space of a very few years, new Nato members ringed the territory of the Russian Federation. Stalin’s worst fears had become the Russian Federation’s strategic reality.

And that wasn’t the worst of it. With the collapse of Communist Party rule, the Russian state and its vast portfolio of publicly-owned industries and natural resources was asset-stripped bare. With the “help” of the West’s economic “shock therapists”, the Russian Federation was transformed into a corrupt kleptocracy: a “mafia-state” ruled by a collection of “oligarchs” whose twisted characters Dostoevsky would have struggled to depict. Not surprisingly, the life-expectancy of the average Russian began to track backwards.

This was the Russia that greeted Vladimir Putin when he was finally in a position to replace the Western powers’ favourite drunk, Boris Yeltsin. Was Putin, a former KGB colonel, a hard man? Yes, he was. But after the democratic delights of the Yeltsin years, a hard man was exactly what the Russian people were looking for. Was his arrival generally considered to be bad news for Russia’s oligarchs? You bet! Especially after Putin arranged for one or two of them to be put on trial in cages – to encourage the others. Was anybody in Russia, aside from a handful of Western-aligned politicians and journalists, unduly upset by their President’s actions? Not really. Not when soaring oil and gas prices were delivering higher living-standards to millions of ordinary Russian citizens.

A prosperous and self-confident Russian Federation under strong political leadership was not, however, in Nato’s script. The deep-state denizens of the Western alliance looked at their maps and concluded (as so many geopolitical strategists had done before them) that the best way of getting their hands around Russia’s throat was through Ukraine.

Putin watched with growing alarm as Ukraine’s very own colour revolution (i.e. Western-inspired protests followed by a Western-assisted election campaign) installed an anti-Russian regime just a few hundred kilometres from Moscow. When Putin’s pushback resulted in the creation of a Moscow-friendly government in Kiev, the West upped the ante. With the blessing of European Union leaders, neo-Nazi hoodlums were unleashed on the streets of the Ukrainian capital. The pro-Russian Government fell. For the first time since the end of World War II, the West accorded diplomatic recognition to an overtly fascist regime.

We all know the rest. Russia annexes the Crimean Peninsula. Russian-speaking Ukrainians rise up against the fascists in Kiev. Russian volunteers cross the border in support. The West imposes sanctions and moves armoured units eastwards to “head-off Russian aggression”. Russian hackers of undetermined political status attempt to set off a colour revolution of their own. Donald Trump is elected President of the United States.

Do I really need to write any more about the sort of people who denounce the Russian Federation and its leader? Or why I am so happy to be called a Russlandversteher?

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 6 April 2018.


Kat said...

When was the last time Russian agents came down to NZ and in an act of murderous terrorism blew up a ship in downtown Auckland on the wharf.

Its looking like our PM and Minister of Foreign Affairs made the right call in not expelling the Russian cleaning lady.

Patricia said...

You must have read the claptrap in this week’s Listener Chris! After reading the articles about ‘crimes of Russia’ all I could think was if the authors were ever called to serve on a jury then god help the poor defendant. Evidence would never matters to them.

Tauhei Notts said...

Once again an excellent essay. My worry is why so many have such an irrational hatred of Russia. Russia's loss of the Ukraine has made a huge market for exporters of dairy protein. But the Nato people have said no to that market. Step up NZ, and if Nato question that, respond with a question; "What have Nato ever done for NZ?"
Years of studying Putin suggest to me that he is an old fashioned Christian conservative. The sort of conservative the "progressives" would call homophobic. He has been critical of same sex marriage in the west. Well, not really critical, but sceptical. I have got the impression that as he has offended the "progressives" with those thoughts and that scepticism the "progressives" have sought to denigrate him in any way that they can.
Another point rarely touched upon is that outside of Moscow and St Petersburg, there are tens, almost hundreds, of millions of very poor people. A small example; most of them cannot afford a telephone that can receive international calls.

Polly. said...

Russia is blessed to have a man like Putin in charge of their country.
He is totally committed to and for the betterment of the Russian people.
He has the highest respect of friend and foe.
Trump is correct in wanting to improve US/ Russian friendship.
Winston is correct in wanting to improve NZ/ Russian friendship.
The Russians won the second World War in Europe with the help of the Western allies.

Your commendable article deserves wider coverage across the World.
Well done.

Nick J said...

I think we witnessed another act of intentional provocation toward Russia with the Scipal case. The West lost this on a simple principle; respect for the law. Innocence until proven guilty. No proof was offered, mere conjecture and speculation.

I heard the pathetic Peter Dunne condemning Russian guilt on that idiot show "the Panel". As an MP, now fortunately ex, he should have been more principled about process and the law, yet he didn't think, merely parroted. Similar stances across the West are legion.

When did we give up thinking? When did we lose our principles? Maybe when the Russian fleet failed to show up in the 1890s.

greywarbler said...

I wonder if in acknowledgment of Russian shouldering of much of the deadly burden of holding against Nazi Germany, the Marshall Plan had been extended with a tailored version agreed with the Russians and helping them to rebuild. Wasn't this a great way to bring the progressive democratic world a step forward? (But there is such good business, profits, money in armaments. Here is the almost perfect example of moral hazard.) So no.

Brighten your day? Listen to the lovely tones of Eva Cassidy a real songbird who died too early, singing What a Wonderful World.

and Louis Armstrong grinds out the uplifting words - keep believing, hoping, thinking and supporting - What a Wonderful World.

Unknown said...

I thought that was the French.

Bonzo said...

Germany surrendered on the 8th May 1945. The first atomic bomb was detonated on the 16th July 1945 near Alamogordo, New Mexico. The first atomic bomb used in war was dropped on August 6th 1945. Three months after Germany surrendered.

Perhaps in a parallel universe the bomb could have been developed in time to be used in the European theatre. Where would you have dropped it Chris?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Hilarious segment on Have I Got News For You about Boris Johnson's lying – or rather "sexing up" of the intelligence.

John Stowell said...

I thought the first test of the atom bomb too place after the German surrender, in fact during the Potsdam conference, so it could not have been used on the Germans. However, I do agree that both the US and Britain have treated Russia with disdain, especially since the fall of the wall. Since America has to be the winner, Russia is automatically treated as the loser of the cold war.

Chris Trotter said...

You are quite right, Bonzo. By the time “Little Boy” was dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945 the war in Europe was, indeed, over.

The point I am making is that if the Soviets had been brought into the Manhattan Project in 1941, then the additional scientific heft may well have produced a usable atomic bomb by 1944 rather than 1945.

It’s use against Berlin would have decapitated the Nazi regime, thereby unleashing a successful Operation Valkyrie (i.e. the formation of an emergency military government which the unsuccessful attempt on Hitler’s life in July 1944 was supposed to precipitate) and an early end to the war in Europe. What’s more, the demonstration effect of an atomic attack on Germany may well have hastened the demise of the military regime in Japan. As things actually turned out, however, part of the reason for dropping the bomb on Japan was to provide a demonstration of what the US could now do to the USSR.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

'The sort of conservative the "progressives" would call homophobic.'
Er... Probably because that's what he is. Let's not assume that because Britain can't prove Russia poisoned those people that Putin is anything but an authoritarian right wing dictator.
And dropping a bomb on Berlin Chris? Probably no worse than firebombing Japanese cities, except that the radiation plume – given the prevailing winds – may well have expanded over France or Belgium or Poland or the USSR. Unless you could show that more people died in the last year of the war than would have died in an atomic explosion............ you might have the figures, I can't find any in a quick Google search. And are more likely result would have been that the Germans surrendered in the West but kept fighting in the east as many generals wanted to. This might have been a good thing, but might also have led to war between the Western allies and the USSR. The war could have been over in 1944 anyway if Eisenhower and Montgomery had conducted it properly.
And I suspect it would have had no influence on Japan at all. I'm not at all sure that dropping a bomb on Hiroshima or Nagasaki had an influence either. There is a school of thought with which I tend to agree that the atomic bomb was incidental to the Japanese surrender which was actually caused by the threat of the Russian invasion of Manchuria. In fact the Allies had to search quite diligently to find two cities undamaged enough to drop bombs on. This is just about every Japanese city with any industrial capacity within range of the B-29 had suffered somewhere between 60 and 90% plus damage using conventional methods. In the Japanese government was – I was going to say quite happy but that's probably not the best way to put it – but at least willing to take that damage. But they were really scared of Russian invasion and a communist coup.

Anonymous said...

Chris, are you aware of the crimes of the Soviet Union?
And the right of Eastern Europe to choose their own destiny?
What did they do when they realized Gorbachev was serious that he wouldn't send in the tanks?
Run, run as fast as they can towards the West , Europe and Nato. THEY seem to believe what choice to make for themselves.

Psycho Milt said...

Not so much a "Russlandversteher" as a "Sovjetunionanbeter" if this post is anything to go by.
You might just as well say that the extraordinary sacrifices of the German people saved the British and United States empires from much more significant losses, because it's equally true. And we can thank our lucky stars the western allies didn't let Stalin in on the Manhattan Project because that's the only reason the USSR isn't the whole planet right now. The only reason no Russian combat boot was stamped anywhere west of Thüringen is because the western allies were strong enough to prevent that happening. There was only one reason western Europe didn't consist of soviet socialist republics by 1946, and that reason is the United States of America. That country may have pulled a lot of evil shit in its time, but preventing Europe from succumbing to totalitarianism is not on the list.

greywarbler said...

A 'colour' revolution in Ukraine - which used orange as a theme. Then allegations of Russian hacking in USA affairs, instead of just their own spooks interfering. And a new president elected - who has what appears to be orange hair. NZ is firmly entrenched in All Black. I didn't realise that colour was so embedded in political positions.

In Wikipedia on the Colour Revolution it says the Russians have decided they will not take this new spectrum of protesters and revolutionaries lying down. In New Zealand we have adopted the All Blacks as our flag bearers. Does this mean that we have shown a proclivity that aligns us with Russia? Is there someone with a conspiracy theory that attempts to colour in the outlines of the new world order, once largely in British pink? (The colour was intended to be red but that was too dark a background for locations to be read on the map.) In politics are colours now the new black?

It is a pity that people in leadership roles in major countries can't control their forces of aggression, ensure they had control of sufficient resources without trying to grab them all, stop stirring up fear in their own country and their allies', and settle for a watchful peace with workably tolerant relationships between nations. Then turning to improve conditions for their own people would see a rise in standards and wellbeing with a flow-on effect to the rest of the world.
The colour revolutions are notable for the important role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and particularly student activists in organising creative non-violent resistance.

Such movements have had a measure of success, as for example in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's Bulldozer Revolution (2000), in Georgia's Rose Revolution (2003), and in Ukraine's Orange Revolution (2004). In most but not all cases, massive street protests followed disputed elections, or requests for fair elections, and led to the resignation or overthrow of leaders considered by their opponents to be authoritarian. Some events have been called "colour revolutions" but are different from the above cases in certain basic characteristics. Examples include Lebanon's Cedar Revolution (2005); and Kuwait's Blue Revolution (2005).

Government figures in Russia, such as Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, disapprove of the colour revolutions and have stated that they are a new form of warfare.[2][3]

President Putin said that Russia must prevent colour revolutions, "We see what tragic consequences the wave of so-called colour revolutions led to. For us this is a lesson and a warning. We should do everything necessary so that nothing similar ever happens in Russia."[4]

Guerilla Surgeon said...

" And we can thank our lucky stars the western allies didn't let Stalin in on the Manhattan Project because that's the only reason the USSR isn't the whole planet right now."
No it isn't. When the Russians finally did get the bomb they didn't do any conquering at all. Mutually assured destruction took care of that.
" The only reason no Russian combat boot was stamped anywhere west of Thüringen is because the western allies were strong enough to prevent that happening. "
No it isn't. The main reason is that the Russians were just as exhausted as the Western allies, if not more. And they had already begun transferring troops to Manchuria to fight the Japanese. So it would have been extremely foolish of them to try to take western Europe. And in fact AFAIK, Stalin simply wanted buffer zones between the USSR and Western Europe. Which you can understand given the number of times Russia has been invaded by countries in Western Europe. But feel free to provide evidence to the contrary if you have any.

Wayne Mapp said...

I suspect that Stalin's mass murder in the 1930's of millions of people made the west more than a little suspicious of the Soviet Union. As Winston Churchill said the alliance was akin to supping with the devil.

So the allied alliance with the inclusion of the Soviet Union was a temporary arrangement, it was never a union based on common values.

The total Russian deaths were also due in part to Stalins awful leadership in the early months of the war. Millions of the Red Army were captured because they were not allowed to withdraw to more defensible lines. But having said that the Germans were brutal in the extreme, even when they were being pushed back after Stalingrad and Kursk, causing millions of Russians to die unnecessarily even though the war had been effectively lost.

It is almost impossible for us to imagine the sheer scale and size of the battles on the eastern Front. The world had never really seen anything comparable. Perhaps some of the battles of WW1 (Somme, Verdun) were as brutal, though not as large.

Psycho Milt said...

When the Russians finally did get the bomb they didn't do any conquering at all. Mutually assured destruction took care of that.

Well, yes, exactly. By excluding them from the project, we made sure we were already well-equipped by the time they got nuclear weapons themselves. That's my point.

And in fact AFAIK, Stalin simply wanted buffer zones between the USSR and Western Europe.

He had to settle for that, yes - thanks to the USA. What he wanted was very different back when he arranged with Hitler to divide up Europe between them and then built the most powerful military force in the world (the one the Wehrmacht caught by surprise and destroyed in 1941 was more powerful than the Wehrmacht and still left very powerful forces in reserve).

The ability of left-wing intellectuals to come up with elaborate apologia for totalitarianism doesn't just squander their talent, it poisons the discourse. There were two expansionist, murderous totalitarian regimes responsible for the 1939-45 war in Europe and the question of which was worse than the other is a moot point. It disgusts me to see people supporting either of them.

NickJ said...

Its absolutely amazing to me reading the comments here and elsewhere that so many people have not been able to make the mental leap between the Soviet Union and Russia. No wonder there is a new Cold War.

The end of the Soviet state represented a genuine opportunity for real nuclear de-escalation and disarmament, and also the demilitarisation of Europe. The West has effectively missed the boat here, not because the refounded Russian state was unwilling, in fact quite the converse, the West itself could not bring itself to end the stand off. Hence the continuing existence of NATO, an organisation that has pushed right up to the Russian borders despite the US promises to the outgoing Soviet leaders that they would not militarise Eastern Europe. NATO really has no reason to exist if that reason is to counter the threat of Soviet aggression. There is no Soviet, Russia is not that creature.

It is very sad that the Russian state has been forced by the movement of US / NATO nuclear arms and related systems into the former Warsaw pact states to produce counters that ensure that there will be little chance of real nuclear disarmament. This escalation against a non threat by successive Western leaders is pushing the nuclear clock toward midnight. Dont blame Trump here, he is Johnny Come Lately.

Really this arrogant stupidity should dictate that NZ needs to call time on any nuclear alignment such as Five Eyes. That is not going to be easy, even if we had enough sense to do so, you could expect regime change to be imposed rather quickly and quietly. We are in the proverbial.

greywarbler said...

There are widely varying views about what would have happened if the bomb had been developed earlier, dropped somewhere else, how the war threat would have changed and who would have pushed it onwards from whose borders. Psycho is sure that his vision of the madness is right, Guerilla Surgeon has another viewpoint.

I think we need always to keep at the back of our minds in arguments and when finger pointing about whose fault past atrocities were, is that all the countries involved committed foul crimes within the theatre of war. And the war may have been a preventable crime itself, if work on dealing with issues that blew up over time had started earlier.

Albert Einstein Quotes. I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.

Author Profession: Physicist
Nationality: German
Born: March 14, 1879
Died: April 18, 1955

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
(Einstein is supposed to have said this but not definitely attributed.)

Morals and lessons to learn are shown in good fairy tales. In modern watching and reading, I don't know if they are quite as scary as in the past. Perhaps this would do as a modern fairy story. WW3 should be conducted as a Flag Olympics, with the most colourful design winning and then everyone going into a session of annual discussions about their problems. The flag winner would get to decide on which small country would get to lead and some robust discussions would ensue. There would be a mandatory photo taken with all of the representatives holding hands in a circle, and singing along with an uplifting tuneful song about standing shoulder to shoulder. Also bragging about setting a new record for the number of months without a bombing, beheading, gassing, land mining etc. All gun and arms dealers would be rounded up and put on a remote island somewhere having been scapegoated as being the root cause of the world's problems.

BlisteringAttack said...

If you want to read a staggering account of asset stripping in Russia in the early 90's, go no further than the relevant chapter in Naomi Kleins's 'The Shock Doctrine'.

Friedman's disciples really went to work.

Victor said...

In my book, you’re not a Russlandvesteher but a Russlandgläubiger (believer).

It’s not a bad religion to have, as such things go. But the proposition that the fears and perceived interests of Russians should always outweigh those of their neighbours in eastern and central Europe is not susceptible to empirical proof. It’s also an ostensibly perverse position to take if you are yourself a citizen of a small and vulnerable nation.

That said, I won’t compare you to the “useful idiots” amongst the western intelligentsia, who swallowed every contorted narrative and outright lie that Stalin fed them, but only because it would be needlessly insulting to Putin, who’s a tough bastard yet a competent ruler and (Chechnya notwithstanding)nowhere near as profligate with human life as Uncle Joe.

Moreover, with US policy now in the hands of the toxic trio of Pompeo, Mattis and Bolton (with BoJo squeaking from the sidelines), we may yet need Tsar Volodya to play the role of the only adult in the room.

Has the West given Russia cause for suspecting and fearing its motives? Obviously, yes. The road east for European armies has long been drenched in Russian blood, from the Teutonic Knights, to the seventeenth century Poles, to the early eighteenth century Swedes, to Napoleonic France, to the Kaiser’s Reichswehr, to the allied intervention in the Russian Civil War and the devastating assault of Hitler’s Wehrmacht. And I’d agree that, in the early 1990s, the West failed to take advantage of a unique opportunity for turning Russia into a friend and collaborator.

But has Russia not also given its neighbours cause for suspecting and fearing its motives? Ask the Poles, Czechs, Balts, Finns, Georgians, Ukrainians, Crimean Tartars, Chechens etc. etc. And, yes, some (but certainly not all) of these nations have histories mired in fascism and cooperation with genocide. But, then, Russia’s own record in such respects is far from exemplary.

Was there, as has been alleged, a deal between NATO and the Russians for the alliance not to creep eastwards beyond the borders of the former DDR? NATO denies this, citing merely off-the-cuf, unofficial statements by Jimmy Baker and the ever garrulous Hans- Dietrich Genscher. But this might just be a symptom of the Mandy Rice Davies syndrome (as in ”They would say that, wouldn’t they”).

Even so, it’s hard to see how the nations of east and central Europe could truly be considered independent if they didn’t have the right to decide who their friends were. Would you be willing to accept that sort of restriction on New Zealand’s independence? And, frankly, would Ukraine have a war raging on its eastern flank at the moment (and have lost some of its sovereign territory to force majeur, in defiance of the UN Charter) had it, too, gained NATO membership? I think not.

Meanwhile, isn’t there a touch of tautology in your statement that ‘not one Russian combat-boot was ever stamped upon the soil of the so-called “Free World"’, as, obviously, wherever such boots trod ceased to be part of the Free World, so-called or otherwise. Again, you might like to ask the Czechs about that one. But maybe they don’t count.

Victor said...

Perhaps I should amend the final paragraph of my previous post, to read:

Meanwhile, isn’t there a touch of tautology in your statement that ‘ not one Russian combat-boot was ever stamped upon the soil of the so-called “Free World" ’? Surely, the countries such boots trod upon, all effectively lost the chance of rejoining the Free World (so-called or actual), even though they had been delivered from fascism. Again, you might like to ask the Poles and Czechs about that. Or don’t they count?

Woodbrook said...

I think what is presented here is an explanation for how Russia is behaving, but I don't think it is a valid excuse. Ok I agree that the West blew it with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Western advice etc contributed to what a Russian colleague of mine calls criminal capitalism dominating the Russian economy. But really has Putin dealt to the oligarchs? I'd say he's co-opted most of them and if they've opposed him, he's crushed them. What Putin is doing may make him feel good but does it make the Russian economy better, does it help the Russian people? I don't think so. I've been to Russia and the main people suffering from Putin's actions are ordinary people, especially women and children. Yes, the West screwed it up but Russia is full of wonderfully educated, erudite, creative people - the present Russian criminal capitalist, authoritarian system and male ego driven militaristic posturing of Putin is a major impediment to improving the lives of ordinary Russians. I had to give a speech at a scientific workshop and I ended my speech saying the ".... world needs a strong Russia, a strong and noble Russia". Men and women came up to me with tears in their eyes hugging me, kissing me, exhanging toast. It kind of summed up for me the tragedy of post Soviet Russia. (I 'had' to drink over 15 toasts that night, and then we had vodka at breakfast, but we still all worked hard - it was kind of fun). So I'd ask, Chris, that your columns focus a bit less on a US bad, Russia not so bad because of history etc and approach things from the interests of the Russian people. And as an end note, I think Trump is a worse criminal capitalist, military posturing authoritarian thug - but at least the US has system that can hold him back. Russia has none.

Nick J said...

Wayne, you are quite correct about the scale of murderous activities that can be laid at Stalin's feat, both directly and by reason of incompetence in the face of a genocidal German / Hungarian / Romanian / Italian assault (yes Adolf had friends). I think it very sad that there are still apologists out there for the Soviet experiment which had in its very philosophy / ideology the basis for oppressive murder of any suspected opposition. Interestingly Solzhenitsyn laid this bare in his exposition on the Soviet state, he worked out that the whole thing was based upon false premises of human nature. One of his biggest admirers is a certain Vlad Putin.

What can we learn from this? Russia is not the Soviet. Nor its inheritor any more than any other SSR such as Ukraine. Russia shares with these states the legacy of both Western genocide and communist genocide. The leadership of the Soviet....Stalin and Beria Georgians, Trotsky Jewish, Kruschev Ukrainian...and so it goes, it is not exclusively Russian.

Looking at the map and checking out Russian aggression, it's all very local and it appears that the US "backs" every regime the Russians have disputes with. Appears to me that the West won the ideological war against Communism and lost the peace.

Andrew Nichols said...

Me Too Chris. My late dad George was in the RAF posted in the Russian Arctic and Moscow as a signals officer 41-43. He saw the hospital trains from Stalingrad and even then realised that without the Russians, Britain would have been toast. While they were definitely in the tick of it in the Pacific, the yanks arrived as it was ending in Europe.

Thus the Russians fear war. The belligerent yanks don't. We should be very very afraid.

Guerilla Surgeon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Guerilla Surgeon said...

"The ability of left-wing intellectuals to come up with elaborate apologia for totalitarianism doesn't just squander their talent, it poisons the discourse. "
In what way was I justifying totalitarianism? I was simply justifying Russia's fear of invasion. It has been invaded a lot, and that has resulted in a certain amount of paranoia. Which I see as justified, especially considering that some Americans were in favour of invading and/or nuking Russia at the end of the war.
And there are a number of books now - not necessarily written by raving communists- which suggest that Russia had no intention of attacking the West. Partly because it wasn't the least bit capable of attacking anything, as its best forces had been sent to Manchuria. FFS there was famine and rebellion within Russia and its occupied territories that precluded open war with the West as well, not to mention that they couldn't do a damned thing about the split with Yugoslavia.
There's a whole tranche of US, British and Russian documents recently come to light that show the USSR's weaknesses. The Brits and the Americans knew this.
And how on earth were the Russians going to deliver their nuclear bombs to anywhere west of Ireland or east of Alaska? They were reduced in the early 1950s to experimenting with loading them onto torpedoes and hoping to fire them into New York harbour. Whereas many of the important parts of the USSR were vulnerable.
If indeed anything poisons the discourse, it is the conservative propensity for knee-jerk reactions to anything concerning socialism/communism/revolution/damn near anything.

greywarbler said...

This is an interesting post. History is full of examples of horrors and turbulent times, plus some good times. Naturally it is the finger pointing at bad behaviour that we note, and continue reverting to. It seems that the only way we can make way towards better times is to call
for half-time and bring on the oranges (I'm stuck on colour at the moment),
and change the game plan while we take our break. Let's do it!

And part of that temporary halt, will be to form a chain of all attending; good-intentioned people who shake hands around the circle and say I'm sorry for our past infringements on good behaviour. Next make a plan to do better over the next decade, a bit like the climate conferences. Talk, go ahead with some action improving, and prevent backdoor backsliding by one's other countries, one's own country or own mercenaries for other countries. A bit like preventing citizens from going to join in a battle to support a supposed good cause.

Endlessly discussing, arguing over the past, seeking to get agreement and understanding from each side as to what actually happened, and what was the cause, must be time limited. Special discussions and conferences can be had by those intent on establishing the facts on whatever while others think on forward movement.

Those others who want to move on should keep all the history and disagreement in memory though but pushed to the back. And then we start with the simple, basic goal in all countries as expressed below by Woodbrook. We start off with a clear goal and clean and clear minds, ready and able to work towards a future with value; one to be proud of ushering in, positive and with effective protocols for handling disagreements, malpractices, dirty dealings and just generally limiting all chicanery, without resorting to war or oppressive, passive-aggressive hostility.

Modern hell is reading and hearing discussions about things going wrong, with nothing planned to right them; things gone wrong despite knowing how to right them; things destroyed or diminished or terminal and seeing and listening to endless discussions by the wise, those with good memories, by the opinionated, by the time-fillers, by those with machiavellian tendencies who participate to steer all away from thinking about affirmative action needed by 'the people', all of them.

Woodbrook says: improving the lives of ordinary Russians [also every country]. I had to give a speech at a scientific workshop and I ended my speech saying the ".... world needs a strong Russia, a strong and noble Russia". Men and women came up to me with tears in their eyes hugging me, kissing me, exhanging toast. It kind of summed up for me the tragedy of post Soviet Russia. (I 'had' to drink over 15 toasts that night, and then we had vodka at breakfast, but we still all worked hard - it was kind of fun). We could all have fun, and enjoy working together for good outcomes. Again; Let's do it!

Victor said...

Nick J

Yes, you are right. The Russian Federation is not the Soviet Union, just as the Soviet Union was not the Russian Empire.

But, from the point of view of Russia's neighbours and former subject peoples, the continuities might seem more important than the contrasts, with the immensity and perceived political culture of Russia as key ingredients.

I suspect, for instance, that Russia's immediate neighbours will look at the Nicholas I epoch uniforms of Putin's presidential guards and see not a quaintly Tolstoyan fantasy but a reminder of past dangers and oppression.

Gorbachev has spoken of his shock when he discovered that fellow Glasnost supporters inside the Estonian branch of the CPSU wanted independence and not just reform. It made no sense to him but it made perfect sense to them.

How things look from the center and how they look from the periphery are rarely the same thing. Similarly, how things look from the immediate periphery and how they look from half a world away may be radically different.

Western powers are certainly ill-advised to seek to fan the fears of the periphery. But nor can they ignore them, as so often happens in discussions such as this.

Psycho Milt

Clearly Stalin wasn't thinking of expanding Russian power across Europe at the time of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. To have done so, he would first have needed to wipe out the Third Reich, which would have been an impossible task given the then state of Soviet war production and the ravaging of his armed forces by the purges. He was merely buying time and occupying territories that he (wrongly) imagined, would allow for defence in depth.

It's also dubious that he was considering a push westwards in 1945, although, at Potsdam, he did respond to Averell Harriman's congratulations over the Soviet victory in Berlin by muttering menacingly that "Alexander I made it to Paris".

As has been pointed out by others, the Soviet Union was shattered and exhausted by its titanic effort to defeat Hitler. On the other hand, Stalin had two million weary but battle-hardened veterans under his command, whilst most of the GIs who had fought their way to the Elbe were being shipped home to America. We have no evidence to suggest that the "A" Bomb deterred him. So it's a reasonable assumption that heading west was not his goal.

As to NATO, it didn't come into existence till four years later and was less a response to fears of an immediate Soviet military thrust than to a generalised feeling that western Europe needed stabilising in the aftermath of the Czechoslovak communist coup, the Berlin blockade, the continued Europe-wide recession and the likelyhood of western (still Stalinist) communist parties (particularly in France and Italy) taking advantage of these factors.

As I can't remember who put it: "Nato was designed to keep the Americans in, the Russians out and the Germans down", all of which goals were quite reasonable at the time.

Charles E said...

I'm with you Victor having read most of the above. Very balanced.

Seems so many others just hate the West esp the US and it causes them to praise an even worse place.
And really, if the Germans could have been stopped with an A bomb I'm not sure it would have been obvious at the time it should be done, even to the Russians. One might think Hitler could have had one too and dropped it on Moscow, then or soon after or ..... …. And the distances are not so great.. to be lobbing nukes about..
Perhaps part of the case for dropping it on Japan was it was without an ally or chance to retaliate and was an island..
To speculate about dropping more nuclear weapons is chilling & futile. Perhaps the allies should have dropped it on both Germany & Russia... see where that gets you..

I think some of you would admire the Russians even more if they sacrificed 30 million. You seem impressed by their numbers yet maybe they share a lot of the responsibility for such slaughter? That pact was a crime which led to ... and so on.

The divide between east & west in greater Europe is very old and there are two sides but only one that has moved on and contributed to human progress in the last century. In recent times it seems Russia is most motivated by envy & spite. It projects its own terrible failures from the last century. Its revolution a disaster which is still poisoning it.. .. and that was not our fault. They have always made their own bed..

sumsuch said...

Reading Kasparov's riposte to Russ-i-ya's defection from democracy. His quotation of Milton Friedman doesn't inspire me. But his mention of the first correct analysis of Putin, in 2000, does. Andre Piontkovsky.

Chris Hitchens, educated by Yugoslavia's disintegration in the 90s, decided dictatorship by itself was worth war (ie Iraq). Now as authoritarianism spreads insidiously through the third world... Democracy has at its base fairness. The nearing 40 years of undermining that in the democracies weakens that moral authority (thanks Milt). Militant universal justice alone can restore our right to the upper ground. Yet at our heart is empire. But also yet, the dictators are both vile and a danger to everyone. What about Putin's embezzlement of billions of dollars inspires you Chris? Being a great lover of 1800s Russian literature (as opposed to contemporary English writing) I consider them our brothers worthy of the only thing worthy of humans, democracy.

sumsuch said...

Russia is 'my' brother, at least. I don't want less for my brother than myself. Democracy, humanity.

The Fabians, despite their devotion to 'ever and a day' fell hook, line, and sinker for Stalin. Understandable frustration with their tight line of beliefs rebounded into wrongheadedness -- such a long line of hero worship idealized by the pre-modern Left. Shaw was monsterous about himself by the end, maybe rightly. How do you judge yourself when the media spreads you out over the consciousness of humans? But the point, humanity. I know realpolitik, which is where Hitchens came a cropper re Iraq? Neo-cons too -- they ate their own cornflakes. Yet and yet, and yet even though we are awful Putin is a shit.

greywarbler said...

I have lost track of the details of the post so have sought info from your reference of Andre Piontkovsky and put the link here to an interview with him in Russian I imagine, with subtitles. This will be interesting when I get time to watch it, and it will give an idea of his thinking. He has lived in the USA for some time and is versed in world politics so he may have something wise to say.

In contrast? here is a link to an Anthony Giddens video - known to me as the author of The Third Way that seems in my mind to open us up to Milton Friedman who has enslaved us, along with Hayek, and his RW reaction to the scare of totalitarianism, which I think he connected with Russia's Stalinism and communism.

This is from Tallinn University, Estonia.
Sisseastuja / Tallinna Ülikool
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Kui Sinu plaan A on elada targalt, tule Tallinna Ülikooli. Vastuvõtu avalduste esitamine tasemeõppesse on 23. juuni 2018 kuni 4. juuli 2018, kuid tutvu juba varakult Tallinna Ülikooli õppekavadega, et teha sisseastumisel teadlik ja Sinu jaoks parim valik! Oleme suurim humanitaar- ja sotsiaalteaduste suunitlusega ülikool ...
‎Bakalaureuseõpe · ‎Magistriõpe · ‎Avatud õpe · ‎Soovitused sisseastujale

I just put that in as I am sure most of us do not know Estonian. Yet they will be learning English. If we want to be wiser about everything over there>>> perhaps we should start learning their languages. Our GDP figures don't indicate a level that allows us to be sloppy about this.

GDP stats - World Bank 2016 Estonia rating: 103 : NZ 2016 rating: 52, much higher! But other countries near our rating - above, Vietnam 47 Greece 48 and below was Iraq 53 and Kazakhstan 56.

Estonia despite being presumably fairly poor, is getting behind its education system. We just seem to be falling behind like a cow's tail. A lack of wisdom, or a lack of understanding of the need to acquire wisdom?

Russia and mitteleuropa and the changing boundaries and dynamics:

sumsuch said...

How really ideal was Britain in 39? Better than the oppos. The most important thing was the ideals it blew up. But the motherland had to be cornered first before that. I'd prefer we could put ear-wax distaste on the face of Kissenger/Metternich before his demise. But that would take fore-thought, imagination and force beyond a momentary mandate.

Congratulations re budgetary limits. Everyone NOW agrees with you. Hence the congrats.