The Russian Bear and why our attempt to tame it will get the handler mauled


Theodore Grammaticus reminds us of the growing threat of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and what his actions may mean for Europe’s security.

The British military has been in seemingly terminal decline for some 25 years, since the end of the Cold War. In terms of size, the British military is a shadow of its former self; there are fewer soldiers, fewer ships, and fewer fast jets. The public across the western world have lost the appetite for war, after 13 years of servicemen and women returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, in body bags. This presents a serious problem for the United Kingdom, because the threat is as present as it’s ever been.

During the Cold War, there was a very good reason for both sides not to fight. From the north to the south of Western Europe, soldiers were lined up and ready to fight the Russians, who were just as prepared as the West for the conflict. It is perhaps history’s most effective example of a military deterrent working. The USSR and the West never came to fighting the war to end all wars which was feared.

In the post-Cold War era, without soldiers stationed en masse in close proximity to Russian forces, there is little deterrent for Russia not to annex territories in the former USSR. This has been apparent in Georgia and Ukraine. Putin’s popularity in Russia, is for two reasons. After ten years of embarrassment and decline in Russia, following the break up of the USSR, Putin restored national pride and economic growth. Under EU and US trading sanctions, the Russian economy is suffering. Putin’s ratings however are not, due to actions he has taken seemingly by proxy in Ukraine. Where his economic ratings have declined, his nationalist ratings have improved.

The parallels between Putin’s Russia today and Hitler’s Germany of the 1930s cannot be ignored.  Hitler annexed two other countries. So has Putin. Hitler did this on the basis that their inhabitants were Germanic. So did Putin. The parallel which beggars belief however, is that despite appeasement failing in the 1930s, many in the western world want this to be the only option in our arsenal again. Russia pays our appeasement lip service, as Hitler did in the 1930s. It smacks of “peace in our time”. Putin has tested our resolve and with the lack of support across the western world, we have failed the test. We are begging the school bully not to punch us again, yet we’re too scared to tell the teacher. Why wouldn’t Putin continue to do as he likes in Eastern Europe?

It may well be that the only way to stop Putin in the coming years is to line the troops up once more, from the north to south of Europe, in order to protect them from Russian aggression. If this happens, then the deterrent is re-instated, and the Russians will not attack.

Despite this, western governments are right to listen to the public mood and not respond as they would like to security threats.

In the post 9/11 world the threat picture has been focused on the fundamentalism of non-state actors, rather than potential major combat operations from Russia. The reality of terrorism is that the weapon is just that; terror! Whilst terror attacks are undoubtedly horrific, the deaths in the United Kingdom at the hands of terrorism in the last 13 years, equal the number of people killed on the country’s roads in a week. Terrorism is not as terrifying as the threat posed by a traditional army, were it to wreak havoc in Eastern Europe.

There are those who think that the Government should commit endless resource to fighting terrorism in the Middle East. This ignores the most important resource of all; public support. Support from the public is a resource which replenishes very slowly in the 21st century. Use it all by deploying the military to the Middle East, rather than on tackling the fundamentalist security threat at home, by utilising the intelligence services, and there will be none left if the time comes when we need the military to keep the Russians in Russia. It would be an amazing and unforeseen victory for terrorism, if our response to it created enough apathy, which allowed the Russians to invade Western Europe virtually unopposed.

There is an arrogance of generations. We believe that threats which existed in the past couldn’t ever exist again. I well remember just 8 years ago, people dismissing those forecasting economic collapse as doom-mongers. It can’t happen in the modern economy was the purported claim. This wasn’t just the man on the street, but economists and bankers. Likewise, no one really believes that the Russians rolling across Europe is plausible. Our grandparents however, can well remember the last time Europe was at war. Just because something seems uncomfortable for us to comprehend, doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

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