Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Russians are coming

Seems we’re facing a renewed red menace. Without reds.

As I pointed out recently, we seem to be as concerned with the Russians now as we ever were in Soviet times, which rather suggests that the problem wasn’t Communism, but Russia itself. And Russia seems intent on living up to the West’s jaundiced view: Vladimir Putin has been making conciliatory noises about Syria, even stopping the supply of missile parts, but has made it clear that if the US goes ahead with missile attacks without UN backing, Russia reserves its right to retaliate.

He refuses to say how, but as he’s reinforcing the Russian naval presence in the region, he has options to play with. As Georgia learned to its cost, he's not above using military muscle if he thinks he can get away with it. And as Ukraine learned, he's also more than happy to resort to other means of signifying his displeasure, such as cutting off gas supplies – a move which turned out also to be of considerable inconvenience for much of Western Europe.

’s reaction is one of the factors the US Congress has to take into account in weighing Obamas proposal for launching missiles against Syria. 

Just as in the days of Kremlinology, when observers around the West tried to work out what could possibly be going on in the minds of the Communist leaders in Moscow, so today it’s not easy to predict what Putin might do. 

Are his attempts at conciliation sincere or just a gesture to make for an easier G20 summit starting tomorrow? 

Once the summit’s over, will the smiles vanish and the aggressive glower return? 

Is the iron fist being clenched in the velvet glove?

What’s certain about Putin is that he’s a man without humour and entirely intolerant of anything that seems to undermine his standing. We know of the opponents in gaol or threatened with it, we know of the dead journalists, we know of the Pussy Riot members still rotting in a labour camp.

Why, we even know of Konstantin Altunin. He produced a painting of Putin arranging Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s hair, both of them in women’s underwear. The authorities’ response was swift and uncompromising: the museum was raided, the painting was seized, and Altunin fled to France for his own safety.

Not Putin's taste in art
Now I don’t know about the artistic value of the painting, but I’m pretty certain it wasn’t likely to be regarded as flattering by Putin (or Medvedev either, for that matter). But – it was a painting. It wasn’t going to damage either man’s health or wellbeing; the worst it could do was upset their dignity. 

But Putin
s simply not a nice man. In fact, he’s just the kind of guy you’d expect to be a friend of Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s

If he reacts with that brutality to a painting, how will he behave if his mate's country finds itself on the receiving end of Obama’s missiles? He might show restraint, if only because he’d be up against the world’s most powerful nation, but who’d count on it? He’s not always shown himself a fan of restraint.

In the days of the real red menace, we were quite careful about not stirring up the Russian bear. I
’m not saying we should never stir it up now, at any cost – that would be craven and expose us to all sorts of danger. But if we're going to provoke him, we’d better at least be sure if it’s for an awfully good reason. I’m not at all sure that missile strikes that will kill civilians and probably achieve no military aim, even come near to fitting the bill.

It would be deeply depressing if missile strikes merely provided Putin with the pretext to prove, in a some fiendishly clever way, exactly how wise the British parliament was in refusing to endorse the military action. 

I wonder whether Obama really knows exactly what he
s wishing for? 


Anonymous said...

Thanks David, it seems hard to get inside the mind of someone like Putin. Have you seen this?

Faith A. Colburn, Author said...

I dutifully called my Congressperson this morning and gave him his instructions, but he hasn't proved to be a very good employee in the past.

David Beeson said...

Thanks for the link to the article about the thinking of Putin, Qatar and Saudi. A great analysis, though I have to say I didn't much convincing on the proposition that morality or justice have little to do with the dispute around Syria...

Faith, rather too many people seem to feel that a show of force makes for a forceful government. When the electorate finally understands that it takes real strength to restrain yourself, particularly if you're the most powerful nation on Earth, then we shall at last be making progress.