Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Beware the Russian bear, especially when he's wounded

For the first time for over twenty years, I was woken from a dream which I had several times as a teenager or a young man. A dream of planes, large and somehow cumbersome, moving apparently slowly across the sky as they seem to do in films, though we all know they travel at speeds almost unimaginable on earth. The fly towards me and I know they’re about to drop nuclear weapons.

In the dream, cowering around the corner of a wall from the blast, I don’t hear the noise but see the blinding light, again as shown in countless films.

Russian bombers: the stuff of dreams
Now I attach no significance to dreams. All this one represents is preoccupations that have resurfaced in my life, in all our lives, and which had receded for quarter of a century. Because Russia has moved firmly back into the “watch this space” category: it’s going broke, it’s shown no hesitation about getting aggressive with other nations, and it’s nuclear-armed.

Yesterday the rouble lost half its value against the dollar. The Russian government took emergency measure after emergency measure against the failure of its currency, but couldn’t stop it, even when interest rates went up to 17% (you’d think somebody would want to invest for that return, but no one believes the fall has stopped – so they don’t invest and the fall continues).

Part of the problem is that the oil price is on the way down (curious that energy prices in Western countries haven’t yet started falling as dramatically – curious, but not at all surprising). And Russia remains as dependent on raw material as any third world country, specifically that raw material, oil.

The Russian government has done a great job of making a small number of people extremely wealthy, but has done little or nothing for most of the people.

Nothing like Britain, you see.

Strangely, Russian voters don’t seem able to grasp that they’ve put in power people who are going to fleece them, so they keep voting for them.

Again, not at all like Britain.

The second factor is making the situation a great deal worse: Western sanctions. Now, I can see a good argument for saying that Crimea ought to be part of Russia: it always was, and was handed over to Ukraine by Kruschev, in a clumsy act of arbitrary rule. On the other hand, I can see no good argument for saying that the problem should have been resolved by force of arms.

Nor can I see any good argument for infiltrating troops and arming lawless militias in other parts of Eastern Ukraine, but Russia keeps doing it. As a result, they’re under an increasing burden of sanctions, which are making a desperate financial position still worse.

But will this undermine Russian resolve to keep on stirring things up for Ukraine, and for the West?

t’s far more likely to have exactly the opposite effect. Voters already committed to Putin to the point of fanaticism, will in all probability back him still more strongly. And they’ll want to lash out against their perceived enemies more brutally, if only to make themselves feel less bad about themselves.

They’ll justify their position with words like “pride” and “honour”. We’ll probably hear expressions such as “it’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees.”

A man to inspire confidence. And reassurance about peace
That’s always struck me as a particularly short-sighted view. Die on your feet, and you don’t stay on your feet. Live on your knees and there’s a chance you might be able to get up again in a while. No one has ever stood up from being dead, except allegedly one man in Jerusalem a while back, and I’m not wholly convinced by the evidence I’ve been shown.

The sensible position would be for Russians to say “it’s bloody cold around here in the winter, and food prices are shocking already. Let’s come to an accommodation with the West and even with Ukraine, and live to fight another day.”

They won’t. There’ll be stiff backs and stiffer upper lips all over the place. Stiff necks too. And there’ll be a powerful surge of support for getting their retaliation in first.

Why would they stop with Ukraine, seen as a surrogate for the West, when they have the missiles to get at the West itself?

Because, and don’t you forget it, Russian’s nuclear-armed. Well nuclear-armed.

Sweet dreams, everyone.

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