Russia’s contempt a warning for us all
27 February 2022
ADELAIDE - The unfolding disaster in Ukraine has been met by a blizzard of meaningless drivel from Western elites.
They are shocked, confused and afraid: all of their fine words unable to disguise the pathos of their collective response to Vladimir Putin's naked aggression.
Now there are reports of a Russian foreign affairs spokesperson threatening Sweden and Finland with grave military and political consequences if they dare to apply to join NATO.
Thus Putin seizes the moment to threaten countries that are long term neutral states and by no plausible stretch of the imagination capable of threatening the security of Russia.
European leaders in particular have proved to be hopelessly incapable of putting together any response other than a limp-wristed slap with an economic lettuce leaf.
They wrongly describe this in their rhetoric as 'tough sanctions'. I think ‘bullshit’ is a more accurate descriptor.
It is clear that US president Biden proposed more serious actions, notably Russia's exclusion from SWIFT, the system used by banks across the world to facilitate fund exchanges.
Exclusion would effectively cripple the Russian financial system by cutting it off from any contact with the wider world.
The Europeans, especially Germany and Italy, shrank from doing this because they know it will damage them too, although to nothing like the extent it will Russia.
More happily this morning I hear on the news that they may have changed their mind.
The truth is that for 30 years or more Europe has lived in a state of delusion and denial.
Its existential dread of rampant and malignant ultra-nationalism has closed European eyes and ears to the awful truth that the monstrous force that gave birth to Nazism is still alive and well.
Not dead, but dormant.
And late last week it roared again and Europe (and we others of the West) are pathetically ill prepared to deal with it.
Europe’s much-vaunted military might is a facsimile of the force required to stop Putin. It is fragmented, run down and poorly coordinated.
Only France and Britain have credibly 'war-ready' military establishments: the rest are toy soldiers in the main.
Not that NATO’s ‘rules’ allow its members to enjoin anyway, unless one of them is attacked. Ukraine is not one of them.
Nor is Australia exempt from this lack of readiness. We lack sufficient long, medium and short range missiles to pose a credible threat to any aggressor.
The military knows this and has been desperately trying to play catch-up for a while now.
But politicians prefer to announce big things, like acquiring nuclear submarines or more tanks rather than focus on the quick and practical (although, to his credit, more recently Peter Dutton appears to have tried to do this).
Events in Ukraine serve as an ominous warning of events to come.
Our leaders must galvanise themselves into action to dramatically increase the size and power of our military, as both Russia and China have done.
Europe is the special laggard but trying to get it to act collectively will require leadership of an order never previously seen in the European Union, notably on the part of Germany.
Germany must put aside its fear of itself as a military power and once again take up its traditional role as the most militarily powerful country in Europe.
Happily, the Chinese government has realised that Putin's actions amount to serious over-reach.
China has been conspicuously unwilling to endorse them.
In fact, China has indirectly criticised Russia by insisting that the integrity of national borders should be respected.
In the United Nations Security Council yesterday, it did not vote for a motion condemning Russia’s actions. But, along with India and (strangely) the United Arab Emirates, it abstained, leaving Russia effectively isolated.
Australia’s inept prime minister Scott Morrison would be well-advised to cease his xenophobic ranting about the supposedly perfidious Chinese and focus his limited intellect on the real problems before him that are much more significant and threatening than anything China has said or done so far.
To politicise the national interest in his relentless search for votes might please the idiot fringe of politics but makes Australia more vulnerable.
As for Papua New Guinea, it should be very concerned by the implications of the developments in Europe.
When great powers clash, countries like PNG become pawns in the Great Game.
As PNG found during World War II, this is not a comfortable role, especially for nations unable to defend themselves.
About Swift -
20220224 Boris Johnson announces ‘largest ever’ set of sanctions against Russia, The Guardian by Jessica Elgot, Heather Stewart & Aubrey Allegretti.
Why is the US reluctant to impose a ban?
One reason is that the impact on Russian businesses might not be so serious.
The head of a large Russian bank, VTB, said recently he could use other channels for payments, such as phones, messaging apps or email.
Russian banks could also route payments via countries which have not imposed sanctions, such as China, which has set up its own payments system to rival Swift.
A ban on Russia using Swift could accelerate a the use of China’s rival Cips system. There is also a fear that it could damage to the US dollar’s status as the global reserve currency, and accelerate the use of alternatives such as cryptocurrencies.
Amongst many other sanctions, and after a bit of resistance from Germany and Italy, the European Union, US and UK agreed on Saturday block Russian access to Swift in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine - KJ
Posted by: Arthur Williams | 01 March 2022 at 12:13 AM
When someone like Putin is capable of manipulating his cronies to willingly carry out his draconian style of rule, how does he common man prevail against such odds?
I heard this morning that the Russian government, with the unrelenting obedience of their police and security forces, has an order in place that bans anyone from protesting against the war in Ukraine.
As of yesterday it was reported that 3,000 people had been arrested during protests in Moscow with demonstrations taking place in 40 towns and cities across Russia.
Unfortunately for these protesting the penalty for breaking the law by protesting is, on first conviction, 14 days imprisonment with any subsequent conviction resulting in miscreants finding themselves facing a five year gaol term.
Putin has called for the Ukrainian army to surrender and join his forces in the liberation of Ukraine. However he might want to take care this ruse does not backfire and that he himself finds himself behind bars or worse when his disgruntled cronies get fed up with his antics.
If I was a punter I would be backing his foreign affairs minister to oust him. He looks one very lean and mean critter.
Posted by: Harry Topham | 28 February 2022 at 10:25 AM
The following link provides access to an interesting analysis from John Pilger, 'War in Europe and the rise of raw propaganda':
"The first casualty when war comes is truth" - Senator Hiram Johnson (1917)
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 27 February 2022 at 07:11 PM
Altering road name signs? Good heartened folk of Ukraine should add each to point the direction for invading Russky lads to take, to travel, to trundle, to trudge toward their allotted birthland.
A good comedian could gracefully advocate such for safe exit.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 27 February 2022 at 03:22 PM
I am pleased to say that since I wrote this piece the ground has shifted under both Vladimir Putin and me.
First, the Europeans have now sanctioned the exclusion of Russia from the SWIFT system, which will inflict serious pain upon Russia's already beleaguered banking and finance systems.
Second, both the Europeans and the USA are now sending the Ukrainians modern anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, together with large amounts of ammunition and other supplies. Notably, the hitherto weak kneed German government has decided to send weapons as well.
This outbreak of intestinal fortitude in Europe is to be welcomed.
Third, on the ground in the Ukraine, it is rapidly becoming apparent that the Ukrainian resistance has been unexpectedly severe and effective. It is notable that the Ukrainian President, former comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is turning out to be a courageous and determined leader, actively fighting with his troops. The former President who was thought to be pro-Russian has now joined him in taking up arms.
Fourth, within Russia, it is increasingly apparent that this war does not enjoy wide public support and Putin and his cronies find themselves in an increasingly uncomfortable position.
It seems that Putin at least has gravely misread several things including the will and fighting capacity of the Ukrainians, public sentiment within Russia and, possibly at least, the fighting capacity of his military. Also, it seems that he (as did I) has misread the willingness of Europe and the USA to do more than just ring their hands and make verbal appeals for peace.
They now have imposed real and severe economic sanctions plus provided material support for the Ukrainians. This support, assuming it reaches the Ukrainians soon, may well result in their fighting capacity actually increasing over time or, at a minimum, not being degraded at the rate foreseen by Russia's military planners.
My guess is that Putin thought that the war he has initiated would be short and successful with minimal casualties and incur limited push back from the western powers. In this regard, his reasoning seems likely to have been much the same as Kaiser Wilhelm II in the lead up to World War I and Hitler in World War II. Like them, he has miscalculated very badly and now finds himself enmeshed in a war that could drag on for weeks or months.
The Ukraine is neither a small nor helpless country. In World War II its people proved willing to make enormous sacrifices to defeat the German invaders, a fact that Putin seems to have somehow missed.
So, overall, while the odds would still seems to greatly favour Russia it is getting increasingly difficult to see what exactly will constitute 'mission accomplished'. My guess is that the original thinking was that this would occur when Kyiv was captured and a puppet government installed. This might still occur but will mean little in the overall scheme of things if, as I expect, an ongoing asymmetric guerrilla war ensues which requires a huge Russian army of occupation to prop up the puppet government.
If victory means the utter subjugation of the Ukrainian people then it is clear that the Russian effort is already doomed to failure. It is clear that they will never, ever submit to the Russian yoke, many preferring to die fighting instead.
On a more optimistic note, it is not inconceivable that key players in the Russian political, military and economic systems will decide that Putin is past his use by date and act accordingly. Putin would do well to remember the fate of the last communist leader of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu, who was first deposed and then publicly executed by his own Secret Service guards.
We must live in the hope that there is an outbreak of common sense amongst the Russian power elite and this mad adventurist is removed from office or otherwise terminated in the near future.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 27 February 2022 at 02:23 PM
Putin's for growth of puppets. No part in question, nor negotiation.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 27 February 2022 at 01:47 PM
The problem is people have short memories.
There is nothing strange with what is happening in the Ukraine at present, it was easily predictable.
Ukraine has been a pawn in the great scheme of things since time immemorial when it was part of the Persian Empire. Then it was part of the Greek Empire, then the Roman Empire, then the Ottoman Empire.
Remember Florence Nightingale, Lord Cardigan, Balaclava, the Charge of the Light Brigade and all that? That was the Crimean War of 1853-1856 when Tzar Nicholas decided he needed Sevastopol as a warm water port.
Russia has been in need of it ever since and for the same reason. Nothing has changed in this context even when Ukraine first became independent. Russia still then controlled Sevastopol.
What upset the Russian applecart was when Ukraine, horror of all horrors, decided it wanted to join NATO. If it had, Russia would have lost Sevastopol which would have become a NATO naval base.
So what do you expect Russia to have done? In order to retain Sevastopol, it would have to invade Crimea, which it did in 2014.
Unfazed by this, Ukraine continued to want to join NATO, so Russia continues to want to stop it, hence last week's invasion.
The Russians are paranoid about their borders and for good reason. In the last 200 years Russia has been invaded three times. First by Napoleon in 1812, then Germany in 1914 and again by Germany in 1941. In this last invasion Russia lost 20 million people.
Good reason for Russia to be paranoid about borders. Russia's border policy has remained unchanged since the days of the Tzars. It is to maintain a buffer of client states between it and western Europe. Ukraine was part of that buffer until it decided it wanted to join NATO.
So what Russia is doing to Ukraine is the same as the United States would do to Mexico if Mexico decided to join the Russian Federation.
Remember the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962? It is all about maintaining safe borders. No one wants war, especially this one, but it is well to understand why it is happening.
Posted by: Chips Mackellar | 27 February 2022 at 12:21 PM
“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (ie, the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (ie, the standards of thought) no longer exists.”
- Hannah Arendt in 'The Origins of Totalitarianism'
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 27 February 2022 at 11:27 AM
Chris - A succinct and objective analysis of things Ukraine-wise.
The scenario sort of reminds me of the time immediately before World War II when Chamberlain returned home to old Blighty with a piece of paper in his hand declaring peace in our time.
At the time he was criticised for his naivety and apparent disregard for reality, but when one really analyses the issue relating to this gambit, Chamberlain was purely pragmatic as Great Britain realised just how weak were their defence forces relative to Germany's overpowering military; but by applying appeasement Britain could buy a bit of time to allow them sufficient time to re-arm.
Yes, Europe again shows that it lacks any true commitment to being a unified forced to combat military aggression by its neighbours, a flaw driven perhaps by selfishness, greed and apathy.
What is happening now is a wakeup call, but whether they can bite the bullet and accept the opportunity costs involved in improving their defence capabilities is the unknown. We all know everything has a price - and a cost.
I would have to agree with your comments regarding the journalists' response.
I saw a very interesting interview with Stan Grant on the ABC news channel. Although Stan is a first class journalist, he does at times appear to grandstand, perhaps an unwilling and certainly an unfortunate trait that gives the impression he is a bit of a show pony.
In this instance, however, I was quite impressed with his intellect. Stan obviously has a good insight into geopolitical issues and, unlike a lot of journalists lacking knowledge of an issue, just wing it by replying with empty platitudes.
On this occasion, Stan came up with some complex but realistic out of left field alternative scenarios never raised by the so-called experts from the Balkan desk.
In fact, Stan made sense of all this mess.
Posted by: Harry Topham | 27 February 2022 at 11:19 AM