[This was written some four years ago (as of Dec 2021) but the territorial rapacity of China and Russia in the meantime, and in the foreseeable future, merely add weight to the theme.]
I would like, before I'm interred or cremated, for my shade's last earthly experience to be Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, played at full blast on the organ rather than orchestrally (though Leopold Stokowski & the Chicago Philharmonic blew me out of my seat with it when I was taken by my Aunt Frances to see Disney's Fantasia at the age of about 11). Or else the overture to Wagner's Tannhäuser, of which I first heard an extract on an ITV Tetley's Tea advertisement in my early teens, but couldn't identify until many years later!
The Times 13 Sep 2017: Ex-shop-assistant Skryabin
(aka Molotov ~ The Hammer) signs the open protocol
(23 Aug 1939)
The open protocol was a pretty routine affair, pledging mutual non-aggression for a specified period of time and renewable thereafter.
To this public pact was appended a series of secret protocols, which went very much further, dividing the whole of eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence. Eastern Poland plus Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Bessarabia were ultimately assigned to the Soviet sphere of influence and Germany was to have the rest (including Austria and Czechoslovakia, which were already part of his portfolio).
Neither of the signatories really cared too much about the details, as they didn't intend to stick to them in the long run. Even back in Tsarist times, the Russian High Command had plans to subjugate Germany should she become too assertive.
(Herblock, Washington Post, syndicated USA, 1939)
(David Low, Evening Standard 1939)
As David Aaronovitch has remarked, "Twenty-one months later the bloody assassin launched a massive invasion into the scum of the earth's territory."
More prosaically put, on 22 Jun 1941 Nazi Germany (led by ex-water-colourist Adolf Hitler) invaded the Soviet Union (led by ex-gangster Josef Jughashvili (aka Stalin ~ The Iron Man or Man of Steel)).
What had happened to the protocols, whether open or secret? Stalin, brutal but not very bright, for quite some time refused to believe reports from all quarters (including Britain) that Germany was breaching the terms of the non-aggression pact, and that the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe were doing to Russia precisely what their Soviet equivalents had planned to do to them in due course!
But I'm straying from the point.
(Bernard Partridge, Punch 27 Sep 1939)
This satirised the Nazi invasion of Poland from the west on 1 Sep 1939 followed swiftly by the Soviet invasion of Poland from the east on 17 Sep 1939.
(David Low, Evening Standard 21 Oct 1939)
(Bernard Partridge, Punch Jun 1940)
This satirised the situation following the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states on 15/16 Jun 1940.
Ex-seminarian (aka The Man of Steel) shakes hands with ex-champagne salesman
(I'm virtually certain one of them was standing on a box and it wasn't Ribbentrop)
(23 Aug 1939)
Molotov and "von" Ribbentrop, still best buddies, at a time when the Royal Air Force has just beaten off the Luftwaffe in the aerial Battle of Britain
(14 Nov 1940)
This report is simply the latest in a series of revelations as to the ignorance of the Russians as to their relatively recent national history. They are of course a brave, intelligent and talented people, but they are (and have for a long time been) protected from the truth by official censorship of current events (such as what is really going on in the Middle East) and systematic falsification of their history over the last century or so.
For the moment let's stick to who did what in the period otherwise known as the Second World War, but by the Russians, with typical parochialism, as the Great Patriotic War.
It's important to realise, right from the very start, that Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany were morally equivalent (as Dr Johnson put it so pithily, in a slightly different context, there is no settling the point of precedency between a louse and a flea) – despite the efforts of apologists to present Stalin as a cosy Uncle Joe who loved his people, he was from the same mould as his predecessor Lenin, a ruthless mass-murderer who had cynically hijacked the original soviet (small "s") revolution of 1917 and turned the Russian Empire into a totalitarian tyranny, the Soviet Union, far far worse than the Tsarist regime had ever been (which is saying something).
Hitler's rise to power had been consummated by democratic means, via the German elections in late 1932, after which he was appointed Chancellor on 30 Jan 1933. But he quickly tore up the existing constitution and supplanted it by a dictatorship, a militaristic police-state, the sinister nature of which became daily more evident to the outside world, and which has become a byword for evil.
Despite the 'a' in Nazi, which stood for workers, and the word 'soviet', which stood for councils of workers, neither regime cared any more for the welfare of its citizens than had Louis XIV for his particular subjects. Power, a boot stamping in the human face for ever, as Orwell put it, was their objective, to be maintained at whatever cost to their populace.
Everybody has heard of the detested Gestapo and the much-feared KGB, but rather fewer of the latter's equally ruthless predecessors – the Cheka, GPU, OGPU, NKVD, MGB and MVD, which infiltrated Russian society from 1918 onwards. But worse, however, when viewed from the cosier vantage-point of a liberal democracy such as Britain, was the corruption or distortion of the thought-processes of so many ordinary citizens of such societies, so that the genocide of European Jewry after the Wansee Conference on 20 Jan 1942, the murderous repression of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the mass starvation of the Ukrainians after Soviet collectivisation, the Great Purge, the Katyn Massacre, the deliberate Soviet connivance at the Nazi destruction of Warsaw, could be seen as acceptable, and even politically necessary.
On 7 Dec 1970, the West German Chancellor, Willi Brandt, spontaneously knelt in front of the monument in commemoration of the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto reprisals mentioned above. Reportedly, almost half the (West) German population thought this gesture was excessive; evidently their indoctrination during the Nazi regime still lingered.
Today of course, Germany is healthily reunited as a liberal democracy and the dark ghosts of the past have been exorcised.
There are many memorials to the revolting massacre at Katyn (and at various other nearby places) but I think this is the most understatedly effective.
On 26 Nov 2010 the Russian Parliament acknowledged that the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had personally ordered the NKVD to proceed with the atrocity.
In fact, Vladimir Putin, the then Russian Prime Minister but now (Sep 2017) the State President, had in April that year made a similar admission. Mr Putin has made public his attachment to the Russian Orthodox Church and even has his very own Father Confessor (surely the busiest priest on the planet in that respect).
It would convince the rest of us as to his sincerity if he were to visit a memorial such as this and genuflect to the murdered Polish Christians as Willi Brandt did to the murdered Polish Jews.
Moving on, or rather circling round, let's just revisit Russia's collective misapprehensions regarding the Great Patriotic War – similar in nature to the French delusion that Marshal Blücher's Prussians won the Battle of Waterloo. Likewise American delusions that they won the Second World War in its European theatre (yes, they did so in the Pacific theatre, though of course Ron Kaulback had already turned the tide on the Asian mainland!) Germans like to credit the Americans too – nobody wants to think they've been outfought by the shambolically ill-prepared and disorganised British.
From the Norman period onwards, England seemed to get involved in continual wars with mainland European nations – either officially, or unofficially with a nod and a wink from the monarch. France, Spain, and the Netherlands were regular adversaries up until the eighteenth century, when Louis XIV's France became our main co-combatant. Without consulting Wikipedia, I'm not sure why, but maybe he'd said something uncomplimentary about English cuisine (quite rightly).
In the early nineteenth century, England (and, oh yes, the Prussians) beat Napoleon I. And England and France beat the Russians in the Crimean War. Later on, the rather likeable Napoleon III became our bête noire for some reason, and that scuppered early proposals to build a Channel Tunnel. But then the Prussians beat the French in the aptly-named Franco-Prussian War (during which the Parisians, under siege) had to eat all the inmates from the Paris Zoo.
At this point, we all realised that the Prussians were the main threat to continental peace. There are a number of English novels from that period that reflected the increasing apprehension about the Germans (following Bismarck's unification of the Geman-speaking principalities and electorates under the same umbrella) – When William Came by Saki (H H Munro), The Riddle of the Sands (Erskine Childers, an Irishman rather unfortunately executed by the British), Three Men on the Bummel (very funny) by Jerome K Jerome and the supremely implausible The Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan (later Governor-General of Canada) are good examples of the genre.
For reasons unnecessary to revisit (all right, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Tsarist Russia declared war on Austria-Hungary, Germany declared war on Russia, France declared war on Russia). Despite the Entente Cordiale, England (as we called ourselves at that time) felt no particular obligation to follow France's example, as we weren't obligated to do so. Burt then Germany invaded Belgium and as guarantors of Belgium's integrity at the Congress of Vienna in 1814 we felt obligated to do so.
We only entered that awful war on a point of honour, and the long sunlit Edwardian afternoon was ripped and torn apart for ever. Symbolically, Raymond Asquith, the Prime Minister's son, the most brilliant of his generation, was killed on the Somme. Rudyard Kipling's son John was killed at the Battle of Loos aged just 18. Harry Moseley who had experimentally established the atomic number as the index of the chemical elements from his X-ray researches was killed at Gallipoli. This was the first war in England's history since the Middle Ages that first-born sons, rather than expendable third- or fourth-born, had been lost, and the first in which eminent men of public note could be seen shedding unconsolable tears at their sons' memorial services.
In the latter days of the "February" Revolution (8 – 16 Mar 1917) the Russian Tsar abdicated on 15 Mar 1917. Subsequent to the "October" Revolution (7 – 8 Nov 1917), whereby the Bolsheviks led by Lenin ruthlessly hijacked the February Revolution, the Tsar and his family were murdered on 16 Jul 1918 in a hideously bungled carnage.
But on 3 Mar 1918, the new Bolshevik government of Soviet Russia had signed a peace treaty with the so-called Central Powers, foremost of whom was of course Germany. Thus Russia had capitulated out of a conflict which they had been foremost in provoking by their original declaration of war on Austria-Hungary.
For England and France, belatedly assisted by America, victory took a further eight months to achieve, the so-called War To End Wars terminating on 11 Nov 1918, though anti-Bolshevik military action continued until the following year. It seemed impossible that a war of such unprecedented savagery could ever recur, and public mood amongst the Allies was "Never Again".
Rolling forward to the 1930's, the Oxford Union debating society had on 9 Feb 1933 passed a motion that they would no longer feel obliged to fight for King and Country, as a mood of pacifism swept Britain (as we now called our homeland).
Encouraged by such pacifism on the part of the erstwhile Alllies, the German Army reoccupied the Rhineland on 7 Mar 1936 without any resistance from France, and the German and Italian air-forces practised Stuka dive-bombing technique in the Spanish Civil war (on Guernica, for example, on 26 Apr 1937), that would be used to such devastating effect in the approaching pan-global conflict. The German invasion of Czechoslavakia on 15 Mar 1939 was the culmination of spineless British and French tergiversation at the Munich Agreement signed on 29 Sep 1938. Britain pretended that Czechoslavakia was a far away country of which we knew nothing, and not worth going to war over, and France simple reneged on their military alliance with it.
But what of Russia, by now known as the Soviet Union? In his blueprint for power, Mein Kampf, published 18 Jul 1925, Hitler had quite clearly stated his detestation of Jews and Communists, whom he blamed for the social collapse rather than military defeat (he said) that had led to Germany's effective surrender on 11 November 1918. And by golly he wanted revenge, and said so repeatedly after taking power. And he wanted Lebensraum, of which the Soviet Union had an enormous amount. The rampant German Wehrmacht seemed poised to take action (though its leaders would have preferred to wait a year or two longer to make full preparations for war).
The Allies from the Great War (excluding Italy, which was of course now part of the Axis) quite widely felt that it wasn't a bad idea to let Nazi Germany (and its cohorts) and the Soviet Union (and its minions) slug it out with each other to the point of mutual exhaustion.
If only such a policy had been adopted ... but (possibly) as per the Treaty of Versailles Britain was a guarantor of Polish territorial integrity and therefore duty bound to declare war on Germany (but not the Soviet Union also, oddly enough). It's a tragic irony that a war undertaken on behalf of Poland should lead (as it did) to the loss of 25% of her population.
Ecclesiastes, that wisest of commentators, tells us that there is nothing new under the sun, and indeed there are corresponding variations (and attributions) on the theme of history repeating itself.
Irish statesman Edmund Burke is often misquoted as having said, "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it." Spanish philosopher George Santayana is credited with the aphorism, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," while British statesman Winston Churchill wrote, "Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
Hitler was quite well-read and very possibly aware of the outcome of Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812, as a result of the Russian scorched-earth policy and the ferocious cold imposed by 'General Winter'. But there was another, much less publicised, invasion of Russia back in the 1200's, when the so-called Teutonic Knights were the invaders and were defeated by a Cunning Plan on the part of Alexander Nevsky.
Alexander Nevsky (1938) was a dramatic historical film (which I well remember) directed by Sergei Eisenstein, and broadcast on BBC back in 1963. It depicts the attempted invasion of Novgorod in the 13th century by the Teutonic Knights of the Holy Roman Empire and their defeat by Prince Alexander, known popularly as Alexander Nevsky (1220–1263).
In the most dramatic scene, the heavily armoured and weaponised Germanic invaders are tempted to attack the heroic defenders across a frozen lake. All goes well to start with, but then, under the weight of the German cavalry, the thinning ice starts to crack and splinter. Final score, pp Russia 1, pp Germany 0.
I'd be most surprised if Hitler had ever watched this debacle.
"Rarely pure and never simple"
Probably his best known and most frequently misquoted aphorism, about the nature of truth in human affairs, this remark by Oscar Wilde, ascribed to Algernon in The Importance of being Earnest, is also one of his wisest.
It applies equally to high-energy nuclear physics (Einstein is said to have observed that "Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler") and to political controversy such as the issues of non-aggression pacts with Hitler in the mid-late 1930's!
Hitler's regime was initially widely admired in British political circles – he was seen as a technocrat rather than a demagogue, and openly hostile to Bolshevism: a popular theme for British 'high society' in those days. The Anglo-German Naval Treaty of 1935 was regarded as a helpful measure in the containment of Soviet expansion into the Baltic, enabling the Royal Navy to be deployed elsewhere.
The admirable article by Edward Lucas, reproduced below, summarises with his customary clarity the muddle of British policy at that time, and the perfidy of Soviet intentions.
Who's Afreud of the Big Bad Wolf?
Contemporary geopolitics throws up a good few instances of Nature imitating popular literature.
Little Big Man (aka Winnie the Pooh), Dobby the House Elf (aka Piglet, aka The Lizard of Oz, aka Satan's Catamite), Joe the Fat Boy (aka Billie Bunter), and the Turbanned Terrorists (the Akond of Swat and Abdul Abulbul Amir) – a quinquivirate of contemporary (2021) global bullies who intend to sustain their tyrannies until the Even More Evil One comes to collar them, singly or collectively (as in 1989). They are all examples of the Urge to Dominate, a syndrome I've just invented, but it'll do nicely.
It's complementary to the Urge to be Dominated, without which domination would hardly get airborne. On a domestic level these mindsets are illustrated by the domineering husband and the submissive wife, and are all too often accompanied on his part by violence or even murder. Or the belittling boss who consistently undermines your self-confidence, the Orwellian O'Brien of the business world. Or the socially backward societies of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union's sphere of influence in general, who seem to like having a thug in charge.
The dominating type wants to be feared rather than liked, or hated rather than admired. At a much lower level, there are some female specimens in business too, narcissists who boost their own egos by treating their male colleagues as mere tadpoles and themselves as the all-devouring heron.
Twilight of the Despots
Knaves or Fools
The Skibbereen Eagle and the Czar of Russia – what conceivable link could there be between them? Much the same in fact as that between OrnaVerum and Vladimir Putin. Just as the Skibbereen Eagle had its eye on the Czar of Russia, OrnaVerum has its eye on the President of Russia.
In both cases it might be thought presumptuous, especially as I'm rather more obscure than Fred Potter, and Putin is immeasurably more powerful than Nicolas II.
The Czar's dabbling in Great Power politics led to crippling defeats by Japan and ultimately the murder of himself and his family. So he goofed pretty badly.
And Putin's messing with NATO might well end rather badly – whether just for himself or, far more seriously, for Planet Earth itself.
Great leaders, as they see themselves, make colossal mistakes, and the rest of us have to bear the consequences.
I do seriously wonder how historically aware Putin is. He talks such nonsense in his public pronouncements, that he's either an ignoramus or a fraud.
During my father's brief and inglorious time at public school (Rossall) in the later 1920's, there was a particularly sadistic Classics master who would grab his victim's more available ear and enquire, "Well, boy – which would you rather be – a knave or a fool?". Whichever the answer was, the squirming individual had his face banged smartly down onto the desk-top and was left to whimper for the rest of the lesson.
Psychopathy is characterized by diagnostic features such as superficial charm, high intelligence, poor judgment and failure to learn from experience, pathological egocentricity and incapacity for love, lack of remorse or shame, impulsivity, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, manipulative behaviour, poor self-control, promiscuous sexual behavior, juvenile delinquency, and criminal versatility, among others.
Well, that'll do for starters. I can immediately identify a number of individuals with whom I've had to cope over the years and who tick many of these boxes.
And interestingly, top of the list is superficial charm, the warm smile concealing an ice-cold heart. Women in particular notoriously succumb to charmers who then proceed to fleece them. I've warned my wife that in a post-me situation on no account to fall for a charmer who just happens to need a few bob to tide him over a tricky but temporary financial shortfall.
Hitler had charm on occasion, as did Stalin (the British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden said that although he knew that Stalin was a mass-murderer he couldn't help liking him).
[Stalin is widely credited with the observation that the death of one man is a catastrophe, but hundreds of thousands of deaths in wartime are a statistic. But he didn't say it – for him the death of just one man was a mere statistic too.]
Apart from charm, high intelligence and (possibly) promiscuity, however, Putin ticks just about every other box on that list, and one or two not specifically mentioned – such as complete indifference to other people unless they can be of use to him.
There have been two episodes during his political career – the deaths of the 118 officers and crew of the submarine Kursk in 2000, and the deaths of 171 opera-goers at the Dubrovka Theatre in 2002 that made me suspect from the start that he was a wrong 'un.
It's impossible to abbreviate an account of either of these events, as they both extended over many days, and also because of the Russian genius for official lies and obfuscations, both at the time and subsequently.
And I'm neither a naval architect (as my grandfather was) nor an expert in hostage situations, but it's Putin's reaction to these events that's of interest. In the Kursk disaster he remained on holiday for 5 days before returning to Moscow and authorising intervention by British and Dutch diving experts.
In the Dubrovka Theatre tragedy he decreed that the identities of the narcotic gases (carfentanil and remifentanil) and their antidotes should remain secret, with the result that (even trusting the official figures) over 170 victims perished unnecessarily – many of the hostages had been previously released on humanitarian grounds.
It's widely suspected that the event was staged by the authorities, using provocateurs, to enable the elite Chechen terrorists to be eliminated, and to justify further savagely repressive measures to be taken in Chechnya. But that's not my point here, and in their infinite hall of mirrors is there anybody left in Russia who can distinguish between truth and falsehood anyway?
I rather like Jonathan Swift's metaphor that a lie can go twice around the world while truth is still putting its boots on.
(And BTW, as we hear more about Russian atrocities in Ukraine, can one easily distinguish morally between Chechen 'terrorists' and the Russian armed forces?)
I have first to admit that lying and cheating are part of mankind's (and even womankind's) DNA, inherited from our common ancestry with the chimpanzee (I'd much rather be descended from the noble penguin, but it's a bit late in the day for that).
And even though humankind has collectively reached the status of Homo Sapiens, that's still a long way from Homo Probus. And so the snake-oil salesmen (or women) continue to lie to us and cheat us.
Diogenes famously ventured forth from his barrel (holding a lantern or candle to the faces of the citizens of Athens) claiming he was searching for an honest man – not for nothing was he known as a cynic.
To whom should we turn for integrity and trustworthiness – surely our legislators? After all, they make the laws, surely they don't break the laws?
Sadly, something that is legal isn't necessarily ethical, and so even those sea-green incorruptibles are all too often up for gravy. Think, for example, of President Trump, of Prime Minister Johnson, and most of the heads of state in the third world.
And they cover their tracks by telling the most stupendous porkies.
However, those individuals whose pants are almost permanently on fire aren't necessarily telling whoppers for personal gain: they are imperilling their immortal souls by telling such porky-pies for political purposes.
Step forward Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, (lesser double-dealers, those who lie for their countries rather than die for them, such as the odious Sergei Lavrov and Dmitry Peskov, can lurk in the shadows).
The mendacity that really got right up my nose a while back was Putin's assertion that honourable European leaders such as Neville Chamberlain, who just happened to be dying from cancer, 'besmirched' themselves by meeting with Hitler in the run-up to WW2 in an effort to avert war.
Stalin, on the other hand, according to his cheer-leaders, didn't besmirch himself in this way, sending his minions such as Molotov instead. But in 1938 Hitler hadn't even got off the starting blocks when Stalin had already been round the track several times over, killing millions in total (e.g., Holodomor, Great Purge).
If either of them would have been besmirched it was Hitler.
Greetings on opening of historical documentary exhibition "On the Eve of the Great Patriotic War. September 1, 1939 – June 22, 1941"
Vladimir Putin sent greetings to the organisers and visitors of the historical documentary exhibition "On the Eve of the Great Patriotic War. September 1, 1939 – June 22, 1941."
7 Jul 2021
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the "Great Patriotic War". June 22, 1941, is one of the most tragic and sorrowful dates in the history of our country. It will remain in the memory of people forever.
It is of exceptional importance that Russian scholars and archivists continue working on a fundamental scientific and educational project dedicated to the history of World War II. The historical documentary exhibition "On the Eve of the Great Patriotic War. September 1, 1939 – June 22, 1941" is opening as a follow-up to the displays "Munich '38. On the Threshold of the Disaster and 1939. The Beginning of World War II."
It presents for the first time unique documents covering this most complicated historical period of time, documents that the public at large has never seen.
Regrettably, there have been increasingly more frequent attempts recently to revise the lessons and results of the war, to exonerate the Nazi criminals and their accomplices, and to make the Soviet Union share equal responsibility with Germany for unleashing the world conflict. But there are facts reflected in the original documents, which are countering the attempts to distort history in order to live up to the current political situation. These facts convincingly testify that even after Germany's attack on Poland the Western leaders were seeking in every way to persevere with their policy of pacifying the aggressor, a policy that led to sad consequences, and were engaged in the so-called Phoney War. On the contrary, the Soviet leadership's pre-war actions were based on the desire to preserve actual neutrality for as long as possible, use the time thus gained to strengthen the country's defence capability, and form a security zone around it.
Of course, historians will yet have to analyse in a thoughtful and painstaking way the complicated tangle of events that occurred between 1939 and 1941. In this context, it is necessary to rely on sources, facts and archival materials rather than replace serious research by all sorts of politically motivated declarations.
I would like to sincerely thank the organisers of this exhibition for working so hard. I am confident that the exhibition will arouse a lot of public interest and become an important event in this country's scientific and cultural life. It will also serve to preserve the historical truth."
So ignorant, or mendacious, is Putin that he fails to acknowledge that Britain, far from "seeking to pacify the aggressor", declared war on Germany on 3 Sep 1939 after Hitler's forces had invaded Poland just two days earlier.
And I might remind the aging President that Russia, like a hyena feasting on scraps, herself invaded Poland from the east on 17 Sep 1939.
And what goes around comes around, as Kurt Vonnegut possibly remarked, and here's Russia up to her merry tricks again, falsifying the records or forging additional ones. It's rather neat that meretrix meant harlot in the Latin vocabulary and meretricious in English means false and worthless...
Incidentally, does he mention that up until 22 Jun 1941 Russia actually supported the Nazi war effort, sending oil, raw materials and grain?
The 1940 German-Soviet Commercial Agreement (also known as Economic Agreement of February 11, 1940, Between the German Reich and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) was an economic arrangement between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed on February 11, 1940. In it the Soviet Union agreed in the period from February 11, 1940 to February 11, 1941, in addition to the deliveries under German–Soviet Commercial Agreement, signed on August 19, 1939 to deliver commodities (oil, raw materials and grain) to the value of 420 to 430 million Reichsmarks.
A policy on the transit through Soviet territory of third countries' commodities purchased by Germany was later agreed. The countries followed up the agreement and resolved other issues with the January 10, 1941 German–Soviet Border and Commercial Agreement. In June 1941 Germany invaded the Soviet Union in violation of the 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, and all economic agreements between the two countries ended.
Between January 1940 and date of the German invasion, the USSR exported goods of a total estimated value of 597.9 million Reichsmarks to Germany. German deliveries amounted to 437.1 million Reichsmarks. The agreements continued Nazi–Soviet economic relations and resulted in the delivery of large amounts of raw materials to Germany, including over 900,000 tons of oil, 1,600,000 tons of grain and 140,000 tons of manganese ore...
And what about Murmansk?
Basis Nord ("Base North") was a secret naval base of Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine in Zapadnaya Litsa, west of Murmansk provided by the Soviet Union. The base was part of a partnership that developed between Germany and the Soviet Union following German-Soviet Non-Aggression treaty of 1939, along with a broad economic agreement of 1940.
In 1939, the Soviet Union agreed to supply the base location to Germany for the purpose of supporting U-boats and commerce raiding. Germany sent supply ships that were anchored in the bay, but the base was never used by Kriegsmarine fighting vessels. Germany's April 1940 invasion of Norway thereafter rendered the base unnecessary.
Despite Stalin's contemptible earlier alliance with the Germans, he demanded that Britain should now help defend Murmansk against them!
No 151 Wing Royal Air Force was a British unit which operated with the Soviet forces on the Kola Peninsula in the northern USSR during the first months of Operation Barbarossa, in the Second World War. Operation Benedict, the 1941 expedition to Murmansk provided air defence for Allied ships as they were discharging at ports within range of Luftwaffe units in Norway and Finland, then converted Soviet air and ground crews to British Hawker Hurricane IIB fighters and their Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, many of which were due to be delivered under British Lend-Lease arrangements.
In the five weeks of Benedict, 151 Wing claimed 16 victories, four probables and seven aircraft damaged. Conversion of Soviet Air Forces pilots and ground crew to Hurricanes began in mid-October. At the end of November the RAF party returned to Britain, less some signals staff and the wing was disbanded.
Churchill once remarked that (in effect) Germany was either at your knees or at your throat, and sadly we must add Russia to the list.
Cet animal est très méchant...
Quand on l'attaque, il se defend.
Re The Strange Case of Pushkin and Nabokov (15 Jul 1965 issue)
To the Editors:
In a recent issue a correspondent alludes to the French rhyme:
Cet animal est très méchant:
Quand on l'attaque, il se défend.
For the benefit of my learned friends, I have devised
- a paraphrase in English,
- a fairly close English version,
- a very close Russian translation
- This animal is very wicked:
Just see what happens if you kick it.
- This beast is very mean: in fact
It will fight back, when it's attacked.
- Zhivótnoe sié=prezlòe suschestvo:
Oboronyáetsy, kol' trógayutevo.
(The catfight seems to have begun with Edmund Wilson's review of Nabokov's 1964 translation of Eugene Onegin, and went rapidly downhill – the backbiting (or perhaps hackbiting) evidently went back and forth in the New York Review, not least as Wilson was a Communist fellow-traveller and Nabokov was bitterly anti-Soviet.)
Это животное очень непослушное
Eto zhivotnoye ochen' neposlushnoye
Когда мы атакуем его, он защищается
Kogda my atakuyem yego, on zashchishchayetsya
and there might well be a sting in the tail.
What an intolerable creature NATO must be. When it is menaced it answers back, or at least it should do if it doesn't want to obey the dictates of a latter-day Napoleon.
The word 'egregious' has, like the words 'cleave' or 'fast', two diametrically opposite meanings. 'Cleave' can mean both 'split into two' and 'stay very close', while 'fast' has several meanings, two of which are 'very quick' and 'immovable'.
Egregious derives from the Latin ex/e = from and grex = herd (whence the word gregarious, of course). And so 'egregious' means 'from the herd' or 'distinct from the herd', either 'outstandingly bad' or 'remarkably good'! These days, however, the first of these meanings predominates.
And the word 'errors' generally goes hand in hand with 'egregious', to imply bad mistakes. And Putin's grasp of history is littered with egregious errors.
His forte as a KGB spook was kompromat, the use of blackmail to extract confidential data from a victim in return for not revealing compromising or damaging information about them – adultery, perhaps, or homosexuality. Not a particularly demanding job description, and it doesn't suggest any detailed historical capabilities. But is he correct in his interpretation of the so-called promise made by NATO to Mikhail Gorbachev in Feb 1990?
And is it a sign of advanced dementia, possibly tabes dorsalis, that he threatens nuclear retaliation to anyone who actively impedes his military coercion of Ukraine?
The death-throes of the Soviet Union were almost surreal – from the successive secessions (1989 onwards) of the eastern European satellite countries that the Red Army had snapped-up in 1945, to the rather more prosaic good-byes from the Asian republics that not many of us had ever heard of previously.
And on 25 Dec 1991, President Gorbachev resigned and the Soviet Union ceased to exist as a political entity. For people such as myself, whose entire lives had been under the Mordor-like shadow of nuclear annihilation, it was the finest Christmas present imaginable – though, of course, his term of office had been entirely benign, he being the nicest guy on the planet. Millennialists must have thought the Second Coming was imminent.
George H W Bush was the US President (20 Jan 1989 – 20 Jan 1993) throughout this crucial period, with James Baker as Secretary of State (25 Jan 1989 – 23 Aug 1992 and 24 Aug 1992 – 20 Jan 1993)
In May 1990, Soviet Union's reformist leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited the U.S. for talks with President Bush; there, he agreed to allow a reunified Germany to be a part of NATO. He later revealed that he had agreed to do so because James Baker promised that NATO troops would not be posted to eastern Germany and that the military alliance would not expand into Eastern Europe. Privately, Bush ignored Baker's assurances and later pushed for NATO's eastwards expansion.
See here for details of Baker's meetings with Gorbachev in Feb 1991, and note that East Germany (GDR) reunited with West Germany (FRG) on 3 Oct 1990.
And in Minsk on 8 Dec 1991, Gorbachev's successor Boris Yeltsin acceded to the Minsk Agreement that confirmed the independence of Belarus and Ukraine.
Gorbachev had been General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (11 Mar 1985 – 24 Aug 1991) and President of the USSR (15 Mar 1990 – 25 Dec 1991). But Yeltsin was president of Russia (10 Jul 1991 – 31 Dec 1999), and so it was he who signed that Minsk agreement.
Signing ceremony to dissolve the USSR and establish the Commonwealth of Independent States, Viskuly Government House in the Belorusian National Park "Belovezhskaya Forest".
The senior signatories were
- Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk (seated second from left)
- Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Belarus, Stanislav Shushkevich (seated third from left)
- Russian President Boris Yeltsin (seated second from right)
The co-signatories were
- Ukrainian Prime Minister Vitold Fokin (seated extreme left), the only remaining signatory still alive
- Belarusian Prime Minister Vyacheslau Kebich (seated third from right)
- Russian Secretary of State Gennady Burbulis (seated extreme right)
Yeltsin himself is long deceased (2007) but both the other senior signatories have just died (2022), as has his co-signatory Gennady Burbulis.
But whether there exists, or did exist but the dog ate it, a formal signed agreement that NATO has promised not to offer membership to (for example) Ukraine, and that (for example) Ukraine has promised not to accept it, is impossible to say.
So it doesn't matter a flying fig what Putin claims, or believes, both NATO and Ukraine are free to decide for themselves. And when the equally vile Lukashenko regime in Belarus is overthrown in due course, DV, the same principle will apply.
Putin claims that at the end of the Cold War (ie during the enlightened Yeltsin era, in 1997) NATO assured Russia it would respect her "territorial heritage" and made promises not to expand the alliance into central and eastern Europe. NATO is adamant that no such assurance was given in any such terms, as otherwise many eastern European nations feared they would be absorbed back into a greater Russia or become her client states again, losing their new-found freedoms.
Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined Nato in 1999, followed in 2004 by Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. And In subsequent years, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia also joined, bringing Nato's membership to 30 nations.
In Jun 2021, Ukraine too applied to join NATO and was provisionally welcomed, though is not yet a full member.
Putin, ever the deft diplomat, has retaliated by massing some 100,000 troops or more on the eastern border of Ukraine, plus many hundreds of battle-tanks and missile launchers, easily enough to launch an invasion at short notice. He claims that the ball is now in NATO's court ... not only to refuse Ukraine's application but also to rescind the memberships of all the Baltic, European and Balkan nations that have joined since 1997, most of which have borders with Russia herself or Ukraine.
We should remember that Russia has already invaded and occupied the Ukrainian region of Crimea, and supports "separatist" paramilitaries and Russian mercenaries in an ongoing guerilla confrontation in the south eastern Ukrainian region of Donbass, in which almost 14,000 Ukrainians, civilian or military, have been killed.
Sergei Lavrov, unofficially known as The Father of Lies, claims contemptuously that the Wagner Group mercenaries are there 'on holiday'. He should tell that to the shades of all 283 passengers, mostly Dutch, and 15 crew, killed when a Malaysian Airlines MH17 Boeing 777 was shot down by a Russian missile operated by these 'holiday makers' on 17 Jul 2014.
Moscow has prevaricated ever since. Why tell the truth, they chuckle to themselves, when there are so many attractive alternatives?
"We're delivering a whole heap of shit to your doorstep, and you've got to reimburse us for it."
This is in the same tradition as the mouse that clambered up an elephant's hind quarters intent on rape. Russia has a GDP considerably smaller than that of Italy, but spends lavishly on its military, both conventional and futuristic. Its principal assets are natural resources such as the gas that it exports to Europe, and its only other exports are unsophisticated raw materials, apart from the weaponry that it sells to third-world countries intent on mutual massacre.
Indeed, Russia itself was famously dismissed by a senior western ambassador a generation ago as "Burkina Faso with rockets" and nothing much has changed since.
Against whom is all Russia's military muscle directed? Who would want to invade Russia, apart from madmen such as Bonaparte and Hitler (both of them dictators in the same mould as Stalin or indeed Putin himself). I wouldn't want Russia even with a lifetime supply of Yorkshire teabags thrown in.
I'd suggest that all this macho posturing is directed not so much at NATO as at Xi's China, now with a massive industrial base and a very much larger – and growing – population, as opposed to Russia's much smaller – and declining – statistics.
A good few years ago, on a weekend spent with a group of fell-walkers, I had the opportunity of a lengthy conversation with a fellow walker, genuinely grumpy so I knew he was a real Russian, a former army officer. He was adamant that China was perceived as the long-term threat, particularly to the resource-rich and under-populated region of Siberia.
And, so he said, getting even grumpier, Chinese military documents had been (somehow) obtained that showed eastern Siberia as part of metropolitan China itself. His vision was that Russia's long-term future is that of vassal to China.
It might be objected that joint Russian and Chinese military exercises have recently (2021) taken place with every indication of amity – but what better way of assessing a potential opponent than cosying-up with him?
It might also be pointed out that if NATO stand firm (and what use are they if they don't?) and welcome Ukraine into the alliance, then Putin is left with egg on his face. Those of you who know what evils Russia perpetrated upon Ukraine in the genocidal Great Famine of the 1930's will appreciate that Ukraine is likely to fight to the last drop of blood if Putin does invade.
I'd suggest that Ukraine's membership of NATO should be fast-tracked forthwith and then see how brave the musculus ridiculus becomes.
Two of the more contentious famines in recent times, where governmental inaction or exacerbation are alleged to have caused the deaths of millions of people, were the 1943 famine in Bengal, then part of the British Empire, and the 1932-1933 famine in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union (aka Russian Empire).
The blame for each will reverberate for ever – was the supposedly racialist Winston Churchill to blame for inaction that led to 2-3 million Bengali deaths, and was the dictatorial Joseph Stalin to blame for the policies that led to 3-7 million Ukrainian deaths?
The letter from Dr Masani, reproduced below, goes a long way to convincing me that in fact Churchill and the British administration were proactive in the supply of huge quantities of grain that year. The records mentioned can easily be checked, and as yet nobody has come forward to contradict Dr Masani.
And yes, Churchill was probably convinced as to the superiority of European culture and capabilities (particularly the British), and the natural superiority of the better-off, but so too were almost all the better-off in Britain in those days. Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis.
Much more controversial are the causes of the famine in Ukraine in those dreadful years which were worsened, not mitigated, by Stalin's policies to such an extent that it is now widely accepted to have been engineered by him.
Stalin was of course a psychopath, utterly indifferent to the suffering or death of millions of people as a direct result of his edicts, and it is quite in character that he would have had no hesitation in ordering the deaths of untold numbers – the purges of 1937/38 are proof of that.
Ukraine was a much older entity than Russia itself (in fact it was Ukrainians under the leadership of Alexander Nevsky who had defeated the Teutonic Knights), but over the course of centuries Ukraine had become a part of the Russian Empire. When Tsar Nicolas II abdicated in 1917, the Russian Empire effectively ceased to exist, and so Ukraine was free to choose its own destiny. The Bolsheviks thought differently however and shanghaied its nascent freedom.
In Tsarist times Ukraine was known as the 'breadbasket of Russia', and indeed today the rich dark soil and the vast fields of wheat and other food products have earned Ukraine the nickname 'bread basket of Europe'. So what could possibly have gone wrong in the early 1930's?
There were in fact two, intertwining, causes, both the consequence of doctrinaire Marxist-Leninism and Stalin's vindictive stupidity. The first was compulsory collectivisation of agriculture, and the second, in my opinion, was Lysenkoism, a bizarre misinterpretation of basic biological and agronomical principles by Trofim Lysenko who was recruited by Stalin to restore agricultural output to its erstwhile levels – in fact Lysenko's meddling made things even worse.
Please click here and here for the horrifying details of collectivisation and the forcible confiscation of all Ukrainian foodstuffs, even to down to household levels. And here for further details of Lysenko's disastrous distortion of basic genetic principles.
If you've got this far (well done!) it's time to reveal that 'Holodomor' is a term derived from the Ukrainian words for hunger (holod) and extermination (mor), signifying death by forcible starvation.
It has no linguistic connection with 'Holocaust', from the Greek words for complete (holos) and burning (kaustus).
But both words imply the use of genocide for political purposes. Germany has admitted its guilt for genocide of Jews in WW2, but Russia refuses to plead guilty to genocide of Ukrainians in the Holodomor, just as Turkey (pp the Ottoman Empire) regards their well-documented massacres of Armenians prior to (and in the course of) WW1 as entirely fictitious. It's enough to make the angels weep.
An old man in a hurry
It's rumoured that Putin is thinking in terms of retirement, and who can blame him after such an arduous career of international mischief-making – a wasp in the jam-jar, as he has vividly been described.
And he wants to pass on the responsibilities to a worthy successor – but of course there isn't one, as dictators invariably suppress any evidence of ability in those around them.
So he's thought to himself, as for obvious reasons he can't found a family dynasty as dictators so often do, "I know, I'll build Ein Feste Burg (he does speak excellent German), a Fortress Russia, a rebuilt Soviet Union, unassailable and impregnable forever. And the populace will rejoice, despite totally unjustified dissatisfaction about their dismal standard of living!".
And so NATO finds itself with a trumped-up pistol to the head in the middle of the first global pandemic since 1918/19. Nice timing, Vlad! But why now?
It's widely alleged in the western media that Putin is afflicted by Parkinson's disease (and as a fellow human being I have to sympathise), the symptoms of which are (amongst others) uncontrollable bodily tremors especially in the hands. This would be especially embarrassing as he has always been at elaborate pains to contrast his physical health to that of the geriatrics (Andropov and Chernenko) and alcoholic (Yeltsin) that preceded him.
But high-level physical fitness in earlier life is no guarantee of good health in later years as I know from my own experience. Putin is still on the right side of 70, and is certainly not old by modern criteria, but he won't want to delay his plan for Soviet Union 2.0 – just as Gladstone (who was still only 77) didn't want to delay his plan for Irish Home Rule back in the 1880's, when Lord Randolph Churchill applied his famous epithet "an old man in a hurry".
Nevertheless, there's absolutely no reason in the present case why the sovereign nations who constitute NATO, or intend to do so, should "gratify the ambition" (as Churchill put it) of a KGB upstart.
Of the 14 countries shown in orange, seven (relics of the Ottoman Empire) had been under independent rule by local despots until the turmoil of 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 (which Putin magniloquently described as "the greatest geopolitical calamity of the 20th century" – he does live in a little world of his own, evidently).
- Albania (Hoxha)
- Bulgaria (Dimitrov, Zhivkov)
- Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Slovenia (Broz, aka Tito)
- Rumania (Ceaușescu)
Those others on the BBC's very helpful diagram are countries sequestered by the Soviet Union as the 'Red Army' mopped up as much of eastern Europe as it could before the Americans and British arrived – which could have been sooner had Montgomery been in charge rather than Eisenhower, who deliberately delayed the advance to Berlin.
These additions to the Soviet empire were hardly in a position to complain at the time but they showed their appreciation by at least three major uprisings in the years that followed: East Germany (1953), Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968). All these insurrections were brutally suppressed by the 'Red Army'.
The only non-NATO members in Europe at the moment, apart from Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova (squeezed between Ukraine and Romania), are the traditionally neutral countries of Ireland, Switzerland and Austria (plus minnows such as Monaco and the Vatican – once the butt of Stalin's jovial query "How many divisions does the Pope have?")
Plus of course the Scandinavians (Sweden and Finland – a former province of Sweden – who have had their own military run-ins with Russia since Tsarist times – but are currently neutral and non-NATO). They will undoubtedly reconsider their future positions if Russian forces attack Ukraine.
But I'd like to ask NATO an entirely hypothetical question about such an eventuality:
"If you came across somebody being brutally mugged in an alleyway, would you pause to ask him 'Do you and I have a mutual defence pact?'. Or would you try to help him by all means possible?".
PS. As of Jan 2022 there are 16 NATO members in addition to the 14 itemised above:
- Canada, Czech Republic (Czechia), Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, UK, USA
Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell's chilling satire of a totalitarian future, based in particular on Soviet techniques of mind-control induced by extreme torture of various kinds, introduced the now notorious concept of 'double-think' by means of which an individual can be conditioned into holding two conflicting beliefs simultaneously.
Thus Putin can simultaneously believe that Russia is unacceptably threatened by the defensive measures of (for example) Ukraine, or any other neighbouring country, and that Russia can wreak unstoppable destruction upon Ukraine (or anywhere else in the world) with no harm to herself.
And he can simultaneously believe that Russia is perfectly entitled to maintain the enclave of Kaliningrad, beyond her own borders but bristling with offensive nuclear missiles, and not feel that this is somehow rather hypocritical.
His all-too-obvious mental problems and uncontrollable rages are alarming symptoms of cognitive dissonance, a term psychologists use to describe the "mental stress experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values."
And furthermore, to impose the name of an obscure Soviet functionary upon what was once the German city of Königsberg, famous for its seven bridges, and forever associated with the awesome Swiss mathematician Euler who not only solved the topological problem posed by those bridges but who also spent much of his working life in the Russian city of St Petersburg, is a grubby insult not only to Germany, but to Russia herself. If Leningrad and Stalingrad can be renamed, why can't Kaliningrad be rebranded as (for example) Eulersburg?
And then perhaps the hypocritical nuclear missiles can be withdrawn to Russian territory.
A Potty Message
I hope you have time to spare, as this will take a while.
Dr Johnson pronounced that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, and a rather similar (but even snappier) assertion by Oscar Wilde was that patriotism is the virtue of the vicious (or, more verbosely, that exaggerated patriotism is the most insincere form of self-conceit).
The vilest criminal, as Theodore Dalrymple has observed, is quite likely to vote Conservative if he votes at all, and would happily knife a 'kiddie fiddler' (child molester) to death in the showers given half a chance. There is a special category, Rule 43, in the UK prison population, that an inmate can request, to be segregated from the main population, "for [his] own protection" from the self-righteous vigilantes of the otherwise utterly depraved.
(Just so you know, I have nothing but contempt for those who seek sanctuary in Britain and proceed to abuse the privilege by raping, robbing, and murdering, or multiple combinations thereof. We had plenty of rapists, robbers, and murderers of our own, proper English ones, thank you very much.)
G K Chesterton remarked that the slogan "My Country, Right or Wrong" makes as much sense as "My Mother, Drunk or Sober". He was implicitly making a very important distinction between patriotism and nationalism. One does sometimes have to say "Mum, I think you've had enough now, perhaps you'd better go and have a nice lie-down". That's patriotism. To say "Mum, we've just opened another bottle, you'll love it" is nationalism.
Putin is a nationalist pure and simple, and therein lies his fatal contradiction – he will be brought down by a weakness in what he had thitherto regarded as a strength – just as Achilles is slain by a shrewdly aimed arrow to the heel, the only chink in his invulnerability.
In Aristotle's Poetics, he defends the purgative power of tragedy and, in direct contradiction to Plato, makes moral ambiguity the essence of tragedy. The tragic hero must be neither a villain nor a virtuous man but a "character between these two extremes, ... a man who is not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty [hamartia]" The effect on the audience will be similarly ambiguous.
The effect of nuclear war on a global audience would not, however, be entirely ambiguous, and this is why he is so dangerous. He would doubtless sacrifice himself on behalf of Russia, but in doing so he would sacrifice everybody else as well.
He is clearly megalomaniac – 'Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad' is a familiar quotation. But I prefer "Evil appears as good in the minds of those whom God leads to destruction" as appears in Sophocles' Antigone. (If I don't know something I at least know where to look). Putin's skewed assessment of the Ukraine 'security problem' will lead to his discredit or downfall.
Just to ram the message home (do try and keep up, Sergei) is that the subjugation of Ukraine would be Putin's 'mess of pottage', and that his consequent political discredit and downfall would be the 'loss of inheritance' to a younger rival.
A close parallel would be the downfall of Khrushchev (though it took a while) following the Cuban missile crisis, an episode I well remember.
About 6 months before his invasion of Ukraine, the Presidential website published what was Putin's equivalent of Hitler's Mein Kampf.
Titled On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians, it had been written on his behalf by a compliant local historian, one Vladimir Medinsky – Putin's own literacy being unequal to the task. There is no mistaking Putin's implications, however, for the looming threat to Ukraine.
And he utterly ignores the Minsk Agreement of 8 Dec 1991 whereby the leaders of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia recognised one another as independent political entities.
Ben Macintyre's comprehensive demolition of Putin's historical assertions and their alleged relevance to contemporary politics is a masterpiece, and should discredit the pint-sized palooka for ever and a day.
Fortunately the UK Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, is fully aware of Putin's constant misrepresentations.
Well I hadn't heard of a 'straw man' argument before either, but Wikipedia puts it very clearly:
A straw man (sometimes written as strawman) is a form of argument and an informal fallacy of having the impression of refuting an argument, whereas the real subject of the argument was not addressed or refuted, but instead replaced with a false one. One who engages in this fallacy is said to be "attacking a straw man".
The typical straw man argument creates the illusion of having completely refuted or defeated an opponent's proposition through the covert replacement of it with a different proposition (i.e., "stand up a straw man") and the subsequent refutation of that false argument ("knock down a straw man") instead of the opponent's proposition. Straw man arguments have been used throughout history in polemical debate, particularly regarding highly charged emotional subjects. Straw man tactics in the United Kingdom may also be known as an Aunt Sally...
There is in fact an equivalent Latin phrase, 'ignoratio elenchi', a fallacy in logic of supposing a point proved or disproved by an argument proving or disproving something not at issue, or, as used elsewhere in OrnaVerum, going for the wrong jugular.
Seated each day at the keyboard I am weary and ill at ease, as often as not, and as they do, my fingers wander idly over the keys – and then, not quite a mighty chord but a sudden turn of phrase pops into the forefront of consciousness, quite unbidden, and unlocks the key to the treasure chest of inspiration.
And on such an occasion just a day or two ago the inspirational phrase was 'pot of message', an obvious inversion of 'mess of pottage'. What was the original meaning of one of the most succinct and allusive phrases to emerge (though indirectly) from the King James Bible, the greatest literature in English, or ipso facto any language?
A 'mess of pottage' is something immediately attractive but of little value taken foolishly and carelessly in exchange for something more distant and perhaps less tangible but immensely more valuable. The phrase alludes to Esau's sale of his birthright for a meal ("mess") of lentil stew ("pottage") in Genesis 25:29–34 and connotes shortsightedness and misplaced priorities.
Esau and Jacob are respectively the elder and younger sons of Isaac and Rebekah, Isaac favouring the elder son Esau and Rebekah preferring the younger son Jacob.
In the image above, Esau is on the RHS having collapsed with exhaustion after a fruitless day's hunting (note his unstrung bow and quiver still full of arrows). He's desperately hungry, so much so that he offers Jacob his birth-right (ie his right of inheritance from Isaac) in exchange for a bowl (mess) of lentil soup (pottage – as per the French word for soup). We see them shaking hands on the deal, and the fateful mess about to be handed across.
Well that's a Faustian bargain if ever there was one, and Jacob can scarcely believe his good fortune at getting so much for so little. We also see his mother Rebekah tending the cauldron of soup, clearly delighted at her favourite son having taken such an advantage of his brother.
There's a lot more to the story than that – see here!
For when Isaac – who by now is old and blind, and knows nothing about the switch of birthright – calls for his elder son Esau for the blessing due the firstborn and the conferral of the greater share of inheritance, a problem arises – for Isaac knows that Esau is bearded and that Jacob is clean-shaven... deception is called for...
This was brilliantly parodied by Alan Bennett in Beyond the Fringe in the early 1960's, surely the only satirical review ever to feature a chapter of the Bible. The evening my father took me to see it, was also the occasion that the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was in the audience to hear the parody of himself patronising President Kennedy for his lack of classical education.
In colloquial English 'potty' means crazy, though in an amiable way. So a 'potty message' would be, for example "Joanna Southcott's Box of Sealed Writings" .
Another, more up to date, example of 'Potty Message' is Vladimir Putin's "On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians", though probably written for him rather that by him.
A rather interesting feature of this article is that it is clearly intended to be unclonable, so that in the event of a palace coup in the Kremlin all evidence of Putin's final fatal folly can be immediately withdrawn from public view (as used to happen with the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia). But OrnaVerum's team of seven maids and seven moppets (I honestly believed they were all over the age of consent) have contrived a method of verbatim transcript.
The Romans were great phrase-makers, and this was a particularly succinct one, roughly translating as a monitory "How's all this going to end?".
If, or most certainly when, the Red Army does invade and effectively annex the entirety of Ukraine (as per Ukrainian Crimea in 2014), as is Putin's current objective, a lengthy period of stringent US and EU economic sanctions upon Russia itself will ensue. This won't affect the neo-nomenklatura, the senior levels of the regime, of course, but it will depress the everyday standard of living even more deeply than ever.
And a point will be reached, at a May Day military parade perhaps, as he hops onto his upturned orange box, as Stalin used to do, behind the Kremlin 'Lenin' balustrade, when the populace start to jeer, boo and whistle derisively. The Ceaușescu moment will have arrived...
There is an alternative scenario, however, that the invasion goes badly wrong from the public-relations point of view. Massive casualties inflicted on Ukrainian resistance fighters and civilians would outrage world opinion, Russian casualties and fatalities going back in coffins (just as from Chechnya some years ago) would appall the Russian public.
Someone would need to take the blame for the debacle and I think the Presidential Praetorian Guard would issue a medical bulletin announcing that it was Vale to Vladimir Vladimirovich, the much-loved and highly respected former president.
Dishonour amongst Thieves
On the whole, it's no business of another country to interfere in – or openly disapprove of – the political regime of a neighbour. There are exceptions of course, where gross violations of human rights have been perpetrated (even just in modern times), as in the Turkish massacres of Armenians, Bolshevik massacres in Russia, Amin's Uganda, Pol Pot's genocide in Cambodia, the Hutu's genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda, the Serbian massacres of Muslims in ex-Jugoslavia, the Iraqi massacres of the Marsh Arabs, the Burmese massacres of just about everybody... God Himself must shed tears at what humans do to one another.
But if the big cheeses of a rogue country such as Russia are complaisant with its aggressive policy towards neighbouring countries, such as, in this case, the entirety of Europe, the aggressor's social dynamics must be closely examined.
- In the Tsarist era, Russia was a laissez-faire free-enterprise system.
- In the Bolshevik era, Russia was a gangster state, orchestrated by Stalin.
- Post-Stalin, Russia was ruled by a sequence of geriatric troikas, with essential corporations controlled by the State.
- In the Gorbachev and Yeltsin era of glasnost and perestroika, Russia didn't know which way was up. In an attempt to energise inefficient state corporations, they were privatised to the highest bidders ('oligarchs').
- In the early Putin era, the oligarchs' testicles were squeezed until they capitulated or were either imprisoned or murdered.
- In the last 15 years, the oligarchic corporations have been reallocated to Putin's KGB chums. Russia is now a third-generation kleptocracy.
History of lies
A steaming pile
"We knew very well that meant no handshake and that long table. But we could not accept that they get their hands on the president's DNA," one of the sources told Reuters.
The source did not elaborate on how the Russian intelligence services could exploit Mr Macron's DNA.
If, upon achieving some sort of eminence, I should feature on Desert Island Discs and were asked what book I would take with me, it would have to be Gulliver's Travels, all of it, in the Collins facsimile original edition which I read avidly as a 12 year old.
In one especially memorable passage, Gulliver (ie Jonathan Swift) averred that a man thought most profoundly whilst sitting on the chamber pot as "men are never so serious, thoughtful, and intent, as when they are at stool".
...Another professor showed me a large paper of instructions for discovering plots and conspiracies against the government. He advised great statesmen to examine into the diet of all suspected persons; their times of eating; upon which side they lay in bed; with which hand they wipe their posteriors; take a strict view of their excrements, and, from the colour, the odour, the taste, the consistence, the crudeness or maturity of digestion, form a judgment of their thoughts and designs; because men are never so serious, thoughtful, and intent, as when they are at stool, which he found by frequent experiment; for, in such conjunctures, when he used, merely as a trial, to consider which was the best way of murdering the king, his ordure would have a tincture of green; but quite different, when he thought only of raising an insurrection, or burning the metropolis...
And extraordinary as it may seem, Swift's scathing idea was taken seriously in Stalin's era, and maybe in ours too.
Stalin 'used secret laboratory to analyse Mao's excrement'
By Steven Rosenberg
BBC News, 28 January 2016
A former Soviet agent says he has found evidence that Joseph Stalin spied on Mao Tse Tung, among others, by analysing excrement to construct psychological portraits.
By the sound of things, it was a top secret and rather smelly experiment. According to Russian newspaper reports, in the 1940s Stalin's secret police had set up a special department to get its hands on people's faeces.
The ambitious aim: to analyse samples of foreign leaders' stools. In other words, espionage via excrement. It is former Soviet agent Igor Atamanenko who claims to have uncovered this unusual project, while doing research in the archives of the Russian secret services.
"In those days the Soviets didn't have the kind of listening devices which secret services do today," he told the paper. "That's why our specialists came up with the most extravagant ways of extracting information about a person."
Mr Atamanenko says it was Stalin's henchman Lavrenti Beria who was put in charge of the secret laboratory. When I contacted Mr Atamanenko, he told me what the Soviet scientists had been looking for in faeces. "For example, if they detected high levels of amino acid Tryptophan," he explained, "they concluded that person was calm and approachable."But a lack of potassium in poo was seen as a sign of a nervous disposition and someone with insomnia".
Special toilets were reportedly installed for Mao Tse Tung while he was in Russia so his faeces could be harvested and analysed.
Mao Tse Tung and Josef Stalin were the two most powerful leaders in the communist world at the time. Mr Atamanenko claims that in December 1949, Soviet spies used this system to evaluate the Chinese leader, who was on a visit to Moscow. They had allegedly installed special toilets for Mao, which were connected not to sewers, but to secret boxes.
When Mao first arrived, he had announced that China looked forward to a partnership with Russia, but he emphasised as well that he wanted to be treated as an equal. Instead he was being taught a lesson each day. He had become as much captive as guest. As such, he shouted at the walls, convinced that Stalin had bugged the house: "I am here to do more than eat and shit."
For 10 days Mao was plied with food and drink and his waste products whisked off for analysis. Once Mao's stools had been scrutinised and studied, Stalin reportedly poo poo-ed the idea of signing an agreement with him.
One of Russia's most popular daily newspapers, Komsomolskaya Pravda, reports that Stalin's successor, Nikita Khrushchev, scrapped the project and closed the laboratory. I contacted Russia's Federal Security Service, the FSB, to ask if it could confirm Stalin's secret stool project. However, the FSB had considerably less to say on the matter than Mr Atamanenko.
"We cannot comment on this story," came the reply.
I'm absolutely sure, sort of, that the effluents from the Distinguished Visitors facilities at the Kremlin aren't monitored or analysed, but the DV's own persons inevitably create an invisible swathe of bodily emissions, principally those which in this corner of England are known as cheeky trumps. Not so informative as full-on poos, but nevertheless worthy of analysis, particularly as Macron is so averse to revealing his DNA details.
But of course his aging interlocutor will also create such a swathe, and in order to differentiate the samples, analysed spectroscopically on-line, what better way than to keep the sources at least 20 feet apart!
Now We Are Sixty Nine
The long and the short of it
Bang Bang I'm dead
The funniest film I've ever seen, with the cleverest one-liner ever, was of course Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles. I could happily watch it every week for the rest of my life.
Every scene's a parody of Hollywood clichés, and in reviewing it you either get the post-modern ironical humour, as our daughter would say, or you can't wait to report it to the PC Police.
What isn't in fact the remotest bit funny, is that Putin is effectively re-enacting this very scene but in reverse...
...Putin (holding a gun to his own head), "Do what I say, or the crazy guy gets it!"
Because of course, the crazy guy has unwisely been allowed the power to destroy not only himself but almost every life-form on earth except cockroaches.
But would he?
By his own admission a hooligan in his teenage years, and a sordid blackmail specialist in his KGB career, the diminutive and ill-educated Putin is desperately anxious to go down in history as a heroic leader who single-handedly restored Russia to greatness. But if he does initiate nuclear warfare there won't be any further history. There will be nobody to write it, and nobody to read it.
So I rather think that, contrary to his rhetoric, Putin's vanity will constrain any impulse to press the nuclear button. And besides, as will be analysed later, the siloviki who live in such oriental opulence, and provide such advice as he is nowadays willing to listen to, will not be at all pleased by such a possibility, and will turn on him if need be.
And the KGB intelligence community will not be at all happy that some of their number are now being arrested for complicity in the Russian military's abject failure to subdue the Ukrainian forces in close combat, and its resort to bombardment of civilians and urban areas by long-range artillery in order to destroy the Ukranian infrastructure.
The Red Army's reputation for invincibility lies in tatters, and their top brass aren't going to like that. How loyal to Putin will they remain and for how long?
Dan Dares but the Mekon doesn't
[Older readers who recollect the comic Eagle from the 1950's will remember the good-looking and courageous character Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future and nemesis of the ugly and malevolent Mekon, ruler of the renegade Treens of Northern Venus. Immediate comparison with the opposing leaders in the invasion of Ukraine is inevitable!]
Daubing the wall of a jakes
The letter 'z' has a very ignoble place in the English alphabet, and Shakespeare scripts a brief but telling peroration against it. It's odd that the Russian military and civilian conformists have embraced it (or have been made to embrace it) in preference to their own Cyrillic version.
Thou whoreson zed, thou unnecessary letter!
My lord, if you will give me leave, I will tread this
unbolted villain into mortar, and daub the wall of
a jakes with him...
—King Lear, Act 2, Scene 2
Plenty of people assume that the alphabet as we know it today is the alphabet as it always has been: A to Z, 26 letters in all. But that isn't the case. Letters have been added to and dropped from the Latin alphabet since before English was English.
Z, or zed as it is called in British English, is one such letter. The grandfather of our modern z was the Greek alphabet's zeta, which is the sixth letter of the Greek alphabet. The Etruscans took and adapted the Greek alphabet, and in turn, the Romans adapted the Etruscan alphabet for their own use, but the alphabets weren't a one-to-one match. The sound /k/ in Latin, for instance, was covered by three Etruscan consonants: kappa (which gave us k), koppa (which eventually gave us q), and gamma (which eventually gave us g). Phonetic changes in Latin also meant that some Etruscan letters were left out in the cold because there was no real use for them. That's what happened to z: it was dropped from the Latin alphabet in the 4th century BC.
It goes without saying that we did eventually add it back into the Latin alphabet, but it's one of the rarest letters in use, and in Shakespeare's day, long before the American preference for -ize and -ization over -ise and -isation was common, z was even rarer than it is today.This jab comes in the middle of an argument between the Earl of Kent and the servant Oswald, and is well-aimed: Kent is reminding Oswald that, as a servant, he is as unnecessary as the letter z.
Note that 'whoreson' meant the bastard offspring of a harlot, and that 'jakes' meant a very basic outdoor lavatory, a shit-pit.
It could be argued that whoreson, unnecessary letter, and daubing a jakes are all separate epithets aimed at the wretched Oswald, and not at 'z' itself, but I think they are all equally tarred by association with one another!
Other letters, 'o' and 'v' in particular, are also seen slapped onto Russian military vehicles in their ill-fated invasion of Ukraine, but it should be needless to say that they have no connection whatever with the elegantly interwoven O and V in the OrnaVerum logo, designed by Eboracus, and informally known as the Angry Owl..
We in Britain are familiar with the political practice of economy with the truth, a phrase first used in the 18th century by the admirable statesman Edmund Burke, and we are well-used to reading between the lines, and intuiting where the real truth resides.
But in politically and socially backward countries such as Russia, or China for that matter, the President lies to his generals, and they lie to him, as well as to their troops. Such countries are built on lies, and eventually collapse under the deadweight of untruth when reality kicks in.
William Hague, one of the two best Conservative prime ministers we never had, analyses this process very perceptively in the article below, and comes to the conclusion that in a conventional war with an advanced Western nation the Russian military would prove hopelessly inadequate.
Incidentally, the statement that "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing" is often attributed to Burke, though this is disputed. What he did undeniably say was that "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." A century later, John Stuart Mill polished Burke's original statement in an inaugural address delivered before the University of St. Andrews, saying that "Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing."
Are you listening President Biden? Where are those fighter planes the Ukrainians so desperately need? This is a once in a generation opportunity to crush Putin's nest of vipers, and you are just "Biden yer time", ignoring the inspirational words of one of America's greatest literary men, James Russell Lowell,
Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision,
Offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
Twixt that darkness and that light.
And you've fluffed it.
[In certain circles and age-groups, as I used to overhear as a child, it was customary for WW2 to be referred to as "Hitler's War", and WW1 as "The Kaiser's War", and now the Russian invasion of Ukraine is routinely known (in the media at least) as "Putin's War". That's no surprise of course, as all three individuals were (or are) the sole begetters of hostilities causing indescribably awful suffering and destruction. So who was Madeleine, and why was her war so acclaimed so highly?]
(or Presidents, Precedents and Precedence)
I will get to the points in due course.
The passing of the indomitable Madeleine Albright (23 Mar 2022), erstwhile US Secretary of State, recalls her achievement in bringing a measure of justice and stability to the post-Jugoslavian Balkans. The history of the Balkans under the Ottoman (ie Turkish) Empire is indescribably complicated, with a legacy of major religious differences, all kept under the lid of the pressure cooker until the death of the autocratic President Tito in May 1980.
(NB that Greece, Bulgaria and Romania had at this point long since broken away from the Ottoman Empire, as had Albania, though retaining strong religious ties with Kosovo.)
It's dangerous to generalise but
- Slovenia and Croatia are predominantly Catholic,
- Bosnia & Herzegovina is mostly a mix of Catholic and Moslem ('Bosniak')
- Montenegro is mostly Eastern Orthodox
- Albania is mostly a mix of Moslem and Eastern Orthodox
- (North) Macedonia is mostly Eastern Orthodox and Moslem
- Serbia is Eastern Orthodox, but the Kosovo region is mostly Moslem
These various entities all seemed to loathe one another, and their hatreds surfaced during Nazi occupation in WW2. My father used to lecture me on the various partisan rivalries, particularly between the Serbian Chetniks (led by Draža Mihailović) and the Croatian Ustašes (led by Ante Pavelić). According to him, they spent more time and spilt more blood murdering each other than in fighting the Germans.
And these internecine hatreds resurfaced along with the gradual breakup of Jugoslavia into independent states in the 1990's. In particular, Serbia was now ruled by President Milošević, a hard-line revanchist, and war broke out between Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia. Three particular episodes that I especially remember were
- Serbian forces relentlessly shelled the ancient Croatian port of Dubrovnik, the jewel of the Adriatic, from 1 Oct 1991 – 31 May 1992
- In 11 – 22 Jul 1995, under the watchful eye of United Nations peace-keeping forces from the Netherlands, the Serbian Army rounded up over 800 Moslem men and boys of 14 or over, from the Bosnian town of Srebenica and massacred them (in Britain we have various historical phrases relating to the Dutch, such as 'Dutch courage'. Never pick a Dutch bodyguard...)
- The siege of Sarajevo from 5 Apr 1992 – 29 Feb 1996
Milošević's principal agendum, admirable in its way, was to keep Jugoslavia together, despite the centrifugal nationalisms that were pulling it apart. But he turned to hard-line Serbian nationalists to bully the others into submission, and that idea went disastrously wrong.
<<<<<< --------oo||oo---------- >>>>>>
The parallel with Ukraine and Putin is self-evident. But what is the connection with Madeleine Albright? I'll quote from her obituary in today's Times.
Bill Clinton was re-elected [as US President] in 1996. On 4 Dec that year, disregarding four strong male candidates, he appointed Albright the first female secretary of state, a decision he attributed to his wife [the long-suffering Hilary]...
Her achievement over the next four years was to rally domestic and international support for the use of force to stop Milošević's Serb forces slaughtering ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. She rallied reluctant European allies, circumvented Russia's opposition, and brought a wary Pentagon on board.The NATO bombing campaign began on 24 Mar 1999 and "Madeleine's War" as Time magazine dubbed it, lasted 78 days before Milošević capitulated. He was subsequently ousted from power and tried by the international war crimes tribunal in the Hague.
Note that Yeltsin, a hopeless alcoholic, was still President of Russia at that time and perhaps it was fortunate for NATO that Putin had not yet come to power...
I'm very grateful to my wife for pointing out this unequivocally successful use of force by NATO to bring a murderous dictator to heel thus setting a precedent for resolving other such situations.
Arm in arm with the US were the British, led by Tony Blair, our Prime Minister at the time, and this did not go unnoticed by the Kosovan Moslems, who (for a time at least) named their eldest boys 'Tonibler' in his honour. To British ears, however, that sounds very much like 'Toe Nibbler' though of course we'd never let on.
<<<<<< --------oo||oo---------- >>>>>>
So what about precedence?
Ron Kaulback, my much-admired father-in-law, was sometimes heard, when having to deal with some vexatious circumstance or adversary, to mutter Josh Billings' couplet
Thrice is he armed that hath his quarrel just,
But four times he who gets his blow in fust.
And in the case that both parties possess nuclear weapons, it seems to me that a corresponding advantage goes to the participant who gets his threat in first. This puts him on the front foot, with the corresponding psychological advantage – and his opponent on the back foot, thereby losing control of the contest.
How often in the 1950's onwards had the western nations watched helplessly as Russia terrorised the populaces of their eastern European puppet regimes, brutally suppressing any attempts at gaining independence – East Germany in 1953, Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Poland in the 1990's.
And this was the consequence of Russia's repeated threats to use nuclear weapons against any opposition to their actions. The West was constantly on the back foot. We might just as well not have possessed any nuclear capabilities ourselves.
However, there was just one occasion when the West (or at least the US) stood up to Russian monkey-tricks, and the Kremlin had to stand down in humiliation (though the US did provide a subsequent quid pro quo). And that was of course the Cuban missile crisis in Oct 1962, which I well remember, having just gone to university. In my opinion it subsequently cost President Kennedy his life, and Khrushchev his job, as the KGB took their revenge. But the crisis hadn't escalated.
In the current situation, compare
Putin: If you do that, Russia will use nuclear weapons in retaliation
NATO: OO-ER, perhaps we won't then.
Putin: OO-ER, perhaps we'd better not.
I won't labour the point. Perhaps President Biden has no wish to be eliminated by the KGB. But President Putin – who spent the better part of 18 months in elaborate 'scaredy-cat' isolation from the Covid virus – surely has no wish to be vaporised by a NATO nuclear missile either?
Proud and Paranoid
I've previously likened Putin to a wasp in a jamjar, but he's the latest 'Gremlin in the Kremlin' in a long procession of irritants to the civilised western nations.
The real question is, Why is Russia such a pain in the bum?
And I think it's that age-old problem of sibling rivalry. Although Elizabethan merchants traded with what was then called Muscovy, Russia in the modern sense didn't emerge until the eighteenth century, about the same time as the United States. And there are many parallels, as for example their geographical polarisations – just as America had an untamed Wild West, Russia had an untamed Wild East, otherwise known as Siberia. They both had massive natural resources, which for Russia are still their only source of export revenue apart from weaponry.
But whereas the United States has become the richest and most successful nation in global history, Russia's economic record has always been, and continues to be, abysmal (their annual GDP is less than that of Italy). I'm neither a historian nor an economist, so I can't explain the reasons for this, but the facts are undeniable.
Russians aren't given to self-examination, and so they blame this huge disparity on everybody else (particularly America) but themselves. Hence the paranoia, in all its various forms that we recognise only too well, and the self-exculpation – you know when they've done something contemptible because they're blaming it on you!
What about the pride – what in particular do they have to be proud of? The answer has to be, Not a lot. Over the years, their sporting and technological achievements, for example, are all too often down to cheating or espionage. Their major industry is the manufacture of armaments, principally rocketry and heavy weaponry that is intended to intimidate the western nations.
Their proudest accomplishment is helping to win the Second World War, but that is tainted by having collaborated with Nazi Germany during the first two years of the conflict. In fact, from the Crimean War onwards, their wars with Britain, Japan, Germany in the First World War, Finland, Chechnya, Afghanistan, and now Ukraine, have not gone their way.
But enough of this. Britain is by no means perfect, and a lot of things we've done have been pretty shameful (the Opium Wars with China, or the Boer Wars, for example). I'd like to mention a couple of light-hearted instances of life in Russia down the ages.
The first involves the eighteenth-century Swiss-born genius Leonhard Euler, the Mozart of mathematics, whose career was spent in St Petersburg, with an interlude in Berlin at the invitation of Frederick the Great, whose mother took a great fancy to (the very-happily married) Euler and repeatedly tried to engage him in conversation, to which he would only reply in monosyllables.
She eventually asked him, "Why won't you speak to me?""Madame", Euler replied, "I come from a country where, if you speak, you are hanged".
The second involves a trip I took to Russia in Aug 1986, to take part in the Moscow 'Mir' Marathon that year. My running colleagues and I were quartered in the Rossiya (just opposite St Basil's Cathedral), a huge hotel, in which the accommodation and the food were indescribably squalid. But no matter, we were to be given a free tour of the Kremlin Cathedral the next day.
Our Intourist guide Yelena was a very good-looking young blonde, smartly dressed, with a crisp white blouse. It soon became evident that the contents of the blouse were essentially free-range, and bobbled most delightfully whenever she moved. All we super-fit testosterone-fuelled young fellows were absolutely mesmerised.
After we had also admired a goodly number of iconic triptychs, one of our number, it might have been me, said that these were all very different from religious art in the West.
"You western people have no souls", she snapped, "Only we Russians have true spirituality". And I'd swear the bobbling stopped from there on.
On the day of the marathon the authorities released no details about the start time until well after midday. And with a minimum of warning, it began in the mid-afternoon, at a temperature of 89°F, the hottest time of the day. Road-runners the world over have an instinctive understanding of how to cope – but on this occasion the water at the refreshment stations was pumped directly from the river by the military, and nutrition (not that one generally needs that) was in the form of rock-salt on dry bread.There's much else I could say, but officialdom in Russia's whole attitude was 'Fuck you, we couldn't care less.' Does that ring any bells with 2022?
For a more professional assessment of Russian psychopathology, please see Max Hastings' essay below.
One month to go
Hitler's strategic ineptitude had far more to do with the Red Army's victory on the Eastern Front than the Russians would ever be willing to concede. If proof were needed, the dismal performance of the contemporary Red Army in Putin's invasion of Ukraine leaves no room for argument.
And yet on 9 May this year, in four weeks' time, a massive display of synchronised marching and a variety of heavy weaponry will be paraded in central Moscow as a symbol of Russian military might.
Putin has put a new commander, Captain-General Aleksandr Dvornikov, in charge of the invasion of Ukraine. One of his first achievements in this new role is the recent attack on Kramatorsk railway station in Ukraine in which at least 52 people died including children.
But he has specialised in the systematic murder of innocent civilians, predominantly women, children, and the elderly, during Russia's cynical support of the lovably loathsome Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad, which just happened to provide a Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean.
Dvornikov is charged with turning the war in Russia's favour sufficiently to enable Putin to declare a victory of sorts on 9 May.
The Ukrainian army recognise that this isn't going to be a turkey-shoot – their own supply-lines are going to be seriously stretched (there's an old army proverb that amateurs talk tactics but professionals talk logistics) in the latest theatre of war, and that they lack heavy duty artillery and tactical rocketry to match the Russians. Plus of course command of the air.
And whose fault is that? Decrepitate forwards, President Biden.
But three cheers to the gallant Czechs and their equally praiseworthy neighbours the Slovakians, for their cojones in dispatching battle-tanks and missile defence systems respectively. And to the Poles, in whose defence Britain declared war against Nazi Germany in 1939 (with whom the Soviet Union were in alliance). There's a resounding silence from the rest of the EU.
Much, possibly most, of the world is now governed by dictatorships, with the exception of Western (and parts of Eastern) Europe and the English-speaking countries world-wide. This is a battle for democracy, only surpassed in importance by the battle for planet Earth herself.
Let's hope that 9 May 2022 will be a fizzle.
George Bernard Shaw once said, 'Never wrestle with a pig. You just get dirty and the pig enjoys it.'
Almost a decade ago now (2022) the Kremlin's spokesman Dimitri Peskov (he of the $670,000 wristwatch) dismissed Britain as an unimportant small island to which nobody pays any attention.
He might very well have been right (and we are certainly consistently badly governed), but we should just check a few objective confirmations of his judicious remark.
As regards Nobel prize-winners over the years, for example, the USA have notched up 400 and the UK have totalled 138 (of which Trinity College Cambridge got 34). The USSR/Russia total is just 32.
And as regards Olympic gold medals over roughly the same span of years the USA have collected 1180 and the UK have totalled 296. The USSR/Russia total is 196, many of which were gained under a persistent cloud of 'shamateurism' and illegal drug usage.
So, Dimitri, commiserations! You and us, both pathetic losers.
I've remarked previously that Russia has a ferocious inferiority complex in connection with the USA, and just perhaps a suspicion that it's justified. Russia simply can't bear the thought that they're not regarded as calling the shots internationally. Hence their irrational anger if their self-importance is punctured.
Boris Johnson must feel relieved to have been banned from Russia in consequence of UK support for Ukraine, especially the abysmal food and the persistent smell of drains that I remember.
I don't often indulge in purple prose, but contrast the calm and determination of the heroic Ukrainian defenders of Mariupol, inspired by their valiant President Zelensky, with the frenzied greed of the thieves and shoplifters of the rabble serving their senile opposite number in the Kremlin.
Martyrs of Mariupol
It's all too easy for an elderly armchair strategist to pontificate unproductively, and the current (Apr 2022) siege of Mariupolis, now centred in the ruins of the giant Azovstal complex, is a case in point. [Just for interest, 'Azov' is named for the adjacent Sea of Azov, and 'stal' is Russian for steel (as in 'Stalin').]
In addition to an unspecified number of armed defenders, some thousand or so civilians (comprising women, children and the elderly) have also been sheltering in Azovstal for many weeks in the most primitive conditions.
Some of the Western defenders (at least two Britons amongst them) have already surrendered, citing lack of food and ammunition. They've been paraded on Russian television, and will in due course be pawns in an exchange of prisoners, and therefore spared the customary bullet in the back of the head.
But the great majority of the defenders, the Ukranians, were offered a temporary truce on 17 Apr 2022 (the western Easter), the terms being that they should abandon their weapons and ammunition, and emerge from their stronghold. They ignored the "offer". (A further such "offer" was made today – 19 Apr 2022 – though I don't yet know the outcome.)
However tempting such an offer might be, all honest adult Ukranians nowadays realise that the great majority of Russians are either congenital liars or irremediably gullible (or plain stupid). So how would it have benefitted the besieged defenders?
It wouldn't of course. There are several famous historical precedents, two of which featured the Roman use of contravallation – effectively total isolation of the defenders – nobody could get in but nobody could get out either.
The first was the fate of Vercingetorix (82 BC – 46 BC), a leader of the Gauls against the Romans. After a series of temporary successes, he surrendered voluntarily to Julius Caesar, but was imprisoned, paraded through the streets of Rome in chains and subsequently executed, whether by strangulation or beheading (or both, I suppose, if done in the right order).
The other was the siege of Masada (73 AD – 74 AD), a Jewish stronghold overcome by the Romans. The details are disputed, but the salient feature is that the defenders, eventually realising that defeat was inevitable, organised a mass suicide – each defender voluntarily slew his comrade to the right, and then was voluntarily slain by his comrade to the left.
The present alternatives, if and when the food and ammunition run out, are stark: suicide, or surrender to face summary execution probably preceded by torture. It would be utterly intrusive to speculate what they would decide when faced with Russian barbarity, but even I'm not sure which I'd choose.
Hopefully it won't come to this for these patriots who fight not only for their own country but for the whole of Europe, even those equivocators such as Germany or Hungary. I'm particularly surprised by Hungary, as I well remember the savagery of the Soviet forces that suppressed the Hungarian insurrection in 1956.
There are two well-known counter-measures. The first is toxic or narcotic gas, as used by the Russians against the Chechen "terrorists" in the 2002 stand-off at the Dubrovka theatre in Moscow. And the other is floodwater, as used by the Gestapo against the Czechoslovakian partisans after their 1942 assassination of Reinhardt Heydrich, and subsequent refuge in a maze of burial chambers beneath a church.
Let us hope and pray that the Azovstal defenders are prepared for all eventualities.
For those of us whose grasp of Nordic geography is imprecise, a map of that region may be helpful. The Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are due south of Finland, of course, across the Gulf of Finland. I wonder what the Russians call it...
Southeast of them is Belarus (ie White Russia), and then everybody's favourite, Ukraine.
Sweden and Finland are two of the most socially and technologically advanced nations in the world, but for many of us (apart from lovers of their wonderful national composer Sibelius) Finland is still slightly unknown territory. Hopefully that's about to change, following the ill-advised Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 Feb 2022.
Nothing worthwhile is ever easy, and although both Finland and Sweden have now (16 May 2022) applied for membership of NATO, it's a lengthy procedure, as all the existing members have give their consent. But Turkey isn't happy – their repressive internal politics being what they are. And Russia is threatening military action against Finland in the interim.
But to paraphrase Denis Healey's famous remark about Geoffrey Howe, being threatened by Russia is like being menaced by a dead sheep.
Taking the high moral ground as always, Putin says rather intimidatingly "I have always reacted negatively to those who with their snotty noses and erotic fantasies prowl into others' lives."
But he's quite happy to prowl into others' lives with his snotty rockets and constant threats of nuclear war, though the latter are trotted out so frequently that they are dulled by repetition – akin to the impromptu stripteases at my college buttery: 'Oh God, not those tired old tits again' as my companion muttered on one such late–night occasion.
All that aside, one can unreservedly admire the happy family photograph published over (Orthodox) Easter 2022, though the family itself is normally kept secluded in Switzerland.
"No darling, he's not very good at reading or writing, and he's no good at history, so he makes it up himself instead."
"But is he very nice?"
"No darling, he often gets very angry with people and kills lots and lots of children and their Mummies and Daddies."
"Does he get the soldiers to do that?"
"No darling, Russian soldiers aren't very strong or brave, so they send rockets instead."
The nice Mummy in the background is Putin's alleged partner, former gymnast Alina Kabeva (aged 38), said to have borne four children by him, including twin boys in 2019.
He also has two adult daughters, Maria and Katerina, from his former marriage (1983-2014) with Lyudmila Shkrebneva, an air hostess.
So that's six children and a nice partner. What man would deliberately press the nuclear button that would trigger a response either vapourising his family or at the very least condemning them to a nightmare survival in a shattered radioactive wasteland?
The US, the UK and other NATO countries (actual or imminent) have already crossed the Rubicon by sending huge quantities of military equipment (including missile systems, both defensive and offensive) to Ukraine. And Putin hasn't drawn a line in the sand, though he keeps to his policy of mass conventional destruction.
As his partner and family are evidently his only links with psychological normality and common sense, may they enjoy many more Happy Easters!
I'd like to add a couple of points to Ben Macintyre's excellent article.
- The popular belief that an escapee, such as Putin senior, can evade capture by jumping into a body of water and staying submerged while breathing through a conveniently hollow reed is a cinematic fantasy. If he is deep enough not to be seen, he won't be able to breathe.
- Putin junior gets a lot of mileage from his father's career as a submariner. Which makes it all the odder that he was totally indifferent to the desperate plight of the crew of the stricken submarine Kursk at the beginning of his presidency.
...Over four days, the Russian Navy repeatedly failed in its attempts to attach four different diving bells and submersibles to the escape hatch of the submarine. Its response was criticised as slow and inept. Officials misled and manipulated the public and news media, and refused help from other countries' ships nearby. President Vladimir Putin initially continued his vacation at a seaside resort and only authorised the Russian Navy to accept British and Norwegian assistance after five days had passed. Two days later British and Norwegian divers finally opened a hatch to the escape trunk in the boat's flooded ninth compartment but found no survivors.
...The government of Russia and the Russian Navy were intensely criticised over the incident and their responses. A four-page summary of a 133-volume, top-secret investigation revealed "stunning breaches of discipline, shoddy, obsolete and poorly maintained equipment", and "negligence, incompetence, and mismanagement". It concluded that the rescue operation was unjustifiably delayed and that the Russian Navy was completely unprepared to respond to the disaster.
Same old story, by land or by sea.
Two days to go
The parade was as usual held on the date (9 Mar) upon which the Russians insist the German surrender in 1945 had been signed. It had actually been signed two days earlier in Reims, but Stalin had a hissy fit, wanting the ceremony to be re-enacted in Berlin on 9 Mar 1945 and a second copy signed instead.
And, as usual, the Russians see it as commemorating Russia's defeat of Nazi Germany – as do a great many invincibly ignorant journalists in the West. Russian forces defeated the Wehrmacht on the Eastern front (with huge losses on both sides as the result of both Hitler and Stalin's strategic ineptitude) but that was all.
But this year's ceremony seems to have been a bit of a damp squib in various respects, no Gerasimov, no fly-past and no specific mention of Ukraine (let alone mention of mass-conscription to progress the invasion).
And it was noticeable that Putin (whom his long-term adversary Mikhail Khodorkovsky invariably describes as 'an aging criminal') was showing his years, with a thick green woolly blanket spread across his lap. The equally geriatric generals were allowed no such comforts.
May 17, 2022
Russia's Lavrov says Finland, Sweden joining NATO makes 'no big difference'
May 17 (Reuters) –
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that Finland and Sweden joining NATO would probably make "not much difference" as the two countries had long participated in the alliance's military drills.
"Finland and Sweden, as well as other neutral countries, have been participating in NATO military exercises for many years," Lavrov said.
"NATO takes their territory into account when planning military advances to the East. So in this sense there is probably not much difference. Let's see how their territory is used in practice in the North Atlantic alliance."
A week or two previously, Putin was warning the Nordics that they were making a "big mistake" in applying for NATO membership, and threatening them with "Military - Technical" measures (ie invasion in the case of Finland) if they went ahead.
Now Lavrov is adopting an avuncular pose of "Boys will be boys". Is the Kremlin starting to realise that history is not on their side?"
Retired colonel speaks out on Russian TV
By Steve Rosenberg
Published 17 May 2022
(Russia's mainstream media outlets offer a view of the Ukraine war that is unlike anything seen from outside of the country. For a start, they don't even call it a war. But our Russia editor reflects on a rare exchange broadcast on state TV.)
It was an extraordinary piece of television.
The programme was 60 Minutes, the flagship twice-daily talk show on Russian state TV: studio discussion that promotes the Kremlin line on absolutely everything, including President Putin's so-called "special military operation" in Ukraine.
The Kremlin still maintains that the Russian offensive is going according to plan. But on Monday night, studio guest Mikhail Khodarenok, a military analyst and retired colonel, painted a very different picture.
He warned that "the situation [for Russia] will clearly get worse" as Ukraine receives additional military assistance from the West and that "the Ukrainian army can arm a million people".
Referring to Ukrainian soldiers, he noted: "The desire to defend their motherland very much exists. Ultimate victory on the battlefield is determined by the high morale of troops who are spilling blood for the ideas they are ready to fight for.
"The biggest problem with [Russia's] military and political situation," he continued, "is that we are in total political isolation and the whole world is against us, even if we don't want to admit it. We need to resolve this situation.
"The situation cannot be considered normal when against us, there is a coalition of 42 countries and when our resources, military-political and military-technical, are limited."
The other guests in the studio were silent. Even the host, Olga Skabeyeva, normally fierce and vocal in her defence of the Kremlin, appeared oddly subdued.
In many ways, it's a case of "I told you so" from Mr Khodarenok. Writing in Russia's Independent Military Review back in February, before Moscow attacked Ukraine, the defence analyst had criticised "enthusiastic hawks and hasty cuckoos" for claiming that Russia would easily win a war against Ukraine.
His conclusion back then: "An armed conflict with Ukraine is not in Russia's national interests."
The symbol [Z] of Russia's "special military operation" in Ukraine crops up all over Moscow.
Criticism in print is one thing. But on TV - to an audience of millions - that is another level completely. The Kremlin has gone out of its way to control the informational landscape here: shutting down independent Russian news sources and ensuring that television - the principal tool in Russia for shaping public opinion - is on message.
It is rare to hear such realistic analysis of events on Russian TV.
Rare. But not unique. In recent weeks, critical views have appeared on television here. In March, on another popular TV talk show, a Russian filmmaker told the presenter: "The war in Ukraine paints a frightening picture, it has a very oppressive influence on our society."
So what happened on 60 Minutes? Was this a spontaneous, unprompted and unexpected wake-up call on Ukraine that slipped through the net?
Or was it a pre-planned burst of reality in order to prepare the Russian public for negative news on the progress of the "special military operation"?
It's difficult to say. But as they say on the [television], stay tuned to Russian TV for further signals.
Zhanna Agalakova quit her job as a journalist in March for Channel One, a Russian state-controlled TV channel, over the invasion of Ukraine, she's now in exile.
In an interview with BBC Newsnight, she urged people in Russia to switch off their TVs if they wanted the truth about the war in Ukraine.
"It's a brainwashing machine," she told David Grossman.
Pause for thought
Putin is doing to Ukraine in 2022 what Hitler did to Russia in 1941 (and Zeus did to Leda).
Did anybody in the later stages of WW2 seriously suggest that the Führer should not be humiliated by total ultimate defeat? Why should France, Germany and Italy, whose participations in WW2 were equivocal in the extreme, start lecturing Ukraine on the necessity of compromise with Russia? There's more than a whiff of Stockholm syndrome.
In all its long and brutal history, Russia has seen concession or compromise as a sign of weakness, to be exploited at the first opportunity. Winning is all-important, as losers go to the gallows.
According to Stalin's interpreter, Valentin Berezhkov, when Churchill took part in the 1944 Moscow Conference, he stated that the British went to war in 1939 for Polish freedom and independence, felt morally obliged to protect the Polish people and their spiritual values, and could not allow developments there to complicate relations with the Vatican. Whereupon Stalin interrupted by contemptuously enquiring "But how many divisions does the Pope have?”
Another infamous communist tyrant, Mao Tse-Tung, likewise responsible for the deaths of millions, asserted that "Power grows from the barrel of a gun”, during an emergency meeting of the Chinese Communist Party on 7 August 1927, at the beginning of the Chinese civil war.
Putin is a kleptocrat rather than a communist, but lines up with Stalin, Mao, and indeed Machiavelli, in his view of power and deceit as being the ultimate political arbiters. Moreover, it is reliably reported that the erstwhile Patriarch Alexy II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, was an active member of the KGB. And the present Patriarch Kyrill is undeniably over-cosy with the present president.
If the invasion force is expelled from Ukraine there is no need for NATO triumphalism - Russian internal politics will deal with Putin decisively, especially if sequestered Russian assets are used to rebuild Ukrainian infrastructure (as of Jun 2022, current estimates are that this will cost at least $700 billion USD).
The malignant munchkin has further territorial ambitions
... but Peter the Great was six foot eight
... and was well-tutored in military matters
Putin says Russia will seek to regain 'original territories'
BBC Monitoring, 10 Jun 2022
Russia's President Putin has sought to justify Moscow's invasion of Ukraine by saying his country is now trying to regain its "original territories", just as Russia's ruler Peter the Great did at the beginning of the 18th century.
"Peter the Great waged the Northern War for 21 years, and it would seem that he fought with Sweden and tore away something from it. But he didn't carve out anything! He was regaining [territory]," Putin told a meeting of young entrepreneurs in Moscow on Thursday, in remarks shown live on Rossiya 24 rolling news channel.
Noting that he was talking about the area on which the city of St Petersburg was founded, Putin added that none of the European countries at the time recognised this as Russian territory.
"Everyone recognised it as Sweden, and Slavs lived there from time immemorial along with the Finno-Ugric peoples. Moreover, this territory was under the control of the Russian state," Putin said.
"To all appearances, it is our lot as well to regain and strengthen.
"And if we proceed from the premise that these basic values are the foundation of our existence we will certainly succeed in solving the tasks we are facing," he said in an apparent reference to Moscow's current invasion of Ukraine.
Where were we and where are we now?
Having been out of the loop for almost a month, I feel seriously in need of what cartographers used to call a 'political map' (ie never mind the geographical contours) of Ukrainian town and cities, in order to follow the latest fortunes of the truly heroic Ukrainian resistance to the armies of Satan's catamite.
This is by far the most detailed I can find – it seems to be in transliterated Ukrainian (good) rather than transliterated Russian, so that the Soviet-era nuclear power station (named after Vladimir Lenin) that ran amok in 1986 is transliterated as Chornobyl rather than Chernobyl.
(Please click here for pdf version)
It does have one or two quirks, especially in the lower section – strange wiggly lines, for example, but we can probably ignore them.
Soldiers of fortune
Usually known by their opponents as mercenaries or (in cowboy Westerns) hired guns, they have a long and not entirely dishonourable reputation on the battlefields or strongholds of Europe. Think of the papal Swiss Guards for example – many countries or factions continue to find mercenaries more convenient than a standing army.
Sometimes, of course, they have fought for ideals rather than money (though even a mercenary has to eat), as did my political hero George Orwell in the Spanish civil war, and sometimes for straightforwardly political reasons, as did the inept Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, the Virgin Queen's favourite – Spain in Elizabethan days was of course (for a while) a threat equivalent to Putin's Russia today – and mathematicians will confirm that the celebrated René Descartes had been himself a soldier of fortune in the Thirty Years' War.
It has to be admitted that "mercenary” is derived from "meretrix” which to the Romans meant a prostitute. But ultimately the cause for which a mercenary fights largely defines the justifiability (or even nobility) of his actions.
The French Foreign Legion is perhaps unique in accepting foreign recruits and yet being an integral part of the national Armed Forces. And the recently formed Ukrainian Foreign Legion has precisely the same constitution as its French counterpart, though its recruits tend to have considerably more prior military experience.
Click here to admire a young Scotsman committed to Ukraine's freedom.
Over the last few months, a number of British-born combatants (several with families in Ukraine) have been captured by Russia, or its proxies, the fictitious entities of Luhansk and Donetsk, and have been summarily accused of mercenary activity (ie fighting for the Ukrainian Legion) and sentenced to death.
None have so far been executed. To be fair, just a few Russian prisoners captured by Ukraine have been convicted of undeniable war crimes and face an uncertain future.
But who is the kettle and who is the pot that is calling it black?
For a start, as outlined above, an international mercenary force officially recognised by its country of origin, and whose members operate in the appropriate military uniform, as do the French and the Ukrainian legionaries, seems to me to be entirely legitimate (though the US and UK governments prohibit their nationals from foreign military service).
With these provisos, it is not a crime to be a mercenary, but it is certainly a warcrime to execute a mercenary without a properly constituted trial for some specific warcrime himself. And Russians and their protégés have absolutely no concept of fair trial.
On the other hand, the Kremlin has for the past decade or more supported a miasmic organisation known as the Wagner Group – if there has to be any particularly revolting crime against humanity, to which even Moscow would be embarrassed to admit, the Kremlin calls in the Wagner Group to do the job. Officially, Wagner doesn't exist, so in effect nobody can be blamed for its actions.
And if there is to be a military action in which high Russian casualties are to be expected, the Kremlin assigns it to the Wagner Group, as their casualties don't have to be admitted – no grief-stricken mothers or wives to be dealt with.
A neat way to put it is that the Wagner group is deniable and its casualties are disposable. Does anyone now remember that prior to 24 Feb 2022, when the Russian army camped outside Ukraine like an obese and toothless crocodile, that it had brought its own mobile crematoria? In the classic phrase of the Sunday Express editor, John Junor, "I don't know but I think we should be told”. He also popularised the phrase "Pass the sick-bag, Alice” which is an excellent way to deal with Russian lies, hypocrisy, and prevarications.
- It's also noteworthy that (so it was reliably rumoured) the Kremlin coopted an 800 strong contingent of bloodthirsty thugs from the private army of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen traitor and turncoat, to assassinate the upper echelon of Ukraine government, including Zelensky himself, at the beginning of the invasion. Yeah, right.
- Subsequently, it's been rumoured that 40,000 Syrian cutthroats are ‘imminently' joining the Russian forces in the Donbass.
- And the latest, wildest rumour (courtesy of TV defence pundit Igor Korotchenko) is that 100,000 North Korean volunteers are being ‘fast-tracked' to the Russian army.
- Oh, I was forgetting, Russian criminals imprisoned for rape, murder and mentioning the invasion in public, are to be pardoned and assigned to the front-line in eastern Ukraine.
Why are all these measures even remotely credible? Perhaps the Russian army cannot recruit a sufficient number of acceptably fit, intelligent, Russian Orthodox believers to protect the motherland of 144,000,000 from retaliation by 44,000,000 (pro rata) fit, intelligent, Ukrainian Orthodox believers?
I've been out of the loop, one way or another, for a good many weeks but this egregious nonsense demands refutation. It would be quite impossible for every Russian on the planet to be tried and executed, or at least imprisoned, for the war-crimes that the Russian military have perpetrated in their invasion of Ukraine.
She also implies that to lose the war would be more embarassing, for the upper echelons, than prosecution for the war-crimes. Well that's their problem.
And, as also claimed by various other lickspittle Russian media commentators, she would rather see the world destroyed in a nuclear war than for Russia to be defeated in Ukraine. What is so special about Russia, may one enquire? This is akin to those infantile South American football fans who commit suicide when their team loses a Cup Final.
The gung-ho attitude of the Russian populace in the early days of Putin's "special military-technical operation” is now declining, according to the statistics quoted above, and I wonder whether this is simply because Russian forces are doing so badly, rather than a dawning realisation that what Russia is doing to Ukraine is so nakedly evil?
Will they claim that the Ukrainians had been vilified by Putin just as the Jews were demonised by Hitler? I rather think so – they will pretend that they were deceived, and it was all the fault of the media.
There are two obvious candidates as successor to Putin, one a former KGB spook (as was Putin) and the other a political crony from Leningrad days who now runs a powerful mercenary force that has done all the heavy lifting on the Russian side of the conflict.
And in neither case is it likely that the onslaught on Ukraine will be abandoned, whether for reasons of the mystical mumbo jumbo propagated by the outgoing Russian president, or for the enormous profits accruing from the proxy war on behalf of the Russian government.
Nikolai Patrushev (b 11 Jul 1951), Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation since 12 May 2008, the fifth time in a decade that he had taken over a post formerly held by Putin.
He had been one of the KGB's rising stars in the 1980's, when Putin himself had been dismissed as a nobody, his KGB career having been completely mediocre.
Not very bright (Mark Galeotti, an expert in the field of Russian politics and security, has said that Patrushev, one of Putin's closest advisers, is the "most dangerous man in Russia" because of his "paranoid conspiracy-driven mindset”) but has risen on stepping-stones of his dead self to higher things – and may be preparing his elder son Dimitri to replace Putin, according to Ukrainian intelligence (the son also rises, with apologies to Hemingway of course).
Yevgeny Prigozhin (b 1 Jun 1961) was a caterer, restaurateur, and mentor to Putin back in the St Petersburg days and explained which knives and forks to use, and how to deal with soup.
I think he's the sharpest knife in the cutlery drawer, as the ruthless mercenary force he has since created, the Wagner Group, is the most formidable and profitable private army in existence. And in Russian politics a Smith and Wesson beats four aces.
Will Putin's chef cook Putin's goose?
Unsurprisingly, he has attracted numerous rivals in the race to replace Putin, and his political, security and military enemies are doing their best to degrade his public image by depicting him as having been sexually degenerate during his numerous prison sentences in earlier years.
The Times Sat 24 Dec 2022, p40
(click here for pdf)
The Times Sat 24 Dec 2022, p29
(click here for pdf)
At the age of about fifteen I encountered the paper-back novels by Sven Hassel about the lurid escapades (battles and brothels) of a Wehrmacht penal battalion on the Eastern front. I read quite a few and thoroughly enjoyed them. My favourite character was Tiny, so called because of his height and strength, two qualities in which I was particularly deficient.
To give and not to count the cost
Some of you may recognise the quotation from your schooldays' assemblies; it's part of the St Ignatius ‘prayer for generosity', which was adopted by British special forces (the Commandos) during WW2.
That war was precipitated by the fascist German dictator Adolf Hitler, and we in the NATO democracies are now engaged in what is to almost all intents and purposes WW3, instigated by the fascist Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
The single qualification is that although NATO provides a great deal of the military hardware and satellite intelligence, it is the Ukrainian people who do the actual fighting and suffer the hideous damage inflicted by the Russian forces still inexplicably loyal to Putin.
But you probably know all this already, and are aware of President Zelensky's urgent requests for NATO countries to donate as many of their battle tanks as they can spare, to a collective total of at least 300, in order to counter the expected Spring 2023 offensive by the Russian forces now bottled-up on the eastern side of the Dnieper river.
Britain, as you may also know, has rather smugly announced that it is providing 14 elderly Challenger 2 tanks from its inventory of 227. Only 14 out of 227? That is utterly pathetic.
Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, Chief of the UK Defence Staff, has protested to the UK Ministry of Defence that even such a miserly contribution would jeopardise Britain's own defences and our commitment to NATO. Britain's armed forces are well-known to have been maladministered for decades, but his protest beggars belief.
There is but one military threat to the security and independence of modern Europe since 1945, and that's the Russian regime. And NATO exists precisely to counter that threat.
Sending battle-tanks to assist Ukraine instead of deploying them on behalf of NATO actually serves one and the same purpose. Either way, to what nobler use could our Challengers be put than helping to crush the forces of evil personified by Putin?
And on 26 Jan 2023, the news came that Germany has at long last lifted its embargo on its Leopard 2 tanks changing ownership, allowing Germany to donate 14 itself, and Poland to donate a further 14 in addition to 240 ex-Soviet T72A's, and Czechia to donate 90 more of the latter (figures from The Times, Thu 26 Jan 2023, p27).
The Times also reports that contributions are coming from Finland, Spain, and the Netherlands, in addition to the 31 M1A1/A2 Abram super-tanks from America. There is no report yet of any Leclerc super-tank contribution from France as of yet, but no doubt President Macron will extract the maximum personal glory!
I just wish that Britain would at least double or treble its contribution.
The nail in the coffin
In the coffin of Russia's delusion of greatness, of being anything but a regional power (as Barack Obama so precisely categorised it) no better than Iran or North Korea, the final nail can now be hammered home.
Russia can also be seen as an audacious confidence trick played upon the international community throughout the Cold War, sustained by its unjustified reputation of having single-handedly beaten back the Nazi war machine on the Eastern Front during WW2.
Its historical military record is nothing to boast about either – beaten by the British and French in the Crimean War, by the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese War, by the Germans in WW1 and most recently by the Afghans in the Soviet-Afghan War.
The pathetic inadequacy of the Russian military during its current (Feb 2023) attempt to invade Ukraine should therefore perhaps not come as a surprise, though the heroism of the Ukrainian army against an enormous disparity in manpower, armament and equipment has won the admiration of the civilised world.
Watching a BBC TV forum the other day about Ukraine's need for 200 or more battle-tanks, I was amazed when one of the guests, a retired US general, remarked that the USA had Lend-Leased 13,000 battle tanks to the Soviet Union during WW2. That just cannot be true, I thought, this aged bigwig is talking through his brass hat.
But it was indeed true, and so much more besides. The Lend-Lease program involved numerous other Allies besides the Soviet Union, including Britain of course (see Wikipedia, from which the following account clearly derives). Indeed it was not until 2006, for example, that Britain fully repaid its Lend-Lease debts to the United States from WW2.
FDR signs the Lend-Lease Act, 11 Mar 1941
(please click here for pdf version)
However, the point I'd like to emphasise is that both Stalin himself and Khrushchev readily conceded that without Lend-Lease, and ipso facto the United States, Russia would have been defeated
Stalin: "Without the machines we received through Lend-Lease, we would have lost the war."
Khrushchev: "If the United States had not helped us, we would not have won the war. One-on-one against Hitler's Germany, we would not have withstood its onslaught and would have lost the war. No one talks about this officially, and Stalin never, I think, left any written traces of his opinion, but I can say that he expressed this view several times in conversations with me."
Marshal Zhukov, Stalin's best general, had this to say:
"People say that the allies didn't help us. But it cannot be denied that the Americans sent us materiel without which we could not have formed our reserves or continued the war. The Americans provided vital explosives and gunpowder. And how much steel! Could we really have set up the production of our tanks without American steel? And now they [Voznesensky et al] are saying that we had plenty of everything on our own."
And Boris (Vadimovich) Sokolov, a respected WW2 historian:
"In a hypothetical battle one-on-one between the U.S.S.R and Germany, without the help of Lend-Lease and without the diversion of significant forces of the Luftwaffe and the German Navy and the diversion of more than one-quarter of its land forces in the fight against Britain and the United States, Stalin could hardly have beaten Hitler"
"In order to really assess the significance of Lend-Lease for the Soviet victory, you only have to imagine how the Soviet Union would have had to fight if there had been no Lend-Lease aid. Without Lend-Lease, the Red Army would not have had about one-third of its ammunition, half of its aircraft, or half of its tanks. In addition, there would have been constant shortages of transportation and fuel. The railroads would have periodically come to a halt. And Soviet forces would have been much more poorly coordinated with a constant lack of radio equipment. And they would have been perpetually hungry without American canned meat and fats."
But what does all this have to do with the current situation in Ukraine?
There are very significant parallels. All US military assistance to Ukraine is being supplied under the terms of the Ukraine Defence Lend-Lease act of 2022, signed by President Biden on 9 May 2022, 'Victory Day', the holiday on which Russia and many other post-Soviet states commemorate their victory over Nazi Germany, on the Eastern Front anyway, in 1945. This underlines that America is in for the long haul.
In WW2 the long haul, the ultimate objective of the Western Allies, was the unconditional surrender of the German armed forces (though the Russians made a fuss about who was surrendering which way up and to whom – for them, only the Eastern Front mattered). In a little-known initiative, the Germans did propose that they switched to the Western Allies and together we would defeat the Russians!
In what one may call WW2.5, for that is what it is, the joint objective of Ukraine and its European allies, plus the all-important USA, is to expel the Russian armed forces from Ukrainian territory as it was pre 2014. There is no mention of the word “defeat”, or the Russian head of state. However, before this stage is reached, it’s quite possible that Putin (or his successor) will have ordered the use of a tactical (ie battle-field) nuclear device as a sort of Jolly Roger that the pirates used to hoist.
Western defence analysts have agonised for years about what we should do in that kind of contingency, and the answer is quite surprising.
The one credible argument remaining is that Putin may fear repercussions. He is not afraid of nuclear retaliation - because Ukraine doesn’t have its own nuclear weapons and NATO is unlikely to mount a nuclear response against the use of a nuclear weapon inside Ukraine. (And, if NATO did, Putin believes that he would have a totally mobilized, albeit diminished, nation.) What he may fear, however, is an extreme response from NATO using conventional weapons - a series of strikes, for example, that would devastate Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and destroy all its remaining military capability in Ukraine. This would be a blow so humiliating that nothing but a second, more powerful nuclear strike could avenge it. Is that a prospect that Putin is unwilling to contemplate? Possibly not, but it is as close as the West can get to deterrence these days.
I would throw in his beloved land-bridge to Crimea for good measure.
Sunday morning’s BBC interview by Laura Kuenssberg didn’t go very well for Andrei Keilin, the Russian ambassador (one glance at whom revealed who’d eaten all the pies).
Constantly interrupting, and waving a podgy forefinger, he was clearly out of his depth and at one point threatened to terminate the interview when Kuenssberg mentioned the Russian atrocities committed in the course of the war so far.
He claimed that Russia had enormous [military?] resources and had yet to “act very seriously" [such as conscripting 300,000 untrained civilians, perhaps?] But numbers don’t tell the whole story of course - the Ukrainian forces have proved themselves to be brave, intelligent and resourceful, whereas the Russian army have revealed themselves to be a cowardly pack of thieves.
He also brandished a statistic that Russia is sixteen times larger than Ukraine, and is therefore bound to win. He must have found this figure at the bottom of the biscuit tin, as the actual data for 2021 (as supported by the World Bank) are as follows
|Population||143.4 million||43.8 million||3.27 : 1.00|
|GDP||$1.779 trillion||200.1 billion||8.89 : 1.00|
|Area||17,125,192 km2||603,628 km2||28.37 : 1.00|
None of these figures reveal any inevitability of a victory for Russia.
Lastly, though by no means leastly, the people of Ukraine are as battle-hardened as their magnificent armed forces, whereas the Russian populace are a nation of TV Zombies, who believe the 16 hours of daily propaganda fed to them by the liars in the Kremlin, and whose complacency is now being systematically splintered with each incoming drone from who knows where.
Russia’s new schoolbook aims to justify war on Ukraine
The school book - promoted by Russian Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov - is the first that mentions Russia's invasion of Ukraine
By Vitaly Shevchenko
Authorities in Moscow have unveiled a new schoolbook which aims to justify the war on Ukraine and accuses the West of trying to destroy Russia.
According to excerpts published by Russian media, schoolchildren will now be taught that human civilisation could have come to an end had Vladimir Putin not started his "special military operation" against Ukraine.
The textbook, called "Russian History, 1945 - early 21st century", was co-authored by presidential adviser Vladimir Medinsky, formerly Russian culture minister.
This is the first officially approved history book to be used in Russian schools which mentions events as recent as the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which started in February 2022.
From September, it will be studied in the last year of secondary education in Russia - the 11th year - which is attended by pupils aged 17-18.
The textbook claims that "the West is fixated on destabilising the situation within Russia" and to achieve this aim, Western powers spread "undisguised Russophobia".
Then, it goes on, they started "dragging" Russia into various conflicts. The West's ultimate objective is to destroy Russia and take control of its mineral wealth, the schoolbook says.
It repeats numerous clichés from Kremlin propaganda, portraying Ukraine as an aggressive state run by nationalist extremists and manipulated by the West, which allegedly uses the country as a "battering ram" against Russia.
According to the book, Ukraine is little more than a Western invention created to spite Russia, and even Ukraine's blue-and-yellow flag was supposedly invented by the Austrians keen to convince Ukrainians that they are different from Russians.
The textbook is also rife with distortion and manipulation.
For example, it describes Russia's initial attack on Ukraine in 2014 as a popular uprising of eastern Donbas residents who "wanted to stay Russian" and who were joined by "volunteers" from Russia. It makes no mention of the military hardware and personnel Russia sent to Donbas at the time or over the next eight years.
It argues that one key reason for the full-scale invasion in 2022 was the possibility of Ukraine joining Nato.
If Ukraine had joined the alliance and then "provoked a conflict in Crimea or Donbas", the textbook says, Russia would have been forced to wage war against the whole of the Nato alliance.
"This would have possibly been the end of civilisation. This could not be allowed to happen," the schoolbook says.
However, Ukraine's accession to Nato was, back then - and remains now - a distant prospect.
The textbook also falsely claims that before Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, Ukraine had plans to turn Sevastopol - the seat of Russia's Black Sea Fleet - into a Nato base and that later Kyiv said it wanted to acquire nuclear weapons.
Another false assertion in the textbook is that until 2014, 80% of Ukraine's population considered Russian as their mother tongue. According to a poll published by the reputable Razumkov Centre in 2006, only 30% of residents of Ukraine named Russian as their mother tongue, while 52% said Ukrainian was their native language.
In an apparent reference to the abundance of online material implicating Russian forces in atrocities committed in Ukraine, the textbook warns schoolchildren to be mindful of "a global industry manufacturing staged clips and fake photos and videos".
"Western social networks and media all too enthusiastically spread fake information," the textbook says in a chapter about the "special military operation".
Authorities in Russia have previously jailed activists who have accused Russian troops of targeting civilians in Ukraine. For example, Kremlin critic Ilya Yashin was jailed for eight-and-a-half years in December 2022 after discussing suspected Russian war crimes in the Ukrainian town of Bucha in an online live stream.
The textbook is critical of Western sanctions imposed on Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine and presents them as an attempt to "destroy Russia's economy". It also wrongly argues that these sanctions "violate all the norms of international law which the West is so fond of quoting".
At the same time, the exodus of Western businesses from Russia in the wake of the full-scale invasion is presented as a "fantastic opportunity" for Russian businesspeople.
The spotty youth hesitantly holding this moist new publication to the cameras is apparently Sergei Kravstov, current Russian minister of education.
It’s simply a regurgitation of Putin’s nonsensical vomit, as lickspittled by the notorious former Russian culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, Kravstov’s co-author.
Ultimately, of course, this gobbledygook emanates from the painfully uneducated scribbling-pencil of the paranoid president himself, and is the very reverse of objective truth.