Deterring Russian aggression requires insight and determination

Deterring Russian aggression requires insight and determination

by Effie Deans
article from Monday 19, March, 2018

THERE IS NOT that much in Russia that works, they have practically no exports except oil, gas and commodities, which in part is the reason their economy has been in steep decline lately, but there are still some things they do well. The FSB, or KGB mark II, is still very good indeed. The military, despite sometimes using obsolete, clunky weaponry, can still perform as it has ably demonstrated recently in both Ukraine and Syria. Perhaps the biggest strength of the Russians is that while they themselves believe in truth, they are willing to lie without any scruples whatsoever. We on the other hand have all sorts of scruples, but no longer believe in truth.

The experience of World War II taught the Russian military and security services the benefits of deception. While the Western Allies too deceived the Germans about exactly where in France we would invade, somehow in the decades since we have forgotten the lesson. The KGB won the Cold War. They were able far more often to gain our important secrets than we theirs. This was in part because Western intellectuals and politicians (some in quite high places now) were willing to betray their country because they sympathised with Soviet ideology (socialism). 

The Russian military didn’t really lose the Cold War. It could have prevented the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union with remarkably few machine gun bullets. It was Gorbachev’s failure to defend the Motherland, i.e. the historic Russian Empire plus buffer states, which led to the worst loss of Russian territory in history. What had taken centuries to gather, still worse what had been Russia’s from the beginning, Ukraine and Belarus, were lost. It was as if the Russian heart had been ripped out.

But the Russian military retained its traditions from World War II. Its training remained just as brutal and the way it fought just as cruel and effective. It does not find itself limited by concern for civilian casualties, nor does it need to fear that a Syrian will be able to sue a Russian soldier in the Moscow courts. No Russian soldier will be convicted for doing something excessive. Rather he will receive a medal for it. This is why a Russian regiment is always liable to defeat a NATO regiment, for the simple reason that it will not have to fight with one hand tied behind its back and it will be willing to take casualties.

There is something excessive about Russian history. The pity is that it is so little known outside Russia. No wonder we struggle to understand our opponent. They know our history. They know our literature far better than we know theirs. They can speak our language, while most people in the West think Russian amounts to mirror writing (Я, И, etc). When I first read the story of how Russia developed from its tiny beginnings in Kiev to stretching across most of the Eurasian landmass I was struck most by the cruelty. Two princes are bumped off because they got in the way, another is blinded. The most terrible thing that Ivan does is to himself when he kills his own son and heir in a fit of temper and then regrets it. The most saintly Tsar Alexander may well have been involved in the assassination of his father. The cruelty also done to the Russians by invading forces (Mongols, French, Germans, Poles) was such that the Russians always found a way somehow to take revenge and in their taking revenge they found a way to be excessive.

It is this tendency to excess that explains best I think the use of Polonium to kill Litvinenko and Novichok to attempt to kill Skripal and his daughter. It just isn’t necessary to use such exotic methods. It’s excessive. It’s an attempt to say we can do what we want. We can do anything. Therefore fear us. It’s like putting a horse’s head in someone’s bed. Just like in the film, it works.

The Russians know that while they believe in truth and only tell one truth in their media, we in the West must be unbiased to the extent that we think everything is a matter of opinion. This enables them to lie with impunity. No matter how unlikely the lie, the BBC will report that the Russians say that they have no troops in Crimea, no troops in the Donbass and no Russian planes have killed any civilians whatsoever in Syria. This will all be reported impartially. Some people here, especially those who hate the West, will give the Russians the benefit of the doubt. After all who really knows the truth? Perhaps the CIA or Mossad brought down the Twin Towers; maybe they faked the moon landings?

If you tell a lie consistently enough and your opponent doesn’t really believe in truth anyway, no wonder you convince some of them and make everyone else doubt. Just like being excessive, this is a strategy that works.

The only defence against someone who lies is to know the truth and believe the truth. This is the key first stage in how we must learn to respond to our opponent. The problem is that we are going to have to reverse decades of misinformation from our universities that there is no such thing as truth.

In the West intellectuals typically believe that morality is no longer a matter of truth, but rather opinion. Who am I to judge? Everything is permitted.

Prince Charles wants to be defender of faith, i.e. all faiths rather than defender of the faith. The word “the” here makes all the difference, for in defending all faiths he is saying none of them are true, but rather all of them are just matters of opinion.

Even the most basic of truths have become a matter of subjectivity and relativism. No longer is someone’s sex something fixed and unchangeable. This is the view held in Russia and most of the world throughout human history. Instead – in the West – someone’s sex is a matter of opinion, something I can decide and choose based not on the facts but on how I feel.

In academia everything becomes plural. No longer do we have history, but rather histories. No longer does the BBC describe civilisation, but rather civilisations. Who are we to judge? Who are we to have confidence in Western Civilisation or think that anything good at all came out of it? Rather all must win prizes, all must be relative and all must be equal. No wonder we are unwilling to defend that which we no longer even value.

We have lost all sense of what we discovered, invented and composed. We ceased to defend our continent and our island. No wonder we are losing to someone (Putin) who believes in the truth, but is willing to lie. We made his job easy, because we have nothing left to defend, not even the truth.

What must we do? We must begin to defend our values. We must realise that these values are not so vague that they can apply to anyone from anywhere. Rather our values come from our history and have developed because our people were changed by that history. We are the children of Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights. Britain is as it is because of British people and the British history that made them this way. We are not the same as everyone else in the world who did not have that history. It is time that we began to defend that which is truly ours rather than some vague thing that is really no-one’s.

We must find objective truth and defend it from lies. Our media and politicians must not be impartial about lies. Say what is a lie and then treat it with the contempt it deserves.

We must cease to be balanced about defending how we live. Democracy and free markets are better than tyranny, fake democracy, the crony capitalism of corrupt oligarchs and any form of the socialist experiment that has already been shown to have failed. This is not an opinion. Free markets, the rule of law and democracy are the condition for the possibility of prosperity and opportunity for all. This is a truth we must defend and hope to spread worldwide.

We must understand our opponent. Russia is more dangerous now than at any time except when it was ruled by Stalin. It is more desperate and the people in charge more ruthless. They know no boundaries. It is very difficult to predict how next they might lash out.

We need to spend more on the armed forces. NATO needs to be able to defend our territory against a conventional attack. At the moment we could not protect Eastern Europe except by using nuclear weapons. We need to deter the Russians from any further adventures.

Many UK universities, including mine, have wonderful Russian collections, but no-one can read them. Foolishly we closed down the Russian departments when, after the Cold War, we thought they were no longer needed. You cannot understand Russia, without knowing the language. They have a different mentality that only becomes clearer with conversation. Russian is a subject worth studying and more useful today than many. 

We need to deter Russian aggression, but we also need to work towards peace. We do not want forever to have Russia as an opponent. They are too dangerous. Don’t underestimate the Russian military or security services. They are willing to fight without rules and in ways that are unexpected (see e.g. the failure to surrender after losing Moscow in 1812). This was the key to their past victories and would form the basis for future ones.

We must treat Russia now as we treated the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Both sides then knew that there were limits. We accepted that that there were things we could not change, such as the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Hungary. They knew there were lines they could not cross. Eventually with patience on the part of both sides this developed into détente and finally into something approaching peace. We must start again and work for the same goal. But if we have the good fortune to make peace again, don't let's squander it as we did in the years after 1991. 

This article first appeared on Effie Dean’s blog, Lily of St Leonards, which is always worth a read.

ThinkScotland exists thanks to readers' support - please donate in any currency and often


Follow us on Facebook and Twitter & like and share this article