I was rather pleased with my first appearance as a talking head on Sky news today. The topic was the question of what threat Russia poses to NATO and its other neighbors, particularly in light of events covered in this article about Russian incursions into foreign airspace. My main antagonist was Edward “Oh God the Russians are Coming to Get US!” Lucas, who thinks that the West needs to pose a tougher response to Russia, though he didn’t specify what he had in mind beyond reinforcing certain small NATO states such as Poland and the Baltic countries. Now I felt that I fared well against the obviously more sound bite friendly Lucas, and thus I didn’t think this topic merited a blog post of its own. But then I checked out Lucas’ site, and found that he posted this:
Complacency-monger? Did you call me a complacency-monger? You totally did! And… Well… Actually that’s not really that bad, monging complacency. I’ve certainly been called worse. Better to be a complacency-monger than a panic-monger. Speaking of panic mongers…
Prior to today’s discussion I did a little homework on Lucas and found that he has a background of work and education in the Baltic countries and Poland. Right away I grasped the source of his paranoia about Russia. During the discussion, Lucas was clearly espousing the views of the Baltic countries and most likely Poland as well. As I managed to point out, countries such as the US, UK, Germany, and France cannot base their strategic aims and interests off of the perspective of these nations. Let me be clear- I’m not making any comparison between the current situation and the Second World War, but in regards to the latter it has generally been considered a grave mistake of the British to make a late stand in favor of Poland. As Sir Basil Liddell Hart wrote, this put Britain’s fate in the hands of a government that was not connected to reality. Granted, modern Poland is not the quasi-fascist interwar Poland with dreams of an empire “between the seas,” but these states cannot be allowed to determine the policies of NATO leaders nonetheless.
Lucas very adeptly moves between conflicts in Georgia and Ukraine toward hypothetical ones in the Baltic region. The obvious implication is that if Putin has supposedly got away with murder in Ukraine, he’ll move on to the Baltic next. Of course he ignored one very important distinction- all of the countries Russia has attacked or interfered in militarily are non-NATO countries. Putin’s Russia is opportunist; it attacks when it can get away with it. And unlike all those previous conflicts, in Ukraine Russia didn’t get away with it. It managed to grab the Crimea, but it’s obvious it will choke on that. It’s also clear that the initial sanctions gave the Kremlin pause about openly supporting or recognizing the separatist territories in the Donbas region. The world response is also one reason why the Kremlin said it “respects,” but does not recognize the recent elections held in those territories. It’s actually quite pathetic when you watch Russia’s leaders squirm. At home they’re crowing about how powerful they’ve made Russia and how they are defending the “Russkiy Mir”(Russian world). Yet at the very same time they are crying foul, swearing up and down that they haven’t been supporting the “Russkiy Mir” at all. Ordinary people, even those who support the government, surely cannot help but wonder why a government which supposedly does not care what the West thinks about its actions cannot simply come out in the open and say, “Yes, we are supporting Novorossiya! What are you going to do about it?”
None of this seems to faze Lucas however. He was unfazed when I explained that the best service any Westerner can render the Kremlin is to show fear of Russia, acknowledge her as a superpower, and treat her like a credible threat. There are basically two kinds of people who do that- people who actually work for pro-Kremlin media, and people like Lucas. I think his shortcoming in this respect comes from a lack of knowledge about Russian culture. I would think that most British people want the world to see the UK in a positive light, not the bloodthirsty Victorian empire of the past. Americans might be a little more inclined to see their nation viewed as being strong, but not necessarily belligerent, aggressive, or domineering. Even conservatives will balk at such implications; if they support aggressive military action around the world, these people always propose it as something absolutely necessary, or they ask who else will do it if not the US. In Russia, especially as of late, a common desire of many is for Russia to be feared, especially by Americans. It is almost impossible to explain to people here how not only do Americans not fear Russia, but in fact they don’t even think about Russia at all, at least nowhere near as vice versa.
Lucas simply doesn’t understand how furiously many Kremlin-supporters and Russophiles will fap to his fear-mongering over Russia. Putin supposedly lifted Russia from her knees and made her a world superpower again. Lucas agrees. There you have it! A Western “Russophobe,” clearly not a biased Kremlin supporter, says that Putin has indeed transformed Russia into a world superpower! Objective evidence of Putin’s leadership! Lucas even said that Putin is “winning.” I guarantee you if anyone at Russia Today had been listening to that statement, they would have needed a change of pants afterward.
Yes, Russia’s war games, passive aggressive as they are, do constitute a safety issue. Contrary to what Lucas implies, nobody is suggesting that the West do nothing about this. A civilian airliner nearly had a midair collision with a Russian reconnaissance plane; something must be done about that. Western leaders would do well not to play Putin’s game, however. Like a teenager acting up in class in hopes of getting a rise out of the teacher, Putin is falling back on the only currency he has left, i.e. the erroneous notion that he is opposing the “West.”
Lastly, if Russia is to be a threat to the Baltic, we must ask what sort of threat. Invasion? With what can he invade? The Russian army is still horribly plagued with corruption and abuse more appropriately associated with life in prison than in the military. While Lucas warns us about the coming of the Eastern horde, I’m remembering the stories of people I know who actually served in the Russian army, and how they told me non-combat personnel are lucky if they fire more than 5 live rounds from an AK-74M. He’s imagining tanks rolling into Tallinn and I’m remembering the horrible images of Russian conscripts being tormented by their own fellow soldiers which have been burned into my brain. These photos and videos, few of them safe for work and all of them shot by the perpetrators themselves as they have no fear of punishment, circulate freely throughout the Russian internet.
Mr. Lucas, if anyone should be afraid right now it is I, and yet I manage to get by somehow. You may take solace in my assurance that I have not seen nor heard any massive tank columns crawling through Moscow on their way to invade your precious Estonia or Poland. The Russian army is a far bigger threat to its own soldiers than the forces of NATO. Apart from Ukraine, the only other country Putin is truly threatening is Russia itself. Now if you will excuse me, it’s time to go out and monger some complacency.