Ukraine 2022, Finland 1939, Grozny 1994, the fifth column of the 1930s & UK in the future
As a child of the cold war and a student of military history I wanted to comment about what the Ukraine conflict means for Britain in the coming years because the changes maybe profound.
The only way of stopping those changes from happening is to go ‘nuclear’ on the economic sanctions side especially by targeting some of the oligarchs still active in Russia. They may not be responsible, but they cannot be allowed to prosper anymore from riding two horses. We also need their money to pay to help look after Ukrainian refugees. It may not be fair, but they won’t be poor, they will become millionaires rather then billionaires. But I worry that it won’t work because Putin will believe that we won’t sustain those sanctions against Russia for long and the oligarchs are not as influential as we hope they are.
We also need to keep the Ukrainians supplied as best as we can, to allow them to fight on if that is their choice. But what happens if they lose militarily?
How should the UK respond to a Russian occupation of Ukraine? we will need to take our share of refugees in, we will need to re-arm, rebuild relationships with the EU and be a more effective and liberal democratic state. We need to be a beacon of freedom and also prepare our economy for a less connected world. Both the Conservative and Labour parties will need to grow up by removing the ‘useful idiots’ in their ranks. We need to root out the misinformation or poor knowledge of history that allows some residents to believe this invasion is the Wests or NATOs fault. It was not. We will be starting a new form of Cold War; Russia is smaller than the Soviet Union, but it is more dangerous because under Putin it is more willing to use force. And we can no longer assume that Putin won’t move against a NATO state unless we make very clear that he has no chance of winning such a war.
As the ancient saying goes “If you want peace, prepare for war” that means reversing the decline in the British army’s ability to fight a conventional war in Europe.
We were complacent about the danger that Putin created despite a wealth of evidence about his intentions. We now need to over-react in some areas as we are playing catchup.
What is happening in Ukraine?
War is now fought in the physical, financial, political, and public relations spheres.
Ukraine has won the first political battle in the sense that there can be no doubt that Ukraine is a democratic state that deserves the right to be free and will probably win the war in the long run. Russia has lost the public relations battle except among the small proportion of the UK population who blame the west for everything and anything that goes wrong anywhere in the world. Ukraine also won the humour war, their tax office saying that anybody taking away abandoned Russian tanks won’t have to declare them on their tax returns .
Russia has lost the financial war. This makes this war different to 1939, the weaponization of finance. But Putin hopes to wait out the West, he believes that within a year Apple will start selling iPhones again and that Europe will always buy his oil and gas. If that is the case, then we will fail, and Ukraine is lost.
And it is still possible that Ukraine will survive militarily – they have more armed men and women in the country then Russia has. But Russia has the heavy equipment and air forces to decimate lightly armed foot soldiers unless they are in cities, but cities full of civilians are terrible places to fight a war.
We only have to look at how the Russian Army acted when they invaded Chechnya and ‘liberated’ Grozny in 1994. I wonder whether the Russian Army remembers its early defeats in that battle? And it is possible that the Russian Army decides it does not really want to fight, there are many examples of poorly led, poorly motivated but well-armed armies being defeated by highly motivated local forces that know the terrain. The great fear though is that like Grozny, the Russian Army will need to destroy cities and towns in order to liberate them.
And what happened to Finland in 1939-1940 maybe a good example of what happens to Ukraine and Russia today but why we need to re-arm if as appears likely Putin wins round one.
In 1939-1940 Finland a small democratic state with a small standing army but large citizenship army (like Ukraine) fighting almost alone fought the Red (Soviet) Army to a standstill, with the help of General Winter, inflicted enormous casualties on the Red Army, and further encouraged the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union the next year by showing how inept the Russian Army was. But in the end Finland had to concede large amounts of territory (still held by Russia today) because in the end the Red Army could not be stopped, once it had time to re-organise and learn from its mistakes. The Russian military has in the first seven days made many mistakes, that does not mean it cannot learn from them. If it, does it become more dangerous in the way that the Germans became after invading Poland in 1939, they learned how to fight, and the next year conquered much of western Europe.
But Finland survived as a democratic state simply because even Stalin had had enough and was unwilling to incur further losses having achieved his objective of moving the border further away from Leningrad (St Petersburg). That has to be our objective with Putin today, the only problem is that he started this war wanting to destroy Ukraine as an independent democratic state. But if we think back to 1945 many Poles were unable to return to a Communist Poland, stayed in the UK and kept alive the idea of an independent Poland.
And eventually Poles in England built the Polish Social and Cultural Association in Hammersmith to keep alive Polish culture and history. We may need to help Ukrainians do the same.
But something has changed in Europe. Our lack of a reaction to Russia’s invasion of Georgia, and the 1stoccupation of Ukraine in 2014, the murder of Litvinenko etc etc etc we now regret.
This is a very rare war where the moral responsibility is so clear. Where good (Ukraine) is opposed to bad (Putin) are so clear cut. That is not to say Ukraine is perfect, it is not. But it does not deserve this.
Unfortunately Russian propaganda has been very effective in creating division and misinformation here in the UK (and I am now curious how active the Russian troll farms are here in Tower Hamlets) helped by the useful idiots that we have seen before in the 1930’s. I have twice seen a video about a climate protest with moving dead bodies in Vienna being presented as from Ukraine on local WhatsApp groups.
So what do we need to do?