The history behind Mr. Putin gives a dire warning of what might come
As readers of my blogs will mostly be aware, I am an inveterate skeptic. I don't believe in God, Karl Marx, global warming or the evils of dietary fat, sugar and salt -- and much else besides. So it should be no surprise that I also look skeptically at the current Western evaluation of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. I think the demonization of him is about as well founded as the demonization of carbon dioxide or dietary salt. The demonization is politically convenient for Western leaders -- it is cheap heroics -- but is based on little more than a kneejerk reaction to Russia. Russia has been villainous in the past so treating it as villainous now is plausible.
I see Vladimir Vladimirovich as simply a traditional Russian leader doing what any Russian leader would do and I aim to prove that right now. Proving anything from history is a shaky enterprise but I think this one is pretty clear.
Russian leaders have always had the sort of protective attitude towards all Russians that British and American leaders also once had towards their citizens. There was a time when an American or a Briton abroad who got into trouble could rely on his government going in to bat for him. National diplomatic power would be exercised on behalf of just one individual. If there is a big enough public outcry it can still happen today but it is rare. Western leaders these days don't seem to have much feeling for their own people once those people are outside their national boundaries.
But Vladimir Vladimirovich does. And Vladimir Vladimirovich is very popular in Russia because of that -- because Russians generally feel that way. Russians see themselves as a unique people without any of the Western hangups about "racism". They feel that Russians everywhere are part of a whole that they are proud to belong to. A feeling of connectedness with others is very important to human beings generally and Russians tend to feel that connectedness with all Russians.
That is all pretty well known but let me now prove it from history. How did WWI start?
As I think most people know, it started from Austria's reaction to the assassination of its archduke. In shako and whiskers below:
Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated by a Slavic nationalist -- so Austria invaded Serbia to teach those pesky Slavs a lesson. But what was that about Slavic nationalism? The southern Slavs at the time were split up into a number of nationalities but a lot of Slavs were unhappy about that. They wanted what they got many years later -- a unified nation of the southern Slavs -- Yugoslavia.
But where were the Northern Slavs while all this was going on? They were mostly in Russia. Russians are Slavs too. And Russians shared those pan-Slavic feelings. They saw themselves as the big brother to the oppressed little Southern Slavs. So when Austria invaded Serbia, Russian diplomatic efforts on behalf of the Slavs ramped up. Russia used all its diplomatic power on behalf of the Serbs. But it did no good. Austrian democracy at the time was a shambles, the Austrian Kaiser was very old and Austria was effectively ruled by the generals of the Austrian armed forces.
And the Austrian army was large, modern and well-equipped*. Austria generally at the time was large, modern and well-equipped. The Austrian army even had provision for Jewish soldiers to get kosher food and any other religious articles they required.
So the Austrian generals had no fear of Russia. As it has almost always been, the Russian army was primitive, ill-equipped and badly led. Russia has always had the same sort of difficulty in finding good generals that the British have. The last really capable British general was the first Duke of Marlborough, a guy by the name of John Churchill, ancestor of another Churchill we know about. Austrians, by contrast are Germans, and Germany sprouts good generals like other armies sprout defeats.
And the Austrians knew all that. Everybody knew what a shambles the Russian army was. The Russian navy had been wiped out by the Japanese just a few years before so respect for Russian military prowess was at a low ebb. So how did the Austrians respond to the Russian diplomatic pleas on behalf of the Serbs? They ignored Russia. But Russians HATE being ignored** and the Tsar felt that the honor of all Russia had been insulted -- so he declared war on Austria. And the dominoes leading to a truly awful war began to fall ....
That MUST be a warning for modern times. Vladimir Vladimirovich is doing what the Tsar would have done. Wherever Russians outside Russia are getting a hard time, Vladimir Vladimirovich steps in to help then. That was true of the Russian enclaves in Georgia, it was true of Crimea and, in a quiet way it is true of Eastern Ukraine. Vladimir Vladimirovich has shown prudent restraint so far in not marching his troops into Eastern Ukraine because the Ukrainian Russians are pretty feisty lot and are doing a pretty good job on their own behalf.
But what about the Baltic States? There are significant Russian populations there too. If the West puts too much pressure on Vladimir Vladimirovich, he could well decide to invade there. He might well feel that he has nothing to lose. There would be NO public support in the West for a war with Russia so all Western leaders could do in response would be to rattle their lips.
Sanctions combined with low oil prices have put Russia under considerable economic pressure so Vladimir Vladimirovich might well feel that a nice little war in the Baltic would distract his people's attention from that. The West might try to deploy air power to oppose Vladimir Vladimirovich but nine tenths of the planes in the Luftwaffe are not fit to fly and America's F35 is not yet battle-ready -- so Russia would deal with that very easily. It would be a welcome and triumphant exercise.
Western leaders should be engaging Vladimir Vladimirovich, not antagonizing him. Sanctions against Russia are perilously like shooting an Austrian archduke. Those who believe in prayer should be praying that Vladimir Vladimirovich's restraint continues. Once war starts, you never know where it will lead. The Austrians didn't.
* Footnotes: The regiments of the Austrian army were of uneven quality but that was true of most armies at the time. The Austrian generals would have been aware of the poor performance of British troops in the Boer war around 10 years previously. To defeat a few Dutch farmers on that occasion, the British had to resort to terror attacks on the civilian population. It was from that war that we have the term "concentration camp". The British concentration camps killed off Dutch women and children by the thousands. Hitler admired British propaganda. You can see why.
** Russians STILL hate being ignored. That is why Vladimir Vladimirovich sends his majestic old TU-95 nuclear bombers on flights that skirt Western airspace. He knows the panic that induces and enjoys it. It keeps Russia in the forefront of Western minds.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).