Not learning the lessons of history

This is the absurdly out-of-her depth British Foreign Secretary lecturing Russia (quoted in the Guardian):

She urged Vladimir Putin to “desist and step back from Ukraine before he makes a massive strategic mistake”. The Kremlin, she said, “has not learned the lessons of history” and an “invasion will only lead to a terrible quagmire and loss of life, as we know from the Soviet-Afghan war and conflict in Chechnya.”

The same Liz Truss who recently saw fit to pose in a tank in Estonia and threaten Russia from there.

It is hard not to get angry with the sheer irresponsible stupidity of all this. Don’t they realise all this makes them deserve to be invaded?

She probably thinks “desist” is a big word and she is being clever. Of course; there is nothing for Russia to ‘desist’ from. They are positioning troops near Ukraine on their own territory. Almost certainly to be ready if the authoritarian and corrupt regime in Kiev, buoyed up by UK [1] and US weapons and training, decides to finally throw the Minsk peace process completely and finally out of the window and attack Donbass. They may also be there to augment their negotiating position in Geneva, to send a message: “if you don’t meet our demands to pull your forces away from our borders this is that your future is going to look like”.

Does she know nothing about history? Does she really think that the country which lost 20 million people in WWII is going to take kindly to being told that they ‘haven’t learned the lessons of history’? Does she not see that it is precisely because they have learned the lessons of history that they are concerned about a build-up of NATO forces on their borders? Obviously not. [2] Does she really think that rubbing their noses in the Soviet Afghan war is going to improve relations or make them ‘desist’? (As far as Chechnya goes that was an internal conflict which has led to an outcome which is satisfactory for the Kremlin so I am not quite sure what her point is).

The West provided military support to Russia’s opponents in Afghanistan which led to loss of life. Many in Russia believe that in Chechnya they were also up against Western military support. (I don’t know if this is true or not but this is what they believe). Reminding Russia of these conflicts seems to be sending a message saying – if you “invade” we will drag you into a quagmire by arming a partisan army against you. Don’t they understand that if you stand in front of someone and wave your weapons in their noses for long enough they will eventually snap at you? (A point which a lone Guardian journalist does seem to grasp). They are basically baiting Russia. What is going on? Does NATO want a war?

The misreading of Russia is staggering. Can’t they think it through? Peskov (the Kremlin spokesman) recently commented (in English) that it would be “madness” for Russia to invade Ukraine. Indeed it would. What would they do with an invaded Ukraine? How would they rule it? The majority of people in the West and centre of Ukraine loath them and certainly wouldn’t cooperate. Does Liz Truss really see modern Russia in the same category as the Nazis – interested in taking territory and ruling conquered peoples as slaves? If so – and this is the only explanation – then it is clearly Liz Truss who hasn’t read up on Russian history – apart from a couple of references to recent conflicts. Russia (the Empire) has always sought to assimilate the peoples it has brought into its domain. (This is part of their belief system – a belief in the value of their civilisation. It is not remotely comparable with the conquering and enslaving ideology of the Nazis). Or again; does Liz Truss think that Russia has the resources to invade, occupy and rule a hostile Ukraine? Of course they don’t. (And not just because Liz Truss is making sly threats about arming partisans).

The Western political class cannot, it seems, help themselves lecturing Russia as if Russia (that is the decision makers in the Kremlin) were a naughty child. If you don’t do as you are told you will get a big punishment. How does she think grown men and women take to be spoken to like this? Is this what passes for ‘diplomacy’ these days? (Does she think that the Kremlin hasn’t already considered all the angles including sanctions and the West continuing to arm Kiev?)

The patience of the Kremlin really must be being tested by this idiocy.

Update 18.44 22-2-21:

Mary Dejevsky writing in the Independent seems to understand that the US is “goading Russia into war“. These are lone voices of course. The madness has centre stage.

I would add that this pattern is that of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If they go on about it enough there is a danger that it really will happen.

Why is the US goading Russia into war? One possible explanation for this goading of Russia is that the West is simply being led by the nose by Kiev. Kiev is hoping to start a war and have the West ride to the rescue and crush Russia. (It is noticeable that there seemed to be a certain synchronicity between announcements from the US of the discovery of the latest Russian plot and revelations by Kiev). It seems as if the US is receiving “intelligence” briefings from Kiev and is taking them a face-value. Somehow the West’s anti-Russian stance and desperation to be seen to be backing Kiev and thereby demonstrate that they represent something called the “free world” blinds them to the possibility that Kiev is not a 100% reliable partner. I don’t know; this is just one possible explanation.

Update 22-1-22

This is Liz Truss again:

Truss claimed autocracies were “emboldened in a way we haven’t seen since the cold war. They seek to export dictatorship as a service around the world. That is why regimes like Belarus, North Korea and Myanmar find their closest allies in Moscow and Beijing.”

She is elaborating a theory about the “free world” v. China and Russia. This is a public display of extreme stupidity and an embarrassment for Britain. Minor point – Belarus and North Korea and Myanmar are all dictatorships (of a kind) entirely under their own steam. Russia hasn’t created these dictatorships in any observable way. Kim Jong-un’s family is not some creation of Russia – unless Truss’s point is to go back to the division of Korea after the Second World War and Soviet support for the North; but I doubt her history stretches back that far.

But the main point here is that while pointing to Moscow’s alliances with some highly authoritarian regimes she seems to have a lacuna about the UK’s alliances with some rather unsavoury feudal kingdoms in the Middle East. (For example Saudi Arabia – a despotic monarchy which was recently implicated in the dismemberment of a dissident in their Embassy in Turkey for example). Britain of course exports arms to these feudal monarchies. The world is run by real-politic not love and states find allies where they can; the UK is no exception. So an attempt to create a narrative about the “free world” v. the “authoritarian world” is entirely fallacious. It creates a narrative of division not based in reality and it precludes diplomacy. We would have hoped that a Foreign Secretary would understand that (real politic) and not engage in childish phantasising about the “free world” against the big bad other.

Update 27-2-21

Having just seen news about yet more NATO assets being moved into the region it occurs to me that this line about the imminent Russian invasion could be a ploy; maybe they know perfectly well that Russia has no intention of “invading” Ukraine but are, rather cleverly, taking advantage of the Russian force movements (in Russia) to tell that story and use it to even further pour forces into the region. That is; they read Russia’s move (building up forces near Ukraine) as a “strategic deception” and thought “well, ok then, two can play at that game” and responded as if it were real; justifying a further build-up of their presence on Russian borders. If this speculative theory is correct it a) confirms that NATO is fundamentally aggressive and b) suggests that they are cleverer, albeit in an underhand way, than I have previously given them credit for. I don’t know – just a thought.


  2. I think this is how the Kremlin sees it. Of course one can make a case that they are exaggerating the dangers of NATO expansion. That on their part they misread NATO. But if this is the case actions like Liz Truss issuing threats to Russia from a tank (or a previous UK Defence Secretary doing the same from a warship in the Baltic) can hardly be seen as helpful or deescalating. One can hardly blame the Kremlin for seeing threats when people…. issue threats.

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer