The threat of Russia

Unless you live in a cave, you’ll probably be aware that over the last six months, Moscow and Kiev have been having a bit of handbags over Eastern Ukraine (also known as Novaya Rossiya). Just so that we’re on the same page, this is the gist of the drama; Eastern Ukraine is populated by people who are culturally Russian, who reacted rather badly to a trade deal made between the revolutionary Kiev government and the European Union in February since they believe that Ukraine’s natural course is to have close ties with Russia, as in the good old days of the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire. Shortly after, Moscow claimed pro-Russian Crimea by supporting local angst there with troops that weren’t, apparently, actually Russian soldiers, but later it was admitted that they were, in fact, Russian soldiers. Crimea will soon be incorporated into the Russian Federation proper, and Eastern Ukraine decided it wanted similar treatment, and so has been in open rebellion against Kiev’s Western-backed revolutionary government ever since. Aside from the fact that over two thousand people have been killed in the fighting, seemingly the most alarming fact about this new West-Russia proxy war is that the rebels are openly armed and funded by Russia; their ranks include many Russian volunteers, and the claims that the rebel ranks are bolstered by Russian special forces is not particularly wild.

There. We’re all up to speed. 

If you’ve read any of my previous posts going back the last two years, you’ll probably know that I am periodically alarmed by Russian troops sitting pretty on our borders in Georgia and concerned about the Georgian Army’s ability to defend itself. You may then be surprised when I say that I understand Russia’s perspective entirely.

The Americans have a wonderful habit of causing catastrophes in the world that they think they rule. Despite the modern Western rhetoric of ‘no violence’ coupled with painful political correctness, thunderous speeches about ‘dermahcrasee’, one only has to examine the foreign policy of the United States (and Britain, to be fair) since the end of the Cold War to see that America is just as aggressive, greedy and dishonest as Russia, only they haven’t the guts to admit that they are any of those things. Look at the War on Terror; can anyone seriously believe that America’s campaigns against Islamic terrorism have not made Muslim extremism worse all over the world? (Just as a disclaimer, I don’t know what the correct response was to 9/11; the War on Terror with a little more thought and understanding put into it? I have no idea, but what they’ve done has simply backfired, and cost thousands of lives that should never have been lost). The end of the Cold War was no different. Perhaps if America had not treated the collapse of the Soviet Union as a quasi-military victory over Russia then avenging angels like Putin wouldn’t feel so strongly about undermining American interest in the modern day. Who can say?

But it is not hard to see through the hypocrisy of American criticism of ‘Russian imperialism’ when the US has been busy building an empire of its own. If you, reader, were the Russian President sitting in the Kremlin, looking at a map and borders that had once been friendly (more or less, anyway), would you not be alarmed as Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were suddenly incorporated into NATO and placed under Washington’s protection? American missile installations placed in Poland look very fine to the West, since it appears that the nuclear capability of the Russian bear has been tamed at last: to Russia, on the other hand, it looks like the West is trying to contain the Motherland as passively as it can…which, of course, encourages the urge to lash out.

What, then, is the answer? If I were Poland or the Baltic States and had a history of war with Russia, I would certainly welcome NATO and the might of Europe and America’s military forces behind me. It is, on the face of it, a wonderful idea; Russia won’t dare attack a NATO nation, since war against one is war against them all. Yet it seems to me as the years roll on and one political crisis follows another that NATO is not worth a damn thing anymore.

I’m sure it was once, in the 1960s, when NATO’s easternmost limit was West Germany and the Cold War was a sincere affair that would indeed result in the end of the world if anyone dared to push that red button first. Things have changed now, and the NATO model is hopelessly outdated. The last ten years have shown that America will not stand up to any nation that has a chance of fighting back; Iraq’s military forces in 2003 presented no serious opposition, and the only successes the Taliban have had against NATO is fighting as guerrillas in asymmetrical warfare scenarios. If Washington truly believed in world peace and freedom for all and the elimination of ‘global threats’, then Robert Mugabe and Kim Jong-Un (and dear papa) would have been deposed years ago. Instead, we have America investing hundreds of millions in Georgia only to abandon it in the face of Russian aggression (and I’m really referring to Russia’s invasion of Georgia proper rather than the Ossetian/Abkhazian nightmares) or Obama announcing he intended to send American troops to Syria to help the rebels, only to change his mind when Putin sent his own ships to the Syrian coastline and told Washington where to stick it (incidentally, Putin was right about Syria – how America could fail to see that it was intending to support the same people who it was fighting in Afghanistan is anyone’s guess. “We’ll only fight with the moderate rebels”: as if there were such a thing, and anyway, however many factions there are in the Syrian anti-government movement, they’re still all fighting the same foe).

My point is, if Riga, or Vilnius or Tallinn were to be invaded by Russia tomorrow, I think it’s fairly safe to say that Washington would not declare war on Moscow as a matter of principle as it says they should to in the NATO handbook (because let’s face it, I don’t think they’re using anything more sophisticated than an instructional manual for foreign policy these days). Oh, there’d be roars of ‘Russia must withdraw its troops!’ just as there were in Georgia in ’08 and some heavy sanctions as there are now with Ukraine, but that would be about as far as it went. No, NATO would do what the British and French (and the Americans, who were even worse) did in the Second World War, and declare war only when it was totally unavoidable. 

Not that I can say I blame them, I suppose; nobody wants war, especially not these days when its become easier to blow your enemy up than ever before. If you’ve read my previous entries you’ll know I served in the military, and all of my colleagues were deadly, professional and highly trained infantry in the best Army on the planet…and pacifists to a man, as every real soldier is. The problem is that the West has made it so obvious they’re terrified of confrontation, Russia can take advantage of extreme Western pacifism. America claiming it will ‘bolster defences in Poland and the Baltic states’ is a hollow show of backbone, since those nations are already in NATO – claiming it will send increased military supplies to Ukraine and Georgia (or even put American troops in Tbilisi or Kiev as a show of force) would give off a different message, but whether or not the Russians would subsequently up the ante or back down entirely is a different issue.

The ugly question that nobody except Ukraine seems prepared to ask is – will there ever be a major war between civilised nations again? History, they say, is our best teacher, and judging by past experience the modern world shows little to be optimistic about. Take, for example, Germany; a Eurosceptic might well point out that Germany is the main economic, political and military power on the continent these days, a situation which to people just a few decades ago would have been unthinkable. German military aggression against its neighbours predates 1914 by some centuries, and so the question could be asked whether or not the Second World War really dissuaded them from flexing their martial muscles again…1918 certainly didn’t, but these days the Germans pretty much rule Europe anyway, though to be honest I would certainly rather see Germany in charge than anyone else. If I hadn’t been born an Englishman, I think I would have liked to be a German. 

Russia, however, is doing little and less these days to move away from its aggressive reputation of the past, and Putin makes little secret that he wants select countries with Moscow-friendly governments installed; Ukraine was not the first, and I doubt it’ll be the last since the new Georgian government is decidedly pro-West. 

America still remains something of an unknown quantity. It is the world’s policeman, who will uphold the law, defend the rights of every man…providing there’s a strategic or tangible benefit to the endeavour, and no risk of the enemy having an effective chance to fight back. The country is in the midst of its own imperial century, and its people seem as incapable as to see its inevitable end as the British of the Victorian era…besides which, America still seems to be searching for its own identity. How someone can be American but still regard Italy or Ireland or Serbia as their ‘homeland’ (which they’ve usually never visited) is far beyond me…and many show an almost offensive lack of interest in Britain, which truly is America’s mother country. I know I’d like to see the origins of my culture (and have, in Wales, Norway, France and Germany), but there, American arrogance can stretch so far as to even infect the minds of liberals, who will discard their homeland until they need it (and typically they’re keyboard warriors who are the most nervous and shy people when you meet them face to face. Odd, ain’t it?). 

Anyway, back to Georgia, Ukraine and Russia. 

A few paragraphs earlier I pointed out the paradox of former Soviet states seeking protection from NATO while at the same time provoking Russian aggression with this same desire to garner Western military aid. What, then, is the answer? If they try and get NATO membership, they could provoke Moscow into military intervention (and possible conquest) to prevent Russia from being totally surrounded…but if they don’t try and Russia invades regardless, they will be in even deeper water. Oddly enough, I have an answer. 

My civilian readers will probably be under the impression that a big army means a good army. Not so, and to quote George Washington (who was a fine political opportunist if history has ever produced one, and nothing more than a second-rate soldier who got his arse kicked by the British until we were too distracted elsewhere. Bastard), ‘I’d rather have a good army than a large one’. Now that my American readers are also onboard with my opinions since I’ve just quoted Big G, I can continue. The quality of soldiers is everything (how else do you think the British licked the most formidable enemies on the planet?), training, experience and the sheer dogged determination that comes from volunteering. Motivation, you see…though honestly, I don’t think there are any soldiers on Earth to touch the British and the Germans (I except myself from the British ranks, but if you doubt my former colleagues and fellow Saxons, I can tell you that Americans I’ve met have said the same thing. The US Army is not the best in the world, whatever the Georgians like to think…though the 82nd, 101st and the Rangers are damn fine bodies of men, no error. I’m talking about the majority, you understand).

Any examination of Russia’s armed forces reveals that few of them are highly trained, motivated or experienced. I’ve pointed out before that Russia barely sent 40, 000 men against Georgia (who had an equal number), and these days I’m inclined to think that they simply couldn’t afford to send any more without leaving key bases and strategic locations unmanned. Their Guards Airborne divisions and Naval Infantry corps are supposed to be effective, tried and tested in combat…but in Britain, every man is supposed to be of an equal standard (as it is in America, but I’ve found it to be more true in our own forces. Comes from having a smaller military, I daresay). 

Conscripts against trained troops, even if the former are numerically superior and the latter vastly outnumbered, typically will only end one way. Georgia’s Army is not the same beast as it was when Russia last invaded – now almost every infantryman is a veteran of Afghanistan, and will undoubtedly have had undergone training with British, European or American regulars at some stage. The Russians have had no such benefits. The Ukrainians struggled at the beginning of this year, but have shown themselves to be quick learners with their recent successes against the rebels…rebels who are no doubt bolstered by Russian special forces. 

My idea is a sort of mini-NATO for the Black Sea area. Moldova is equally under threat for its own Russian-backed breakaway region of Transinistria (spelling error there, I’m sure), nor is Azerbaijan safe due to it having the mouth of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline which is so despised by Moscow since it is the only pipeline out of the Caspian which passes outside of Russian control, the others all going through Iran or the Russian Federation itself. Azerbaijan also remains technically at war with Russian-friendly Armenia, over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory dispute (they really go in for breakaway regions in our part of the world, don’t they just?). 

Russian military doctrine (and a lack of good, well-trained men) means the people who are standing on the Ukrainian border now are the same chaps who relieved Ukraine of the Crimea six months ago and stood within twenty miles of Tbilisi six years ago. Russia’s military is plagued with vehicles that periodically break down, tanks that by design have much thinner armour than their American and British counterparts (since they are transported by train and must be kept below a certain tonnage) and a majority of soldiers who don’t really want to play soldiers anyway. So, here is why my idea would probably work:

Without using nuclear weapons (which really would force the rest of the world to sit up and take notice), Russia probably couldn’t lick Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova all together. There would naturally need to be some drastic reorganising in the Ukrainian military, and Georgia would need to give Moldova similar training given to Georgia itself by the West, perhaps along with some of the new excellent Georgian rifles for their elite troops as well as Georgian-made armoured vehicles (which would be great for the economy too, I imagine). 

To restate an earlier point, Russia could invade Riga or Vilnius (Christ, even Warsaw probably, the modern world being what it is) and the rest of NATO wouldn’t lift a finger; there’d be ‘strong condemnation’ and then a host of excuses as to why London and Washington and Brussels aren’t subsequently at war with Moscow. A Black Sea alliance, however, presents a genuine threat – if Russia went openly to war with Ukraine with its best assets deployed against Kiev, it could suddenly find itself in deep water; its southern border and, perhaps more importantly, puppet republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia could be threatened by Georgian and Azeri troops, and Moldovan reinforcements in Ukraine would only add to the danger of a Russian defeat. Moldova, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Georgia are all directly threatened by Russia, and what happens to one will affect the others; these ripples of consequence are simply not felt in the West, who have no need to risk their own collective safety for the sake of former Soviet states.

I’m not saying I’ve suddenly put together the ultimate way to defeat Russia – far from it. Whatever pompous American civilians (of whom there are many online, funnily enough) might think, battles aren’t won or lost on the Internet, or even on the strategy tables that the generals crowd around. It’s down to the fighting infantryman, every time, and always will be, even after all the bombs have fallen and they must march over the ruins. Really, my point is that this is a way to make Russia think twice (this union would not even require these countries to abandon their actual NATO ambitions, when you think about it), since it knows that even if it would be ultimately victorious against Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan, it would pay a very high price for that triumph in blood, which would surely make Mr. Putin wonder whether he would survive politically. Russian approval for war might well drop like a stone when the body-bags start coming home, and it’s not as if Putin would be the first Russian leader to be ousted by revolution.

So, there you go. Food for thought. Comment/leave abuse, tell me I’m wrong, as you like. 

About tcjogden69

Former soldier, current boxing trainer/student living in Tbilisi.
This entry was posted in Georgia, Tbilisi. Bookmark the permalink.

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