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Ukraine special 1: The wrong elephant

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Today three of our writers give their views on the Ukraine crisis.

GEORGE Orwell wrote that as a policeman in 1930s Burma he was called on to shoot an elephant that had gone ‘must’ and killed its keeper. By the time he arrived, the animal had become calm and harmless, but the crowd expected him to destroy it, and so he did, cruelly and pointlessly. Let the people’s will be done.

Today, Russia is that Jumbo. Seven years after the Minsk-2 Agreement to regionalise Ukraine, an agreement which the ruling regime has failed to implement, suddenly we are to believe in an imminent assault by the Russians, one that will justify military intervention (possibly indirect) by the West including Britain. The consequences are unpredictable but potentially disastrous.

Where is the public outcry like the one that in 2013 stopped the Cameron government in its tracks over Syria? It has been forestalled by orchestrated drum-banging; thanks to advances in mass communication, the people’s will can be given to them ready-made. For quite some time, we have been regaled with details of Russia’s build-up of forces on the border with Ukraine; though we are told much less of the Ukrainian forces massed since 2014 at the border, not of the country but of the Donbass, that largely ethnically and linguistically Russian eastern part of their cobbled-together nation. The UK’s new Chief of Defence Staff, a Navy man, thrilled the Daily Mail’s readers with details of how the evil Putin could cut vital undersea data cables. The US has prepared us for an attack on the Russians by suggesting that the latter might be planning a false flag attack on themselves.

It feels like the build-up to Iraq Two – the military preparations and jingoistic hoo-ha are getting to the point where it becomes impossible to turn back, even when the justifying pretext has failed to show itself. If the groom doesn’t appear soon we’ll have to make do with the best man. What might that be? A local uprising? An assassination?

The hysterical groupthink is such that when Stephen Glover expresses concerns he has to preface them with ‘Vladimir Putin is a nasty piece of work. But . . . ’ as though one has to apologise for widening the lens to consider context.

Now before I too have to fend off accusations of loving the obviously subhuman Slavs who can’t wait to spit babies on their bayonets (sorry, that was the WWI Huns, wasn’t it?) I should say that the raping and murdering Red Army chased my mother’s family out of East Prussia in 1945 and their farm is still sitting in Russian Federation territory; a return of our property would be most welcome, thank you.

However, it seems to have escaped the US State Department’s notice that the Soviet Union collapsed thirty years ago and Russia is no longer the homeland of godless Commies. After more than 70 years of State persecution three-quarters of the population are still Christian. Also, despite the outrageous depredations of the post-collapse oligarchs only one-eighth of the seats in the Duma and regional parliaments are in the re-formed Communist party and none of the 31-strong national cabinet is a Communist; if anyone has a reason to hate and fear Red oppression it is the Russians themselves.

Conversely, it might be thought that if anyone misses the wicked Soviets it is the American political establishment. When the Nazis had been defeated, the Marshall Plan saved Europe from falling apart and becoming a prey to revolution, yet when the USSR died there was no such reconciliation and assistance with reconstruction. The bogeyman’s role was too important to be written out. So it was that when Hillary Clinton addressed the voters of Nevada during the 2016 Presidential election campaign, she repainted the former slavering socialists as the core of a worldwide right-wing conspiracy; Putin was ‘the grand godfather of this global brand of extreme nationalism’. Her chaotic logic could have implied that she herself was an internationalist left-winger; thank goodness that her party had Bernie Sanders to help position her centrally in her triangulation.

If our American friends are so set on the hunt for godless Commies they might look further east, to the country to which they have almost suicidally ceded key US economic resources for decades. Vladimir Putin may possibly have designs on Ukraine, even to reassert an ‘extra’ Russian nationalism, though it beats me why he should wish to venture further into Western continental Europe, historically a pit of mutually antagonistic serpents two of which launched vast raids on Russia in the 19th and 20th centuries; but China . . .

Twelve months after Mao’s 1949 establishment of the People’s Republic of China came the annexation of Tibet, referencing events in 1793. Far from defending the Tibetans, the British Foreign Office at last formally recognised the Chinese claim in 2008. The country is rich in much-needed minerals, woods and water; as is the north Indian province of Arunachal Pradesh, which the Chinese consider to be part of the ‘Tibet Autonomous Region’; plus the Aksai Chin region of Kashmir, to which the Chinese also claim entitlement.

Looking north, in the early 1950s Mao offered Stalin help with developing Siberia’s mineral resources; ‘Koba’ said thanks but no thanks. In the wake of the Soviet collapse Chinese began crossing the Amur river in Eastern Siberia, heading for the city of Blagoveshchensk just across the water. France24 reported on the growing ‘sinicisation’ of Siberia as long ago as 2012. Russia’s richly-resourced yet sparsely populated east must be a standing temptation to the Chinese, who outnumber the Russian people by nine to one.

Nor have China and Russia have always seen eye to eye ideologically, even before the fall of the USSR. When Khrushchev began his ‘thaw’ with the West, seeking a modus vivendi between the two political philosophies and spheres of influence, it led to the Sino-Soviet Split, China condemning Russia as ‘revisionists’ who had abandoned the principle that all those resisting global Communism should be converted or killed – rather like the extremists of another great proselytising faith who currently threaten world peace. It seems odd that when trying to widen the split, America chose to invest in the country that espoused the purer, more uncompromising version of Marxist-Leninism.

It’s taken the crass macho diplomacy of Joe Biden (or his advisers) to push Putin and Xi together; now, the two eastern nations have (sort of) united in declaring a ‘new era’ in their mutual relations. Yet if the West has the wisdom to pull back, we shall see how deep the new Sino-Russian understanding goes. I would suggest the basis is a wary pragmatism, wise in a world where more than one nation is capable of obliterating human civilisation with nuclear weapons.

As to their plans for the rest of the world, we could take the view that it is not the Russians who are on the march – it seems Putin sees his line of development through a sort of Eurasian EU, negotiating for closer links with countries to his south while seeking to keep religious fanaticism under control.

China, on the other hand, is more clearly expansionist, and although its army is a million strong the tools currently employed are both more subtle and more powerful than mere sword-waving. About the Belt and Road Initiative we read often, but also of the Chinese government’s use of purchases, loans and possibly financial incentives to foreign politicos in the Pacific and Africa; my query is why America has not taken a leaf out of China’s book and love-bombed the same countries. Surely it would be much easier to contain the expansion of the Chinese hegemon with money rather than armies and missiles.

This is especially topical now that China is siding with Argentina in the latter’s claim that its $44billion loan from the IMF is ‘odious debt’ and ‘China reaffirmed its support for Argentina’s demand to fully exercise sovereignty on the Malvinas Islands.’ Doubtless the vast Chinese fishing fleets would love to help Argentina exploit the Exclusive Economic Zones around the Falklands, South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands; and then there might just be further implications for control (legal and/or military) of some of the potential mineral resources both there and in British Antarctic Territory.

In the midst of this we are supposed to focus on Ukraine, the wrong elephant. I hope that at least the British will not be so easily swayed and that our politicians can ‘get it’, as David Cameron did.

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Rolf Norfolk
Rolf Norfolk
Rolf Norfolk is a former teacher and retired independent financial adviser.

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