There was once a man who wished to administer a powder to a Bear. He mixed the powder with the greatest care making sure that not only the ingredients but the proportions were absolutely correct. He rolled it up in a large paper spill, and was about to blow it down the Bear’s throat —
But the Bear blew first.
On July 18 an RC-135 US Air Force reconnaissance aircraft based at the Royal Air Force station at Mildenhall in England conducted an intelligence mission against Russia in the area of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea. Russian radar began to track the US plane and other electronic interception systems were activated. A Russian aircraft was sent up to try to obtain details of the RC-135’s capabilities.
CNN reported a US official as saying “the spy plane crew felt so concerned about the radar tracking that it wanted to get out of the area as quickly as possible” and the pilot requested overflight of Swedish territory. This was refused by the local air traffic controller — but the US pilot paid no attention to the order to refrain from entering Swedish airspace and flew over the Swedish island of Gotland, which has an airbase at Visby on the west coast and a large radar station at Furillen on the other side.
This was hardly one of the most dramatic confrontations between the US and Russia. The US carries out such missions every day, being as provocative as possible, trailing its coat and trying to gather what it can about Russia’s ability to defend itself against the ever-expanding US-initiated military threat along its borders. The difference, this time, was that a US military aircraft defied instructions by an air traffic controller of a neutral country and flew over that country’s sovereign territory. There were only a few minutes of arrogant insolence, but that’s not the point.
This point is this : had a Russian military aircraft illegally overflown Swedish territory there would have been colossal reaction in the west. There would have been hysterical headlines in the press and breathless TV interviews with the usual pontificating puppets in order to place Russia in as nasty a light as possible, exactly as happened after the Malaysia Airlines disaster. “Confidential briefings” would have been given to reporters by their manipulators in various intelligence agencies and there would have been ritzy technical displays on television to show how shameful the Russian violation of Sweden’s sovereignty had been. The propaganda patsies of the western press would have displayed the customary photographs of an unsmiling President Putin and the editorials would have been hypocritically fatuous.
Kerry, Obama and Cameron and maybe some others would have gone bananas and yelped with gleeful make-believe fury about how dreadful the Russians are, and how their terrible violation of international law showed that Nato must be expanded even more in order to . . . . Well, in order to do what, exactly? Deter Russia? But deter Russia from what? Does anyone seriously imagine — even the war-drum crazies in Washington and London — that Russia is going to invade the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania? Or Poland? Or anywhere, in fact?
What on earth would Russia want to invade these places for? They are all economically important to Russia — and Russia is important to them. They are thriving nations and their imports and exports are vital for the region’s economic growth. It would be insane of Russia to take military action against them — for it would gain absolutely nothing from such a crazy venture. But this didn’t stop the defense committee of the British parliament (all of whose members are currently on holiday, so perhaps there isn’t really a major crisis) recording last week that “the Baltic States are particularly vulnerable to military attack due to their position, their size and the lack of strategic depth. They also have limited military capabilities and both [witnesses] noted that without adequate reinforcements, their territories could well be overrun within a couple of days. Major General (Retd) Neretnieks thought that this may present problems for NATO.” Then there came a wonderful moment of whimsical unreality when “Major General (Retd) Neretnieks [of Sweden, who is a ‘Commander of the Latvian Order of Three Stars’] suggested that, should Russia decide to use Swedish territory, for instance the island of Gotland [the place that was illegally overflown by the US spy plane], then it could effectively limit NATO’s capability to launch an operation in support of the Baltic States.” What on earth had he been smoking?
The Committee went further into airy-fairy Wonderland and noted that “Witnesses emphasized that NATO was poorly prepared for a Russian attack on the Baltic, and that poor state of preparation might itself increase the likelihood of a Russian attack. When questioned about the likelihood of a Russian attack against a Baltic country, the recently retired Deputy Supreme Allied Commander NATO, General Sir Richard Shirreff replied that ‘If NATO is not bold, strategic and ambitious, the chances are high’.”
Now please stop laughing. This is serious. Well, OK — the notion that Russia is going to imprint one tank track inside any of these countries or go anywhere near Gotland is preposterous and hilarious — but it’s the wider implications of this absurd drivel that are important. Confrontation has been declared, and Britain is determined that Nato is going to be “bold and strategic and ambitious.” Oh wow. Tremble, you Russian hordes.
You may consider that Russia should simply ignore this hogwash, but it is serious when the British prime minister fans the flames of confrontation by likening the current situation in Europe with that which applied immediately before the First and Second World Wars. In a fit of amazing fantasy he announced that “This year we are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the First World War, and that war in part was about the right of a small country, Belgium, not to be trampled on by its neighbours. We had to learn that lesson all over again in the Second World War, when the same thing happened to Poland and Czechoslovakia and other countries. In a way, this is what we see today in Europe.”
Mr Cameron announced that he doesn’t want to start World War III, but he’s showing his reluctance in an intriguing manner. He declared that “six months into the Russia-Ukraine crisis we must agree on long-term measures to strengthen our ability to respond quickly to any threat, to reassure those allies who fear for their own country’s security and to deter any Russian aggression,” which is a fatuous statement from the man who has slashed Britain’s armed forces to shreds, but it still shows frightening absence of a sense of reality.
Cold War Two is upon us. It’s been a while in brewing up, and there has been considerable frustration in Washington and London that the world hasn’t realized and appreciated how enjoyable and productive the last one was. The War has been declared by the US and Britain (with a few others latching on) because they profess to believe that Russia has been interfering in the internal affairs of Ukraine.
Let us be quite clear : the rebellion of February 2014 in Ukraine was encouraged by the United States whose Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, was photographed together with the US ambassador handing out sandwiches to rebels in Kiev’s Maidan Square in December 2013. (The goodies were taken to the square by her armed US security guards. Then when the time was right for the cameras she was given the bags and doled them out. It was a gruesome but well-orchestrated little pantomime.)
Now think of the hullabaloo, the ululating uproar, the hysterical furor in Washington and the western media if the Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Ryabkov (for example) had gone to Zuccotti Park in New York City along with the Russian ambassador during the anti-Wall Street demonstrations and handed out sandwiches in a photo-op. (Escorted, of course, by armed Russian security guards.) Everyone would have had a wonderful time castigating rotten Russia for its arrogance and impertinence. But Nuland’s malicious meddling in Ukraine’s internal affairs — which wasn’t confined to sandwich handouts, of course ; it went much deeper — was considered perfectly acceptable.
Then after the Ukraine rebellion went the way the US intended it to go, there was the awkward matter of Crimea which had been part of Russia until, as noted by the BBC, “In 1954 Crimea was handed to Ukraine as a gift by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev who was himself half-Ukrainian.” The majority of Crimean citizens wanted to rejoin Russia rather than stay with crippled post-revolution Ukraine which would have victimized them because of their Russian heritage.
A majority vote is evidence of democracy, right? — Just as was approved by Washington and London when the Kiev rebellion was followed by a vote for a new president to replace the former — democratically elected — one who had been overthrown. That was a rebellion of the majority, which was fueled and stimulated and approved of by the west, and the subsequent election was greeted with similar enthusiasm. But for some reason a democratic vote in Crimea wasn’t welcomed. How very strange. It might possibly have something to do with the fact that there was an international agreement permitting the Russian fleet to be based in Crimea and the US and Nato were counting on Ukraine’s new US-backed president to tear it up. But the Bear blew first.
In March Crimea’s parliament voted to ask to join Russia. A referendum was held and the vast majority of voters were in favor. But you wouldn’t know this from western media or politicians, who continue to refer to Russia’s supposed “annexation” of Crimea. And unlike the revolution in Ukraine, there wasn’t a single violent death in Crimea when its citizens were deciding to leave Ukraine and join Russia. (In Kiev there were over seventy demonstrators killed by police.) The whole thing went peacefully and the overwhelming majority of Crimean people got what they wanted. This was extremely frustrating for the US and its British marionette, and efforts were intensified to rev up Cold War Two.
These efforts have been successful. What might be called Creative Confrontation on the part of the west has produced results of which Stalin and Khrushchev would have been justifiably proud. The whole jolly carnival of intimidation and menace has been revitalized — against Russia. The US and Nato have repolarized Eastern Europe most effectively. They have created tension, distrust and economic uncertainty and are intent on provoking Russia into taking action to meet their cowboy capers.
The US and US-dominated Nato countries have sent troops, ships and aircraft to operate in and around countries on Russia’s border. There is a 1997 agreement with Russia — the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security — which specifies that Nato will not carry out any new “permanent stationing of substantial combat forces,” around Russia, but this has been rendered meaningless by these deployments. The words ‘permanent’ and ‘substantial’ can be used in any way Nato decides. The only sensible western leader, Germany’s Chancellor Merkel, has said that “there is no doubt the Nato-Russia Act should remain valid,” but the deployments and war games continue.
Objective judges would consider Nato’s actions to be pathetic pinpricks, merely silly irritants by a bunch of petulant poseurs rather than a tangible menace, and certainly not a deterrent of any sort — and it’s difficult to disagree with that. But it is not the way they are regarded in Moscow, which sees them as deliberate provocation intended to goad Russia into taking action. Nato is preparing noxious powders for the Bear.
Churchill declared in his famous speech in Missouri in 1946 that “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.” But that curtain was lifted after the Soviet Union collapsed, after which Europe began to benefit from commerce with the new Russia. The problem for the US and Britain (which has more commitment to the US than to mainland Europe) was that Russia was benefiting, too, from the new era of trust and regional economic cooperation. It was growing in prosperity and power. Its influence in Eastern Europe had to be neutralized, its power curtailed and its claws clipped.
Ukraine was considered to be the ideal place through which to provoke further confrontation. Then the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 provided ammunition for the US to whip up the campaign against Russia by having its (admittedly off-the-planet) Secretary of State declare that, concerning the missile that shot down the aircraft, “there’s [an] enormous amount of evidence that points to the involvement of Russia in providing these systems, training the people on them.” But there isn’t any evidence. None whatever. And we’re waiting to see what the imagery from the US geostationary military satellites over Ukraine show about the shooting down of Flight MH17. That should be really interesting.
(Evidence exists, because images were recorded, make no mistake. There was round-the-clock surveillance of that border region in the hope of detecting and then publicising some sort of transgression by Russia. These satellites can detect fish farts and beetle ballets. And it’s strange there hasn’t been a preliminary read-out of the flight recorders’ records, which, we should remember, are being examined in Britain.)
Meantime, however, there’s no need to provide evidence of wrongdoing in order to reactivate and galvanize the Cold War. It’s on again. But this time it just might turn out to be warmer than wanted by its originators. Creative Confrontation might prove to be majestically and even terminally counter-productive. Because the Bear might decide to blow first.
Brian Cloughley lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.