Vladimir Putin continues his dangerous game of over playing his hand, just like so many Russian leaders have done before him. It all reminds me of the countless uncomfortable days, weeks and months I spent in a former life, preparing for such things during military exercises. These exercises or Tacivals (Tactical Evaluations) would always open with a comparable fictitious scenario to the one the Russian leader is currently choreographing on the Ukrainian border and would invariably follow a similar thread of actions that would go something like this: After massing on someone’s border there would be a few brief skirmishes with conventional weapons and then perhaps a few biological or chemical weapons such as nerve gas thrown in; but it always, ALWAYS ended in total nuclear annihilation for both sides.
In those Cold War days, although the threat was always perceived as coming from the Warsaw Pact, (a collection of eastern European countries like Poland, East Germany and Czechoslovakia, who had all had Communism imposed upon them by the Behemoth Soviet Union), we always described the enemy as Russians. This was mainly because everyone knew the power presided within Moscow and because historically Russia, even before the Bolshevik revolution, had traditionally existed by being an expansive country with imperial ambitions, who rulers had rarely bothered themselves with negotiations or talk, believing instead that the might of an army was all you ever needed when it came to settling a dispute. This would often lead to the aggressive annexing of anyone else’s territory that they took a shine to, just like in Crimea a few weeks ago.
Looking back on those exercises, they always seemed quite surreal, especially as towards the end we were usually quite calmly fed the latest Geiger counter readings over the Tannoy system, readings that signified that no life could exist outside of our bunkers for the foreseeable future. Bizarrely we often looked forward to this phase of the game, because it did not heralded our slow and lingering deaths due to radiation poisoning, as would have been our fate in real life. More over it meant the end of the exercise was close at hand and with it a chance to rip off our NBC (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical) suits and our hated respirators, which had invariably filled with liquid snot and water from our long, sweaty hours of having to breathe through them.
I expect in the past few years the scripts for these loathsome exercises have gradually changed from a more defined enemy with stockpiles of thousands of nuclear warheads, to those with more emphasis on such things as dirty bombs and International terrorism? These are still bad scenarios of course but nothing compared to the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) that was seen as almost inevitable if war ever broke out between Nato and the Warsaw Pact.
So let’s just step back from Putin’s current nonsense, which is essentially for the benefit of his dodgy neighbours and a domestic audience, fed on a constantly stream of lies and counter lies from their now severely restricted Russian media machine. He may well hanker over the power he believes the re-animation of the corpse of the Soviet Union may one day bring him, through a Eurasian Economic Union pact with his similarly corrupt and despotic neighbours like Belarus and Kazakhstan, who will probably still sign up despite Ukraine’s recent rejection of it. But even he would surely gag at the prospect of a total thermonuclear war, because when everyone’s fingers move to the trigger, accidents can and do happen.
So let’s find a way out of this mess for his massively inflated ego. I am not suggesting he should be appeased like that other famous land grabber Adolf Hitler, or even that any new sanctions are lifted any time soon. All I am saying is that if history has taught us nothing else, it is that with all dictators the very last thing they want to do in the teeth of a crisis is to lose face. The world somehow managed to avoid this with Khrushchev in October 1962, when a fairly hollow, last minute gesture by Nato, to pull some redundant missiles out of Turkey, allowed the Soviet leader to save face and step back from the brink to which he had carelessly dragged the entire world during the Cuban Missile Crisis. If that had not happened then far from being a blue and slightly overcrowded planet today our world would look a lot more like our dead and dusty moon; albeit with a lot more burnt out junk lying around for future alien archaeologists to sift through as they try to fathom out just how most life, not just human life and the dinosaurs, had been erased from planet Earth.
John Kerry, William Hague or anyone else who has any say in this latest game, please get on your planes and if necessary fly to Moscow and meet with Sergey Lavrov (who I am told, when he is not having to regurgitate Putin’s riddles and ‘tough guy’ sound-bites, is quite a reasonable person), who will readily agree to getting down to the serious business of sorting out this unnecessary mess. So please just do it, but this time sort it out once and for all, before some idiot does something seven billion of us may have no real time to regret!
And Finally – I couldn’t resist this Joke, which actually came to me via one of my Russian Twitter friends…
A dog is stopped at a Ukranian Check-point and asked why it wants to enter Russia.
“There is no food in Ukraine but I’ve been promised there is lots to eat in Russia.” he replies.
A week later the dog returns and is asked by the same guards why he now wants to come back to Ukraine. So the dog smiles and tells them:
“They lied to me. There’s no food in Russia either but at least in Ukraine I am still allowed to bark.”