I am a First Gulf War veteran and one of my sons, when very young, asked me which ‘team’ I had been on as if that was a choice for a British soldier. I was recently asked by one of my not so young grandsons which ‘team’ I supported in the war between Ukraine and Russia. Years of online gaming combined with a crumbling state educational system have led young boys to consider that war really is just a game. My son subsequently joined the British Army as a boy soldier through the wonderful Army Foundation College and served for six years so I think his delusions were soon crushed. My grandson received a lecture from me on the nature of war.
But, as I look around me in Britain while part of Europe descends into chaos, I cannot help getting the impression that people here do see this war as a kind of game, and when I catch a painful glimpse of the war reporting on our mainstream media, I see why. It is terrible, over-dramatic and one-sided. Houses in my city are displaying the Ukrainian flag as if we were approaching the final of the world cup and we all ‘supported’ Ukraine. The media are clearly pushing a pro-Ukraine view of the war which is whipping the British public into an anti-Russian frenzy. Thus, we cancel music by Tchaikovsky and a school decides to stop teaching Russian children at weekends. However, every cloud has a silver lining for Russian people living in Russia as Ikea closed its stores and ITN pulled I’m a Celebrity from Russian TV. But joking aside, we seem to have taken leave of our senses here with the view that Russia and therefore Russians represent all things bad and, concomitantly, Ukraine and therefore Ukrainians represent all things good.
As exhorted in an excellent article by Alice Salles in Mises Wire recently, I refuse to take sides in this conflict. To the serried ranks of the virtue-signalling Twitterati this seems to make me a swivel-eyed Putin-loving Russophile. This is far from the case. I have long considered Putin to be a bad ‘un. Something he has proved in an act of military madness and nuclear sabre rattling towards NATO. Nevertheless, he made his intentions clear for years in speeches and abundantly clear by massing troops at the Ukrainian border in recent months. Seemingly we paid little attention until it was probably too late. He must be taken seriously because he is dangerous. I find it harder to take seriously his opposite number in Ukraine, former comedian/actor turned President Zelensky who seems to add another signature to his death warrant daily by appearing on television and taunting the Russians. Moreover, he is being goaded on by us through the provision of the wherewithal to kill the advancing Russian troops.
Peter Hitchens, who lived for many years in Moscow and is also familiar with Ukraine had been predicting trouble between Russia and Ukraine for many years. He also explains that, while many people still seem to think that Russia is synonymous with the former USSR, it is not. It has a small economy and an ill-equipped army, as evidenced by the broken down materiel on the road to Ukrainian capital Kiev. He also points to the fact that there are some very unsavoury elements within Ukraine who are, essentially, Nazis. A recent article by and interview with former war reporter, Aris Roussinos in UnHerd, demonstrates that, in our efforts to arm the Ukrainian forces there is evidence that we are handing arms directly to some of these groups. They may well use these pro tem to defend their country. But never previously having been so armed with state of the art weapons, who knows how willing they will be to lay them down at the end of the conflict, whichever side wins with who knows what consequences? Latent fascism is not far below the surface in other countries formerly ruled by Russia. I do not have extensive experience in the former USSR but I well recall on a visit to Lithuania being proudly shown the balcony on the main square of Klaipeda where Adolf Hitler had addressed the people. When I asked why they still liked Hitler, the answer was because, like him, they hated the Russians.
I hope this war ends soon, with Russia preferably back where it started, with minimal loss of life and repatriation of all the displaced Ukrainians. It might also help if Putin assisted the process by either shuffling off his mortal coil or retiring to his dacha. We are not detached from the situation in Ukraine. As Baron Moore of Etchingham said recently, anyone who thinks we are detached from it only need to take a look at their next energy bill. If our involvement at the strategic and economic level, if not at the direct military level, is absolutely necessary then let’s leave that to our politicians. But some day we will have to repair relations with Russia and, for us British citizens, those Russians in our midst. Take down your Ukrainian flags and stop making facile assumptions in the allocation of blame. After all, in the unlikely event that the Russians invade, I doubt many of you will have the courage to fly the Ukrainian flag then.