I will be giving a talk at the Royal Canadian Military Institute in Toronto on 17 June on the topic of Deterring ‘Russian Aggression’. See below:
In recent posts I have linked to surveys showing that Russians are increasingly happy. Further evidence for this comes with the publication of the 2015 World Happiness Report. According to this, Switzerland is the happiest country in the world, while most of the top 20 countries are in Western Europe and North America. Russia is in the middle of the pack, being ranked number 64.
This is not a particularly high ranking, and indicates that Russians still do not enjoy the same quality of life as people in the West. However, the situation is getting better. A second table in the report measures changes in happiness relative to the time period 2005-2007. This places Russia 20th in the world in terms of improved happiness.
In the same period, according to the report, many Western states became substantially less happy, especially Italy and Greece, but also including the United States of America. Thus, while Russians are still not on average as happy as Americans, they are, according to this report, catching up.
Today (25 April) is ANZAC Day, which commemorates the Australians and New Zealanders who fought at Gallipoli 100 years ago. As I have mentioned before, Russian soldiers were also at Gallipoli, although a little later (in 1921 and 1922). These soldiers made up the First Army Corps of the Russian Army of General P.N. Wrangel, and were interned at Gallipoli after the Red Army had driven them out of the Crimea in November 1921. The hardships and moral resurrection experienced by Wrangel’s troops at Gallipoli gave it a mythological status in the minds of many Russian emigres.
Below is a poem by Ivan Savin dedicated to Gallipoli. The (literal and very quick) translation is mine. The monument referred to is that constructed by the Russians before they left. Later destroyed in an earthquake, it was rebuilt in 2008.
Огневыми цветами осыпали Этот памятник горестный Вы Несклонившие в пыль головы На Кубани, в Крыму, и в Галлиполи.
Чашу горьких лишений дo дна Вы, живые, вы, гордые, выпили И не бросили чаши … В Галлиполи Засияла бессмертием она.
Что для вечности временность гибели? Пусть разбит Ваш последний очаг – Крестоносного ордена стяг Реет в сердце, как реял в Галлиполи.
Вспыхнет солнечно-черная даль И вернетесь вы, где бы вы ни были, Под знамена … И камни Галлиполи Отнесете в Москву, как скрижаль.
You strewed with fiery flowers This mournful monument, You who did not bow your heads in the dust In the Kuban, in Crimea, and at Gallipoli.
The cup of bitter deprivations You – alive, you – proud, drank to the dregs And you did not cast away the cup … At Gallipoli It began to shine with immortality.
What to eternity is the transience of death? Though your last hearth be smashed apart – The crusading order’s banner Will soar in the heart, as it soared at Gallipoli.
The sun-black distance flames up And, wherever you are, you return Under the colours … And you carry off The stones of Gallipoli to Moscow, like a tablet.
One hundred years ago today (22 April 1915 new style, 9 April 1915 old style), Tsar Nicholas II visited Lvov, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia. The Russian Army had seized the city in summer 1914 in the early stages of the First World War. The capture of the Austro-Hungarian fortress of Przemysl in March 1915 finalized the Russian conquest of Galicia, and the Supreme Commander of the Russian Army, Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich, persuaded the Tsar to visit Lvov to mark this achievement. According to the chief of the Tsar’s personal guard, Aleksandr Spiridovich, the local population gave Nicholas a warm reception. On arrival in Lvov, the Tsar inspected a guard of honour and met his sisters, Grand Duchesses Olga and Ksenia, the first of whom was working in the city as a nurse.
Following its recent happiness survey the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Centre, VTsIOM (Vserossiiskii Tsentr Izucheniia Obshchestvennogo Mneniia) has today issued the results of its latest poll, which asks respondents to say how satisfied they are with the situation in the country as a whole and in their own lives more specifically.
The index provided by VTsIOM at the bottom of the tables below subtracts the percentage of people who think that the situation is bad or terrible from the percentage who think that it is outstanding, good, or just ok, to produce an overall measure of how many people are positively inclined. As you can see, more people than ever before – 70% – are satisfied with the situation in the country, an increase of 32% over one year ago, and double the total two years ago. Meanwhile, 81% are satisfied with their own lives.
I have an article out in C2C Journal entitled ‘The West’s new “Cold War” is with Dostoevsky’s Russia not Putin’s’. Read it here.
Continuing the month’s religious theme, this week’s object is a small icon of Boris and Gleb which I bought at the Danilovsky Monastery in Moscow. The first saints to be canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church, Boris and Gleb were princes of Kievan Rus. They were murdered in the year 1015 on the orders of their brother Sviatopolk ‘the Accursed’, who had usurped the throne following the death of their father, the Great Prince Vladimir the Great. Learning that Sviatopolk had taken power, Boris and Gleb refused to resist him, supposedly even after having been warned that assassins had been sent to kill them.
Boris and Gleb are models of kenoticism, a philosophy which claims that accepting undeserved suffering is morally praiseworthy, and which therefore encourages non-resistance to evil. The martyred brothers can be seen in a negative light as exemplifying a submissive attitude to oppressive authority, or rather more positively as symbols of peace.
In a recent post, I discussed the spiritual malaise which afflicted the Russian people during the Soviet era, leading to rampant alcoholism and early death. If anybody doubts that contemporary Russia is successfully overcoming this malaise, then the results of two surveys published last week should enlighten them.
The first survey was produced by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Centre, VTsIOM (Vserossiiskii Tsentr Izucheniia Obshchestvennogo Mneniia). Its overall index subtracts the percentage of people dissatisfied with their lives from those fully or partly satisfied. As seen from the results below, the overall index has declined from a peak one year ago (perhaps associated with a Crimean annexation feel-good factor), but within that index the percentage of Russians declaring that they are ‘fully or mostly’ satisfied with their lives is currently just below the all-time high registered in February of this year, and nearly twice what it was ten years ago. It seems that Russians are lot happier than they used to be.
Not content with extending its bombing campaign in the Middle East to Syria, the Canadian government has announced that it will get involved in yet another country’s war by sending 200 troops to Ukraine. The objectives, we are told, are to deter Russian aggression and to ‘help Ukrainian forces’ personnel to better defend their country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.’
Most of the contingent (150 in total) will train members of the Ukrainian National Guard in Yavoriv in the far west of the country. The remaining 50 Canadians will provide training in explosive ordnance disposal, military policing, military medicine, and logistics. They will join 800 American and 75 British soldiers doing similar jobs.
There are a couple of ways of assessing this decision: the first is in terms of its own internal logic, that is to say examining whether the policy in question is capable of achieving the desired objectives; the second requires stepping outside that logic and questioning the assumptions behind it. The first approach involves asking whether Canada’s action will deter ‘Russian aggression’ and enable the Ukrainians to fight more effectively; the second involves asking whether ‘Russian aggression’ really is the primary cause of Ukraine’s current difficulties.
Looking at the first of these questions, will Canada’s 200 men and women serve as a deterrent? The answer is clearly no. If by ‘Russian aggression’ one means the support which Russia is giving the Donbass rebels, then to date nothing which any Western nation has done, individually or collectively, has had any noticeable impact on Russian behaviour. Certainly, it hasn’t dissuaded Russia from providing aid to the rebellion. In fact, over time Russian assistance to ‘Novorossiia’ has grown steadily. It is quite obvious that Russia will not permit the rebels to be defeated, and Moscow certainly isn’t going to be dissuaded from this objective because 200 unarmed Canadians, located 1,000 kilometres from the front line, are doing a bit of training.
It is also doubtful that the Canadians will help the Ukrainians fight more effectively. Although poor training has been a factor in the Ukrainians’ defeats, it hasn’t been the most important one. After all, the rebels aren’t exactly better trained. The real problem on the Ukrainian side has been very poor high level political and military leadership, which has resulted in a series of major strategic and operational errors. These led to Ukrainian troops being surrounded on at least three occasions – in the ‘southern cauldron’, at Ilovaisk, and at Debaltsevo. No amount of low level tactical proficiency can compensate for failure at the higher level, and since Canada’s training mission does not address that, it won’t do much for the Ukrainians’ overall performance.
Moving on to the second approach mentioned above – questioning assumptions – it is worth noting that Ukraine’s greatest strategic blunder has been the Anti-Terrorist Operation itself. Support for rebellion was actually fairly low a year ago, and the numbers willing to protest, let alone take up arms, was small. A year of living in cities which are being shelled has driven thousands of Donbass residents into the rebel armies. Listening to Canadian politicians and generals speak on the matter, it appears that they view the conflict in Ukraine in utterly black and white terms – the war is the result of ‘Russian aggression’, period. That implies that the solution lies in ‘standing up to Russia’. But this is a grotesque oversimplification of reality. While Russia shares some responsibility for what has happened, the rebels aren’t rebelling because Moscow told them to. They are doing so because they dislike the Ukranian government. Deterring ‘Russian aggression’ is irrelevant to this.
A route to a political settlement does exist. It was laid out in the Minsk II agreement, according to which Kiev must negotiate constitutional reform with the representatives of the provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk. The agreement doesn’t specify who these representatives are, but it is obvious that they have to include the rebel leaders, because the latter will not accept any agreement which does not involve them. Ukraine cannot defeat the rebels by military means. That is now impossible, regardless of how much training Canada or any other country provides. Realistically, the only way to a lasting peace which preserves Ukrainian territorial integrity is for Kiev to strike a deal with the rebel leaders. This means engaging in political negotiation and compromise. Unfortunately, the military training mission not only doesn’t contribute to this but is also likely to strengthen the hand of those within the Ukrainian government who believe that no compromise is necessary.
Politically, therefore, the Canadian mission sends entirely the wrong signals to Kiev, indicating that Western states will support it regardless of the errors it makes and regardless of its degree of willingness to take the steps required for peace.