If the Russians were in Scotland …

George:   The war started because of the vile Hun and his villainous empire-building.

Blackadder: George, the British Empire at present covers a quarter of the globe, while the German Empire consists of a small sausage factory in Tanganyika. I hardly think that we can be entirely absolved of blame on the imperialistic front.

George: Oh, no, sir, absolutely not. [Aside, to Baldrick] Mad as a bicycle!

I’ve mentioned before that two of the major problems in international relations are state leaders’ lack of self-awareness and lack of strategic empathy. Given their imperial history, as well as their awful recent history of invading, destabilizing, and generally messing up foreign countries, you might imagine that the Brits would have learnt to avoid these pitfalls and developed a bit of humility as well as some understanding that others might not view them positively. But it appears not. No matter how they (or should I say ‘we’, since I have a British passport) screw things up, they/we still think that they/we are on the side of the angels whereas others are the devil incarnate, and that all the world needs is a bit more Britain.

If you doubted this, I suggest you take a look at a new article published this week by the British Defence Secretary, who goes by the good Scottish name of Ben Cameron Wallace. The bulk of the article – which appears on the UK government website – is an attack on Russian president Vladimir Putin’s historical essay on Russian-Ukrainian relations, which argued that Russians and Ukrainians were in essence one people, or at least very closely related peoples. Given that Putin wrote his piece some months ago, it might seem a little strange that Wallace would suddenly decide to respond. But his reply coincides with a decision by the British government to send additional weapons to Ukraine. It’s clearly therefore designed to provide some sort of moral justification for that move.

Wallace starts out by saying that Russia’s belief that it is threatened by NATO is a ‘straw man’. Why? Because – and you’ve heard this before – ‘NATO, to its core, is defensive in nature. … It is a truly defensive alliance.’


How was NATO defending itself in Yugoslavia? Or in Libya? Or even in Afghanistan, for that matter? The idea that NATO is ‘to its core, defensive’ is, of course, ridiculous. At the very least, as I noted in a recent post, even if NATO is in some objective way defensive, others have very good subjective reasons for viewing it differently.

Not only has NATO attacked countries that posed no threat to it, but so too have NATO members acting outside the alliance. The UK itself is a prime example. After invading Iraq in 2003, the cheek of British politicians portraying their country as ‘defensive’ and others as ‘aggressive’ is quite something.

But all that is fairly obvious and has been said time and time again. For whatever reason, the Brits don’t want to acknowledge their own aggressive behaviour or how it might look to others. I guess it would make them feel bad. So let’s put it aside for now, and continue on with what Mr Wallace has to say about Putin’s essay on Ukraine, for that’s what constitutes the bulk of his article.

Now, to be fair to Wallace, I wasn’t a huge fan of Putin’s piece myself. All this ‘brotherly nations’ stuff, based on distant historical ties when modern nations as such didn’t exist, strikes me as rather dubious. Still, there are some things about Wallace’s analysis that are worthy of note.

First, he accuses Putin of ‘ethnonationalism’ saying that in his article the Russian president ‘puts ethnonationalism at the heart of his ambitions’ in order to achieve ‘the subjugation of Ukraine and at worse the forced unification of that sovereign country.’

Obviously, Wallace hasn’t read a lot of Putin. If he had, he’d be aware that the Russian leader has regularly denounced ethnonationalism and called for a Russian state which respects the multiplicity of ethnicities and religious that make up its population. Putin’s nationalism is a state nationalism, i.e. it’s founded on loyalty to the Russian (Rossiiskii not Russkii) state. Wallace is a bit out of his depth, I think.

Second, and this is where I think it gets interesting , the British Defence Secretary comments that ‘Ukraine has been separate from Russia for far longer in its history than it was ever united.’ This is just bad history. For what do you mean by ‘Ukraine’? If you mean the lands that now make up Ukraine, then Wallace is right. But if you mean Ukraine as a nation, then he’s wrong, since Ukraine, like most nations, is a fairly modern construct. There was no ‘Ukraine’ until recently. In fact, there was no independent Ukraine until 1918, and then only for a few months. And there was no Ukraine with its current borders until 1945.

But – and now I’m getting to my point – one would be telling the truth if one noted that ‘Scotland has been separate from England for far longer in its history than it was ever united’. The Kings of Scotland date back to the ninth century, giving the country some 800 years of independent existence compared to 300 years of unity with England.

Why do I say this? Because Wallace is not only a Scot, but a former Member of the Scottish Parliament for the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, ‘Unionist’ being the word in point. Wallace views England and Scotland as one. He’s a fierce opponent of Scottish separatism. Speaking in the House of Commons, he once denounced a member of the Scottish National Party by saying, ‘The honourable lady is making a brilliant argument for why we don’t want to put borders between countries.’

Wallace and his fellow Tories should have thought of that before backing Brexit, of course. But that’s not why I bring it up. The point is that Wallace doesn’t think that it’s a good thing to split up peoples that have long lived together – at least where Britain is concerned. You’d think, therefore, that he’d have a bit more empathy towards Russians (and Ukrainians) who feel that efforts to further divide Russia and Ukraine are to be regretted. In short, you’d think he have a bit of understanding of Putin’s position. But it seems that what applies to us doesn’t apply to you.

Let’s take this a bit further. Imagine that Scotland became independent. And imagine that it then asked to join the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and that it invited Russia to deploy military forces on its soil. And imagine that the prospect arose of Scotland becoming a base for Russian missiles capable of reaching London in five minutes. What do you think Wallace’s reaction would be then?

He’d be leaping up and down with fury! He’d be demanding action. He’d be screaming about Russian aggression (as he does already, in fact, even though there are no Russian troops within 1,500 kilometres of London). That’s what he’d be doing. In short, he’d be doing everything that Putin’s doing, and maybe even then some.

As I said, a lack of self-awareness and strategic empathy. Britain needs better than this.

62 thoughts on “If the Russians were in Scotland …”

  1. I was astonished by the assertion that Ukraine and Russia have been separate entities for far longer than they have been united. It was as sloppy as some of the history in Putin’s piece albeit whereas Putin is insisting on seeing the history of Russia and Ukraine as one through rose coloured and slightly distorted lenses (because western Ukraine was most decidedly not part of one state with Russia for most of modern history and that is a huge chunk of the country) Wallace is insisting on negating, ignoring and sidelining 337 years of incredibly important history for ‘left bank Ukraine.’


      1. Given that the United Kingdom has been a very successful political unit and is about to go the way of the Soviet Union I see that as less a quaint homage to Scottish identity and more a harbinger of dark things to come. P.E.T had the right ideas about how to respond to separatism. As we can see across the world and especially focusing on Ukraine, and even Kazakhstan or Russia itself these forces do not liberate, they tear asunder, destroy and create things which are warped. But most assuredly Stalin’s decision to ‘deal with the virus of Ukrainian nationalism’ (Andrew Wilson, UKRAINIAN NATIONALISM IN THE 1990s, 1997) was a rather bad choice, but given what had happened there I don’t think the Poles at the time would have wanted the Ukrainians.


      2. Wilson has an idealistic Brit imperial outlook on why Scotland-England remain together unlike Russia-Ukraine.

        The comparison between Russia-Ukraine and England-Scotland goes back to at least 1994:

        Excerpt –

        ”True, some Ukrainians are stridently anti-Russian, as some Scots bridle at the dominating role of England in Britain. Yet both Scots and Ukrainians feel a high degree of affiliation with their neighbors.”


        Back when NYT letters were longer than present and before the current popularity of the internet and availability of numerous 24/7 cable TV news shows.


      3. In Stalin’s defense [are those words actually coming out of my fingers?], drawing international geo-political borders is more of an art than a science. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you get it wrong. If you get it wrong, all you can do is shrug and go, “oi vey, in retrospect, I got that one wrong…”

        Liked by 1 person

      4. So, in the unlikely case of an attack on Ukraine, the US proposes to field the very same Ukrainian Banderite insurgents from Polish territory whose progenitors committed Polish-declared genocide against the Poles at Volhynia? Yeah, that’ll work out well.

        Sounds like another one of those Nuland-hatched plans.


    1. On the other hand, he does note how Russia and English dominated Britain cooperated in two world wars and the defeat of Napoleon.

      That’s something different from those harping on the notion that Russia has been at constant odds with the West.


    2. Ukraine was united with Russia for different periods of time, depending on region. Rus ceased being a unified state in the mid 12th century, splitting up into warring principalities. While the Left Bank plus Kiev were united with Russia for over 300 years, the Right Bank didn’t unite until 150 years later, when Poland was finally partitioned. And Galicia didn’t join until 1939. Moreover, much of the Left Bank’s union was in the form of an autonomous Hetmanate (which prior to Poltava was probably more independent of Moscow than were the Warsaw Pact countries during the Cold War), or the administratively distinct Ukrainian SSR. The time that any part of Ukraine spent as a fully integrated part of Russia was rather brief.


      1. “Rus ceased being a unified state in the mid 12th century, splitting up into warring principalities.”


        Rus ceased being a unified state in the mid-13th century as a result of the Mongol conquest.

        In addition to the Rus period, Kiev’s affiliation with Russia as part of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union lasted from 1654 to the end of the USSR.


      2. Mikhail: although the Mongols conquered the Rus principalities in the mid 13th centuries the last time they had been united was under Mstislav I who died in 1132.


      3. Dewittbourchier: As I mentioned, many of those 337 years were spent in varied degrees of autonomy. During the first 55 years (until the Poltava battle), the Hetmanate was more independent of Moscow than the Eastern European satellite states were during the Cold War. Some significant autonomy persisted until 1782; only then were those lands fully integrated into Russia. And after 1917, there was brief independence followed by the creation of Ukrainian SSR. So full integration with Russia lasted a total of 135 years. A fraction of the time since the dissolution of Rus.


      4. The Mongols razed Kiev to the ground. It’s true that Rus was showing signs of some decline beforehand.

        From about the 9th to mid 13th century, a Rus entity existed. It began the time ehen the Novgorod based prince Oleg had shifted his residence to Kiev.


      5. Not entirely true. Slobodskaya Ukraina (Kharkiv and surrounding lands) was a part of Moscovy’s state since the 16th century, and before that, it was a no-mans land.


      6. Siberiancat: we were discussing the Left Bank and the Hetmanate. That sliver of land wasn’t included. You are correct that it was originally owned by Moscow before being settled mostly by Little Russians/Ukrainians moving from next door.


    1. I love Scottish ballads! This is my favorite one, I reckon you could call it a “Scottish diaspora” song. I love it because as a tourist I have visited beautiful Lake Champlain, where the action takes place. The song tells the story of a young Scottish man who enlists in the British army and is sent to America/Canada to fight in the French and Indian war. (Mid 1700’s.) Before leaving his homeland he has an evil dream, and a voice tells him: “You will die at Ticonderoga.”

      The word means nothing to him, of course, so he dismisses the omen.
      Later, as they are marching to the Fort, they reach a beautiful place where rivers come together to form a gorgeous lake. The young soldier asks their native guide, “What is this place called?” The Indian replies: “My people call this place Ticonderoga, which means, in our language, where the waters come together.” At that moment, the soldier knows that he will meet his death in tomorrow’s battle. And sure enough, it came to pass…


    1. > what applies to us doesn’t apply to you

      This notion is actually key to understanding the whole situation!

      Truth be told, I have never seen it articulated quite as clearly anywhere outside this blog. Many thanks to our dear Professor.

      There is a famous quote from some US official involving the police analogy: how the “bad actors” have no more right to resist the American power than the criminals to shoot back at the cops. Can’t remember for the life of me who said that…?

      Anyway, that’s what the Rules Based Order is vis-a-vis Russia: we are The Good Guys, you are The Bad Guys. We are Cops, you are Robbers. We are the Judge, you are the Criminal. It’s our right to discipline you as we see fit. You have no right to resist.

      Needless to say what it sounds like to Russia. We all remember the “exceptional nation” that deemed us not quite people enough, 80 something years ago.


      1. This western cops and robbers routine is running on close to empty by now.

        Putin’s strategy (as I understand it) is intriguing. I think it may stem directly from his martial arts training. What he’s done from his perspective is to reverse the cop and robber rolls and force his adversary into a corner, where after all the kicking and screaming, will hopefully find the time and inclination to an eventual state of self-reflection and self-correction, and if not, well………

        How this strategy will pay off though is anyone’s guess.


      2. “What applies to us doesn’t apply to you.”

        Romans, with their dry wit, encapsulated this principle in the rhyming aphorism:
        “Quod licet Jovi not licet bovi”
        “That which is permitted to Jupiter is not permitted to the ox.”
        With America being Jupiter, and Russia being the ox.

        Fortunately, the English language itself has a fine retort to this:
        “What is sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander!”


      3. “I’m rubber and you’re glue and what bounces off of me sticks to you.”

        I like it. May I use it in my next tete-a-tete negotiation with those Russian barbarians?


      4. On the matter of selective application, the below is coming from someone who worked with people in the Ukrainian government to find dirt (“opposition research”) on Donald Trump during the 2016 US presidential election campaign – leading to the prosecution of Paul Manafort on financial disclosure irregularity – having nothing to do with being some kind of a Russian government asset against the US.

        Alexandra Chalupa made a reported over $400,000 for her DNC connected work. Along with Evelyn Farkas, why doesn’t Twitter ban her for misinformation?


    2. Given the quality of American negotiators, I’d say they’d be more inclined to use ‘I’m rubber and you’re glue and what bounces off of me sticks to you.”


    1. In a nutshell: The problem with the UK is that it harbors within its island shell a copious assortment of nuts.

      Its dilemma of empire is that having been relegated to a tail wagging a flea-bitten dog, it hopes to pass the honor to Ukraine and in so doing, bumps its own status up a notch.


  2. In terms of what has happened since the Soviet breakup), post-Soviet Russia has been criticized within pro-Russian circles for taking Ukraine for granted, whereas the more anti-Russian leaning perspective has been more adept in positioning itself in the former Ukrainian SSR.

    A future increased pro-Russian outlook in Ukraine is possible as suggested in this article:


    Excerpt –

    “NATO prefers prospective members to have peacefully agreed borders – something not evident with Kiev regime controlled Ukraine. Are the authorities in Kiev willing to give up its claims to Crimea and the rebel held Donbass territory in exchange for NATO membership? Would Russia be especially pleased with that scenario?

    The answer to the second question is probably not. In Kiev regime controlled Ukraine, there’re some areas with a noticeable pro-Russian contingent – something that will not be so easy for Russia to formally see drift further away.

    A clearly stated provision that Ukraine will not be in any military alliance will face obstacles as well. Among pro-Russian advocates, there’s the belief that Russia and Ukraine could be allies again at some point in the future. There’s also the Biden-NATO view, which rejects a red line on NATO expansion.”


    Ukraine not being in NATO or the CSTO might work as a compromise.


  3. Plus two for the Blackadder reference!
    I’m still surprised at the surprise some people express when I remind them that the Warsaw Pact was formed in response to NATO.
    Interesting development today of the UK sending planeloads of anti-tank missiles (no type or numbers I could find, but presumably at least dozens of Javelins, which the Ukrainian Army has been using for some time now) but scrupulously avoiding German airspace to get them there.
    And the announcement of Canadian Secret Squirrels (SOF troops) being sent to Ukraine as well, but that’s a different impetus.


    1. Spoke too soon – the Guardian says what were sent are shorter-range than Javelins and attack the top of the vehicle, so they are NLAWS. (New Light Anti-tank Weapons, that is, not the people you have to be nice to at Easter dinner.)


      1. The just aired ABC NEWS US (not Australia) spins people like Blinken hyping the possibility of a soon to be launched Russian advance.

        That claim wasn’t in the top headlines, which is a roundabout way of acknowledging hot air.


  4. Logic is obviously beyond the pay grade of Mr. Wallace.

    …….and now to the core of my own post: It’s obvious that Mr. Wallace in denying Russia any agency whatsoever while exaggerating his own, has a difficulty with the very human trait of empathy, or simply ‘putting yourself in another’s shoes’. Of course, he’s not alone and marches in lockstep with a very boisterous band but I now ask, what psychological condition do we all know of that is devoid of such abilities and what psychological condition is found in greater proportion in those seeking positions of power than in the general population?

    You guessed it. Isolate the sociopaths and deny them agency and you’ll have more peace and goodwill erupting in one year than in the last one hundred.


  5. I thought you might appreciate this quoted passage – a long comment but realty short chapter … just a few of my own bolded highlights added.

    From Chapter 5 of “Falsehood in War-time” by Arthur Ponsonby

    Chapter V

    No obsession was more widespread through the war than the belief in the last months of 1914 that Russian troops were passing through Great Britain to the Western Front. Nothing illustrates better the credulity of the public mind in war-time and what favourable soil it becomes for the cultivation of falsehood.

    How the rumour actually originated it is difficult to say. There were subsequently several more or less humorous suggestions made: of a telegram announcing the arrival of a large number of Russian eggs, referred to as “Russians”; of the tall, bearded individual who declared from the window of a train that he came from “Ross-shire”; and of the excited French officer with imperfect English pronunciation who went about near the front, exclaiming, “Where are de rations.” But General Sukhomlinoff, in his memoirs, states that Sir George Buchanan, the British Ambassador in Russia, actually requested the dispatch of “a complete Russian army corps” to England, and English ships were to be brought to Archangel for the transport of these troops. The Russian General Staff, he adds, came to the conclusion that “Buchanan had lost his reason.”

    Whatever the origin may have been, the rumour spread like wild-fire, and testimony came from every part of the country from people who had seen the Russians. They were in trains with the blinds down, on platforms stamping the snow off their boots; they called hoarsely for “vodka” at Carlisle and Berwick-on-Tweed, and they jammed the penny-in-the-slot machine with a rouble at Durham. The number of troops varied according to the imaginative powers of the witness.

    As the rumour had undoubted military value, the authorities took no steps to deny it. A telegram from Rome appeared giving “the official news of the concentration of 250,000′ Russian troops in France.” With regard to this telegram the official Press Bureau stated : “That there was no confirmation of the statements contained in it, but that there was no objection to them being published.” As there was a strict censorship of news, the release of this telegram served to confirm the rumour and kept the false witnesses busy.

    On September 9, 1914, the following appeared in the Daily News:

    “The official sanction to the publication of the above (the telegram from Rome) removes the newspaper reserve with regard to the rumours which for the last fortnight have coursed with such astonishing persistency through the length and breadth of England. Whatever be the unvarnished truth about the Russian forces in the West, so extraordinary has been the ubiquity of the rumours in question, that they are almost more amazing if they are false than if they are true.

    Either a baseless rumour has obtained a currency and a credence perhaps unprecedented in history, or, incredible as it may appear, it is a fact that Russian troops, whatever the number may be, have been disembarked and passed through this country, while not one man in ten thousand was able to say with certainty whether their very existence was not a myth.”

    The Press on the whole, was reserved, fearing a trap, and the Daily Mail suggested that the Russian Consul-General’s statement that “about 5,000 Russian .reservists have permission to serve the Allies” might be at the bottom of the rumour. Like a popular book, the rumour spread more from verbal personal communications than on account of Press notices.

    On September 14, 1914, the Daily News again returned to the subject :

    “As will be seen from the long dispatch of Mr. P. J. Philip, our special correspondent, Russian troops are now cooperating with the Belgians. This information proves the correctness of the general impression that Russian troops have been moved through England.” (“Daily News,” September 14, 1914).


    “To-night, in an evening paper, I find the statement “de bonne source” that the German Army in Belgium has been cut . . . by the Belgian Army reinforced by Russian troops. The last phrase unseals my pen. For two days I have been on a long trek looking for the Russians, and now I have found them — where and how it would not be discreet to tell, but the published statement that they are here is sufficient, and of my own knowledge I can answer for their presence.”

    An official War Office denial of the rumour was noted by the Daily News on September 16, 1914.

    The Daily Mail, September 9, 1914, contained a facetious article on the Russian rumour, concluding:

    “But now we are told from Rome that the Russians are in France. How are we all going to apologize to the Bernets, Brocklers, and Pendles — if they were right, after all ?”

    MR. KING asked the Under-Secretary of State for War whether he can state, without injury to the military interests of the Allies, whether any Russian troops have been conveyed through Great Britain to the Western area of the European War ?

    THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mt. Tennant) : I am uncertain whether it will gratify or displease my hon. friend to learn that no Russian troops have been conveyed through Great Britain to the Western area of the European War. (House of Commons, November 18, 1914.)


  6. Why would someone named ‘Ben Wallace’ care whether the Russian guy Vladimir Putin feels that Russians and Ukrainians are sub-ethnic groups of the same ethnicity, or two different ethnicities?

    This is an entirely subjective judgement, to which Mr Wallace has no relevancy whatsoever.

    What’s even weirder: if this Wallace guy is the ‘Defense’ Secretary, why is he acting like a clueless hack-journo? Moonlighting?

    Tsk. Something’s rotten is that Kingdom.


    1. Something truly smells so rotten in that Kingdom…
      It is said that even Hamlet, when he arrived at the English court along with his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he sniffed the air, turned up his nose, and complained: “Compared to this gross fishy odor, the court of Elsinore smells so fresh, it’s like somebody pasted Febreze pads everywhere…”


    1. I Have! I overheard him at a summit in Baden Baden say exactly that in between his offer to throw all the Banderite children up in the air and have the Poles catch them on pitchforks as a sort of retribution for Volhynia, thinking he might trade it later for a favor that the Poles evict NATO troops from their land, then split Ukraine, 1/3 to Poland and 2/3rds to Russia.

      Annie, my wife said he made the same deal to Israel a year before but we’re both too clever to fall for that stuff. Next week, I’ll tell you what he offered the Czechs. Just give me some time to think it up.


      1. I Have! I overheard him at a summit in Baden Baden say exactly that in between his offer to throw all the Banderite children up in the air and have the Poles …

        Could you please clarify what summit, of all places, Baden-Baden, you refer to?

        Personally, it feels it might be a misinterpretation of his historical references.

        Annie, my wife said he made the same deal to Israel a year before
        What deal???


    2. “Putin is smart and resourceful. But critics argue that he is also paranoid and emotional. Thucydides wrote that nations go to war out of fear, interest, or pride….”
      This is what passes for modern “scholarship”?

      If this is the level of discourse at the “top” levels of think tanks (never mind the mouth-breathing mobs on reddit forums), then, as Baldrick might say, “We’re all doomed…”


    1. That other Friedman.

      Tom should spend more time on diet and exercise, as he’s quite overrated as a foreign policy hand.

      Some years back, he had a lucid piece, warning about unnecessarily provoking Russia, with a reference to how Germany was treated after WW I.


  7. “Has anyone here ever heard Putin claim that Ukraine today is part of Russia?”

    I Have! I overheard him at a summit in Baden Baden say exactly that in between his offer to throw all the Banderite children up in the air and have the Poles catch them on pitchforks as a sort of retribution for Volhynia, thinking he might trade it later for a favor that the Poles evict NATO troops from their land, then split Ukraine, 1/3 to Poland and 2/3rds to Russia.

    Annie, my wife said he made the same deal to Israel a year before but we’re both too clever to fall for that stuff. Next week, I’ll tell you what he offered the Czechs. Just give me some time to think it up.


      1. Good grief, Annie is Anne Applebaum and the entire spoof is a takeoff on the fabrication of a meeting where Sikorski claimed he heard Putin offer to split Ukraine with Poland, then was relieved of his position by the Poles for having fabricated (more specifically, having been caught at fabricating), the whole affair and embarrassing them (if that’s even possible).

        Try coming out from behind the moon’s dark side for a while. Hitch a ride on a Chinese rover or something.


      2. moon,

        Radek Sikorski, together with Boris Johnson, David Cameron, and George Osborne, are ‘Bullingdon Boys.’

        The revival at Oxford of an institution which more than half a century earlier had been depicted by Evelyn Waugh, in ‘Decline and Fall’, as the ‘Bollinger Club’, had its roots in the rather distinctive circumstances prevailing here in the early Thatcher years. So too did the fact that Johnson brought Sikorski into it.

        Now – hopefully – it is once again practically defunct, although some of us think it needs the proverbial ‘stake through the heart.’ It was a ‘rich white trash’ trash institution, whose members liked to pose as ‘toffs’, without in any sense having learned to be ‘gentlemen’ – causing difficulties which helped precipitate Sikorski’s ‘Decline and Fall’, and may now be having the same effect with Johnson.

        As the history is quite important in making sense of recent British politics, it may be worth linking to a quite useful discussion of some of the networks involved, at


        Also helpful, as well as quite entertaining, are two accounts by Toby Young, a student contemporary of Johnson and Sikorski, available at


        What makes these particularly interesting is that Young raises the question of whether Johnson, in common with other significant figures in the leadership of the British Conservative Party in recent years, is in some measure the product of the disastrous influence of the 1982 BBC adaptation of ‘Brideshead Revisited.’

        Published in 1945, the better of two decades after ‘Decline and Fall’, that novel replaces the brilliantly satirical – if also not exactly fair – reworking of his own student days in the earlier work with one dripping in a kind of repulsive saccarine sentimentality.

        The argument about the importance of ‘Brideshead’ for Johnson, and others, is also developed in an interesting piece from 2015 to be found on the site of the ‘Evelyn Waugh Society’, headlined ‘Waugh Cited in Latest Cameron Dispute’, at


        That said, the picture this piece tends to suggest of a student body as divided into people trying to be ‘Sebastian Flytes’, and ‘prolier than thou’ types wearing ‘donkey jackets’, is I suspect as simplistic in relation to Oxford in Sikorski and Johnson’s time, as it was remote from reality about the Cambridge where I was a student fifteen years earlier.

        Those who shout loudest tend to be the most noticed. Unfortunately, however, it is precisely members of those groups who are more obsessed with politics than most of their contemporaries who tend to seek out a political career.

        What makes some of these people plain dangerous now is that a romantic image of Mrs Thatcher ‘facing down’ the Left, which had considerable relevance to what was happening in domestic British politics in the late ‘Seventies and ‘Eighties, was also deployed as an explanation of the retreat and collapse of Soviet power.

        This was, and continues to be, seen as essentially due to the demonstration of ‘strength’ and ‘will’ embodied in the Reagan-era U.S. military build-up, and more generally in the kind of ‘competitive strategies’ advocated from the early ‘Seventies on by, in particular, the late Andrew Marshall – first at ‘RAND’, and then the ‘Office of Net Assessment’ at the Pentagon.

        Accordingly, Johnson, Sikorski and Applebaum, who is, obviously, a link to the equivalents of these people in the United States, automatically interpret the – actually extremely complex – phenomenon of the Putin ‘sistema’ in terms of a ‘return of Karla’ myth. (The influence of David Cornwell, aka John Le Carré, an immensely inferior writer to Waugh, is another interesting part of the picture.)

        And the conclusion to which the kind of – somewhat simplistic – readings of Russian, and Ukrainian, history of which Applebaum’s writings provide rather representative examples tends to lead is that ‘facing down’ Putin’s Russia will work, as these people, and their equivalents in the United States, believe it did with Gorbachev’s Soviet Union.

        A possibility that does not occur to them is that they have a great deal in common with much of the top Soviet leadership in Brezhnev period – people still in the grip of ideas which were already somewhat simplistic, when they adopted them as young people, who are blindly impervious to the way the world has changed since then.


  8. Yalensis: If this is the level of discourse at the “top” levels of think tanks then ……….

    No, the top levels of analysis are represented by the Tom Friedmans of America as found in the pages of the Daily Mail, oh pardon me, New York Times with: “Putin to Ukraine: “Marry me or I’ll kill you””, while championing the fact that the US, like all divorce attorneys who initiate proceedings and violent coup d’etats, started off by drawing first blood.

    With analysts such as these, how can America lose?


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