Friday, July 10, 2009

You say something often enough

Abraham Lincoln famously maintained that you cannot fool all of the people all of the time and he was probably right. The trouble is that the partial fooling of some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time can be quite dangerous.

For some time I have maintained on EUReferendum and other outlets that Russia is not becoming a great power again in any real sense of the world but it is important for President Prime Minister Putin and his teddy bear (mishka), President Medvedev to jump up and down, scream abuse, bully whenever they can and, above all, maintain that Russia is surrounded by enemies or, at least, faces enemies in the West (thus avoiding the issue of the real threat in the East) in order to preserve his their power and the power of the political elite that depends on that unequal duo.

It seems that this line is working with Russians. At least, it works with some Russians and, no doubt, some of the time it works with all or most Russians.

Yesterday, the House of Commons Defence Selec Committee published its Tenth Report, "Russia: a new confrontation?". On the whole, the report is well balanced and I shall do a proper fisking of it in due course.

One particular item has excited attention in the media both here and in other countries. Under the heading "Military Posture" the Committee discusses recent behaviour of the Russian military and the Russian air force. By and large, the conclusion is that a good deal of it is not really a threat, merely posturing.

The issue discussed by the BBC Russian Service this afternoon with my participation was unauthorized flights by military flights into NATO airspace. Apart from the occasional overwrought media report nobody sees this as a military threat but it is not the action of a friendly power and, in any case, presents civil aviation with some problems.

The Committee concludes on this issue:
Russia's unauthorised flights into international airspace, including the UK's flight information region, do not pose a direct security threat to NATO or the UK; nevertheless, they are not the actions of a friendly nation and risk escalating tension. A further issue is that Russia's actions threaten the safety of civil flights and risk leading to serious accidents; Russia should not be
making such flights without informing the appropriate authorities. The Government should take a more robust approach in making clear to Russia that its continued secret incursions by military aircraft into international airspace near to the UK is not acceptable behaviour. The Government should call on NATO to ensure that it monitors and assesses the threat posed by unauthorised Russian military flights into NATO and international airspace near to NATO's territorial perimeter.
The discussion was enlivened by some seriously lunatic comments by Russian experts and by the usual mixture of braggadaccio and self-pity. One particular expert could not understand what the fuss was about as Russia and Britain have been allies for three hundred years (well, more or less I'd say and often less rather than more). When asked whether that did not mean that Russia should cease its incursions he showed some indignation: the idea of Russia actually showing consideration for other countries was ridiculous. People should not make such a fuss.

The most interesting part was the two minute Vox Pop section with questions asked on the streets of Moscow. Of the dozen or so people only one suggested that the government should be paying attention to the economic situation of the country and the lives of the people if it really wanted Russia to be a great country.

All the others maintained, without clearly understanding what was being discussed, that Russia had every right to train its pilots where it wanted to and it was very important to show that it was once again a great and powerful country that can defend itself because clearly people wanted to attack it.

As to who might be lining up to attack it remained undiscussed as did the undoubted fact that Russia's military might is very low-grade at the moment. Let us not forget that during last year's war in Georgia the Caucasian army could not be relied on and an elite regiment from the Moscow area had to be thrown into the rather limited battles. Nor did Russia ever admit precisely how many aeroplanes it lost in the conflict.

Nevertheless, the dual myth of Russia rising from her knees to show the world its mettle and Russia the victim of ruthless enemies who are waiting to destroy it seems to have taken root in the Russian psyche. Not a happy thought.

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