There is currently a major propaganda blitz by arms and security industries to convince us was are in a “new cold war”, and therefore should be spending even more ludicrous sums of money on weapons of mass destruction. Here are a few simple facts.
a) Russia is not a great power. Its total GDP is about the same as Spain’s – and Spain is pretty knackered. Russia has even less economic clout as a basis for world domination than the UK.
b) Russia’s economy is not diversified. It is over-dependent on raw commodity production and export. Its distribution of wealth is even worse than ours, although the Tories are doing their best to catch up. We have a totally false popular impression of Russian wealth because a few oligarchs have most of the money – and export it straight to the West. Capital flight is a huge problem for the Russian economy.
c) Russia is no threat to the UK and never has been. Centuries of Russophobia are entirely baseless. The idea of a defensive posture against Russia is ludicrous as there is no threat. Churchill, incidentally, asked Truman to nuke Moscow. A nuclear attack would be the only realistic way Russia could attack the UK – and the only thing that could make that possible are the mad calls for cold war and more weapons currently being heard in the West. None of which is to say it would be militarily sensible to attack Russia, as history shows. But Russia’s aggressive potential is very limited indeed. It will not be long before Poland plus the Baltic states are economically stronger than Russia.
None of this is to say Russia cannot continue to bully those very weak states which neighbour it. I have no time for Putin’s aggressive nationalism. But his position is fundamentally weak and his powerbase very limited. Neither the left nor the right in the UK (and in this comments section) want to hear this. The right constantly exaggerate Russia as a threat to boost their political interests and military funding. The left want desperately to believe in Putin as a strong counter to the West, as indicated by the ludicrous analyses that the Syria conflict was all about Russia’s decrepit and worthless Black Sea Fleet.
How to handle relations with Russia is not quite as much of a conundrum as it sounds, as Putin’s vaulting ambition is severely limited by his economic constraints. He is feeling that severely now, and it is nothing to do with the token and pointless economic sanctions. Russia desperately needs economic and political form – but Putin’s hand is only strengthened by the bellicose nonsense which enables him to appeal to the powerful atavistic strand in modern Russian social culture. I remain of the view that internationally supervised, genuinely fair referenda in Eastern Ukraine should be the way forward. That should include a new and properly conducted referendum in the Crimea, including free campaigns. It should be made plain that there will be a fast track into the EU for the Ukraine at the end of that process, after the secession of any districts that wish to join Russia.