This picture was taken in 1942 and it is of my father in Tashkent having walked from the Vorkuta Gulag in the Northern Urals. He was later to fly Spitfires with 317 (Polish) Squadron, but that is another story.
It has been posted to highlight an ongoing historic problem with that sprawling and diverse country Russia, whose history has been blighted by the suppression of dissent and the need to create a common enemy in the hopes of uniting several populations united only by the imposition of a common language.
Like my grandfather, great grandfather and great-great grandfather, my father was the enemy. He was nominally Polish. That of course was really a fiction as, in common with many who lived in Polish Lwów (modern day Lviv) he was a mixture of Polish, Hungarian, German, Swedish, Jewish and even Russian antecedents, languages, religion, cultural influences not forgetting cuisine. (Never forget the importance of cuisine!)
The whole area from Eastern Poland, via modern Ukraine, Donetsk to Crimea and beyond has always been a melting pot of influences from north to south and east to west. Sometimes they all lived in relative harmony and at other times extreme nationalism has risen up, resulting in pogroms, massacres and ethnic cleansing, not too unlike the history of Northern Ireland and the Scottish enclosures after the battle of Culloden.
The only successful answer has been the gradual acceptance of democratic values and self-determination. Bolstering this has been an aspiration towards membership of the EU, which despite its many faults, has been successful in cooling tempers in the ethnically divided parts of South Tirol, Northern Belgium, Northern Spain and of course Northern Ireland. The model was there for the modern day, well informed, polyglot, cosmopolitan Ukrainian to adopt.
Trouble was that this ambition ran counter to the autocratic, nationalistic imperialism of those Russians who longed for the certainties of the old Communist system. This suited the agenda of the oligarch kleptomaniacs who hijacked, intimidated and outmanoeuvred the plodding carthorse mentality of the old soviet managers left in charge of Russia’s phenomenal natural resources and industrial complex, at the time of the post Gorbachev era. The years of Yeltsin incompetency allowed the accretion of obscene wealth and diversification into Western life, society, banking, media management and political life.
The advent of the Putin era allowed a diabolical understanding that if the oligarchs didn’t rock the boat for Putin and his ex KGB mates, they would be allowed to keep their wealth, as long as they acted as a conduit for Russian influence. Putin calculated that such political ambivalence and corruption as evinced by the efforts of Farage, Trump, fellow travellers among the Tories, arch Brexiteers, media barons, bankers, money launderers, entrepreneurs wanting to make money in Russia and a host of others keen to subjugate morality for Mammon; would give him a free rein to reinvent a new Russian federation according to his rules.
The first stop was bringing a diverse and western leaning Ukraine to heel. For years he has been nibbling away at the borders, using new found skills among the army of internet geeks who’ll do anything to prove their skill while making money. Suddenly the ability to weaponise the existing techniques of disinformation had become the weapon of choice, eclipsing by far the Maginot Line irrelevance of the nuclear arsenal.
Although Britain has been very slow, the EU, suddenly remembering its own history of appeasing dictators, found the courage to bite back. NATO guarantees helped those EU members who were in that mutual defence club, but at the point of invasion, NATO was not the prime mover, Ukraine self-determination was.
Now, like it or lump it, we are in the middle of the 21st Century version of World War 3. Nobody wants to fight over smoking radioactive cinders. They need to win the information and financial war.
The weapons must be complete financial annihilation of all institutions and allies that have encouraged Putin and his supporters. We are in a total war situation and effectively financial and information martial law must be enacted.
We need draconian wartime powers to isolate and confiscate all Russian oligarch assets without any possibility of legal redress. There are no good oligarchs now. They all took advantage of the situation. The last honest Russian politician was Gorbachev and shock battalions of greedy bastards, cooperated with the conservative military to see that he never had a chance. Moving from a centrally planned economy to an effectively managed market one was going to take a couple of generations. That did not suit the agendas of the mega greedy in both East and West.
All compromised politicians and media owners need to be excised completely. All Russian bribes must be summarily sequestered and put into a war chest to be spent on mitigating the effects of what will become fossil fuel rationing on businesses, institutions and families.
All funds must be invested in alternatives to reliance on Russian supply. No financial institution must be allowed to wriggle away down the many burrows of offshore accounting for their oligarch clients. Any voices speaking on behalf of the Putin fellow travellers must be silenced.
One of the best weapons the UK has is the BBC. It has international reputation in terms of news reporting and a track record honed during the 2nd World War. The lessons learned then were very hard won and must not be forgotten. Reporting has to be unbiased, realistic, as truthful as possible and free from the endless speculation that has informed existing opinions and prejudices.
Financial pressure has to be forced on those countries who might just be contemplating being ambivalent or supportive of Russia in any way. We have consumerism, now we can use it as a weapon. China really needs us as a market and underneath it all, the Chinese are pragmatic business owners. Without Chinese support, Putin’s Russia will lose.
We must also not repeat the errors of the Yeltsin era. Once Putin is gone and he will be sooner or later, we must not have a gold rush mentality eager to exploit to the detriment of the Russian population. They are in no way a cohesive and homogenised society. There many inequalities, socially, financially and politically that will take generations to address.
They are an intelligent and a well educated, if in many cases politically naïve, society. Their national game is chess. Never forget that. If this planet is to continue supporting its dangerously burgeoning population, we will need the Russians and of course the Chinese, Indians, Japanese and so on. The West cannot possibly go it alone.
First of all we have to win the information and financial wars. We will need allies, lots of them, but sheer billionaire self-interest will never work for all of us.
We don’t need nationalism. We don’t need triumphalism. We cannot work with one size fits all. We must embrace education in all its forms. Pluralism has to be the norm and above all a very long term view, well beyond the interests of any one generation or political segment, has to be axiomatic if we are to survive as a civilisation.
This is the first global war for hearts and minds as opposed to the false idols of sovereignty, imperial ambition and institutional ignorance.
All other historical wars will pale into insignificance by comparison. They were just about territory, wealth and self-aggrandisement. We are now in a very different landscape. There are already several ways we can wipe ourselves out as a significant species. We really don’t need to use them
It is about time we started using our intellectual strengths to combat the forces of ignorant demagoguery and the Ukraine is the first battlefield.