Big Mistake not to Understand Russia

Russian Second World War veterans laying 9 May flowers.
Russian Second World War veteran laying 9 May flowers.

What a difference twenty years makes…  We used to have intelligence experts who understood Russia, through all its turmoils from Imperial serfdom, communism, Soviet Union through to western acolyte as a Democracy-in-Waiting.  But all those people were sidelined back in the early nineties when Russia was deemed too weak to bother keeping close tabs on.

Now it seems that people in the FCO and State Department can remember only the old enmity, but stripped of the perspective that was so vital during the Cold War years.  I remember UK intelligence expert Chris Donnelly showing us a Soviet world map with Moscow at its centre. You could see immediately why  they felt threatened by the West – a new awareness, that this voracious enemy might not be quite as evil as portrayed…

The 9th of May celebrations received some Western coverage, largely because of fears that this might be used as an excuse by Putin to invade the rest of Ukraine.  (Or do I mean ‘hopes’ – of Western media?)  As had been rumoured, Putin went immediately from Red Square to Sevastopol to a similar celebration there.  But apart from that,  there was no invasion.

The bald-headed infant responsible for UK foreign policy trumpeted yet more hysterical warnings – that Putin would not be able to control that which he’d wrought in Ukraine; as the Ogre himself continued to call for a postponement of elections, and urge Western support for negotiating an agreed settlement between Ukraine’s volatile factions.

We in the West need to understand why Putin has suddenly become so popular in Russia, and why failing to do this will be so damaging.  I will explain the former in the remainder of this blog.

In answer to the latter, China does understand Russia. China will therefore prefer Russia to the USA and its disjointed European groupies.

The Russian view of USA’s motivations regarding Ukraine is economic; to displace Russia in order to sell US goods to a wider Europe.  This would not suit China.

But we Europeans have far more in common with Russia than we do with China (as does Russia).  Surely we should be fostering relations with Russia, rather than allowing our politicians to continue with their pointless playground insults?

So, back to understanding Russia, and yesterday’s 9 May celebrations…

Russia has been invaded rather a lot in recent history: twice separately by Germany and Great Britain, and France. Germany’s last invasion was genocidal; their destruction of south-western Russia led to the killing of 27 million Russians. On 9th May 1945, the Germans were finally turned back, literally at the very gates of Moscow.  As good a cause for celebration as any…

Every Russian household lost people; most several people, and many were wiped out completely.  All Russians remember this threat to their survival as a nation, and are even now hugely grateful to the small number of doddery survivors of that war, and by extension to members of their Armed Forces.


The Ribbon of St George (black stripes over orange – as above), from the old Imperial Army valour award that was continued into Soviet usage, is worn to show gratitude to the 27 million who died.  Its use was discouraged by the Ukraine government, and is now used by Kiev supporters to single out  pro-Russians for violence – which was translated in today’s Daily Telegraph as being used by pro-Russians to declare their rebellion.

A fine point perhaps, but the wearing of the St George’s ribbon (in Russia at least) is so utterly NOT a political gesture. It is a mark of the deepest, most sincere respect for the dead of the Second World War (the Great Patriotic War) – the likes of which perhaps we in the West are no longer capable of even understanding. Let alone experiencing.

I would think that many of my military colleagues would probably feel comfortable wearing a St George’s ribbon, were they to be in Moscow at this time. I certainly would.

And what’s wrong with the USA is that nobody there appears to have similar convictions.  Or at least they allow their vacuous politicians to behave as if this is the case – as we in the UK.

There are of course patriots in the USA – and in UK.  I know people in both who are beginning to see elements of Putin’s recent stance as being statesmanlike and  principled – in direct contrast to our own politicians.

So maybe if we can’t do much about our politicians (until election time), we can try to at least understand why Russians are celebrating. It’s not triumphalism or empire-building; but retrieving their national identity after being swamped by the West with all its promises of prosperity and democracy.

Empty promises as it turned out.  Back in 1991, even Big Macs seemed like a dream come true.  In hindsight, definitely not worth losing your own culture or national identity for.

The American Dream works for a small number of Americans – off the backs of a very large number of Americans – and others….  The rest of us need to find dreams of our own.  Like the Russians.

When veterans die, their relatives carry their photos.
When veterans die, their relatives carry their photos.


2 thoughts on “Big Mistake not to Understand Russia”

  1. Raises some good points – the West cant change Putin for someone “better” i.e more like us, but instead of hurling ill will and dredging up decades old emnity they should be looking to work as close as possible!

    1. Hi Frank. I couldn’t agree with you more Sir! Putin is in charge of a country with very different challenges (and history) to western countries. He’s also a pragmatist (rather than any sort of ideologue) and respects stability especially in his backyard. Trump is also a pragmatist, which is why they seem to get on with each other. Also, the USA has always been very particular about what other countries get up to in its backyard…. Monroe and all that. So why shouldn’t Putin be the same?

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