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Thursday, 4 September 2014

Natural Allies 2

As the member countries of NATO gather to heap obloquy of Putin's Russia, it behoves British observers to remember the  history of the relationship of the UK and Russia. Apart from the distraction of the 'Great Game' around Afghanistan [which has recurred around Afghanistan from around 1800 until the present day; though the west simply helped the Afghans defeat Brezhnev and subsequently Russia has kept aloof while the Afghans have seen off Nato forces] and the stupid, costly Crimean War of 1854-6 Britain and Russia have never been in open conflict.

The rise of a bellicose Germany in the period after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 - reinforced by the contrarian personality of Kaiser Wilhelm II - caused the autocratic Russia to seek an unlikely ally in republican France and led Britain to enter into detailed discussions with the French government and military on how British forces could be deployed on the continent if circumstances [which were easily foreseeable] led to a war situation between Britain and Germany; as happened with the German invasion of Belgium in 1914. The actual pattern of events that led the great Empires on the continent to sleepwalk to their own destruction has been well retold on the centenary, and needs no gloss here. Suffice it to recall that the British government invited Field Marshal Kitchener [the greatest general of the past generation] to take control of the whole enterprise as Minister for War. He immediately recognised what sort of war it was going to be, and began recruiting a mass army of over a million men; let nobody blame the field commanders for the awful losses that followed: the greatest military minds at that time regarded the casualties as inescapable.

Russia was plunged into a similar trench war, after appalling generalship lost them the chance of marching straight on to Berlin while the Germans were concentrating on the Western Front. By the middle of 1916 the regime was cracking under the human and material demands of the war, and the British decided that the best thing that they could so was to send Kitchener to advise the Tsar on how to pull things together. Kitchener was killed at sea on the way to Russia and the regime duly collapsed. From 1917 Russia had a dysfunctional, brutal, ideological government that became increasingly paranoid about 'encirclement' by the capitalist world. British engineers from Vickers whose input was essential for the industrialisation programme were put up in a show trial as 'saboteurs' and relations with the capitalist world generally worsened in the 'thirties. Hence Lenin's successor [and probable murderer] Stalin entered a 'pact with the devil' - Hitler -  which he loyally kept until Hitler invaded [and almost occupied] Russia. Only the combined forces of the so-called USSR and the British Empire and the USA could defeat Hitler, which they did at immense cost in the form of Russian lives and British wealth. The USA was thereafter militarily and economically predominant: but after occupying half of Europe after the defeat of Germany [including redrawing the frontiers of Germany and Poland] the Soviet regime wrung enough out of the human and material resources that they could plunder to be able to maintain an increasingly clunky defence against the capitalist 'west': responding to that military consultation in Europe [as a loyal ally of the USA] drove Britain closer to bankruptcy.

Since the collapse of the USSR the cold-war mentality of the NATO allies has been maintained: and it now risks punging us into another tragedy that can properly be avoided: see part 3, coming next.

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