La Puntita · 3 de Marzo de 2022. 11:09h.

XAVIER RIUS

Director de e-notícies

Towards World War III?

The same old armchair strategists have reappeared with the war in Ukraine that reappeared in the war in Abyssinia when Italy invaded the African country without, by the way, Europe lifting a finger.

On 14 October 1935, the Spanish writer Josep Pla published one of his parliamentary chronicles in which he described this phenomenon: "The cafe (armchair) strategist figure, whom we have not seen since the European war, has made his appearance in Madrid - and in Barcelona it must have been the same thing".

Indeed, with the war in Ukraine everyone is in a hurry: arms must be sent to Ukraine, they must be admitted to the EU and even to NATO!

Last Sunday, I caught Roger Montañola (who is a former member of the Catalan Parliament from a now defunct conservative party) on a television programme. He equated Vladimir Putin with a "tyrant" and said that he had to be "eliminated". I don't know if even physically or that he should end up "in a prison in Vladivostok".

Well, how should we do it? Because Russia is, by area, the largest country on the planet: 17 million square kilometres. It is also one of the most populous: 144 million inhabitants. And, most importantly, it is a nuclear power.

I will repeat the question: how should we do it? Shall we send in NATO forces? That’s not what NATO was created for. Hence, shall we invade Russia?

At the risk of ending up in World War III. The third is the last. As Albert Einstein once said: “the next one will be fought with stones”. I suppose after thousands of years until the effects of nuclear contamination have worn off.

Because sending arms to Ukraine is all very well, but it is a full-blown military escalation.

With the first Russian deaths, Putin is going to appear on TV saying that these deaths are Germany's fault, that they were the first ones and that they already caused the death of 27 million Soviet citizens during World War II. 27 million. That's an understatement. No state paid such a high price at that time.

That Russia is an autocratic regime? Yes, but Russia has never been a democracy as we understand it in the West. Only in the Kerensky period between the first and second Russian revolutions, in the middle of the First World War, so it doesn't count.

That Putin has gone too far and embarked on a full-blown invasion? So has he. But I find it hard to believe that he is a madman or a Hitler, simplifications that are now commonplace in the West.

Rather, I believe that it has, despite everything and with exceptions in some segments of the population, a majority support. It has given them political and economic stability after the disruption of the collapse of the USSR.

It should be remembered that his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, we liked him very much because he got into a tank during the 1991 coup d'état, but that he drank too much vodka and, in some official meetings, he appeared staggering.

Vladimir Putin has given Russians something even more important: the recovery of self-esteem, national pride. So important when it comes to triggering conflict.

It remains to be seen whether Ukraine will turn into a military fiasco, a kind of Russian-style Vietnam. For if Russia is impossible to occupy - Napoleon and Hitler have already tried - Ukraine, with 600,000 square kilometres and 44 million inhabitants, is not far behind.

Wars, in order to be unleashed, have to have very clear objectives. Here I don't know what it is because from a surgical intervention limited to the Donbass it has turned into a full-scale invasion.

But even in the worst-case scenario for the Russian president (that the war takes its toll on him politically) I’m always in favour, as the famous saying goes, of a son of a bitch known rather than a son of a bitch yet to be known.

Among other reasons because a power vacuum is usually filled by an even worse power. There are countless examples throughout history. The most disastrous of all was Hitler's, cited above, which was a political and economic power vacuum.

Of course, Ukraine is a sovereign state and has the right to decide its future. But I believe that the West has also fuelled its expectations to erode Russia's sphere of influence.

After the famous revolution of 2014, it emerged that the CIA director at the time, John Brennan, had been in Kiev. I doubt very much that he was on holiday.

Surely between a Belarusian-style Ukraine (which is what Putin would want) and a Ukraine that is a member of the EU and NATO (which must be what Zelensky wants) a middle ground could be found.

In any case, I am reluctant to think that this is a war between good guys and bad guys. I find it hard to believe - even if they have every support - that Ukraine is paradise on earth compared to Russia.

One last point despite the length. It is normal for Russia to feel threatened by NATO's eastward expansion: Poland and Czech Republic (1999); Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia (2004), Albania (2009).

Personally, I think there was that famous compromise to allow for a rapid German reunification after the fall of the Wall. In a good-natured way. Don't worry, Mikhail. Don't worry. But in international relations good-naturedness doesn't work. I have Gorbachev's memoirs pending to see what he has to say.

It should be remembered that Russia has been periodically invaded. Not only by the West - Napoleon or Hitler - but also from the East with the Tatars, for example.

As historian Michael G. Kort recalls in the foreword to his monumental book The Soviet Colossus. History and Aftermath, now in its eighth edition: "Russia had, in the West, formidable enemies including the Poles, Lithuanians, Swedes and Germans".

Between the 13th and 15th centuries alone when it was still in formation (like all other European states). "Russia fought 41 wars with the Lithuanians, 30 with the Teutonic Knights and 44 with Swedes, Bulgarians and other enemies". The Grand Duchy of Lithuania, for example, stretched as far as the Ukraine.

But all this does not justify an invasion.

That’s why I am scared. I don't know if we are facing a military escalation with incalculable consequences. Even if it ends badly for Putin. If they say there is nothing worse than a wounded animal, I don't even want to imagine the big (Russian) bear wounded.

Moreover, a stable Russia is in the West's interest. I am not just saying this for economic reasons - 40% of the EU's gas comes from Russia - or Russian tourism on our shores, I am saying it for everything.

Let's see if we are in the same period as Europe before the First World War. Then they also saw a military escalation but they didn't know it.

Between the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife - who, by the way, his family could not stand him because he had contracted a morganatic marriage with a Czech countess of inferior rank - on 28 June 1914 and the outbreak of hostilities, a month passed in the middle of summer, when no one realised the tragedy that was about to unfold.

In fact, the Czech writer Franz Kafka wrote in his diary on 1 August 1914 - probably the most important sentence in his entire oeuvre: "Germany has declared war on Russia. In the evening I went swimming.

A succession of mistakes, decisions and failures that led to the First World War and which have been so well described by historians such as Margaret MacMillan ("1914. From Peace to War") Christopher Clark ("Sleepwalkers") or Barbara Tuchman with the classic "The Guns of August".

There is one sentence from the first, just as I began reading the book, that stuck with me: "we should never underestimate the part played in human affairs by mistakes, muddle, or simply poor timing" (2). Or the sentence in Boris Pasternak's masterpiece "Doctor Zhivago": "When they left the Central Russia region and made their way east, unexpected things came thick and fast" (3).

It is well known that President Kennedy put on the brakes and held back the hawks during the missile crisis because he had read Barbara Tuchman's book and did not want a succession of hasty decisions to provoke a world war.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy - like other political figures - was very fond of history and even published, during one of those sick leaves due to his back ailments, the book "Profiles of Courage" (1955) about prominent figures in American history.

To be sure, the Russians had installed missiles in Cuba on the sly - and the US considered this an insurmountable red line - but the Americans also had missiles in Turkey just a few kilometres from the Russian border, and that part of the story is less well known.

Let's see if, in the end, we learn from history. At least not to repeat it.

 

Xavier Rius ist a Spanish journalist and Youtuber.

 

(1) Josep Pla: "Cròniques parlamentàries (1934-1936). Destino, Barcelona 1983. Volume 42 of the complete works. Page 445.

(2) Margaret MacMillan, The road to 1914. The war that ended peace. Random House, New York 2014, page XXXI of the Introduction.

(3) Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Vintage Books, 2011)

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4 Comentarios

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#4 Enrique Sánchez , Tarragona, 04/03/2022 - 11:53

A great article!
Mutual deterrence is a break point and the last brake to avoid the war. We known how to begin and didn't will know how can stopped it.

#2 Alien, Saturn, 03/03/2022 - 21:29

Putin might be succesful in invading Ukraine, but it will still be a fiasco for Russia. Even if he wins, he is loosing. He has just shocked the world and destroyed the dreams of the Russian youth. Sooner or later russian people will realise they do not deserve to be subject to a despotical regime and will rise against dictatorship.

#1 Martin Horvat, Stamford, CT, 03/03/2022 - 16:12

You better be scared of nationalism

#1.1 EnriqueSánchez, Tarragona, 04/03/2022 - 11:56

Nationalism, the beast of one thousand faces!