Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Russians are Coming (2)?

I wasn’t too sure what to make of the fighting between Russia and Georgia at first. I thought though, like many people, that something quite important is happening. Better to see what pans out before wading in? (there is a first time for everything).

The TV pictures of massed Russian tanks and armoured vehicles pouring into Georgia have rightly unsettled many people’s perceptions of modern day global politics.

It also brought back to me, almost forgotten memories of my youth, when for several years I was a member of the “Territorial Army” (the “Terries” or TA) whose chief role in those days was to support the regular “British Army of the Rhine”. In the event of a war their job was to smash and turn back the armoured divisions of the Red Army from sweeping across the German plains into the West.

I seem to remember that most of us, including our instructors and senior officers, were pretty pessimistic about our chances of actually stopping them. This may just have been traditional British self-mockery. On exercises in Germany, I was often “dug in” a muddy farmer’s field in the pouring rain with my trusty 7.62 SLR (rifle) and “training only” 66 anti-tank rocket launcher. To kill (unlikely) or disable (somewhat possible in theory) a main battle tank with a 66, the idea was that you had to get really, really close, preferably from behind and while it was stationary. When you managed to fire at the damn thing there was a very bright projection flash to the rear of the 66, which brightly illuminated you to everyone on the battle field. So if I was in a middle of any mass tank attack I didn’t really fancy my chances.

Seeing the TV pictures and photos of heavy artillery barrages, mass rocket attacks (grand-daughters of Stalin’s Organs) and air bombing in Georgia reinforces this view. Generally, our idea was to slow the Soviet advance down long enough to give peace talks a chance before NATO started to go nuclear.

I think that most Brit’s sympathys will naturally be with the Georgians. So far the Russians have not produced any evidence of any massacres or systematic ethnic cleansing by Georgian troops in their abortive attack in South Ossetia. I think in any case that Russia is flexing its muscles as a world power after a long period of internal turmoil and weakness. It is bullying its smaller neighbours in a traditional Russian way.

But things are very different from the “Cold War” era. Firstly, the Russian tanks are now thousands of miles further east than they were. Secondly, there is no longer an ideological black hole between the West and the Soviet Union (which to me it was always “Russia” to all intents and purposes). There are of course huge differences inbetween Parliamentary and one Party authoritarian “democracies” – but nothing compared to the past.

Personally, even in the bad old days I didn’t really believe that the Red Army would ever invade the West even if they did have theoretically superiority in numbers of tanks, artillery, troops, attack aircraft etc. Barring a mad, bad dictator taking charge, I was pretty sure that the prospect of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) would have stopped any real attack. After all the Russians did "really love their children too".

But, I don’t think my youth was entirely mis-spent. If there had not been a creditable conventional military defense by NATO during the “cold war” I think that the Soviets (Russians) would have engaged in dangerous military adventures short of all out war. The sort of stuff that they appear to be carrying out in Georgia, since they would have correctly calculated that NATO would not have risked MAD over such issues.

The BBC report today that a Russian commander in Georgia, General Nogovitsyn, said “Russia was not the Soviet Union or the Evil Empire”.

Yes General, I agree, but Russia will do whatever it thinks is good for Russia. The famous quotation from Churchill (in full not just the memorable first bit) in 1939 is as valid to day as ever before.

"I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest."


ian said...

Hi John

'Yes General, I agree, but Russia will do whatever it thinks is good for Russia.

Likewise the US in particular, will do what is best for the US, usually geting other nations to do its dirty work (ie us!!)

BTW I was also in the TA back in the early 80s doing my bit, well bit of drinking in many a German bar whilst on RnR!!



Anonymous said...

Actually the TA's nickname is "The Terriers" in the tenacious dog...not Terries? Try to get it right! Are you sure you were actually in the TA in Germany? What exercise?
Good to see that Diane Abbotts son achieved 11 A*'s in his GSCE's ..the 12K a year City of London School is to be applauded! Or is that a GCSE A grade is now reckoned by the reputable University's to be the equivalent of a grade C 15 years ago? Education, Education, Education!

John Gray said...

Hi Ian
I suppose all nations do what they think is best for their national interests. While in the “West” we are not at all perfect, there is still a fundamental democratic difference even between leaders such as Bush when compared to Putin.

I must admit to my shame that the only bit of German I remember from those days is "Ein gross alt Bier bitte"

I've forgotten the meaning? It must be some sort of request for the location of the local Church I suppose?

John Gray said...

Hi Anon
You may well be right – it may be the “Terriers” or it might have been “Terries” in Yorkshire. One exercise was quite soon after the end of the Miners Strike (1985?). Since I was with a platoon of the Yorkshire Volunteers from Wakefield.

I can’t remember for sure the names of these (NATO?) exercises Was it (somewhat ironic nowadays) “Crusader” or “Lionheart”? I also spent a very enjoyable (and fascinating) attachment with the Irish Guards at Munster.

Funny to think anon that if you were about in the 1980’s (and not just the sparkle in your fathers eye) that good trade unionists and Labour Party members such as Ian and I were protecting you from the Reds under your bed. Hope you slept peacefully during this period!

As for Diane Abbotts – well, I don’t think that before she put her son into private education you would have thought that she represented mainstream Labour Party opinion. But this does go and show that if you have money in our society – you can “buy” a decent education.

While for obvious reasons I would like to think that my GSCE grades were equivalent to much better grades nowadays, I think this is just nonsense. Thanks to the Labour Government and teaching staff (all of them, not just teachers) Education in this country is generally far, far better than pre 1997. Things are not perfect but standards have obviously risen.

Anonymous said...

Ivan has 1,000 tanks
you have 100 tanks
do you attack him ?

Anonymous said...

Did Cameron really spend £42,000 for a weeks holiday in the Med

A man of the people this Eton boy

ian said...

Well Russia has come along way since the fall of Stalinism. They are struggling towards being a 'democracy' the same way the US, UK or many European countries did in the past.

Both Russia and the West arent prone to a bit of chest beating. In the case of Georgia we must try to look a bit more deeply into the situation rather than rely too heavily on Russian and US/UK accounts. While I would oppose any territorial expansion by Russia I am completely cynical as to western motives in opposing them.

I have heard today (and am looking for a source) that the US has been interfering with the protests against Morales in Bolivia. If this is the case the US has no right to. They would be guilty of interfering in an independent country's democratic process. There are countless examples of this in recent history.

I remember "ein grosse beer, bitte"



Anonymous said...

I don't want to be rude but this years GSC pass rate is an improbable 98.4%. Trying to suggest that this is the result of hardwork and excellent teaching is equally improbable. Most knowledgeable commentators working in education know this to be true. This is not to detract from the effort of many students but the sad fact is that the examinations have become a lot more predictable and therefore easier. Whereas 20 years ago in a modern history exam you had to study 200 years of history and could be asked questions across a wide you know that there will always be a question on the origin of the First world war etc - makes the revision easier to target and the result predictable. This is why more university's opt for an entrance exam...its the only way to sort the Terries from the Terriers. Education, Education, Education is a failure for all but the Dianne Abbotts and Tony Blairs of our socity.

Anonymous said...

If cameron did spend this on his holiday it was a better example than Blair..he used to bum his holidays for free and use Blair force one to fly him there

John Gray said...

thanks Ian for that. Fair points.

Hi Anon 1 - I'll do a post in reply hopefully later today

("university's" ??? -wot happened to your spelling and grammer check Comrade?)

Anon 2

Nothing wrong with taking a holiday at your mates! I go and look after my sisters house each year while she goes off to Greece! God's Country (Wales) of course!