And so to the war - Part One - Introduction

It's time to talk about the war.

A WW1 battlefield.A WW1 battlefield.

Russia invaded Ukraine on 24th Feb 2022 so we have been watching this for four months now. This would not be the first war in the region and it could be said the origins of the present conflict go back to 2014 at least. The history of this part of the world is complex and countries from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea have fought each other over centuries. There have also been alliances which have been formed and dissolved long before the EU or NATO came along. So it’s easy to see why Putin thinks that he has a right to revisit the past and claim that parts of Ukraine ‘belong’ to Russia. To get a better understanding we have to look at things from the point of view of Putin. The EU thinks that not only should it have, ‘an ever closer union’ among member states but it should be always expanding too. Putin objects to this. In the same we here in, ‘the West’, saw it as our duty to resist the spread of Communism prior to the Berlin Wall coming down so Putin sees he has a, ‘duty’, to Russia. Indeed one can imagine that while many people have forgotten the reunification of Germany following the removal of the Berlin Wall Putin would be word perfect on that subject. He has his own beliefs that are also dynamic. Hence the old well worn trope of, we are good, but, ‘Russia is bad’ is misplaced. In fact Putin was doing very well prior to Feb 24th in that he had the whole world guessing. Many ‘sources’ now admit they knew he was going to do something but had no idea of the exact state of his armed forces. Post Feb 24th was the dawn of the wake up on the Russian military. The invasion of Ukraine was chaotic and unpredictable. The former an advantage to Ukraine but the latter not so. For that latter point meant Russia could escalate the war and go nuclear if it looked to be their only option.

Much effort has been put into working out why the Russians got things so wrong once battle had started. In a way this is ‘cover’ for why the various agencies advising our Government and others seemed so out of touch, they were so before the war started and remain so now. And is there a link between the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan and the attitude of Russia now? Putin must have been intrigued to watch the mad scramble to leave via Kabul Airport in 2021. It was chaotic and vast amounts of military equipment were left behind. Few people seem to either understand Russia or even try to do so. Remember when there was the opinion that all, ‘the West’, had to do was stop the spread of Communism and the world would be a better place? It now looks as if the only effort to link with Russia was via trade. That this would, on its own, stop the spread of Communism did not work. Neither did the trade only approach following the end of Communism stop Russian expansionism. Both of these policies failed. So many chances have been missed since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and beyond, to realign relationships with Russia.
The moves by the EU to buy energy from Russia have also failed. Ideally they should have been successful on several levels. The income from sales would have been beneficial as it raised living standards for all Russians. This would have generated a political calming effect beneficial to the whole region. However, the 2008 world financial crisis was a setback that did not affect all countries in the same way. Russia saw its chance to become wealthy reduced and the economic situation put pressure on the political part of the equation. This frayed nerves all around and altered attitudes likewise. So an age of relative stability ended.

We must remind ourselves that in Germany Gerhard Schröder had been Chancellor from 1998 to 2005. This period began the close relationship between Germany and Russia and the highly dependant nature of the energy trade they shared. Angela Merkel followed Schröder and served as Chancellor from 2005 to 2021. We have written about her reign and mistakes (see links below) but it’s fair to say she did little to alter what Schröder had set up. Thus German dependence on Russia for energy was established. We should also remember the nature of German politics in that coalitions are freely formed. So there can be no political party in Germany that is not aware of or has not contributed to the energy dependency situation. It was in this period, the Merkel years, that the creation of Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 came about. These were pipelines from Russia to Germany to supply gas and were very large undertakings, not the sort of project that could be done without careful thought and consideration. The first pipeline was started in 2011 and the second finished in 2021. It’s also a fact that Schröder was Chairman of the Nord Stream company and Rosneft. The former is based in Switzerland and has investors from all across Europe and the latter based in Russia and answers to the Russian Government being state owned. The wisdom of the Nord Stream projects were questioned by many including Donald Trump. However, inspired by Merkel and her loathing of Trump Germany turned against any critic of the project. This was so stupid as it caused opposition to intensify and scrutiny of the unsavoury nature of some of the companies that were involved. The exact commercial details are not for this blogpost. But what we can do is note that the Nord Stream project was supposed to solve long term problems between Russia and Ukraine by sending gas from Russia to the north coast of Germany. However it did nothing of the sort and simply created more problems.

Disputes between Russia and Ukraine go back a long way and in 2005 Russia claimed Ukraine was diverting gas destined for Europe. It was later found this was true and Ukraine had not paid for it but retained it for its own use. A Stockholm Court adjudicating on the matter found in favour of Russia. Further pipeline and supply disputes due to lack of trust marked out the relationship between the two countries including one related to the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia. Thus it was surprising that later Nordstream 1 and 2 projects went ahead as they did and were not seen as a huge geopolitical and commercial risk. Eventually the whole sorry mess of the relationship between Russia and Germany fell into the lap of Olaf Scholz, the new Chancellor to follow Merkel who promised, ‘continuity’. This may have been just what the domestic audience wanted to hear but was not seen as inspiring further afield!

At the date of publishing this post there have been considerable developments on the battle field. Russia now seems to have altered its approach and is making progress. The initial Russian failures were hard to explain as is the turn around in their fortunes. It’s true that a great deal of help has gone to Ukraine and the MoD began a training project with the Ukraine military in 2015. Exactly how effective this has been remains to be seen, just like the weapons sent by the UK and others to Ukraine. Evidence is growing
of how awkward it is to supply Ukraine because weapon stocks are low. This means European countries cannot fulfil their NATO obligations and have let their defence industries be run down. So we are left with a huge problem in fighting the Ukraine proxy war as well as building back our industries. This will take years of effort and the costs be considerable. All this while going for Net Zero; you can almost hear Putin laughing at us!

Footnote

Some observations on modern Germany HERE

An overview of Merkel and Johnson HERE

A good multi topic site for detail on the war in Ukraine HERE