Famine, plague and war are the three most famous ingredients of this wretched world, (Voltaire)

Albert Einstein, as well as other notables, are quoted as saying that if one can’t explain something you do not understand it. On this premise since the collapse of the Soviet Union politicians and experts generally have not understood Russia. That is why it is hard to explain anything that is going on right now.

The media generally have this week been emphasising that the world is on the brink of World War Three. Are their opinions well founded or yet another misconception? The basis for this conclusion appears sound but hard to explain rationally.

I recall in the early post World War Two years after Russia “got the bomb” the British Government warned that if Russia should attack any warning would be no more than 15 minutes. It was normal in those days if offered a drink in a pub people would look at their watches and say “might as well we’ve got at least a quarter of an hour”.

Discussing this with knowledgeable friends I was reminded that when Britain went to war in Iraq the public were falsely told that it was because that country had weapons of mass destruction that could target Britain.

That Russia has been misunderstood across Europe, the United Kingdom and America since the collapse of the Soviet Union is obvious but extremely hard to explain. A simple observation - not explanation - is that not having been welcomed into the so-called European Union or rather a European economic area at the outset Russia has been drawn into the age old historical philosophy of rebuilding their former Empire.

In this context I was struck this week by a report out of Brussels that quoted someone described as a seasoned diplomat as saying that France’s European Credentials have never been in doubt - it’s just that French politicians over the years have thought Europe is France. That this is some echo of Napoleonic attitudes seems to be a rational explanation but also hard to explain.

Perhaps this is the basic explanation for widespread reports of European politicians criticising President Macron for currying up to Vladimir Putin. According to reports Macron’s outreach to Putin predates the Ukraine invasion and included a request by the French President and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel for a summit meeting. That had to be abandoned because of opposition from other European Union state leaders. Also Germany has been coming under severe criticism for its dealings with Russia both before and after the invasion of Ukraine.

The way events in the current confrontational crisis are reported underscores what I will call for convenience Einstein’s point. A Russian friend listened to a video of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talking about his country’s threat to go nuclear.

Sergei Lavrov

To a native Russian speaker with no axe to grind he, apparently, came across as a very thoughtful elderly professional diplomat speaking with an air of deep sadness. When he spoke about NATO provoking Russia by supplying Ukraine with arms it was not with viciousness but “with great professional regret and deep sadness”. That is not how he was portrayed in Europe’s media.

The point of my friend’s analysis is that nuclear is an option but that more importantly the west is now threatening Russia. I have been reminded that Putin unsuccessfullly tried to join NATO three times.

I have been getting reliable commentary from my Russian friend about the situation in Russia. China has been filling many of the gaps left by sanctions and the departure of western companies. My information is that the only bank and credit cards used in Russia now are Chinese owned. My friend reports that Chinese are flooding into a country that is traditionally hostile to them. The telling point made in this context was put to me as: “There is a saying that if you scratch a Russian you will find a Mongol”.

So are we close to another World War? Are the Chinese really flocking into a country about to be roasted by a nuclear retaliation? Let us not forget another important point, statements by politicians that are broadcast and appear in newspapers such as that by the UK’s Minister Liz Truss who announced that the British government doesn’t mind their weapons being used to attack Russian territory. This appears seriously provocative.

Public announcements about the shipment of weapons provoke but also inform ‘the enemy’. Immediately after the announcement that Poland would be shipping tanks to Ukraine and, perhaps more importantly, that US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin would be travelling to Kyiv with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Ukrainian railway stations were attacked by missiles.

The Allies great successes in World War Two followed great efforts to mislead Germany. If D Day had been announced in the media prior to the landings it would certainly have failed. So what is going on? Do politicians not understand or is the reality something different? There have been no reports that the UK is preparing for outright war, or any one else in Europe for that matter.

Our politicians should be aware that the Russian Orthodox religion strictly bans activity for eight days after their Easter which takes them up to May 2nd. Some 12,000 Russian troops have been in training for the Moscow Victory Parade on May 9th. After that all hell could break loose or Putin could decide to make a peaceful compromise in Ukraine.

According to my sources Vladimir Putin thinks he is dealing with idiots. As an old fashioned journalist I must sit on the fence but the Russian leader’s reported view gives much food for thought.

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Chris White

Chris White

Chris White is a former UK national newspaper journalist and was the founder and editor of a magazine focussed on EU affairs.

Now writing for EUToday, Chris has his own column, 'Chris's Corner'.

Chris is a member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists, a professional association for journalists, the senior such body in the UK and the oldest in the world, having been founded in October 1884

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