. . . . . .  


Never in the history of human conflict has so much been demanded of so many by so few. That parody of Winston Churchill’s wartime tribute to the Royal Air Force is cruelly applicable to the present conflict in Ukraine.

An odium of Western politicians demanded expressions of loyalty from nations across the world, condemning Russia. After they failed in the UN Security Council, ahead of the UNGA session they resorted to ‘friendly persuasion’ through a corps of their diplomats, targeting ambivalent countries like ours.

The extent and level of pressure applied was astonishing. Countries were asked to sanction Russia, albeit selectively. Germany, for example, supported general sanctions but excluded its vital gas imports from Russia.

The International Paralympic Committee, having allowed Russia and Belarus to participate in the Beijing Winter Games 2022, under pressure reversed its decision. The IPC president asserted unctuously that ‘sport and politics should not mix,’ then confessed that ‘behind the scenes many governments are having an influence’.

Boycotts of Olympic Games as a weapon of international remonstrance are not new. They have been used six times since 1956. Hopeful Olympians who train for years stand warned. They do not compete against athletes from other countries: they have to contend with hostile governments.

Even the arts are not exempt. Opera houses in New York, Bavaria, and Zurich cancelled performances by the Russian soprano Anna Netrebko for not condemning president Putin. The Munich Philharmonic removed its chief conductor Valery Gergiev for the same reason.

History is replete with such hypocrisies. In June 1941 Germany attacked the Soviet Union. In July, Britain and the Soviet Union signed their Anglo-Soviet Pact against Germany.  Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov praised it as ‘the foundation of friendship and fighting collaboration between our countries in the struggle against their common, sworn enemy [Nazi Germany]’.

Winston Churchill quipped: “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil [i.e. Stalin] in the House of Commons.”  

On 8 March, the present House of Commons listened to a live dramatic appeal by Ukrainian president Zelenskyy. He marshalled Shakespeare and Churchill. PM Johnson responded with platitudes inspired by Chamberlain.  

Today, Stalin’s successor Vladimir Putin is to the West both the Devil incarnate and Hitler reincarnate. To the angst of political analysts, Putin’s intentions remain (to quote Churchill again) ‘a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma’.

Will Putin stop at Ukraine or will he, like Hitler after ingesting Czechoslovakia in 1939, extend his boot-print across the softer fringes of Europe?

Putin views the West and NATO as a Cerberus, a hydra-headed beast baiting the Russian bear. NATO barks at him but cannot bite without US’s dentures. He knows from experience that such sanctions are as limp as Olympic boycotts. Sanctions have never worked – not against Cuba, South Africa, Rhodesia, Libya, Iran, Afghanistan, nor against a hobbling Pakistan.

Putin has calculated that the resistance of the Ukrainians will be raggle-taggle and short-term. He knows that the West does not want to battle with him over Ukraine’s skies. Putin is not a 19th century Czar playing the Great Game over Afghanistan. He is not a 20th century Gorbachev conceding defeat in Afghanistan. To Putin, the Crimea and Ukraine are not just tactically important; they are redemptive, the renaissance of Russia’s superpower ambitions.   

Today’s Russia is no longer the Soviet Union bankrupted by its socialist policies and Star Wars pretensions. It is not the rump left after Gorbachev’s disassembly and Yeltsin’s buffoonery. Russia is not the Soviet Union that Communist China once mocked for being Marxist-Leninist revisionist. Russia and China together are the new Eastern Axis, two allies who share a visceral suspicion of the West and its pervasive hegemony, disguised as the spread of democracy.  

The foreseeable clash between Eastern and Western powers will not be only ideological and economic. It shall be technological.

The West is vulnerable to cyber-attacks by Russia and China. (Putin demonstrated that by interfering insidiously in the US presidential elections of 2016 and in 2020.) At the press of a button, its homeland systems could be disabled, disarmed or neutralised.

A recent report in The New York Times discussed U.S. exposure: ‘Almost every industry runs its computers on one of three operating systems: Windows, macOS, and Linux.  In many cases they also use the same business software – a defense contractor’s payroll system isn’t much different from a pharmacy’s. That means vulnerabilities are similar across industries.’ 

In ancient times, wars were decided by combat between single champions fielded by either side. The outcome of tomorrow’s conflicts may well be decided by two IT nerds, sitting on opposite sides of the globe, tasked to outwit each other with increasingly sophisticated destructive programs.

Brace yourself for a crash of civilisations.



[DAWN, 10 MARCH 2022]



10 March 2022
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