On the “Brexit and War” Question: Not as Silly as it Sounds

Russia conducted an exercise of 80,000 troops in 2014 simulating an invasion of the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. It isn’t unreasonable that our Article IV NATO allies and EU partners feel a mite worried about the bellicose behaviour of their nuclear-armed Neighbour, who has 800,000 men under arms. Russia could bring forces to bear, invade, and mop up all resistance in the Baltic states within a week. The only thing stopping him taking back what Putin has described as “not real countries”, is the security guarantee they enjoy from NATO, and especially the USA.

Far from being “provocative”, the Western alliance has bent over backwards to accommodate Russia’s paranoia. No troops have been permanently stationed in the Baltic until recently. There is constant communication (from NATO) in order to prevent misunderstandings. (Much less is forthcoming from Russia). NATO exercises in the region have been no more than a few hundred troops. There is certainly no massing of forces that could possibly threaten Russian territory, and the west has no interest in provoking Russia. The idea that the Association Agreement the EU was to sign with Ukraine was in any way “provocative” to Russia should be met with a snort of contempt and derision, let alone the idea the Euromaidan protests were “anti-russian” or orchestrated by “fascists”. (So please don’t say so in the comments, I’ll simply delete such Putin-toadying).

But the Russian state’s default position is Paranoia. In the Siloviki, you have, in effect, a state captured by its spooks. They are in thrall to Alexandr Dugin‘s doctine of Eurasianism, and feel encircled by enemies, chief amongst which in the Kremlin’s demonology are NATO and the European Union. NATO is the shield, but the EU is the means by which we will defeat Putin’s eurasianism. By bringing countries like the Baltic states and Ukraine into the European system, we demonstrate the profound failure of Russia as an alternative. Ultimately the Russian people would be better off embracing western values, and without Putin’s toxic and paranoid statecraft.

While the world watches Syria, Russia is busy pouring poison into western discourse with the explicit aim of breaking the world order in place since the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. So Putin supports “anti-systemic” parties of left and right. He bankrolls the French Front National and Hungarian Jobbik. Alec Salmond and Nigel Farage were regulars, and well paid, on Russia Today, Putin’s toxic little propaganda swamp. Aaron Banks, UKIP and Leave.EU’s biggest donor is married to a Russian, and has form for repeating Putinist lies. Jeremy Corbyn regularly used to spout Russian Propaganda, before he was forced by circumstance to converse with grown-ups for a change. Green parties have money siphoned to them (anti-fracking, to support Russian energy interests). Putin is absolutely delighted at the Rise of Donald Trump. It has been alleged Russian Bombing of Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria was undertaken deliberately to create refugees, to further destabilize and undermine the European Union. I suspect, though this was not more than a secondary benefit, to the ultimate goal of making Mr. Putin look good on Russian state TV.

We’ve never had an enemy like this before. Russia is a spy agency, which has captured a Nuclear-armed state, but it’s not clear Putin is in complete control. The entire apparatus of the state is about creating an alternate reality, in which fact and fiction merge. Maskirovka, raised to a governing philosophy. but with no real end-game in sight. There is something of the Thomas a Beckett about the chaos in Donbass: Putin says “will no-one rid me of this Turbulent Priest” and before you know it, two provinces of Ukraine have declared independence backed by significant invasions of Russian regular soldiers. Putin cannot back down without losing face, but cannot escalate for fear of provoking NATO. The shooting down of MH17 was the moment the Ukrainian donbass separatists over-stepped their mark, but there’s no way out for either party. Ukraine faces an existential threat, and the Russian regime is based on never showing weakness.

With a frozen conflict in Ukraine, things can escalate rapidly. It is the Nature of Putin’s cult of personality, he needs constant action to keep the narrative of strength going. This was the ultimate reason for the Deployment of Russian Forces to Syria – to get a limited war onto Russian TV that can be used to demonstrate the Greatness of Mother Russia, which makes the sacrifices the long-suffering Russian people worthwhile. But Russian forces have pulled out of Syria, and there’s little glory in the stalemate outside Mariupol. What next?

Sweden and Finland, neutral during the cold war, are inches away from Joining NATO, so threatened do they feel. Swedish subs are continuously dealing with Russian incursions. The Russians are actively buzzing US warships in the region. The RAF having to scramble to intercept Russian Nuclear bombers is a weekly occurrence. It’s constant provocation. A Russian flotilla sailed through British waters last week.

Putin may be a master tactician, but he fails as a strategist. This is, to my mind the single biggest risk of the UK leaving the EU. Brexit would send a message (whether or not this is true) that NATO’s number two power is no longer serious about its commitments to its allies. He’ll have split off Europe’s most potent military power from the EU. This will embolden Putin to try to further split the west, because it suggests our Nations’ commitments to each other isn’t as strong as it was in 1989. This is especially true if there’s further success for “anti-establishment” politicians like Donald Trump. If Putin has an opportunity, and he’s an expert opportunist, he is likely to take it to try to break NATO, having already broken the EU. We do not want to tempt the Kremlin to gamble on the UK’s willingness to spend blood and treasure to defend Narva. Because if the UK won’t, the USA won’t. And if the USA won’t, NATO is finished. And if NATO is finished, the whole of Eastern Europe could well come under Russian suzerainty again. And that, we think (as well as the Survival of one Mr. V.V. Putin) is the ultimate aim of the Russian state.

Finally, EU sanctions matter. With German “ostpolitik” and much of continental politics actively in Putin’s pocket, it is the UK who drove sanctions on the Russian regime when they invaded another soverign European nation. And make no mistake, the EU matters, and the sanctions are hurting the regime. The UK is influential in EU foreign policy, perhaps the most influential power. Without the UK in the EU, the EU would not have taken as robust a stance on Crimea as they did.

Now is NOT the time to be upsetting the international institutions which have been so crucial to delivering peace and prosperity to so much of the former soviet empire. “Brexit risks war” isn’t as silly as it sounds.

15 replies
  1. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    You've misunderstood the post. I am not linking our membership of NATO to that of the EU. Merely pointing out the message Brexit will send to the Kremlin. The EU and NATO are partner organisations, both of which putin regards as his enemies. Break one, he'll be tempted to break the other. Brexit threatens NATO in a number of ways: It'll tempt the French and Germans to create an EU military command something the UK consistently vetos, but that is outwith the scope of this post.

  2. Gareth
    Gareth says:

    And when the sign of Brexit is in the house of Aquarius, there will be a thousand years of darkness and a rain of blood. And the leviathan shall rise from the deep, and the Beast from the Earth will rule the nation of Britain with a rod of iron. And ye shall know him by his wildly unmanagable blonde hair and stuttering manner.

  3. Simon Jester
    Simon Jester says:

    Now you're contradicting your post:
    "Brexit would send a message (whether or not this is true) that NATO's number two power is no longer serious about its commitments to its allies."

    in your own comments:
    "I am not linking our membership of NATO to that of the EU."

    The last time I saw such a direct self-contradiction was on Richard Murphy's site. Are you sure that Putin isn't subsidising you to discredit Bremain?

  4. Charles
    Charles says:

    France, Germany and the continental Europeans have not been strong supporters of NATO's efforts. An EU military structure – provided it stands alongside an independent UK and US – might actually have a beneficial effect. (Have toys, wanna play)

    As for the EU – Gerhard Schroder already sold out Europe through the Nordstream deal. Nordstream 2 makes this even worse. It desperately concerns my contacts in northern CEE.

  5. Longrider
    Longrider says:

    No, and I don't expect to need them. WWIII is highly unlikely in the event of BREXIT, as is the plague of locusts, slaughter of the first born, catastrophic recession, cancer and house prices plummeting (although that last one wouldn't be a bad outcome).

    My vote is based upon one thing and one thing alone – who gets to make laws and can we eject them if we don't like them. That's it.

  6. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    And mine, Longrider, is based on Pounds shillings and pence (and I want to make neither Vladimir Putin nor Farage happy). Brexit is an economic issue as it is for most people. This very referendum is a straight refutation of the "Sovereignty" argument in favour of Brexit. You require a very paranoid distorted picture of the EU to buy it.

  7. Longrider
    Longrider says:

    No, I don't. Is the commission elected? no. Do they make laws? yes. Can we get rid of them by voting for alternative candidates? no. The parliament is a pointless talking shop. The world will not come to an end following Brexit. Democracy, if it is to mean anything is to bring it closer to the people – the French commune system is the ultimate example of democracy in action, because the demos are directly connected to the people they elect.

    Removing the commission from our lives, makes the system a little more local. This is a good thing, as is removing the plethora of EU regulations from SMEs that never trade outside our shores.

    Economics is pretty much finger in the air guesswork at the best of times, so it does not enter into my rationale. And I am not paranoid about the EU – I've seen it in action for over forty years and I don't like what I've seen. I do not want political union.

    So, no, I don't give a flying one what Putin thinks or wants.

  8. Alex K.
    Alex K. says:

    You've got the big picture right even if each of your individual arguments can be challenged. (For one, I doubt that Alexander Dugin, a postmodern clown, has any influence over Russia's general staff or its senior spymasters.) The Kremlin is seeking destabilization and disunity in the West, and Brexit would obviously be a giant step in that direction. Moscow's tactic is also its strategy: divide and conquer, or at least emasculate. Putin is probably watching the Brexit soap opera in amused bewilderment: never have so many been willing to risk so much to gain so little.

  9. Ted Treen
    Ted Treen says:

    "…And mine, Longrider, is based on Pounds shillings and pence…"

    So I presume that means that your vote, your ideals and even your freedom are for sale to the highest bidder.

  10. perdix
    perdix says:

    Putin annexed the Crimea to ensure that the Russian Fleet could indefinitely keep the bases there.
    Similarly Putin helped Assad because the Russians want to keep their naval base and aircraft base in Syria.

  11. Muggins
    Muggins says:

    "but the EU is the means by which we will defeat Putin's eurasianism"

    Supposing I accept the rest of your argument, why should I accept this? Are you saying that *only* if we accept an EU superstate (and accompanying super-army) can Russia be kept at bay? That surely isn't true.

    We've had military coalitions before, none of them depended on there being an EU with all the associated cr*p.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *