British general Sir Richard Shirreff who between 2011 and 2014 served as the Deputy Supreme NATO allied Commander in Europe suddenly predicts that Russia will start World War III in May 2017 by invading Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Ukraine.
In fact, his book on the inevitable to war with Russia in 2017 was published last week.
In Russian we have a saying – “Всё это было бы смешно, когда бы не было так грустно”, which means ‘This all sounds very funny, if it was not so sad’.
There are lots of Whys to be addressed in regard to the General’s statements and his strategic views. Why would Russia want to invade the Baltics? Why next year? Why Word War III? Why the Baltics and Ukraine? Why at all?
Having lived in Britain for more than 25 years, I am actually Russian British. Russia is my motherland, but Britain is my home. I and about 250,000 other Russians in Britain would lose massively from any war between Russia and NATO. We – more than anybody else – want peace, good relations, good business contacts, and mutual respect between Russia and the West. We have a vested interest in good Russian British relations.
I will try to answer those whys from my perspective.
It looks to me that General Sir Richard Shirreff expressed what are his personal views, rather than the official policy line. This is fine. He is retired, and it is his right to express his personal views.
That is the good news.
The bad news is that General Sir Richard Shireff seems absolutely sincere in his analysis and conclusions. He does not make them for publicity, money etc. He really believes what he is writing.
This is alarming. It reveals a worrying truth: that there is an ‘alarmist’ camp within the top NATO military command, which sees war with Russia as almost inevitable.
That is scary.
In my opinion this whole episode reflects some very worrying realities about NATO’s top generals.
First, there is a generational issue. They were brought up, trained and taught to fight big conventional wars against the USSR. They do not know anything else. Russia has simply replaced the USSR in their mental setup. Inertia works. It is psychologically more comfortable to stick to the familiar and confront the ‘old, good, well known enemy’, rather than to think and plan about new security threats to Europe.
Second, they are not well informed and briefed about both the situation on the ground in the Baltics, Ukraine, Russia etc – and, most worryingly – about Russian military strategy and plans. Crimea revealed it well. The head of US military intelligence was removed soon after it happened. Even the almighty Americans failed to forecast Russian military and strategic moves.
Thirdly, they think that any ethnic clashes in the former Soviet Union can be a reasonable excuse to start Word War III.
Here I advise my readers to watch the BBC movie about the beginning of war with Russia over the Baltics released a few months ago. In that movi, the British high command appears almost evenly split between those who think Russian actions in the former Soviet Union should be confronted if necessary with nuclear weapons, and those who are strongly against doing so. It was a pretty realistic movie actually.
One thing is clear: if such a scenario were ever to unfold General Sir Richard Shirreff would be on the side of those who want to strike first. He openly admits he belongs to the ‘hawkish camp’ of the British strategic establishment.
Let’s start with the basic facts. Let’s talk about the Baltics. Has anyone ever heard or read or watched anything about clashes between ethnic Russians and natives in these three states? Ever?
The short answer is of course no!
There are disagreements on the rights of citizenship, use of the Russian language, Russian World War II memorials, and many other things. But there is no official political party, no underground movement, no secrets cells which call for joining Russia. None.
I have been to Latvia and Lithuania myself a few times in the past few years. The Russian community there is very smart. Some/most will use the Baltic States as a platform to move to richer European states (Britain, Germany, France etc). Some are doing well there. Nobody wants to fight to escape to Russia. It is a Western myth!
The scenario of Russia invading the Baltic states to protect ‘ethnic Russians’ is a grotesque fantasy. Ethnic Russians in the Baltics do not need that, and they laugh when you discuss such scenarios with them.
If there is no there ‘Baltic case’ then – if you follow General Sir Richard Shirreff’s logic – Russia will nonetheless provoke one to justify its ‘invasion of Europe’.
It is all incredibly naïve! I do not want to insult military people. On the contrary I respect them. In any country the military are the pride of the nation. That is true in Britain, Russia or America.
But why? Why would Russia invade?
Just read Western official and social media. Almost daily, information gets published on how well the Russian elite has become integrated in Europe. Kids, schools, houses etc. Why does General Sir Richard Shirreff think this same elite plans to provoke World War III when – according to Western sources – they are living so happily and nicely in the West? Why would they want to change that?
What about Vladimir Putin?
He is a pragmatist, above all. He wants Russia to become part of Europe, but as one of the leading states of Europe, not as a subordinate part of a Greater Europe. As part of a group of states that include Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
The Kremlin opposes people like General Sir Richard Shirreff because all Russians understand that we do not need more dividing lines in Europe.
As for the West, it should give Russia the time and space it needs to reform itself.
This after all was given to other European nations. France is one example. It underwent a major transition from the 1940s to the 1960s. Nobody however at that time accused Paris of being non-European or non-Western despite France’s huge, tragic and bloody wars in North Africa and Indochina. Certainly there was lots of criticism, internal and external. But it never degenerated into an existential conflict. Nobody ever accused Paris of being non-Western because it was pursuing a colonial foreign policy.
Nations are like people. They grow up. Russians are simply a younger and more unique nation. However they are a European nation, repeating many familiar patterns of the European nation-building process. The fact Russia is doing many things a hundred years later than say France or Britain means nothing. That is a trifling period in terms of historical time.
The biggest problem complicating Moscow’s interaction with the West is the very ahistorical approach being taken by the Western side. The fact that big imperial nations like France or Britain with decades of decolonisation history behind them still attack Russia for its ‘imperial policy’ is very sad. The lesson should be: Study your own History! To repeat, one hundred years is nothing in terms of historical time.
Why then did General Sir Richard Shirreff make such a statement and write such a book?
I can see only two reasons:
1. Ministry of Defence vested interest/ corporate loyalty.
General Sir Richard Shirreff is a hugely respected part of the British military establishment. He has to protect his ‘corporate interest’, his system. Its only reason for existence is the ‘Russian Threat’ so he plays it up.
In reality we all understand that there is no such threat. The threat to Britain comes from Islamist extremism and uncontrolled immigration. The two are interlinked. Uncontrolled immigration breeds more terrorism.
What does that mean? It means that more money should be given to the Police, MI5 and MI6. They are the ones who are fighting the terror threat, not the Ministry of Defence. The Ministry of Defence tried to do so in Iraq and Afghanistan under US stewardship and failed.
Unfortunately what is happening is that the Ministry of Defence is competing with the security services for money from the British budget so it is stirring up the mythical ‘Russian threat’ as the only way it can get it. For its part I am sure MI6 is laughing silently to itself at General Sir Richard Shirreff’s absurd analysis and his forecast of war next year with Russia.
2. Mentality and age. Britain’s and NATO’s top brass are old. They cannot properly assess where we – Europe, the West, Russia, indeed the world at large – are at the moment.
That is sad and worry but let us pay our respects to great military leaders like General Sir Richard Shirreff. They are trying to defend British interests even if they are doing it in completely the wrong way. It’s not their fault that their time is long past and they should be put out quietly to pasture.
Having said all this, let’s put all this nonsense behind us and work together to avoid war. I know for a fact Russia has ZERO plans to attack the West. Russia is simply defending its own turf. If what you want is peace the answer is very simple: Don’t bring NATO closer to Russia.
Maxim Shashenkov is a senior banking professional with more than 20 years experience.