There is a legend that the great Mongol warrior Genghis Khan used a very brutal form of psychological warfare on every city which he attacked. On the original approach his army would, if possible, surround the city and his own tent would be covered by a white cloth. This signified that if the city surrendered immediately only the ruling family would be killed. This would stay in place for 2 days.
If the city had not surrendered in that time, the covering cloth on his tent was changed to red. This indicated that if surrendered, only the ruling families and the officials would be killed, this stayed in place for 3 days. If no surrender had been offered, the covering changed again to black and indicated that everyone in the city would be killed. A brutal way of applying pressure.
I was reminded of this as I watched the horrible bombardment of Ukrainian cities continue as the mad war criminal in the Kremlin continued to try and erase Ukraine from the map and indeed, if he got his way, from history. This war has nothing in common with what are generally perceived to be the “rules of war” and even less with international law.
However, the immense suffering of the heroic Ukrainian people and the hugely impressive resistance from their armed forces, both regular and volunteer, may well hasten the end of his reign as the (would be) last Tsar. Not because of some democratic event or the will of the Russian people, but because the pride of the Russian military will have been shattered. To lose, at the time of writing, no less than 5 Major Generals in what was supposed to be a walk-over lasting mere days is a blow from which the Russian armed forces will be reeling for a long time to come.
The myth of the Russian tanks rolling over the fields and plains of Eastern Europe has been one of the constants in any discussion, debate or decision making in Europe’s capitals since the cold war. It was always assumed that this huge war machine would be virtually unstoppable and therefore concessions were made and many NATO countries spent far less on their own defences in the belief that Russia simply had them out manned and out gunned.
This is now seen as a myth, whether perpetrated by the Kremlin and its useful idiots or by the right wing media, politicians and their pals in the arms industry.
If the mighty Russian war machine is stalled and ineffective in Ukraine then they are highly unlikely to want to invite NATO outside for a “square go”!
This humiliation, for the army in particular, will have consequences. The debate is now around who carries the can for what is undoubtedly a major disaster. Regardless of what Lavrov and the other talking heads say on the state-run news, the Generals know how many lives they have lost as do the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters of each and every Russian soldier.
My suspicion, for what it’s worth, is that the military elite are one of the few groups in Russia with the power to remove the war criminal from office. Now they have a damn good reason to do so as well because if he doesn’t carry the can then the military will.
Meanwhile a NATO which was divided, under funded and floundering for a purpose is enhanced and more united than I can remember. The Eastern nations who have joined since the collapse of the Soviet Union know that without that common shield, they would have been next on the hit list. They now value that shield as never before, the last thing the war criminal wanted. One of the things which will be fascinating to watch now is how the Chinese authorities react, if they decide that this was such a political, economic and reputational disaster they may well decide that a change would be in their interests and not protect him.
I was delighted to see Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori being returned to their families after their captivity. The tragedy is that it took so long!
From the failure of successive Labour and Tory governments to acknowledge the debt, to the utter stupidity of Johnston’s intervention and the reluctance to seriously address this crisis speaks volumes about the interests and perceptions of the Westminster elites and not one word of it is good. While our air-head of a Foreign Secretary will take all the plaudits going the simple truth is that if Nazanin’s husband Richard had not been as utterly indefatigable (as one former Labour MP might have said) they would still be there.