Spoils of war

Three hundred forty one day ago russia started the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Recently I’ve stopped mentioning the war in my posts paradoxically for a good reason: initially it was unclear how it will go, now it’s apparent that russia is going to lose. Of course it still has some allies and potential left (just yesterday it shelled Kherson and launched a missile at my home city among other things) but it’s clear that it cannot win, especially when the other countries realized that and have started to help Ukraine. So today I want to rant about why there’s so little help and why it’s so late.

The verb “to spoil” has two major meaning: to go (or make something) bad, rotten; the second meaning is to rob or pillage. The nouns derived from it may also have two meanings, so while “spoils of war” usually means war trophies (or marauding at the battle line), you can also interpret it as things that became rotten because of war. Somehow both of this meanings apply to the current situation.

There were three major wars in the XX century: the Great War (1914-1918), The Second World War (1939-1945) and the Cold War (1945-1991). Some may argue that the last one was not a proper military conflict as there were mostly proxy conflicts like Korean War or Vietnam War but it involved a good deal of the world and the outcome was the same as with the other world wars—dissolution of the empires. WWI put an end to Austro-Hungarian and russian empire, WWII was the de facto end of British empire, Italian empire and Japanese Co-prosperity empire. Cold War ended with the dissolution of russian empire (again) and Nominally Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The current war (I called if WWIII for a reason) may end up with russian empire dissolving for good—and if it takes current Chinese empire along with it I shan’t be sad either.

Probably the only thing World War I taught is that some ways of fighting the war (like chemical weaponry) are atrocious and should be banned (a cynic in me says the other countries agreed mostly because it was too ineffective). The aftermath of World War II was that Germany should not become strong again while other countries should do whatever they like. Cold War had been conducted taking into account the fact that the major players could destroy each other so they should not get into direct conflict or give the other party the reason to nuke them (indirect influence or military aid is fine though). Another outcome was the reinforcement of Westphalian sovereignty (i.e. the country can do whatever it likes unless it invades another country—especially if it has nukes).

After 1991 a lot of countries relaxed and decided that everything will be fine and they should not worry about anything ever again. Unfortunately if you don’t keep freedoms in check and reinforce them time from time you have a good chance of losing them. That’s what almost happened to Ukraine in 2010s, that’s what happened to Hungary, that’s what happened to Turkey (again) and so on. In other countries politicians become spineless—everything is good so we don’t need even a competent leader, a mediocre one who does not screw up much would do as well.

As the result we have countries with authoritarian regimes that can do whatever they like to themselves and other countries too timid to interfere—so when a big bully comes nobody opposes him. Look what happened when in 2008 russia invaded Georgia—USA “rebooted” the diplomatic relations and EU investigative mission did its best to ignore russian actions that started the war. In 2014 the same sort of people urged Ukraine to find a peaceful solution with its attacker as well. So no wonder that in 2022 when the West knew that russia will attack soon all they offered was evacuation of the government and token weapons good only for guerilla warfare. It took long months of losses and suffering for Ukraine to prove to the world that there is no reason to fear russia or to listen to its words. They made puppet referenda to declare Ukrainian territories as their own (including those they didn’t control) so they could “protect the integrity of their territory with nuclear weapons”—then Ukraine kicked them away from half of Kherson region and nothing happened. They always threaten to destroy “control centres” in case something happens but all they can really do is launch massive attacks to hurt civilians.

Let’s look at some countries to see how they degraded in the last three decades.

First is the USA of course. It has never fought wars on its own turf after the Civil War but it sent troops to various conflicts rather regularly. 9/11 was the event that made them start the (seemingly permanent) War on Terror™. That’s why American forces are skilled and well-equipped but in the same time it looks like an abstract thing to the most of the population, so a lot of politicians are eager to support russia and spread its agenda not for their money but because the current government is opposed to it.

The next will be Germany. Since strong Germany is met with suspicion that it’ll start a new world war, generations of German politicians served interests of any other country but their own. Later generation served russian interests—just look at Gazprom Schröder and Angela “Germany can’t get rid of dependency from russian gas” Merkel. With this option being no longer acceptable, the current chancellor seems to have switched to serve China instead (see the recent scandal with selling Hamburg port to them). Equally German military forces are a laughing matter: remember how a good deal of the munitions from their reserves they donated to Ukraine turned out past its due date or defective? remember how they increased military spendings last March to an unprecedented amount and failed to spend those money on anything? remember the recent performance of Puma IFVs? Sometimes I think the current German stance about giving Ukraine its military technologies is caused not by the notion “we can’t have Nazism so let’s enjoy russia practising it like a good student” but rather by the potential fear that their technologies may be not working at all. I’d also name the other factor responsible for the current situation: not performing a lustration and banning socialism after reuniting with GDR (Ukraine paid dearly for the same mistake).

And speaking about no lustration or banning socialism, we have Austria. After 1945 this homeland of putin’s spiritual father pretended to be a victim and stayed “neutral”. While Germany had trials for Nazis, Austria let its own live in peace for the rest of their lives. No wonder that high Austrian officials could be bought by russians (well, I hope they were bought and not simply shared the same ideology) to the point that Austrian state security worked directly in russian interests. At least they sometimes correct their mistakes.

Another “neutral” state would be Switzerland. On the one hand they try to avoid direct involvement in all conflicts, hence their law for forbidding transferring their military equipment to the fighting parties. On the other hand they are not above profiting from a trade with various parties (and thanks to the lax export control their military technologies end up in russia). I also joke that they’ll readily recall all their military stuff as soon as the country possessing them gets involved in a conflict. But a decade or two ago their banks lost the reputation of safe heavens for various criminals (thanks to the pressure from USA and data leaks), probably their neutrality will not remain the same for long either.

Continuing the streak of “neutral” countries, we have Israel. Its neutrality is based on the country being the Jewish state so they’d rather not get into conflict with any other country in fear of local Jews being persecuted (of course this does not apply to the nearby countries that try to destroy Israel already). But the current prime minister decided that he’d rather be friends with russia and thus does everything to prevent Ukrainian people even of Jewish origin to take refuge in the country (despite this being one of their original goals and duties). Considering how long he has been in power it is no surprise. I’ve read that thanks to his actions Israel loses support of other countries like USA. After all, it they don’t respect their own people why should anybody else respect them?

And finally for something mixed, namely France. Back in the day Mark Twain wrote a chapter titled French and the Comanches that did not make it into his A Tramp Abroad book. There he (half-jokingly) argues that French as a nation stand below Comanches—because the latter have not committed as much atrocities and never were as inventive at them either. The same applies to modern russia for the same reason—you’d not expect underdeveloped nations to retrofit anti-air missiles for S-300 system to send at the ground targets (they don’t really care what it hits, be it on the enemy or their own territory—and those missiles can’t be precise on ground targets in principle so it’s purely terrorism and not a warfare). I find a lot of similarities between France and russia in terms of their imperial politics (the same attitude to foreign languages, the same dedicated role of the capital compared to all other cities, even African de facto colonies are the same!). But I’ll leave this rant to another time and now I’ll just say that maybe because of this class solidarity a lot of French companies feel well on russian market and have no intent of leaving it soon. And of course the current president managed to create a new verb—”to macron”, meaning expressing a deep concern without doing anything substantial (of course various bureaucratic organisations like United Nations have been practising it since ages but his behaviour was worth commending).

War is a terrible thing that I don’t wish to anybody beside those who actively call it onto others. But sometimes it’s the only harsh enough measure to make people (and countries) wake up from delusions and start doing something. But as you can see, some still learn nothing from it.

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