Time to Blink

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30 June 2022

Time to Blink

Nuclear déjà vu

by Don Urquhart

Mug shot of Don Urquhart

In Shaw Sheet 329 Neil Tidmarsh drew attention to a changing of the guard with Pope Paul, Queen Elizabeth and President Putin all potentially on the verge of drawing back from their leadership roles of various natures and for various reasons.

I was reminded of an earlier changing of the guard, but the Kharkiv Communal Kitchen dominated my thoughts last week. On Monday Channel 4 showed Ukraine: Life Under Attack  which illustrates better than any dull article why Kharkiv needs help.

My memory at this distance had the three key players leaving the world stage at about the same time, creating a sense of instability.

I was playing table tennis at school when someone en passant mentioned that John F Kennedy had been shot.  It is indeed one of those “Where were you?” moments, a bit like when I turned the TV on to see the rubric Diana, Princess of Wales 1961-1997.

I remember thinking in November 1963 that the world had changed dramatically. 

In the October the Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan, had entered hospital for a prostate operation and while recovering, resigned and recommended a process for choosing his successor.  Back then Britain was more of a key player and Supermac had put a lot of work into re-establishing the special relationship with the US which had taken a knock at Suez.  He had a very cordial avuncular bond with Jack Kennedy.  Then MacMillan was gone.

And in November so was the American president, assassinated in Dallas.

A year later Khrushchev was also gone.

Castro had asked Khrushchev to install missiles in Cuba to deter America from launching a follow-up to the failed Bay of Pigs invasion the year before.  The US Navy went out to intercept Russian ships approaching Cuba.  In the end Khrushchev backed down and agreed to dismantle the Cuba facilities. In doing so he lost face in the Politburo but held on as First Secretary until 1964 when Brezhnev ushered him into a dignified retirement.

But here we are in déjà vu.  By Putin’s narrative, NATO has been surrounding Russia with NATO countries and he objects to the idea of Ukraine being another.  A disturbing parallel is the role of nuclear weapons.  Putin has threatened to use them if thwarted.  Back in 1962 it was the threat of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba that Kennedy could not abide.  On that occasion Khrushchev blinked.  Putin is a very different animal.  Far from blinking and taking a step back he now appears to have designs on Lithuania because they are blocking supplies to the Kaliningrad enclave.  Partly true given that the EU has sanctioned some products and will not have them pass through.

I hope I am not the only person unsettled by the sabre-rattling going on in the British establishment:

General Sir Patrick Sanders, the Chief of the General Staff tells us this is our 1937 moment.  He has written to all the troops under his command telling them they must prepare “to fight in Europe once again”.

And here’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Twitter:

Russia’s invasion is the biggest threat faced by the free world in decades. We must be united to ensure Ukraine wins, deter aggressors like China and extend NATO’s influence. Watch as I set out a vision for a global NATO to tackle the threats we face.

Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman thinks we should be sending soldiers to the Ukraine:

It is my view that this is the moment that we wake up & send our troops into key cities in Ukraine to prevent Russia encircling this brave nation!

I had never heard of Roger Boyes until yesterday he was revealed as Times Diplomatic Editor with his face adorning this article:

It’s time we took the war into Russia

Cross-border raids by special forces and smarter sanctions are critical to resisting Putin.

I have suggested on Twitter that we should start by dropping Rupert Murdoch behind enemy lines but the twitterati are of the view that whatever the Russians might have done, they do not deserve that.

Having drawn parallels with the Cuban Missile Crisis, acknowledged by historians as the most dangerous moment of the Cold War, it is unfortunate that I am also able to contrast the psychological make-up of the world’s leaders then with the wretches we have to deal with today.

It is quite clear that Putin and the self-selected Western leader Johnson will do anything to retain their hegemony.  Call it evil, hubris, negligence or whatever, these two people are self-absorbed enough to see us all baked to a nuclear cinder if it’s their only way of staying top (or big) dog.

If Putin gets to the end of his tether and unleashes nuclear war on us I hope I will survive long enough to congratulate Johnson on getting yet another big call right.

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