Ras Putin and the new Russian Empire

Let me say, up front, that for most of my early adult life I was a supporter of the Soviet Union.  I filtered my experience of the ‘Cold War’, because I was aware of the machinations of the state apparatus of the USA and UK, sometimes affecting me personally, to discredit and undermine the Soviet Union (and its allies).  Then along came Mikhail Gorbachev, Glasnost, Perestroika.  It seemed we all basked in his personal warmth as he thawed, it seemed personally, the cold war.  Those of us who had lived for 30 or 40 years under the threat of global nuclear anihilation were relieved.  Then came the collapse of the Soviet system, the dissintegration of the USSR and the rise of a new Russian Federation (for which now read Russian Empire) and, by the way, the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church.  It seems to me that some of the older Russian generation (by which I mean those who lived through the Soviet era) still harbour nostalgic and proud feelings for the achievements, and crucially certainty, of that system.  The younger generation, who focussed more on the hardships, constraints and, yes, the abuses of that time, were only too thrilled to discard collectivism in favour of individualism.  Here, in the UK, we are still reaping the consequences of ‘buying into’ the philosophy of putting yourself, rather than ‘society’, first even though, arguably, we had a better developed sense of when we were being ‘sold a crock’.  Then along came a new Tsar, Vladimir Putin: ex-KGB.  The writing was on the wall, but over the same time we had the global financial crash and we took our eye off the ball as successive UK governments set about eviscerating, amongst other things, our military capability.  We became embroiled in war in the Middle-East and Putin saw, and learned from, our effectiveness and weaknesses.  He had also learned from the debacle of Russian miitary intervention in Afghanistan. He set about modernising his military inventory and thinking: no more full frontal invasions to extend Imperial influence, but cyber warfare and proxy wars.

Put that into the context of a rise across Europe, especially in the east, of far-right nationalism.  Patriotism is, I would argue, a good thing; nationalism (which is not the same thing at all) is very dangerous.  Just now Putin’s “approval rating” in his own country is, we are told, on the slide.  There is a real danger of creating conditions where he could whip up support for patriotic / nationalistic support for external action.  1930s all over again?


Another Brexit Referendum?

There are strong arguments for and against holding a second UK referendum on Brexit (UK leaving membership of the EU).  To be clear I was, and am, passionately against Brexit but, in this blog post, I’m not arguing one side or the other.  I’m questoning process, and possible outcomes.

In my opinion the UK government made a fundamental mistake by not setting a majority threshold for the Ist (2016) referendum.  To me it seems crazy that such a significant and long lasting change could be, theoretically, decided on a simple majority of 1.  All of the angst, downstream of the vote, about “the will of the people” or “democracy” could have been avoided if a majority of, say, 60% one way or the other had been set.  Instead we were left with a relatively small majority in favour of changing the status quo.

Now, after 2 years of negotiating the terms of our exit (the “deal”), we know more about what Brexit means.  Some of the myths, and gaps in our understanding, that underpinned the referendum result have been clarified.  The UK is still on track to leave the EU on March 29th but the government, and Parliament itself, is split from top to bottom and has failed to ratify the terms.  There are calls for this impasse to be resolved by returning to a referendum.  Would demographics come into play? There are two more years worth of young people who have reached voting age since the last referendum; there are two years worth of older voters who have fallen off the roll.  It is widely believed that young people voted to Remain and older people voted to Leave.

I ask what the referendum question, or questions, could be?  It can’t again be as simple as asking to vote to stay or leave but what, short of a vote to rescind the decision of the first referendum completely, would resolve the question of the border between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and The Republic of Ireland (part of the EU)?  Obviously there are other EU member countries with land (or sea) borders with non-EU countries,  How do they manage?  They have border controls.  Whatever we decide it seems highly unlikely that an open border in the island of Ireland can survive a no-deal Brexit.

It’s a mess; I can’t see how this is going to resolve unless there is a general election which returns a big Labour majority, and therefore a government with some authority.