27 October 2022
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
The Grom nuclear training exercises under way right now in Russia are not a thunderclap [grom] out of a clear blue sky. Although military training exercises are conducted regularly, sometimes they are a prologue to war. Especially worrisome in these instances is the clumsiness of the reasons chosen for a large-scale demonstration of force and unambiguous military threats.
Last year, when Vladimir Putin announced that Ukraine was run by Nazis, the majority of people listened with bewilderment. You can expect anything from naked state propaganda, but something like this… This seemed to go beyond the bounds of sensible thinking.
Although the shocking assertion did sound wild, it fit neatly into the channel that had been readied for it.
Last October at the Valdai forum, Putin expressed quite frankly his thoughts concerning Ukraine: “What’s disturbing is that these people aren’t allowed to raise their head. Some are simply murdered right in the streets, some are isolated. That is, you get the impression that through legal methods the Ukrainian people are not and will not be allowed to create organs of government that respond directly to the Ukrainian people’s interests. It’s an impasse. All in all, I don’t really understand how it can be escaped.”
Even then, this feigned helplessness allegedly in search of a peaceful solution clearly indicated that Putin was searching for a casus belli, a reason for war, and in the absence of anything better was accusing the Ukrainian regime of Nazism.
WHEN A GOOD REASON CAN’T BE FOUND FOR AGGRESSION
Just as wild were the Soviet assertions in September 1939 that Poland had fallen apart as a state, that there was anarchy and devastation there and only the Red Army could save the situation. This was followed by war and Soviet occupation of Poland’s eastern provinces. Just as clumsy and groundless were the Soviet accusations in 1968 that NATO wanted to make Czechoslovakia a military corridor from Western Europe to the USSR. Following this came the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the armies of the countries of the “Socialist community.”
When a good reason can’t be found for aggression, any kind of stupidity can come into play. Good sense protests a delusional interpretation of reality. Normal people think that “twisted logic” cannot and should not have regular political consequences.
When, toward the end of last year, major Russian military formations were concentrated on the Russian-Ukrainian border, many people latched desperately onto the assertions of Minister Lavrov and his speaker Zakharova that these were merely military training exercises on Russian territory and they shouldn’t bother anyone because they posed no threat to Ukraine whatsoever.
NO ONE WANTED TO BELIEVE THE WORST
A great many political scientists, analysts, and journalists thought war unthinkable. Some talked about this with aplomb and even sarcasm. Here, for example, Radio Svoboda columnist Sergei Medvedev on 23 February, a day (!) before the war began, wrote: “Inasmuch as I hear voices from Kyiv, everyone is breathing a sigh of relief, the expectations of a major war have ended up fizzling out, a propaganda pussycat, and State Duma deputies are congratulating each other because you just can’t drive tanks up and down the borders like that for three months. Well, they rode them to the point of recognition of the territories occupied seven years ago. Big deal! But for some reason, my feed continues tensely awaiting fateful battles for Slavyansk, Kramatorsk, and Ilovaisk, a Guderian advance on Mariupol, and the Andreevsky banner in Ochakov-Odessa. Now explain to me, an ordinary Russian skiier, what I’m supposed to be afraid of and mourn…”
Today history is repeating itself. At first there were the delusional discussions of a “dirty bomb” that supposedly Ukraine was planning to set off either in Russia or on its own territory, but so as to heap all the blame on Russia. Then came the Grom military training exercises involving training for using nuclear weapons, the launching of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and practice flights for long-distance bomber forces. All according to a single scenario.
Yes, it’s terrifying to imagine the consequences. Nonetheless, it’s still better to prepare for them in advance than it is to say later, at the last moment: “We didn’t think he was capable of something like that.”
Translated by Marian Schwartz