Letters: The West misunderstands Russia

These letters appear in the February 21 edition of The Independent

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On a day when you quote Stephen Hawking’s statement that empathy is the most important human attribute and aggression the most dangerous (20 February), much of your comment on Russia shows the usual Western lack of empathy for our Eastern neighbour.

It is not true, as one of your writers states, that Russia can only live with vassals or enemies on its borders. The Cold War policy of Soviet “containment” was based on an Anglo-US wish to form Nato and control Western Germany. Stalin wanted a neutral reunited Germany to go with existing neutral Austria and a non-aligned Yugoslavia – a ribbon of neutrality from an often aggressive West.

Russia has twice been invaded in modern history (by Napoleon and Hitler) and after the latter, it took over a buffer zone to ensure it couldn’t happen again. Beyond that it wanted a neutral corridor that was controlled by neither side.

That was also what Russia asked for after the Cold War ended, but Nato’s response has been to form its own group of vassal states right up to Russia’s borders – a threatening gesture for Russia requiring only a small amount of empathy to understand. To include Ukraine in that ring is clearly a step far too far.

Until the West understands Russia’s historical need for a non-aligned buffer zone (as Ukraine could have been), and until it stops talking  in terms of containment and confrontation, no lasting settlement and integration of Russia into Europe will occur.   

Richard Woolley
Pickering, North Yorkshire


Crimea has always been Russian. The Russian military bases along the sea of Azov have likewise been there for many years. They are not going to give these up as it is their gateway to the south. Likewise Donetsk is Russian and millions of lives were lost in the Second World War fighting over it. So “concessions” to Russia would only be a recognition of the status quo. The alternative is war.

Our Prime Minister is desperate to fight the Russians and is going to send Tornado bombers and soldiers to Poland. This is laughable; the Russians have vast resources of military personnel, guns, tanks, rockets, planes, ships and nuclear weapons.

I am old enough to remember that during the Second World War the Russian people were regarded as heroes for their fortitude and sacrifice; now they are regarded as villains for defending their own territory.

John Woods
Launceston, Cornwall


Rupert Cornwell (20 February) tells us that “Putin is counting on the fact that the West has no desire for war.” I wish I shared his perception. He must have been writing even as the defence secretary was playing up Russian bombers in the Atlantic and (gratuitously at the moment) warning about dangers to the Baltic states.

Half the politicians and journalists are now using classic war-party language in their pronouncements about Putin and Russia. We have reached this situation after 20 years of Nato expansion and the surrounding of Russia with missile sites, initiated by the Bush administration but continued by his successor. Are these the actions of people who “seem only to want a quiet life”?

Peter Popham is closer to the mark when he writes about the West’s continued itch to invade places. He is writing about the Middle East, but it’s clear that large sections of the Western establishment are not happy without an enemy to fight.

Both sides are deliberately winding up the other; there is great reason for anxiety.

Roger Schafir
London N21


The two key organisations responsible for interacting with Moscow, Nato and the EU, are not fit for purpose (“Ukraine crisis: can the UK any longer aspire to a global role?”, 20 February).

Both have the same unwieldy number of states, namely 28, of which 22 are in common. These two supranational bureaucracies are ever expanding, with five more Western Balkan states lined up for entry into both.

If our globalists have their way, there will also be Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia. Such sprawling entities – both headquartered in Brussels – are, in effect, nonentities, fit only to remain a plaything of Washington.

Let’s start thinking outside the box. Neoliberal globalism with its steady erosion of national sovereignty constitutes more of a threat to Europe’s nation states than does Putin’s Russia.

Yugo Kovach
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset


Was Tokyo a war crime too?

Newspapers and TV have given a great deal of coverage to the 70th anniversary of the bombing raids on Dresden in 1945, with much debate about “war crimes”. But as yet, I can find virtually no reference to the far more destructive raid that took place just three weeks later.

On the night of 9/10 March 1945, 21st Bomber Command of the United States Army Air Force, based in the Marianas islands, launched an all-out incendiary raid on Tokyo. Three hundred and thirty-eight B-29 “Superfortress” bombers dropped 2,000 tons of incendiary bombs on the Japanese capital, with the deliberate intention of setting it alight. The flimsy materials from which Japanese structures were built made them susceptible to this type of bombing.

The Americans were more successful than they could ever have dreamed. Sixteen square miles of the city was burned out and at least 100,000 people perished in that one  night. This was twice as many as Britain lost to bombing in the whole war and greater than the initial death toll sustained by Hiroshima. The overwhelming majority of dead were of course civilians. American plane losses were insignificant as the Japanese night fighter capability was poor.  

I have never seen any suggestion in the West that this raid was a “war crime” even though (unlike Dresden) nobody disputes the casualty figures. And the instigator, Major General Curtis LeMay, became a lionised hero in the US and later head of the Strategic Air Command. How different from the equivocal recognition given to “Bomber” Harris.

I wonder if the Archbishop of Canterbury will apologise to the Japanese for this far more destructive raid, or at least (there being no British aircraft involved), urge President Obama to do so.

Norman Wallace
Church Stretton,  Shropshire


Low-quality jobs are no reason to rejoice

Ben Chu (“Employment rate hits record high as wages continue to crawl up”, 19 February) fails to point out that the employment rate of 73.2 per cent includes thousands on zero-hours contracts, low wages that require topping up with benefits because no one can live on them, and a sudden sprouting of “self-employment” where people who were previously employed no longer have work so drive mini-cabs or do their neighbour’s hair for a pittance. Two-thirds of these new self-employed are poor, earning less than £10,000. Head of the list of the 20 fastest-growing new jobs are supermarket checkout staff and shelf stackers.

So the vast majority of these new jobs are in the low-skilled, low-paid  sector. Is this what Britain needs to compete with countries like Germany? What sort of government would be proud of creating such poor jobs paying poverty wages?

Sheila Jackson
Seaford, East Sussex


Farage is living in the past

I was interested to note that Mr Farage does not ask for CRB checks when people approach him for photographs etc (report, 19 February). As I understand it CRB checks were replaced by DBS (Debarring and Disclosure Service) on 1 March 2013.

Odd that the Ukip leader is a little behind the times.

Colin Edwards
Congresbury,  North Somerset


Not a very fruitful encounter

Your recent correspondence regarding the non-recognition of daffodils in bud (letters, 10 February) reminds me of an occasion many years ago when I was running a greengrocers shop. A local authority shops inspector (a middle-aged man) stopped outside the premises and looked at my array of fresh fruit in their boxes. 

Striding into the shop he said: “You have stripped all the red grapes from their vines and are selling them loosely. Why?” I replied: “Well they are cherries, that’s probably why.” Without a word of apology he left the shop and I never saw him again.

Jan Huntingdon
Cricklade, Wiltshire


Scottish football leads the way

John Mullin (19 February), remembers how alcohol was banned at football matches in Scotland after the cup final of 1980. I recall with pleasure a weekend break to Aberdeen five years ago. A sunny Saturday afternoon stroll to the famous Pittodrie stadium, a good seat for just £16, an enjoyable match in a cheerful family atmosphere, and none of the hyperventilated obscenity we have to put up with down south.

The supermarkets had strict rules about taking out alcohol, but a good time was had by all in the pubs afterwards. I am now a firm believer in the Scottish enlightenment.

Rick Collet
Maidstone, Kent