02/04/2023, 08.41
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Russia and NATO

Debating whether Russia wants to wage war on NATO, or the allies that want to destroy Russia, does little to alter the actual situation, in which both contenders are focused solely on the strategies and goals to be achieved.

As the first anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine approaches, the feeling of a "reckoning" of the war grows stronger on both sides of the spectrum, in an escalation of announcements and strategies aimed at destroying the adversary, and in the contemptuous rejection of any peace talks.

European and U.S. summits for relief to Ukraine are answered by renewed global threats from Russia, reviving the rhetoric of ridding the world of evil as Moscow's mission.

The commemoration of 80 years since the Battle of Stalingrad, the name they would like to permanently restore to the southern capital of the Volga, was presided over by the more classical Putin, the one who sees the figure of Stalin as his main inspiration.

The dates of the Great Patriotic War have been marking the agenda of Russian politics for a long time, even before the rise to power of the shadowy KGB agent himself. In 1995, the 50th anniversary, grandiose staging of the decisive fighting was held in all the squares of Russia's major metropolises until Soviet troops entered Berlin and occupied Hitler's bunker, finding him suicidal with Eva Braun.

Every anniversary since then has reinforced the feeling of revenge, reminding us that the collapse of the USSR, "the greatest tragedy of the twentieth century" in Putin's own words, had to be reread in light of the unbreakable glory of Stalin's time.

Each year the emphasis of wartime memory grew along with the restoration of orthodox political theology, in a fusion of church and state that finds precisely in the Army its most accomplished expression. In 2020, the 75th of Victory, the Armed Forces Cathedral was inaugurated, the temple where the liturgy evokes past wars and prophesies future ones, such as the current one in Ukraine.

Putin tied the decisive turning point to that date, amending the constitution to remain perpetually in power, enshrining "traditional values" as a higher motivation than any norm of domestic and international law, and bending the last reluctance of Patriarch Kirill, who did not want to lose his churches in Ukraine.

The reinterpretation of history exalts Russia's moral, religious and military superiority, rewriting even the history textbooks and overshadowing the dates of shame: the unraveling of the regime in 1991, the suicidal invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the tragic civil war and famine of 1920, the shameful defeat against Japan in 1905, the catastrophic Crimean War of 1857, and so going all the way back to Ivan the Terrible's ill-fated 16th-century campaign against the Baltic countries, the prophecy of the current Ukrainian war.

Then the apocalyptic dreams of the Third Rome and the Moscow Patriarchate collapsed, sucked into the seventeenth-century "Torbids" of the conflict with Poland and the schism between the True and Old Believers themselves, divided over how to proclaim the superiority of the Russian faith even over the Greek faith.

Putin's ideology, and the psychology of the masses to whom it is inculcated, is "retroactive thinking," looking to the future to restore the past, and the end of a year of carnage and destruction is again seen as a beginning, the moment best suited to represent the soul of Russia, which proclaims victory when defeat becomes evident.

Foreign Minister Lavrov denounced to Ria Novosti "the West's attempt to resolve the Russian question by inflicting such a defeat on Moscow that it cannot recover for decades." And so the war becomes universal, because "the whole of NATO is fighting against us, and the longer the range of the armaments supplied by the West to Kiev, the more we will have to move them away from our borders."

The closer the defeat gets, the more comfortable Russia feels, threatening the end of the world, because "we don't have only conventional missiles," Putin reminded in Stalingrad.

The speaker of the Duma, Vjačeslav Volodin, said in turn that "NATO is using Ukraine as a testing range for its weapons, and testing new ways of conducting war."

Similar echoes reverberate from the opposite front, such as the statements of Rob Bauer, the Dutch head of NATO's war committee, who declared that "NATO is ready for confrontation with Russia," even though all Western leaders rule out a direct confrontation.

Certainly the decisions on the delivery of state-of-the-art tanks, which has involved so many countries up to Germany itself, revives Russian accusations about the "NATO armies" not just supplying armaments, but sending "troops of well-paid mercenaries," as Lavrov reiterated.

One of the few things people will remember about Liz Truss, Britain's last prime minister under Elizabeth II and first under Charles III, whose tenure was the shortest in U.K. history (44 days), is her speech in April last year on "global NATO."

In it he rejected "the unfounded choice between Euro-Atlantic security and Indo-Pacific security ... in the modern world we need both," to reiterate that "we need a global NATO. By this I do not mean extending membership to those from other regions; I mean that NATO must have a global vision, ready to deal with global threats."

Since the late 1990s, as feelings of sovereignist revenge grew, the now proverbial phrase has been repeated in Russia that "if we won't do it, NATO soldiers will." It also resonates in poetic form as in a 1997 Komsomolskaya Pravda headline, "remember children, if there were no Russian soldiers, you would be caressed by NATO soldiers."

These slogans evoke many similar sayings from earlier times, in which "the Soviet soldier protects the holy land / from the mad plans of violent NATO."

The threat of "the aggressive blockade of NATO, which wants to establish Anglo-American domination throughout the world," was taught in schools then, as it is renewed today. Putin's current speeches, after all, are nothing but reminiscences of elementary schools, whereby today "NATO is the refuge of the Nazis who have remained unpunished, who are thirsty for revenge," as he added in front of the monument to Stalin's glory.

Yet Putin himself initially sought cordial relations with NATO. In 2000 he declared in an interview with the BBC that Russia was ready to join the Atlantic Alliance, after receiving NATO Secretary General George Robertson in Moscow.

Even shortly before invading Ukraine, Putin recalled that during President Bill Clinton's visit to Moscow, he had asked how America viewed Russia's possible entry into NATO, but "the reaction to my question was very evasive."

The final entry of the Baltic countries into NATO in 2004 convinced him to "radically reformulate military policy," ruling out any possible friendship and alliance between Russia and the West.

The "new policy" was laid out in the famous speech at the Munich Security Summit in 2007, and in 2010 NATO was officially declared "the main military threat to Russia's security."

While in the 1990s Russia, while remaining outside the Alliance, was considered by NATO to be the "crucial partner" in "reinforcing the positive changes of these years," i.e., the end of the Cold War, today it is defined as "the most consistent and direct threat to the security of allies, peace and stability of the entire Euro-Atlantic region," leaving China in second place, while "international terrorism" has dropped to third place on the podium of "NATO's enemies."

The revival of the blame game, after a year of war in Ukraine, by now has been relegated to TV talk shows.

Debating whether Russia wants to wage war on NATO, or the allies that want to destroy Russia, does little to alter the actual situation, in which both contenders are focused solely on the strategies and goals to be achieved.. And indeed, there is no "NATO army" or battalions of "NATO soldiers," an image that Russia needs in order to represent the single, global enemy.

There are the soldiers and armies of Lithuania, Poland, Germany, the United States, and so on: allies re-discussing the rules of their mutual commitments, while at the same time seeking to arm and reorganize themselves according to their own needs, in a war framework destined to profoundly alter relations between countries of every alliance and latitude, on every continent, in the long years to come and regardless of the outcomes of the Ukrainian conflict.

For years now, Pope Francis has been warning about the risks of "piecemeal World War III," or larger portions as it has now become. The peace called for must be built by going through wars and tragedies, by piecing together a world that is really falling apart.

In 1638 the great Flemish artist Pieter Paul Rubens painted a canvas on the Consequences of War, after the terrible years of the Thirty Years' War and the English Civil War, while traveling from court to court as a diplomat.

Europe is dressed in mourning, her dress in tatters, begging for divine help; Venus, goddess of love, tries to dissuade her lover Mars, god of war, but he is challenged by Discord, an unstoppable Fury who drags along the monsters of Plague and Famine.

Mars' war tramples and destroys the Arts and Charity of all the Muses, pointing to the madness that annihilates all humanity and all its moral and material heritage.

A four-hundred-year-old pacifist message implying the need to rebuild the world from the ground up, the task of every age in history.


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