Turkey enters Syria

The series of proxy wars going on in Syria got a bit more complicated last week when Turkish troops rolled over the border to tackle what Ankara is calling terrorists: both ISIS and Kurdish groups.  Turkey has suffered a wave of suicide bombings in the past few months, almost certainly carried out by ISIS or groups affiliate to their cause, and so have some justification in going after them in their strongholds.  But it’s also likely that Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan will use this as an excuse to deploy proper military units against their old foes the Kurds in their homelands, something which they could not have done previously without provoking an international outcry.

With the men and material at the Turks’ disposal, I expect they will prevail against the Kurds to begin with.  But the Turkish army has already taken its first casualties, and the longer they stay in Syria, the deeper they penetrate, and the longer their supply lines become the more likely they will be to incur more.  The Turkish military was stripped of much of its leadership in 2010 following the foiling of the alleged “Operation Sledgehammer” coup plot, and then last month subject to sweeping purges in the aftermath of the more recently bungled coup.  A military which has had its officer and NCO cadres purged for political reasons and replaced with loyalists tends to lose a lot of its effectiveness, and the degree to which this happens is dependent on how many key, competent personnel have been replaced by idiots.  The Turkish army hasn’t done any proper fighting in generations and few of its personnel will have seen real combat.  They are going up against Kurdish forces who have been doing nothing but fight for years, and unless they finish the job quickly they might find them a tough nut to crack.  The most viable Kurdish strategy would be to drag this out as long as possible, practice hit-and-run tactics on vulnerable Turkish supply lines and rear echelon units, and turn it into the sort of guerrilla war which has done so much damage to American units in Iraq and Afghanistan over the years.  But crucial to the Kurds’ success is to secure the backing of a larger power to keep them supplied with weapons, ammunition, medical equipment, and funds.  I suspect a major reason for Ergodan’s decision to kiss and make up with Putin over the downing of the Russian plane in November 2015 is to prevent Russia from fulfilling this role.  It will now be interesting to see who does back the Kurds (if anyone) and how Turkey’s newly purged military performs.

Saint-Lô and the Mausoleum of La Famille Blanchet

I first visited the old mill near Campeaux mentioned in the previous post in August 2014, two years ago.  When I was there I took the opportunity to visit the nearby town of Saint-Lô, where I went to the cemetery and then spent twenty minutes or so locating the mausoleum of the Blanchet family.  Readers are entitled to ask why, and so I shall duly explain.

There is not much to see in Saint-Lô.  It was destroyed to the tune of 97% during the battle for its liberation in July 1944, causing one American solider to remark “We sure liberated the hell out of this place”.  It was rebuilt, as Wikipedia puts it, as follows:

The dominant style was a neo-regionalist functionalism which was dominated by concrete. Its dated and monotonous character was soon criticised.

And for this reason there is very little worth seeing in the town.  One thing of interest, however, is the monument to Major Thomas Howie, who was the commander of the 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division after the D-Day landings.  As the story goes:

On the morning of July 17, Howie phoned Major General Charles Gerhardt, said “See you in St. Lo”, and issued orders for the attack. Shortly afterward, he was killed by shrapnel during a mortar attack. The next day, the 3d Battalion entered Saint-Lô, with Howie’s body on the hood of the lead jeep, at Gerhard’s request, so that Howie would be the first American to enter the town.

After the war, the town of Saint-Lô erected a monument to Howie, shown below.

However, Thomas Howie wasn’t the only US army major fighting around Saint-Lô on that day.

One of the most influential books I have read, at least insofar as it made an impact on me, is Colonel David Hackworth’s About Face.  During his development as an officer, Hackworth was greatly inspired by the wartime exploits and soldiering abilities of one Glover S. Johns, Jr who would lead the vanguard of American troops sent into West Berlin by John F. Kennedy in 1961 as a show of strength as the wall was going up.  In his book, Hackworth refers to Johns’ own book, The Clay Pigeons of St. Lô, an account of his day-to-day experiences as the commander of the 1st Battalion, 115th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division over a period of one month leading up to the liberation of Saint-Lô.  Hackworth praised the book’s extremely well written descriptions of each military operation and action the battalion undertook, and believed the book should be required reading for all infantry officers.  Having never forgotten its name, eventually I ordered myself a copy and read it for myself.  As a story of the Battle of Saint-Lô it isn’t much good, but as a highly readable account of what life was like for an American soldier fighting in the hedgerows of Normandy and the day-to-day role of a battalion commander in a major war, it is probably the best out there.  In other words, it’s for military nerds but not for the casual reader.  One thing is for sure though, it gives you an idea of the horrendous casualty rate the American infantry suffered while up against a German army that even on the back foot was still highly capable.

Towards the end of the book, as Major Johns’ unit is entering Saint-Lô, he found the place he had chosen for his command post was too dangerous and he was losing men at an unacceptable rate, and so he sent one of his subordinates off to find a better one.  Quoting from The Clay Pigeons of St. Lô:

Half and hour later the S1 came up to lead him back to his new home in St. Lo, which turned out to be an imposing mausoleum in the cemetery!  On the facade were two words Johns would always remember, “Famille Blanchet.”  He balked at the idea of moving in with the Blanchets; but when he looked inside he decided it was the best command post he would ever have.

The walls were of polished marble blocks 18 inches thick, with a heavy door set back under a small but equally solid portico.  There were no windows to be blown in, so that only a direct hit on the front steps by something big would have any chance of hurting anyone inside.  It would take a bomb to damage the building itself.

Inside, on the ground floor, was a small chapel.  Though the room was only about 10 feet by 15 feet in size, it would hold everyone who had legitimate business there.  Furthermore, there was plenty of room outside for the runners to dig foxholes so there would no longer be any excuse for bunching up.  Under the chapel was a crypt, reached by a narrow flight of stairs leading down from one side.

The vault was largely occupied by an enormous stone sarcophagus.  The thing sloped upward towards the entrance, the high end having a flat surface on top which was at an awkward height but would do better than nothing for maps.  A small stone tablelike affair was set into the wall opposite that end, with barely room for one straight chair.  The crypt was cramped, but it would do.

Space around the sarcophagus itself was limited.  A man could walk by without touching, or lie down full length and be comfortable, but two men could never pass one another.

The Germans had used the vault too.  Empty wine bottles lay about, and a half loaf of hard, dry bread took up space on the little table.

Remembering this passage from the book, I decided to find this mausoleum for myself given I was in the area, and take a look at this obscure little piece of military history.  When I did, I looked inside and poked my head down the stairs into the crypt and found it exactly as Major Glover S. Johns had described it having been there 70 years before.

The broken cross on the top bears witness to the mausoleum’s past, as does the shrapnel marks on the exterior walls.  But a small scrap of paper in cellophane off to the side marking it out as a waypoint on some sort of military tour was the only indication that anybody else knew about this tomb’s role in the liberation of Saint-Lô and the battle for Normandy.

More Civil Unrest in Thailand

After sustained protests in Bangkok, the Thai Prime Minister has dissolved parliament and is promising fresh elections next year.  The squabbling appears to be much the same as that which occurred in spring 2010, or at least the two groups involved are the same.  Only this time the yellow shirts are protesting against the supposed influence of ousted PM Thaksin Shinawatra over the current government, whereas last time it was Thaksin’s supporters (the red shirts) protesting about the yellow shirts, who were in power.

I’ve recently re-read the post I wrote back in April 2010 on the likelihood of a civil war in Thailand, and don’t see anything which would change my mind on its conclusion: a civil war is highly unlikely.

A Civil War in Thailand?

My wife has just returned from a trip into the Thai countryside which involved a two-night stop-over in Bangkok.  She reported that there are soldiers everywhere, almost as if martial law has been imposed, and areas of the city are blocked off at night and the whole place is generally very tense and the normal hustle and bustle of this lively city is significantly subdued.  There has been some violence, although this being Thailand it is far more contained and things are much calmer than you could expect in almost any other country.

However, the tourists numbers have dropped significantly, no doubt due to various foreign offices firstly covering their arses by telling people to avoid the place regardless, and secondly by lazily assuming trouble in Bangkok means trouble everywhere else.  It doesn’t.  The closest I have seen to a Red Shirt rally in Phuket is a Manchester United game on TV.  Unless you go looking for trouble or are very, very unlucky, the worst that will happen to a visitor to Thailand is the airport might be disrupted, and a volcano in Iceland can just as easily cause that at the other end.  For sure, I would not recommend a visit to Bangkok itself right now if that’s what you’re planning, but lying about on a beach on Phuket or Koh Samui is as safe as anywhere and your holiday is not going to be interrupted by anything going on in Bangkok.

But all that said, the political situation is uncertain and unless an accommodation or compromise is found soon, things could turn uglier and hit tourism and the industries which rely on it pretty hard.  A few expats I have spoken to said they are refraining from buying property in Thailand until this issue is resolved fearing a change in the law a few years down the line, but I don’t think that worry will ever completely go away.  I have no idea what will happen and can offer no insight here, except perhaps an opinion as to whether Thailand will fall into full-scale civil war.  I don’t  think it will, and here’s why.

Firstly, it needs to be understood that fighting a civil war is a tough business.  The entire population, and not just the fighting men and boys, will have to endure extreme and sometimes unimaginable hardship.  For those actually fighting, this will involve living in the jungle on meagre rations, away from home and family, without access to anything but the very basic medical care, for an indefinite period which might be for decades.  For the rest of the population, which includes the fighters’ family and friends, a civil war will entail death, disease, hunger, a destruction of all infrastructure and civil society, and a return to the peasant farming of fifty odd years ago.  In short, anyone who wants to pick up a rifle in a civil war must be prepared to give up anything he has gained thus far and values in life, e.g. children, a house, car, etc. and endure serious hardship in the knowledge that his loved ones will suffer too.

This appears to be easy for the menfolk in places like Somalia or Afghanistan where they have very little by way of possessions or material wealth and comforts, so the difference between fighting and not fighting is minimal, almost to the point that it is down to whether you let off some rounds from your rifle or not.  This is not the case in Thailand.  Despite Thailand’s reputation as being a cheap place to holiday with lots of little poor brown people to serve you, the laws of the Kingdom regarding business and property ownership have resulted in a large middle-class which has been ever growing for the past three decades.  The wealthy Thai elites in Bangkok have done very well out of the tourist industry, but so has a huge number of hitherto poor folk.  The elites have made sure they’re all right, but they have not prevented everyone else with a brain or a work ethic from prospering too.  When I went to Cambodia a few years back, I found a bunch of new hotels being built by Korean contractors using Thai and Malaysian money and a whole load of Thai and Malaysian tourists.  The Thai middle class has grown to a point where going on holiday abroad is now affordable, investing abroad is possible, and a good many Thais go abroad for their education.  These wealthier Thais are in the minority, and those in the countryside (from whence all the dancing girls come) are still poor by almost any standard, but the numbers are moving in the right direction: things are getting better, not worse.  And the farmers and other rural dwellers, despite being poor, are not destitute.  I’m sure there are some areas of  Thailand where poverty rivals that of Africa, but in general even in the remote countryside most people share – if not own – a reasonable house with an electricity connection and a refrigerator, a scooter or old pickup truck, and a telephone situated somewhere nearby.  There is enough food and water to go around, and epidemics of disease exist but are not widespread.  Education services are basic, very basic, but nonetheless available.  Small comforts these may be, but they are not nothing, and the Thais will appreciate their lot now compared with 20 years ago regardless of any displeasure with the current government.  So should any Thai decide to pick up a rifle and join in a civil war, he will certainly lose out on something: in some cases not a lot, but each and every Thai will lose something which they have worked pretty hard for.

However, populations with lots to lose can and do plunge themselves into civil war regardless of the hardship that entails, but it requires the fighters and their supporters to have serious motivation to do so.  This motivation is normally driven by religious or ethnic differences, a desire for national liberation, or extreme ideological divides with the last one usually requiring the outside backing of one or more of the belligerents.  Pretty much every civil war I can think of rose from a situation where one or more of the above criteria applied, where enough of the population had sufficient motivation to take up arms in support of their cause.

Thankfully, none of the above applies in Thailand.  Thais share the same religion and much the same ethnicity (I’m simplifying here, but there is no divide in Thailand along ethnic lines).  Nobody is advocating separatism.  And the ideological divide seems to be relatively minor compared to the Soviet-backed Communists vs Western-backed Everybody Else conflicts which caused such mayhem during the Cold War, or the Royalist vs Maoist conflicts in Nepal.  Indeed, the problem in Thailand seems to be a disagreemment over government policy between the rural poor and … well it’s hard to say, but somewhere between the Bangkok elite and everybody else.  Judging by what’s being shouted about, the demands of the Red Shirts are not unreasonable in the general scheme of things.  It’s along the lines of “More money and power for us!” which sounds pretty much like political movements of all stripes anywhere.  Nobody is calling for the dissolution of the monarchy to become a socialist republic with the southern half of the country joining Malaysia.  Far from it.  And probably most importantly, there is no outside party – either a troublemaking neighbour or distant superpower – with any interest whatsoever in seeing Thailand descend into violence.  In the event of a major armed conflict arms sanctions would almost certainly apply, and without any outside support it is unlikely such a conflict could sustain itself for long.

The Red Shirt protestors are motivated enough – by money or otherwise – to hold lengthy protests in the capital and engage in sporadic and relatively low-level violence, largely aimed at the police or army.  But this is a long, long, way short of finding the motivation, and the numbers, to wage a protracted civil war.  A swift coup is always a possibility in Thailand, with the population wishing for – almost demanding – a rapid return to normality immediately thereafter, as has been the case in the past.  The worst case scenario would be a low-level terrorist campaign waged against government targets in the provinces with the occasional bombing of a city or two, but even that would probably struggle to garner the popular support such a campaign requires to sustain itself, let alone succeed.

There just isn’t the anger on the streets to warrant fears of a civil war.  The Thais simply have too much to lose and not enough reason to lose it.

A Fascinating Tale of Revenge

For no other reason than sheer coincidence, during my last week in Sakhalin I happened to watch three films all sharing a common theme:  Defiance, Inglorious Basterds, and The Reader. The common theme is, of course, the Nazi persecution of the Jews in Europe with each film dealing, albeit in vastly different ways, with the issue of retribution for the crimes committed.  This subject reminded me of a fascinating tale of revenge which is told in Bernard Fall’s excellent book, Street Without Joy, an account of the French debacle in Indochina.  I am surprised that nobody thus far has deemed this story worthy of making into a film.  I have reproduced the relevant section of Fall’s book below (pages 286-290).

Excerpt:

A last chapter of the of the Foreign Legion’s colorful history in Asia was written, in, of all places, the drab surroundings of an Israeli Navy court-martial in May 1958.

The defendent was a 25-year old man, in the neat white uniform of the Israeli enlisted seaman.  Eliahu Itzkovitz was charged with desertion from the Israeli Navy, but this case was not an ordinary one, for he had deserted from a peacetime hitch in Haifa to a twenty-seven months ordeal with the Foreign Legion in Indochina.

Eliahu had grown up in a small town in eastern Rumania when the country threw in its lot with the Nazis at the beginning of World War II.  Soon, the Rumanian Conductorul (the “Leader”) Antonescu began to emulate all the tactics of the Nazis, his own version of the Brownshirts calling itself the “Iron Guard”  and practising mass murder on a large scale.  In fact, according to the British writer Edward Crankshaw in his book Gestapo, they “offended the Germans on the spot by not troubling to bury their victims; and they offended the R.H.S.A. [the administrative section of the Nazi police in charge of mass exterminations] by their failure to keep proper records and by their uncontrolled looting.”

The Itzkovitz family did not escape the collective fate of the Rumanian Jews.  Eliahu and his parents and three brothers were sent to a concentration camp, no better and no worse than most Eastern European camps; one lived a few days to a few weeks and died from a wide variety of causes, mostly beating and shooting.  Rumanian camps were not as well equipped as their German models, the “death factories” of Auschwitz and Treblinka with their sophisticated gas chambers.  Again, according to Crankshaw, “the Rumanians showed a great aptitude  for mass murder and conducted their own massacres in Odessa and elsewhere,” and the Itzkovitz family paid its price – within a short time, only Eliahu, the youngest boy, survived.

But he had seen his family die, and he had remembered who killed it.  It had been one particular brute, not the coldly efficient SS-type but a Rumanian from a town not too far away from his own home town and who enjoyed his new job.  And Eliahu swore that he would kill the man, if it took all his life to do it.  More than anything else, it was probably that hatred that kept him alive; he was a skeleton but a living one when the Russians liberated him in 1944.  Eliahu then began his patient search from town to town.  Of course, Stanescu (or whatever name the brute had assumed in the meantime) had not returned to his hometown for good reasons, but Eliahu found his son there and took his first revenge; he stabbed the son with a butcher knife and in 1947, a Rumanian People’s Court sentenced him to five years in a reformatory for juveniles.

Eliahu served his time but did not forget.  His family’s murderer was still at large and he had sworn to kill him.  In 1952, he was finally released and given permission by Communist authorities to emigrate to Israel, where he was drafted into the Israeli army in 1953 and assigned to the paratroops.  Training was rigorous in the sun-drenched barracks and stubby fields south of Rehovoth, and thoughts of revenge had become all but a dim memory.  There was a new life to be lived here, among the people from all corners of the world who still streamed in and who, from Germans, Poles, Indians, Yemenites, or Rumanians, became Israelis.  To be sure, Eliahu still met some of his Rumanian friends and talk often rotated back to the “old country”, to the war and the horrors of the persecution.  Camps and torturers were listed matter-of-factly, like particularly tough schools or demanding teachers, and Stanescu came up quite naturally.

“That s.o.b. made it.  He got out in time before the Russians could get him,” said a recent arrival, “then he fled to West Germany and tried to register as a D.P. but they got wise to him and before we could report him, he was gone again.”

Eliahu’s heart beat had stopped for an instant, and when it resumed its normal rhythm, he had shaken off the torpor of peacetime army life.  The hunt was on again.

“Do you know where Stanescu went then? Do you have any idea at all?”

“Well – somebody said that he had gone to Offenburg in the French Zone, where they recruit people for the French Foreign Legion, and that he enlisted for service in Indochina.  The French are fighting there, you know.”

On the next day, Eliahu’s mind was made up.  He reported to his commanding officer and applied for a transfer to the Israeli Navy; he liked the sea, had learned something about it while in Rumania, which borders the Black Sea, and would be happier aboard ship than as a paratrooper.  A few days later, the request was granted and Eliahu was on his way to the small force of Israeli corvettes and destroyers based in Haifa.  A few months later, the opportunity he had been waiting for came true; his ship was assigned to go to Italy to pick up equipment.

In Genoa, Seaman Itzkovitz applied for shore leave and simply walked off the ship; took a train to Bordighera and crossed over to Menton, France, without the slightest difficulty.  Three days later, Eliahu had signed his enlistment papers in Marseilles and was en route to Sidi-bel-Abbès, Algeria, the headquarters and boot camp of the Foreign Legion, and again three months later, he was aboard the s/s Pasteur on his way to Indochina.

Once in the Foreign Legion, Stanescu’s trail was not hard to pick up.  While no unit was made up of any single nationality, each unit would have its little groups and informal clans acording to language or nation of origin.  It took patience, but in early 1954, he had located his quarry in the 3d Foreign Legion Infantry.  The last step was the easiest; the Foreign Legion generally did not object if a man requested a transfer in order to be with his friends, and Eliahu’s request to be transferred to Stanescu’s battalion came through in a perfectly routine fashion.  When Eliahu saw Stanescu again after ten years, he felt no particular wave of hatred, as he had somehow expected.  After having spent ten years imagining the moment of meeting the killer of his family eye to eye, the materialization of that moment could only be an anti-climax.  Stanescu had barely changed; he had perhaps thinned down a bit in the Legion; as for Eliahu, he had been a frightened boy of thirteen and was now a trapping young man, bronzed from his two years of training with the Israeli paratroopes, the Navy and the French Foreign Legion.

There was nothing left to do for Eliahu but to arrange a suitable occasion for the “execution;” for in his eyes the murder of Stanescu would be an execution.  Stanescu (his name was, of course, no longer that) had become a corporal, and led his squad competently.  The new arrival also turned out to be a competent soldier, a bit taciturn perhaps, but good.  In fact, he was perhaps better trained than the run of the mill that came out of “Bel-Abbès” these days.  He was a good man to have along on a patrol.

And it was on a patrol that Stanescu met his fate, in one of the last desperate battles along Road 18, between Bac-Ninh and Seven Pagodas.  He and Eliahu had gone on a reconnaissance into the bushes on the side of the road, when the Viet-Minh opened fire from one hundred yards away.  Both men slumped down into the mud.  There was no cause for fear; the rest of the squad was close by on the road and would cover their retreat.  Eliahu was a few paces to the side and behind Stanescu.

“Stanescu!” he called out.

Stanescu turned around and stared at Eliahu, and Eliahu continued in Rumanian:

“You are Stanescu, aren’t you?”

The man, the chest of his uniform black from the mud in which he had been lying, looked at Eliahu more in surprise than in fear.  For all he knew, Eliahu might have been a friend of his son, a kid from the neighbourhood back home in Chisnau.

“Yes, but…”

“Stanescu,” said Eliahu in a perfectly even voice, “I’m one of the Jews from Chisnau,” and emptied the clip of his MAT-49 tommy gun into the man’s chest.  He dragged the body back to the road: a Legionnaire never left a comrade behind.

“Tough luck,” said one of the men of the platoon sympathetically.  “He was a Rumanian just like you, wasn’t he?”

“Yes,” said Eliahu, “just like me.”

The search had ended and the deed was done.  Eliahu was now at peace with himself and the world.  He served out his time with the Legion, received his papers certifying that “he had served with Honor and Fidelity” and mustered out in France.  There was nothing left for him to do but to go home to Israel.  The Israeli Armed Forces attachè in France at first refused to believe the incredible story, but the facts were soon verified with the French authorities and a few weeks later Eliahu was on his way to Israel.  At Haifa, two Israeli M.P.’s, perfect copies of their British models with their glistening white canvas belts and pistol holsters, took charge of him and soon the gates of Haifa military prison closed behind him.

The three Israeli Navy judges rose.  Seaman Itzkovitz stood stiffly at attention as the presiding judge read out the judgement.

“… and in view of the circumstances of the case, a Court of the State of Israel cannot bring itself to impose a heavy sentence. … One year’s imprisonment … ”

Simon Jenkins on Russia

Simon Jenkins has written a rather rambling article in The Times in which he warns that the western leaders, in their dealings with Russia, are in danger of stumbling into a world war.  Personally, I don’t find it a persuasive argument, especially as he seems unable to make up his mind on one of the key points:

There is no strategic justification for siting American missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. It is nothing but right-wing provocation. Nato’s welcome to Georgia and Ukraine, for no good reason but at risk of having to come to their aid, has served only to incite Georgia to realise that risk while also infuriating Moscow.

Western strategy is dealing with a resurgent, rich and potent Russia. It has played fast and loose with Moscow’s age-old sensitivity and forgotten the message of George Kennan, the American statesman: that Russia must be understood and contained rather than confronted.

So which is it? 

If Russia “must” be contained then American missile defence systems in Poland and the Czech Republic and Nato membership of Georgia and Ukraine would indicate that Kennan’s message has not been forgotten.  On the other hand, if the missile defence system is intended to intercept Iranian missiles, then they do not represent “right-wing provocation” of Russia. He can’t have it both ways.

And as an aside, is there any justification for Russia’s “age-old sensitivity”?  I understand that they suffered invasions from the Mongols, Napolean, and Hitler but they are far from unique in that respect.

Russia’s Neighbours React

As the dust settles over South Ossetia and parts of Georgia, there appears to be a rather odd school of thought establishing itself on the blogs which take an interest in these things.  The gist of it goes like this:

1.  Georgia has provoked Russia in various ways, one of which is threatening to join Nato, a mutual defence alliance underwritten by the USA.

2.  Russia has given Georgia a damned good thumping for its provocation, part of which is being blamed on Russia’s unease at Georgia wanting to join Nato.

3.  Therefore, Georgia, Poland, and Ukraine will not want to provoke Russia further by seeking Nato protection.

Personally, I think Georgia getting a good thumping from the Russians is unlikely to stop Georgia or Ukraine from looking for greater protection from Russia.

Whether that greater protection arrives or not, it is likely Russia’s neighbours deem it something worth seeking:

Thousands cheered as the presidents of Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia stood with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili at a rally in Tbilisi, Georgia, late Tuesday.

Now I think Saakashvili’s rhetoric is nonsense, not to mention his idiotic decision to launch an attack on South Ossetia for which his country is paying a dear price, but there has probably never been a time when Russia’s former subjects in Eastern Europe were so united against their former masters.  It is likely that the EU and US will not fail to make political capital out of this somehow, driving the wedge between the former Communist bloc and Russia that little bit deeper to Russia’s detriment.

And there’s another, similar meme floating about:

1.  Russia fears the US missile shield is really directed at Russia.

2.  Ukraine and Poland should take note of what Russia has done to Georgia, and refrain from cooperating on a missile defence system which is supposedly directed at Russia, less Russia dishes out a similar lesson to Ukraine and Poland.

Personally, I would have thought a missile defence system directed at Russia is high up on the shopping list of Ukraine and Poland right now.

And whaddya know?

Poland has signed a preliminary deal with the US on plans to host part of its new missile defence shield.

Under the agreement, the US will install 10 interceptor missiles at a base on the Baltic coast in return for help strengthening Polish air defences.

Poland is upgrading it’s air defences?!!  Now why in the world would they want to do that?

Naturally, the Russians are upset:

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said that a preliminary deal allowing the US to site missiles in Poland is aimed against Russia.

… 

“The deployment of new anti-missile forces has as its aim the Russian Federation,” he said

I very much doubt that the original aim of the US missile shield was the Russian Federation, but I’m betting that this is quickly being updated. 

Moscow has long argued the project will upset the military balance in Europe and has warned it will be forced to redirect its missiles at Poland.

Well, quite.  I think Poland is very much hoping the military balance in Europe is upset, upset to the point where Russia cannot dish out to Poland the same thumping it just gave Georgia.  And now that Russia has been “forced” to redirect its missiles at Poland, that rather concludes the case for having a missile shield, doesn’t it?

At a press conference in Moscow on Friday, Russia’s deputy chief of general staff, Gen Anatoly Nogovitsyn, said the US move “cannot go unpunished”.

Which probably isn’t going to weaken the case for the necessity of upgraded Polish air defences and missile shields aimed at Russia.

Not for the first time, I think Russia is playing its hand badly here.  I think Russia had little choice but to intervene militarily into South Ossetia, the Georgians having triggered the war regardless of whether Russia had provoked Georgia or engineered the whole situation.  And depending on certain things being true, it was probably necessary for Russia to attack targets within Georgia proper.  Had Russia limited itself to this, and done a decent PR job in explaining its actions, they would probably have come out of this quite well, having demonstrated they can pull off a decisive military victory or two.

But Russia seems to be continuing its policy of issuing dark warnings and open threats to its neighbours, no doubt mainly for the benefit of the audience back home, many of whom seem to think it is US policy to surround, invade, and overthrow Russia.  Russia warning its neighbours against cooperating too closely with the west could be dismissed as empty rhetoric before Russia – regardless of the reasons – attacked Georgia.  But afterwards it is likely these threats are going to be taken much more seriously, and those who are being threatened are likely to respond by doing everything they can to counter those threats using every means available including defence pacts, missile shields, and votes in international bodies.

Russia is going to find the world just that little bit more lonely in the years to come.