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Editorial British warships should not be goading a nuclear-armed state in the Black Sea

SHOTS fired by the armed forces of one nuclear power against those of another are no joke, and British attempts to downplay the risks being run in the Black Sea are deeply irresponsible.

Authorities claim that the Russian reaction to a British warship entering Crimean waters was unexpected.

But the presence of BBC and Daily Mail journalists on the warship suggests the mission was always intended as a propaganda stunt.

That would be nothing new for an administration that despatched the navy to intimidate French fishermen off Jersey on the day of the local elections last month, and which launched its new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth on a sea of sycophantic media coverage.

But it is not a risk-free process. HMS Defender’s foray into Russia-controlled waters comes after three months of military exercises along Russia’s borders.

Operation Defender Europe 2021 involves 28,000 troops from 27 countries, with the largest contingent being from the United States.

In case anyone was in the dark as to who these manoeuvres are meant to frighten, Ukrainian diplomat Alexey Arestovich enlightens us: “The scenario is that from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, we are practising for, well, let’s put it directly, the war with Russia.”

Russian exercises conducted on its own territory in response were slammed by Nato leaders as indications of the Kremlin’s aggressive designs on its neighbours. 

The hypocrisy is staggering. And if the whole purpose of HMS Defender’s Black Sea jaunt was to “goad Russia” — a Sunday Times report based on military sources used precisely this phrase to describe Royal Air Force and navy activity last September — it was no doubt an added bonus that the incursion took place as Russia marks the 80th anniversary of Operation Barbarossa, the genocidal Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.

Seen from Moscow, this is all of a piece with the US and EU-supported coup against Ukraine’s elected government in 2014 and the new regime in Kiev’s reinvention of Nazi collaborators like Stepan Bandera and anti-semitic tyrants such as Symon Petliura (whose anti-Bolshevik regime in Ukraine from 1918-21 presided over pogroms that killed an estimated 50,000 Jews) as national heroes on the grounds that they fought against Russia.

Ukraine this week declined to send a representative to a German state commemoration of the Barbarossa anniversary, objecting to its portrayal of Russia as victim.

It is not so long since its then prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk referred to “the Soviet invasion of Ukraine and Germany” during World War II. 

With revanchist movements across eastern Europe rehabilitating fascists and rewriting the history of the second world war to present the Soviet Union, whose armies played the biggest role in the defeat of the Nazis, as the aggressor, it is no wonder Russia reacts defensively.

The same sinister rewriting of history no doubt motivated former Estonian president Toomas Ilves’s attack today on Franco-German proposals for talks with Russia, where he accused Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron of having learnt nothing from “80 years of history” if they trusted the Russians.

Merkel and Macron’s motives are unclear. 

The olive branch may be part of what some analysts call Joe Biden’s “reverse Kissinger” policy, of wooing Russia to isolate China in a mirror image of Henry Kissinger’s approaches to Chairman Mao in the 1970s. (Given the mass military exercises along Russia’s borders, this alleged wooing is well disguised).

Or it may reflect Paris and Berlin’s genuine economic interest in better relations with Russia and a desire to demonstrate an EU foreign policy independent of Washington.

All the same, as Churchill (surprisingly) had it, “jaw jaw is better than war war,” and it will be interesting to see if Labour, usually so pro-EU, backs pressure on the government to ratchet down the tension on Russia’s borders, pull back the troops and stop playing chicken with a nuclear-armed state.

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