So what went on with this British warship in Crimea? Nothing, according to London. A great deal, according to those who were there, on both sides of the argument—and for you to be the judge.
HMS Defender was sailing from Odessa (the smuggling port which Mikheil Saakashvili was made governor of after being granted instant Ukrainian citizenship by the government which later said they hadn’t known who he was) to Georgia (which Saakashvili is still trying to get back into the presidency of by undermining from within). It claimed it was using a recognised international transit route, which is true, but also said it was “making a point” by using it, which does cast doubt on the first statement.
London claims no warning shots were fired and no bombs were dropped in the path of the warship. BBC Correspondent Jonathan Beale, who was on HMS Defender and had been invited by the crew, just like Russian troops were invited to Syria, witnessed the contrary – shots fired at the ship, bombs dropped and direct radio communication between the ship and the Russian authorites, telling it to go away or face the consequences.
Apparently London still thinks that if it says it never happened, the incident will go away. Like Paderewski’s Poland didn’t persecute Jews, like Albert Speer never knew what his Nazi friends were up to. Like Brexit is working, and the UK’s twenty years of austerity economics has worked when the country borrows at ever increasing rates to keep the country afloat and food banks and cities of homeless are common phenomena in one of the richest countries on earth.
The British knew there would be some reaction to using that sea lane. Whether or not they believe the Crimean coast really is Russian waters, they knew that sailing a warship through it would provoke a reaction—and it did!
If, as they now claim, the Russians were conducting gunnery exercises there and had informed the maritime community about these, what point were the British making by sailing in that vicinity? That they were simply doing what everyone else does, and had to prove this now Brexit has left the UK with no friends?
Here we have it. In the same way Georgia sends its soldiers to be killed to bleed itself into NATO, the UK has to be country which causes trouble.
But why the UK, and why now?
London has lost its former allies through its own stupidity, but it still has one thing in common with them: they all see Russia as a threat. However no one really wants to take the Russians on, or help each other in the face of supposed Russian aggression elsewhere, however many words they expend on the subject.
If the British get the Russians to attack them they can claim they are on the right side again. If it all goes wrong, those former allies can put on their best British accents and say “not me guv – they wuz doin’ it themselves, jus’ like they wanted, yer knows we ain’t talking to ‘em no more”.
Would London be insisting nothing happened if its old friends had rushed to condemn Russia’s actions, as Bojo’s Clown Show wanted them to? This is not about Russia, but all about the UK turning to international prostitution to make diplomatic ends meet – knowing the financial ones won’t meet either, before too long.
The Ruling Class
History recalls that Puyi, the last Emperor of China, was restored to his throne in 1932 as the ruler of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo. He subsequently served a sentence for the war crimes committed by the Japanese during that period.
It is highly unlikely that Puyi knew anything about the more extreme aspects of Japanese rule of “his” state. As long as he could be called Emperor, he did not question what the Japanese were doing, and they never consulted him about anything, as they hardly needed his approval.
But he served 10 years, even when Mao wanted him freed and re-educated, because he insisted that he must be responsible for everything that had happened in Manchukuo, even without his knowledge, because he was the Emperor. Efforts were made by others to mitigate Puyi’s role, but he insisted on taking the blame for crimes he would not necessarily have committed had he actually been Emperor in fact rather than name.
The British are possibly the only people who would understand Puyi’s actions. During the days of their pomp they went out their way to cultivate their own variety of “Exceptionalism”, as all great powers do. In their own estimation, their superpower status was not the product of trading, thievery and oppression but the natural superiority of their race and their methods, which therefore had to be claimed to be distinct from everyone else’s.
The British believed that their nation alone personified fair play, tradition, decency and fortitude. This made them superior to other people, and this superiority explained their success. Other people would just have to bow before the British way, because the British were always right and everyone else had something wrong with them, large or small.
This remains the basis of British self-identification today. In the global but very British sport of cricket, a batsman continues batting until the umpire says he has committed some infraction. But when a batsman knows himself that he has committed such an infraction, he “walks” – he doesn’t wait for the umpire to tell him he’s out, he walks off voluntarily rather than hope the umpire might make the wrong decision, and let him stay in. In British eyes, only they would have introduced such a practice, and made it an expectation, not an exception.
It is also the way other countries see the British. Back in the 1970s a Greek Orthodox writer commented that the thing he had noticed about English converts to that faith is that they come at the beginning of the service and stay until the end. All Orthodox are supposed to do that, but many just come and go, which the British don’t understand. They fell they have a moral obligation to the rest of humanity to turn up on time, pay attention, finish on time and obey all the rules of church deportment, and others can tell them apart because of it, whether or not they seek to present themselves as different.
All this makes a lot of sense when you actually have a great empire and are regarded as a globally important country. Americans are notorious for going everywhere and expecting the American Way to be the solution to everything in the other country, not being able to understand it is only one option amongst many, and may not be the appropriate model in local circumstances.
But the Americans can actually do this. Other countries still perceive the American way of life, and the American political system and freedoms, as things they aspire to, hence the reaction to what the US actually does on the ground on those countries, which is flagrantly contrary.
The British can no longer pull the same trick, because they are just one Western country amongst many. They are still expected to live up to their self-image, but it doesn’t have the same meaning it once did. It makes the UK a quaint foreign country, of whom a lot of expected, rather than one which can be a model, and respected simply because it is what it is.
The Brexiteers are right to believe that this is partly because the UK was part of the EU, and has become an equal instead of superior. But this would have happened anyway, hence the increasingly desperate clinging to the “Special Relationship” with the US before and after EU membership.
Brexit has changed things by pushing the UK lower down the food chain – it has not re-established British superiority, it has created a new British inferiority none can remember ever seeing. So all it has left is what are still internationally recognised as its traditional values.
Sending HMS Defender to pass by the Crimean coast was a way of trying to make that perception once again mean that the British must be right. Instead it has made the UK seem a useful anachronism, and a useful idiot too. Its values may be noble, but they give it as much credibility as wearing a grass skirt does Fijians.
Having been caught, the response is more of the same – the “stiff upper lip” of complete denial of the facts, as if they are beneath the UK. But that too doesn’t provoke outrage that the mighty British Lion’s version has been contradicted – it shows that the UK has nothing left, and can be used for its own purposes by whoever offers it the most at a given time.
What Time Would Like It To Be, Old Boy?
If the British warship had achieved what it was supposed to have done, and rallied the Western world around the “principled” UK, the British would be reliving every gory detail of the shots fired and bombs dropped. They would be quoting the passages of international law and the Law of the Sea which they claimed Russia had broken by taking these actions, showing that they were once again on the right side of law, and therefore on the right side of history too.
However all this is as much for domestic as international consumption. Boris Johnson has ascended to power by claiming to represent everything British against a tide of foreign deviancy. His response to Brexit has been to put Union Jacks on everything he claims (often wrongly) to be “British” produce – as long as it’s called British, that makes it alright.
Johnson’s definition of being British changes depending on how much attention he will get for what he is saying. The only thing he can rely on being accepted as such is this concept of the innate superiority of British values – otherwise, what would be the point?
When things continue not to work out as his Brexiteer mates had hoped – we are still waiting for all the new British jobs, and money for the NHS, Brexit was supposed to create – he will have to resort more and more to invoking a romantic fantasy in which British equals superior. Even when the rest of the world has grown tired of hearing it, he and his party will have little option but to keep repeating this at home.
So who will help Johnson? Whichever country offers him the opportunity to do this, regardless of what strings are attached. But every other country also wants to be seen to be right and good, and to be providing leadership. Who would want to share this glory with the country which deprived them of it for decades by pretending it had a monopoly on it?
The only way Johnson can show his audience that the only thing he has left has any meaning is to go along with any hare-brained scheme invented by other countries for their benefit, not his. The UK is the fall guy, which is hardly surprising as it is led by a clown. Innocent Britons will now be doing pratfalls for other countries, taking pies in the face and seeing their trousers fall round their ankles, so their leader can convince them it is good to be British, and everyone else can run away from whatever they are too scared to do themselves.
When Sir Eric Gairy was the controversial Prime Minister of Grenada he gained even more notoriety by addressing the UN on the subject of flying saucers. We can now expect the same of BoJo the Clown, only with official sanction from other powers.
BoJo and his minions will be the first to stand up and condemn any alleged violation the rest of the world has no real interest in doing anything about. Having used the British to make their point, they will then address the issue diplomatically, leaving the impossibly stuck up Brits behind.
None of this will help the UK one bit. But it will keep the chickens from coming home to roost long enough to give BoJo and Co. the change to run away with the silver – which is what they all ultimately want, whoever they drag down with them.
This Is Not 1854
One wonders what Alfred, Lord Tennyson would have made of it. Tennyson was one of the few poets to become a popular entertainer by writing verse, a sort of Lord Byron for a more satisfied culture which felt poetry reading was a social accomplishment.
At the height of his fame, Tennyson wrote possibly his most famous work, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, about a famous failed British action during the Crimean War. This included recognition that a mistake in command had been made, in the line “Someone had blundered”.
Tennyson was asked to revise his poem, and did so several times before the original version was restored to the canon. Even though the poem celebrated the bravery and commitment of the British troops sacrificed, no one official wanted to admit a mistake had been made, even though it undoubtedly had been.
What would Tennyson be writing about the bravery and commitment of the British sailors who were not fired on and didn’t have any bombs dropped on them? Where is the Britishness in that?
This incident was planned ahead, and is part of a larger pattern of sabre rattling by the UK and the US, and not only in this region. It appears as if Western powers fail to recognize the importance of the Montreux convention. That is something that nobody in the West wants to talk about right now. It is interesting to note that vessels of war (warships) belonging to non-riparian states cannot stay more than 21 days in the Black Sea.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.