Archive for Russia

Holding your ground

Posted in Biographical, Brighton, Finance with tags , , , on February 26, 2022 by telescoper

Thinking about the brave defenders of Ukraine, especially in Kyiv, who include numerous civilians I suddenly remembered an old post about a friend I met in Brighton many years ago, a Jewish man of Austrian extraction who went by the name of Solly. He had been sent by his parents to live in England a few years before the start of World War 2 when he was still a teenager.

To cut a long story short, in 1940 Solly ended up joining the Local Defence Volunteers (the Home Guard) in Brighton. This is something he told me reminiscing abut those times. over dinner many years ago.

On 7th September 1940 the War Office issued the following communique:

Message to all UK units: codeword CROMWELL. Home Defence forces to highest degree of readiness. Invasion of mainland UK expected at any time.

After being informed of this signal Solly and his comrades turned up to be issued with the equipment with which they were expected to stop the imminent invasion. In his case it was an ancient pre-WW1 rifle, three rounds of ammunition, and two improvised grenades. With these meagre supplies, they were supposed to hold their positions until reinforced, possibly for up to 7 days.

As they walked to their posts, all the volunteers were certain that they had no chance and that none of them would survive the night. In such a grim situation they were understandably quiet, but what talk there was exclusively concerned the need to make all their shots count. If each of them could kill at least one invader before he himself was killed then the invasion might be thwarted.

After an agonizing wait, and several false alarms, dawn broke. The Germans never came.

Solly clearly found this recollection difficult. Few of us are ever faced with such a stark prospect of death. But I remember one thing he did say, which at the time I didn’t really understand, which is that it was in a way quite liberating – accepting that you are certain to die means that you no longer feel afraid. He had previously worried that he might lack the courage to fight if called upon to do so, but that doubt disappeared on 7th September 1940.

I think we’re already seeing this attitude in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has emerged as a heroic figure . He must know that he is a marked man, and that his days are probably numbered, but he has refused offers to get him out to safety. The contrast between his courage and another so-called leader, who ran away from reporters to hid in a fridge, could not be greater.

Anyway, as the Russians enter the city of Kyiv, many civilians will be trying to summon up their courage right now. Received wisdom is that in urban fighting, the attacking force needs a numerical advantage of at least five to one and even more if the attackers are poorly trained conscripts, as seems to be the case in some parts of Ukraine. The defenders hold many cards, not least that it’s their land on which they’re fighting.

I fear that there is a bloodbath coming, but it seems to me very likely that the Russians will suffer worse. Not that Putin will be bothered. To him, his soldiers are mere cannon fodder.

The Little Things

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , , , on February 25, 2022 by telescoper

Yesterday morning I heard the news about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine via the radio as soon as it woke me up at 7am. It took me a while to summon up the energy to get out of bed and get ready for my 9am lecture. The routine things of life seem so trivial and futile compared to wars and other disasters over which one has no influence. But it does not help Ukraine (nor anyone else, including yourself) to be overwhelmed by despair. So I got up and did my lecture, as I did this morning with a 9am tutorial.

Somehow, it feels like a duty to persevere. I think that’s partly because the tyrants of this world want people to feel powerless. By persisting with the little things you are, in a very small way, defying those who want you to be terrified. The image of Vladimir Putin as some sort mastermind, a Karla-like bogeyman with strategic superpowers, has hypnotized too many. He’s just a sad old relic of the Cold War.

I try to resist looking at the news too often, my desire to stay informed tempered by a wish to remain sane. I’d like to believe that the Ukrainians can hold out, but they’re massively outnumbered and outgunned so the odds are heavily against them. But they’re fighting on their home soil for a just cause against an invader. That should count for something. The longer they can hold out wear down the Russian army the more chance there is that the tide will turn against Putin at home.

I doubt that sanctions from the West will have any impact on Putin’s murderous intentions, at least not in the short term. In any case they look weak to me. Russian teams are still playing in UEFA tournaments, and Russia will still be in Eurovision. Why is this tolerated?

I spent an hour yesterday on a zoom call related to the European Space Agency’s Euclid mission, which is due to be launched on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 2023. The latest batch of sanctions may lead to a delay in Euclid or even its cancellation. That would be a major problem for many scientists around the world. It’s a big thing for us, but it gets smaller when you compare it with what’s happening in the world. I bet a majority of us working in cosmology would prefer to see Euclid scrapped altogether than see further death and destruction unfold. I know I would.

It wouldn’t work that way, of course, but the question we have to ask ourselves is who are we happy to do business with? How could you sleep at night after giving money to or taking money from the Kremlin or its proxies? Maybe Putin will succeed only in giving the West a renewed sense of moral certainty.

For years the West has been corrupted by dirty money from Russia’s gangster oligarchs. Now Ukraine is paying the price. We’ve been far too slow to understand the true nature of who and what we’ve been dealing with. Now it’s time to get serious. “Business as usual” no longer applies, at least not with Russia…

The Immortal Regiment in Cardiff

Posted in Cardiff with tags , , on May 10, 2017 by telescoper

I was walking along Queen Street in Cardiff last night when I encountered a group of people – mainly women and children – singing and marching in front of me with flags, banners and photographs of men in uniform decorated with medals, all escorted by a couple of police officers. I couldn’t figure out who they were from behind so I caught up with them and asked one of their number what it was all about.

It turned out to be a local (Cardiff) version of the Immortal Regiment March, part of Russian celebrations of victory in World War Two (`The Great Patriotic War’) which take place on 10th May, one day later than our own VE Day. This is a huge event in Russia, involving many millions of people. The Cardiff event was, of course, relatively small but many of those marching were direct relatives of people who gave their lives during the Second World War. Those were the photographs they were carrying.

There has been a sizable Russian community in Cardiff for many years, large enough to sustain a Russian Orthodox Church and various community organizations throughout the city. More than a few of the academic staff of Cardiff University are of Russian origin. Yesterday’s march was a timely reminder not only of the horrors endured by so many on the Eastern front but also of the fact that Cardiff is a wonderfully cosmopolitan city.