Friday, September 7, 2007

Shadow Boxing for the Rubes

A friend of mine who is a reserve officer in the Swiss army mentioned today over lunch that some of the older brass in the general staff were "quite happy and relieved" to see Russia return to its old menacing form, making threatening noises and underlining its aspirations to be treated as a superpower. For armies everywhere, an assertive Russia means a return to bigger budgets for tanks and other expensive hardware. Then later this evening, I saw a news report saying that Norwegian F-16s and British Tornado jets had been scrambled to intercept eight Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers heading towards the UK:
The RAF scrambled to intercept eight Russian nuclear bombers heading for Britain yesterday in the biggest aerial confrontation between the two countries since the end of the Cold War.
Sounds pretty scary, doesn't it? Whenever you see the words "nuclear bombers" and "confrontation" in the same sentence, that can't be good news. Of course, there was no "confrontation" at all:
Defence sources said that the Russian pilots turned away as soon as they spotted the approaching Tornados and did not enter British airspace.
This is the second time that has happened in recent weeks; in August, two Tornados were sent from Scotland to head off another Bear in a similar situation. So what is this all about? As noted, Russia wishes to be treated as a global force to be reckoned with, and has recently started resuming air patrols of the sort that were discontinued at the end of the Cold War. On 9 August, two Tu-95s flying out of Blagoveshchensk in southwestern Russia made a 13-hour round trip just to buzz the US base on the island of Guam in the Pacific. So for whose benefit are these sorties being flown, since they serve no real military purpose? They are primarily in order to convince the Russian public that their Dear Leader Putin is just as much of a macho man as his US counterpart. Of course, we in the West are mature enough to see right through such blatant manipulation by the government and the military, right? Er...
MoD officials at the time played down the incident last month as a "picture-led story" and an opportunity to show off the air defence role of the Typhoon, an expensive and long-delayed aircraft originally designed during the cold war to engage in dogfights with Soviet planes over northern Europe.
"Quite happy and relieved" that the Bolshies are back in business, that just about sums it up, I think. Again, for whose benefit are these sorties being flown, on both sides? For you and me, the gawkers at the air show, the suckers at the carnival, the rubes at the circus (there's one born every minute). And, naturally, For the Benefit of Mr. Kite, as John Lennon put it:

In this way Mr. K. will challenge the world!
Mr. K. in this case being Messrs. Putin, Brown, Bush, and all the others in varying need of self-assertion. And of course Henry The Horse dances the waltz!

In any case, I have decided to seize the opportunity to mess around with embedded video for the first time; here is "Mr. Kite" by the Beatles, unfortunately mainly audio, since the picture is only the cover of the Sgt Pepper album for the duration of this song, together with the no less genius-soaked "Within You Without You" from the same album. If you think that the visuals are kind of boring, compare this video, which inexpicably features Freddie Mercury and Queen halfway through.

A splendid time is guaranteed for all. But please, Vladimir, Brownie, Dubya... careful with that Hogshead of Real Fire.

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