Saturday 14 May 2022

Professor Robert Tombs yesterday


"Britain’s newly active role is confirming the view of the Cambridge international relations specialist Professor Brendan Simms that Britain is Europe’s only genuine great power and one of the principal guarantors of its security – a view that not long ago seemed distinctly eccentric. Are we finally casting off the declinism that has handicapped Britain’s international role for half a century, and reduced it from being a leader to an acquiescent follower?

"To move boldly into the Baltic would have astonished Palmerston or Gladstone – no shrinking violets. The Navy did tentatively confront Russia in the Baltic during the Crimean War in 1854, and London was prepared to send a fleet to protect Copenhagen in 1864 in the unlikely event of the Germans attacking it. We gave an empty guarantee to Poland in 1939. But never have we ventured so far east in offering security as now."

I am sure we are right to aid Ukraine, as we went to the rescue of Kuwait in 1991, but this is a special case. I do not think British interests are in general involved in Europe. I do not think Russia is a threat to the United Kingdom or for that matter to the countries in the European Union. I'd prefer us to follow the foreign policy of Lord Salisbury, splendid isolation, rather than the policy which took us to war with Russia over the Crimea.


  1. Three months ago you were sure Russia would not invade Ukraine

  2. Indeed I was, despite M16 and the CIA, but this time I am obviously right. Obviously Russia will not invade a Nato country.

  3. I think you underestimate the realpolitik of desperation. With nothing to offer at home and applying your own perverse logic that Putin feels threatened by NATO expansion , when a man feels he has nothing to lose, little is obvious.

  4. In spite of Russia still having Serfdom in the 1850s (although it was not as widespread as is often claimed) I am not convinced of the moral or practical case for intervention to prop up the Ottoman Empire (which was more, rather than less, oppressive than the Russian Empire) in the Crimean War (let alone the grand Berlin folly of Disraeli in 1878 - a folly which is praised in most history books). The idea that Russia was a threat to British India is the counter argument to this - but I am not convinced. Still my own position may be influenced by the First World War (I am may be wrongly "reading things back" and seeking to blame people for the terrible position that having Constantinople in Ottoman hands placed us in the First World War) - a conflict that has interested me since childhood.

    1. I think about two thirds of Russians were serfs in 1864 when the great Alexander II abolished serfdom, but you are looking at things in entirely the wrong way, as many people do now with Ukraine - or with the Second World War. It is only acceptable to go to war for national interests, not to combat a country because her system seems to you oppressive. Does the UK have any interest in Ukraine? Only one - to prevent q sovereign state being attacked with impunity. No other interest in the country - or in my opinion in Europe, but we are not going to leave NATO.

  5. As for the present conflict. It is hard to believe it now - but President Z. used to be an unpopular President of Ukraine (wildly thought to be incompetent) who would almost certainly have been defeated at the next Ukrainian election. Mr Putin has turned President Z. into a Ukrainian National Hero. And Mr Putin has also turned most Russian speakers in Ukraine (many of whom used to consider themselves Russians) into ardent Ukrainian nationalists. The folly of Mr Putin is hard to overstate - I suspect that serious illness led to mental confusion, and to folly on a grand scale.