This is a letter published by the Financial Times of London on 23 March 2022 from a former defence attaché at the British Embassy in Moscow.
The recent article by Maria Stepanova “The war of Putin’s imagination” (Life & Arts, FT Weekend, March 19) was exemplary. However, one jarring note was the unfounded notion that no one expected this aggression from the Kremlin.
I served as the UK’s defence attaché in Moscow for five years, 2011-2016, during which time this long, dark march to war was obvious, the path to conflict lit by the many pronouncements emanating from the dark red walls of Vladimir Putin’s palace.
We reported the inevitability of conflict in detail, regularly and with the despair of Cassandra. One of the earliest reports opened with a line from Sherlock Holmes, whose statue stands outside the British Embassy wall: “There’s an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast.”
The evidence of Putin’s chosen path was never concealed. His many declarations were meant to be heard and understood: the colossal rearmament programme, the demand for more complex, more lethal weaponry; the militarisation of society; the distortion and seizure of the popular narrative; domination of education, the media and the courts to exclude contrasting views and, ultimately, the alienation and destruction of those among the Russian people who understood the folly of his declared ambition.
The list is remorseless, the consequences could not be ignored. But they were.
It was not until I returned to the UK on the eve of our withdrawal from the EU, a manoeuvre which greatly emboldened those in Moscow, that I understood how our society had changed in the years I was serving overseas.
All was subjugated to the City, all served the interests of our lucrative status as a safe haven for corrupt, and corrupting, wealth. The values we were demanding of other nations had long since faded from our own actions.
I despair at the decisions Putin has taken, but even more at the prospect of finding credible leadership at home in the UK among those who have compromised so long with his regime and the wealth it offered.
Air Commodore (Retired)
Oakham, Rutland, UK