West needs to exaggerate Russian aggression to fortify a fragile alliance

Sir, Using one eye, Ivo Daalder argues that Russian president Vladimir Putin “needs the antagonism of the west to protect his standing at home”, and therefore acts as the unprovoked aggressor in order both to generate that antagonism and to expand the boundaries of Russia’s territorial control; the west’s response must be to strengthen the western alliance’s military forces around Russia (“The best answer to Russian aggression is containment”, October 17).

Using two eyes, he might see another side to the story, which starts from questioning his statement that “the core of our strength is western unity”. In fact, western unity is fragile. As Mr Putin needs the antagonism of the west to protect his standing at home, so the west needs the antagonism of Russia (helped by China) to glue the fractious alliance together. Western actions of the kind endorsed by Mr Daalder help to provoke the needed antagonism.

In this light one can understand the western exaggeration of the Russian government’s role in the civil war in Ukraine. Eight retired US intelligence analysts wrote a letter to German chancellor Angela Merkel in August 2014 warning her that the intelligence supporting the accusation of a major Russian invasion of Ukraine “seems to be of the same dubious, politically ‘fixed’ kind used 12 years ago to ‘justify’ the US-led attack on Iraq”.

Western voters and taxpayers should be wary of the incentives for western governments to exaggerate Russia as the unprovoked aggressor and themselves as innocent defenders. The exaggeration serves to fortify the fragile western alliance, and also satisfies the arms industry, for which weapons systems against threatening states are much more profitable than those against terrorists. If the aim is genuinely to curb Russian aggression, western states and Nato have to be less aggressive towards Russia.


  Robert H Wade

Professor of Political Economy,

Dept of International Development,

London School of Economics, UK