Not so long ago – at least using the widest historical perspective – wars undertaken on foreign soil were sufficiently detached from home not merely in terms of geographical distance; prior to advances in communications it’s all-too easy to take for granted today, the latest news from the front might not reach those with an emotional investment in the outcome for weeks. We’ve all grown up with stories of WWII telegrams being delivered to doorsteps that informed a war bride her bridegroom was either missing in action or had been killed in conflict; but before the 20th century’s technological innovations, the lengthy wait for news must have made whichever war was being fought overseas seem as though it was taking place on another planet. Ironically, the advances the last century brought us didn’t just shorten the interminable gap between events on the battlefield and deliverance of reports to the housewife, but also served to bring the war to the streets of the nation waging it. Zeppelin raids on England during the First World War were a wake-up call that distance was no longer a hindrance to experiencing the horrors of war for those who hadn’t been called-up to fight it, and what followed a generation later shattered forever the comforting illusion of isolationist security that a bit of water engendered.
The USA certainly received such a wake-up call with Pearl Harbour in 1941 and was again shaken out of its torpor 60 years later in New York; but some had received it a little earlier, at a time when it was thousands of armed men rather than advanced technological hardware that presented citizens of a country engaged in a war abroad with the consequences of their nation’s actions. Napoleon’s ill-fated invasion of Russia in 1812 saw the Emperor overwhelmed by the vast landmass before him as well as the onset of winter – factors which also played into the demoralising defeat of another failed conqueror of Mother Russia 130 years after Bonaparte embarked upon his humiliating retreat back to the West. But whilst the sheer mind-boggling scale of Russia as a country may prove to be a deterrent to invading forces of flesh-and-blood, the 21st century doesn’t even require the manned aircraft that the previous century depended upon to bring the conflict closer to home.
Recent drone attacks on Moscow that the Kremlin credited to Kyiv have belatedly alerted many Russians that it no longer matters how far from the frontline they are. Explosions that rang through some of the Russian capital’s more exclusive gated communities – ones lined with expensive residential homes of the kind certain wealthy Russian exiles have bought up Monopoly-like in London – came hot on the heels of drone strikes on the Kremlin a few weeks ago, ones which Moscow claimed to be an attempt to assassinate Vlad himself. The latest drone assault last week was aimed at the suburb of Rublyovka, a neighbourhood that is home to some of the country’s most powerful political and business movers and shakers. Even Putin himself has a pad there. The Russian Ministry of Defence claimed more than half-a-dozen drones were either downed or intercepted via electronic jammers en route to Moscow, whilst media reports suggest upwards of 25 to 30 were involved in the attack. The Kremlin points the finger at Kyiv, and though Kyiv itself has denied any involvement in the attacks, one Ukrainian presidential aide found it hard to hide his pleasure. ‘Of course we are pleased to watch,’ said Mykhailo Podolyak, ‘but we have nothing directly to do with this.’
Reactions to a war instigated by Moscow suddenly encroaching into Moscow itself have been greeted by some residents of the affected neighbourhood with a weary resignation – one reported response was that the assault was ‘to be expected…what else were we waiting for?’ The solution from the hawk side of the argument is to hit Ukraine even harder, though considering the Russians bombarded Kyiv with its own drones and missiles on at least 17 separate occasions in May alone, the evidence hardly suggests Moscow is easing up. The pro-war factions have been critical of the Ministry of Defence for allowing the drones to breach Russian defences, and those actually engaged in the conflict on Ukrainian soil have been even more vocal. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the so-called Wagner mercenary group fighting in Eastern Ukraine, has repeatedly criticised the Russian military establishment for not providing his troops with adequate ammunition and support as well as decrying the ineptitude of their strategy; he laid the blame on last week’s drone attacks at the feet of the same out-of-touch military officials that reside there. ‘Why the f**k are you allowing these drones to fly to Moscow?’ he snarled. ‘Who gives a shit that they are flying to your homes on Rublyovka? Let your houses burn!’
There certainly appears to be a clear disconnect between those directing events on the ground from afar and those actually on the ground itself, though hasn’t this always been the case in warfare? We’re all aware of the gulf that existed between WWI generals stationed in grandiose mansions several miles from the trenches and the soldiers bogged-down in them, even if that awareness stems from ‘Blackadder Goes Fourth’; and support for Putin’s warmongering is far-from universal in Russia itself, something drone attacks on home soil will surely only intensify. Vlad’s appearance on state television in the wake of last week’s assault saw him railing against Kyiv and its attempts to ‘intimidate Russia and Russian citizens’ with such a ‘terrorist attack’, pointing out that the drones were aimed at residential rather than military targets, as though Ukraine (if it was indeed responsible) was somehow veering from the honourable rules of engagement; but anyone who has witnessed the aftermath of Russia’s own attacks on Ukrainian towns and cities will know Russia never honoured these rules in the first place.
Ukraine’s multiple allies in the West have observed events with caution though, as our very own Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said, ‘Ukraine does have the legitimate right to defend itself within its own borders, of course; but it does also have the right to project force beyond its borders to undermine Russia’s ability to project force into Ukraine itself.’ Washington, on the other hand, said it doesn’t support attacks inside Russia – officially, anyway. Given the convenience of today’s technology to wage war from a distance – even if boots are still being deployed on the ground – it’s no surprise the conflict will eventually be deposited on the doorsteps of those who launched it; every advance in the hardware of warfare – airships, fighter jets, drones – enables those engaged in war to inflict damage ever further from the frontline, and events in Moscow last week have demonstrated this yet again.
Incidentally, current reports of another troubled spot on the map – Sudan – suggesting historical artefacts are at risk from the bombardment of Khartoum, highlights the short-sighted idiocy of returning precious archaeological treasures to the country of their origin on ideological grounds; the reason so many have survived is precisely because they were dispatched to Western museums in the 19th century; the locations they were sourced from have been unstable regions for decades and the fact the latest conflict in Sudan is putting those that stayed put in danger shows up the fanatical determination of our museums to ‘decolonise’ their collections for being the futile moral crusade it is. The loss of such artefacts in Iraq and Syria in recent years should surely have served as a warning, though it’s almost as though brainwashed British curators are prepared to sacrifice the priceless objects in their possessions simply to secure their place on ‘the right side of history’. What’s happening in Sudan at the moment is an internal struggle, though one could say Russia sees the Ukraine issue in exactly the same way, a civil war in which neighbours sharing a common history are at each other’s throats just for a piece of bloody land and a bloody border. Maybe the war was on home soil all along.
© The Editor