The battlecruiser HMS Hood was known as ‘The Mighty Hood.’ This sobriquet was reflective not only of the immense firepower she carried, but also of her prestige. She was not only a symbol of the Royal Navy, but one of the entire British Empire and all its glory. A proud and powerful peacock, adored by Britons and feared by her enemies. Hood’s death while hunting the Bismarck in Denmark Strait on 24 May, 1941 was a devastating blow to the Royal Navy and caused deep trauma across Great Britain. In some ways the Royal Navy never fully recovered from the loss of fabled battlecruiser. Six months later, the United States entered the war after Pearl Harbor. Over the next three and a half years, the mantle of preeminent global naval power shifted to the US Navy, which continues to enjoy unmatched naval dominance on the oceans of the world to this day.
The Russian warship Moskva didn’t come close to matching HMS Hood’s prestige. An almost forty-year old Slava class cruiser, he was commissioned towards the end of the Cold War era and carried considerable firepower for a surface combatant. As flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, Moskva was a symbol of Russian naval power, though not to the degree Hood was for the British. Hood was a ship many Britons felt a deep attachment to. It’s not likely that many people aside from current sailors, naval officers and veterans of the Russian Navy were familiar with Moskva, even though he was the pride of Russia’s navy. But now that she has been gone under, Moskva will be mourned and grieved by the entire country.
Moskva’s loss, whether due to a shipboard fire or enemy action, is a significant blow to Russia at an already difficult point in the war. Morale will be negatively affected at the very least. Realistically speaking though, now Russia’s naval operations need an immediate refurbishing if Moskva was in fact the victim of a Ukrainian attack. The nation’s pride will be more difficult to repair, though Russia has already taken the first steps towards seeking reciprocity. The military factory responsible for producing Neptune anti-ship missiles was attacked last night outside Kiev.
Militarily, the effect Moskva’s sinking will have on operations remains to be seen. Long term, it will be interesting to see if the cruiser’s loss marks the imminent demise of Russian sea power, or if the disaster brings on needed changes and reform to the Russian fleet. Hood’s loss brought on a moment of truth for the Royal Navy and now eighty-one years later the Russian Navy, as well as the nation it serves, faces a similar moment.
Happy New Year, everyone! Well, almost. 😊 There are only about 27 hours left in 2021 so please excuse me for jumping ahead a bit. I think the first weeks of 2022 will turn out to be a quiet period of time, but don’t expect that to remain the case for the long term.
China and Russia are going to be on their best behavior, eager to successfully project a façade of normalcy. For China, it’s imperative to maintain an even keel with the Olympics rapidly approaching. The pressure on Taiwan will continue to shift from overt to behind-the-scenes and this should continue until the end of the Olympic games. The wildcard here is the wave of Omicron cases sweeping across the world right now. The Chinese government is doing all it can to minimize the effect of COVID-19 on the winter games in Beijing. How much of an effect this will have remains to be seen. However, if the Olympics move forward without major disruption, China’s good behavior should remain firm until late February before it returns to a more aggressive foreign policy.
Russia’s good behavior will not last half as long. Moscow is making it a point to remain quiet and out of the limelight as talks with the United States and NATO are scheduled to begin around 10 January. It’s quite difficult to envision a scenario where Moscow seriously expects the West to consider its security proposals for the future, but Russia has other reasons for pushing these talks through. Whether or not Moscow’s goals are met, expect Vladimir Putin to keep his country on its best behavior between now and 10 January at the earliest. On the international scene at least. Russia’s domestic moves over the past week have raised questions about the future of human rights organizations and other pro-West NGOs inside Russia.
So, for the first two weeks of 2022 we should have relatively smooth, quiet sailing. That’s the hope at least. But don’t get used to it. As I mentioned earlier, it probably will not last.
Whether by design or by happenstance, Poland has played significant roles in nearly all of Europe’s major geopolitical acts over the last 100 years. Throughout much of the twentieth century, Poland found itself sandwiched between two major powers; Germany to the west and Russia to the east. World War II began with Hitler’s invasion and subsequent defeat of Poland. In the Cold War era Poland was a satellite of the Soviet Union and member of the Warsaw Pact. The first cracks in the Iron Curtain appeared in Poland with the birth of the Solidarity movement in 1980. Following the end of the Cold War and break up of the Soviet Union, Poland was once again a free nation-state, and as the twentieth century drew to a close the former Soviet satellite applied for, and war granted membership in the NATO alliance.
Eighteen years into the twenty first century and Poland is again playing an essential role in European geopolitics. The reemergence of the Russia as a threat to NATO places the nation squarely on the front line of what is potentially a new cold war. Along with the threat to the east, Poland is contending with another type of threat coming from the west. Warsaw and the European Union have locked horns an increasing number of times in recent months on a diverse range of issues. Poland’s independent streak is rubbing Brussels the wrong way. Whatever drama comes next, Poland will be in the middle of it.
With all of this in mind, the Spring 2018 project for this blog will be to produce a picture of what Poland will look like four years from now. Economic, political, military, and domestic factors will be explored. Questions will be formed and hopefully answered as well. The following are but two examples: Will Poland’s relationship with the EU mend, or continue to fray? How seriously do the Polish people take the possibility of a future war with Russia?
The project posts will be published weekly between mid-March and mid-April, 2018.