The first casualty of war is truth. And the first casualty of any skirmish on the world stage that involves Russia is critical thinking.
No sooner does the great bear of the East speak or act on an issue beyond its borders than Western observers, of both a right and left-wing persuasion, switch off the bits of their brains that do actual thinking in favour of indulging in thoughtless Moscow-mauling.
The right does it because it desperately misses the Cold War, when the world was neatly split between good guys and really, really bad guys, and it hopes that by posturing against Putin it might resuscitate, however fleetingly, that old West-flattering, heart-swelling global divide.
And left-leaning observers do it because they miss 1989, when many of them cut their political and media teeth by reporting on Eastern Europeans’ uprisings against Soviet power, and now they hope that every instance of stone-throwing against Russia or one of its friends is another Velvet Revolution in the making (and more importantly that they will become the new Timothy Garton Ash by reporting on it).
So all sorts of Westerners approach global spats involving Russia armed with moral narratives, with scripts yanked from history which, goddammit, they will squeeze this latest spat into, whether it fits or not.
The story we are told about Ukraine, from the front pages of the tabloids to the editorial pages of liberal broadsheets, is that big bad Russia is declaring actual war in Ukraine and a war of words against the West. It is cocking a snook at Washington and Brussels. A people – the Ukrainians – have held a glorious and freedom-fuelled uprising against a Russia-friendly dictator, and Russia has responded with menacing force, sending troops to the Crimea. It’s like 1989 all over again.