Jeremy Cliffe’s cover story (“The New Iron Curtain”, 1 April) is rich with important information on military build-up in eastern Europe and insightful analysis of what this means for Nato and global powers anon, but it could have done without the reference to the Iron Curtain. When Winston Churchill described an Iron Curtain descending across Europe he was referring to the economic, ideological and political reach of Soviet communism. The Iron Curtain was a defensive position – where each side kept the other out and its preferred politics and cultures in. This was containment, the favourite strategy of Cold Warriors and an important ingredient in nuclear deterrence theory.
What we see now in Europe, “from Murmansk in the Arctic to Istanbul on the Bosphorus”, is not a second Iron Curtain, it is a battleline that is unlikely to contain Vladimir Putin’s ambitions, and which highlights that deterrence no longer works. Ukraine does not signal a second Cold War, it represents a highly temperamental new world order not based on any internationally agreed zones, tactics, laws or mentalities at all.
Dr Jessica Douthwaite, Division of History and Politics, University of Stirling
David Steel (Correspondence, 8 April) makes the false assumption that removing the monarchy requires a President Thatcher or Blair. In our parliamentary system there isn’t a need for a monarch or a president with any real powers. The Queen signs any document the government puts in front of her – even when asked to illegally prorogue parliament. There is no job. The ceremonial role could, for example, be performed by the Speaker of a revised elected upper chamber. Another option would be to adopt the Irish approach and elect a popular cultural figure, such as our leading poet, to represent the country. Royalists should stop this job creation and untug their forelocks.
Jim Young, Halesworth, Suffolk
“Presidents in other countries tend to be retired politicians or complete nonentities,” writes David Steel. How strange that he appears to overlook the “nonentity” most in the news right now: Volodymyr Zelensky. Perhaps a charismatic president who has won the acclaim of most of the world doesn’t suit Lord Steel’s theory that only a monarch can provide “that essential non-partisan mystique”.
Jane Middleton, Bath
Putin’s supply line
Tim Pears (Correspondence, 8 April) asks why Vladimir Putin can use troops from Chechnya in Ukraine whereas European countries feel they can’t send their troops to fight. The answer is simple: the Chechen Republic is a republic of Russia. Putin is in effect sending his own forces.
Mike Walsh, Espoo, Finland
Documenting Stalin’s terror
John Gray’s claim that my book Stalin’s Library “says nothing regarding the scale of Stalin’s terror” (The Critics, 1 April) is absurd. Early on I write of “the Great Terror” that swept though Soviet society in the mid-1930s, engulfing millions of innocent victims. I also detail the Moscow show trials, the military purges, and the “mass operation” that repressed hundreds of thousands of supposedly anti-Soviet peasants. On the plus side, Gray has grasped my main point – that the key to understanding both Stalin and his dictatorship is that he was an intellectual.
Geoffrey Roberts, emeritus professor of history, University College Cork
Jason Cowley’s Editor’s Note (8 April) ended with a much needed upbeat observation of the joys of spring. However, I must speak up in defence of my favourite of England’s trees, the hawthorn, which definitely does not have “sombre green leaves” as a backdrop to our blossom but whose new, fresh, startling lime-green leaves are now turning our hedges, lower moorlands and dales into summer. Soon these gnarled and feisty trees will drench our countryside in white, pink and red May blossom, before moving on to give much-needed shade and then feasting birds with blood-red berries during the winter.
Judith Taylor, Disley, Cheshire
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This article appears in the 20 Apr 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Law and Disorder