None of this was popular with the British (and Western European) Left, who, rather than being supremely thankful that this deterrence was keeping them out of Gulags, were protesting that the West should unilaterally disarm and lay down its nuclear shield.
I recall my friend Richard B. striding into a church hall in Royal Leamington Spa one Saturday lunchtime in early 1980 where the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was holding a fund-raising bring-and-buy sale. Richard walked to the middle of the room full of tea-cosy hatted feminists and waistcoated tin-whistle-blowing beardies and bellowed out "YOU ARE ALL DUPES OF MOSCOW!" Later, he was seen shaking a tin along the Parade, collecting money for Trident missiles with which to deter the Russians.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979 and the emergence of Solidarity in 1980 brought an end to any youthful delusions I might have had as to the true nature of the Soviet Empire. My mother's experiences in a Soviet forced labour camp four decades earlier were also difficult to ignore. And those well-meaning, woolly-minded lefties that saw the USSR as being morally equivalent to the West were just plain wrong.
The Soviet Union, through its security services, saw fit to meddle in the affairs of other countries using stooges, sympathisers and fellow-travellers to muddy the waters.
And so, today, the USSR's successor state and the KGB's successor agency are engaged in disinformation practices. Rather than pumping cash into dull ideological rags like the Morning Star or weirdo leftie groups that few took seriously, the Kremlin's disinformation strategy today is more subtle, more modern.
Each day, an army of English-speaking commentators is busy scribbling away on the online comments pages of mainstream Western media, presenting the Kremlin's narrative on world affairs. Nicknamed the '40-rouble army' (after the sum of money a Kremlin commentator gets paid per comment), you will see their handiwork on many websites from the Economist to the Daily Mail.
These people are disciplined; they write to order about issues that affect the Kremlin directly or indirectly. They are recognisable by their tone; frequently uncivilised, provocative, insulting, attacking the author (or commentator) personally. They are persistent too, returning to a thread to ensure that they have the last word in any argument. Often they wield false facts and disinformation. They often give themselves away by use unorthodox English (in particular their misuse of definite and indefinite articles), dropping in the odd Latin word, and displaying a rather pompous style. In contrast to British populists, whose comments may well be full of spelling mistakes and punctuation errors - but whose bleatings at least have a natural, native English flow.
The 40-rouble army is well versed in the arts of black propaganda. They latch on to populist movements and use divide-and-rule strategies and tactics. The EU and the US are regular targets, so they will attack (for example) the EU using similar rhetoric deployed by anti-EU populists.
I was struck by how seamlessly attacks on the EU, its leaders, institutions and values appear when reading the comments to Charles Crawford's article on the Daily Telegraph's blog about Ukraine and Putin. On the one hand, Ukippers who use terms like "EUSSR", on the other professional Kremlin stooges stirring up anti-EU sentiment for all its worth. All busy bashing Brussels.
Example (copy-pasted verbatim from the above-mentioned Daily Telegraph article)
"I am not sure that people are aware of how dangerous the current situation is.This does not sound like the work of 'Disgruntled of Surbiton'. This is coming at you live and direct from the corridors of the Kremlin. Look at it! "Our corrupt and treasonous politicians..." "...this country..." Whose politicians!?! Whose country!?!
We are possibly heading towards a 'Cuban Misslile' crisis in intensity.
They are rounding up judges, Senators - anyone with links to the genuine
government and charging them with treason and other crimes.
They have already imposed the new front central banker.
However that is not the serious bit other than for the victims of the new lynch mobs.
They are already fomenting strife in the Eastern Ukraine.
Particularly the Crimea.
Russia cannot let its naval base go. It is essential to all its strategic defence and it is now clear that the EU/US axis (of pure evil) is planning some sort of confrontation that could lead to outright war.
I suggest this is possibly the whole idea. Long in the planning. .
The west is desperate for war - its economy is in utter ruin from debt.
They are warning Putin not to go in.
But he has little choice if the East starts to crack.
We are entering dangerous times indeed and just remember it was our corrupt and treasonous politicians in the thick of it.
Quite happy to jeopardise this country and every person in it.
To gamble with the lives of every living thing on the planet.
For greed and power.
The Russians have done nothing to provoke this crisis - it is Western in concept and so far in its illegal action."
In the run-up to the European Parliamentary elections, those of you who follow the comments on the online media, keep a close eye on who posts what - I'm certain that the Kremlin's 40-rouble army will make its presence felt. A little bit of low-risk, easily-deniable mischief that helps sow discord and discontent among the citizens of the EU. The Kremlin is ready to stoke it for all it's worth to weaken the EU by one large, strong member.
At the end of the day, for all its faults, and they are manifold, the EU has proved to be a great civilising influence - membership of the club has been a huge success for Poland. And anyone who says otherwise is a dupe of Moscow.
This time last year:
Late-winter commuting, Jeziorki
This time five years ago:
Lent and Recession - a nice parallel
This time six years ago:
Early intimations of spring (no such luck this year!)