There's an awful lot to dislike about Vladimir Putin tis true, but I kind of admired his unashamed machismo, confidence and mysterious KGB past. The pure evil of his character didn't hit me until this week. Not his violent invasion of an independent democratic country, as bad as that is, but his appeal to the men of the Ukrainian army to join him and not to use their children, wives, elders as human shields. In that moment, finally, I could see him as he actually is.
The term male chauvinist is so overused, it no longer sounds derogatory, and Putin is so much more than that. He has positioned himself as a fighting man talking to fighting men, warrior to warrior as in, we the gun carrying men, are the ones who are really in charge, the ones who will make the decisions. He doesn't appeal to the elected Ukrainian government or to it's male and female leaders. Nor to the women who are fighting alongside the men in the streets of Kyiv. In his short appeal to Ukrainian men, he lists women as wives and they come after children as if it were a list of chattels. He is not addressing Ukrainian women at all. His message sent a chill through me, this is who he really is, this is a glimpse of how he would rule Ukraine. Not with a Council of representatives from each gender, biological or other, or every faith and ethnic background, but with macho white men willing to carry out every atrocity asked of them. He eschews democracy.
For me this was a lightbulb moment and a time to do a bit of serious research and by serious research, I mean watching experts on the Russian threat giving detailed analysis of the history of the region and the current situation. I now feel like a fool and more than a tad ashamed of my ignorance. I spent at least 6 months of the lockdown watching everything Russian I could find, historic and present day in the form of Russian films and 'Bald and Bankrupt', an English vlogger on Youtube who travels all around Russia and areas that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. And they are bleak, neglected and poverty stricken. It is clear that Russia does not use it's vast wealth to improve the lives of its' citizens. Clearly there is little to no investment in housing, roads, infrastructure and amenities that are enjoyed by all the European countries that surround it. They look as though they are trapped in a time warp.
For me it is becoming more clear why Ukrainians today are willing to fight and die on their streets rather than surrender to the tyrannical rule of Vladimir Putin. Forget 'Godwin's Law'*, there is a direct comparison to Hitler. He has carried a grudge against the West for his entire life. He wants to right the wrongs of previous Soviet leaders who broke up 'his' territory, his Russian Empire. And let's not forget the role of money. He probably is the richest man in the world, who knows, but imagine how rich he would be once he owns everything? Sure the sanctions will hit him but the prize is worth it and besides he has been preparing for this war for over 20 years. His people and his country have been deprived for years, paying one presumes, for an almighty war machine. The rich USA has 8,000 tanks for example, 'third world' Russia has 22,000. Just as an aside, a lot of the money stolen from the Russian people is invested in the London property market, so there you go.
Right now I feel ashamed at the response from the USA, the UK and NATO. Why would they not allow Ukraine to join NATO? Is it because they knew Ukraine would be first? Maybe membership of NATO would have prevented this invasion? It is good that the allies are offering support in the way of sanctions and humanitarian and military (equipment) aid, but it changes nothing. Here's a crazy idea. What if NATO sent actual troops in to help the Ukrainians fighting on the ground? And Putin has chosen the arena, ground fighting on the streets, not as yet weapons of mass destruction. Is he mad enough to go there? Some might say, yep, he crossed that line eons ago. But right now he has chosen hand to hand combat, thousands of trained Russian soldiers against a mostly civilian population. The men and women of Ukraine stand alone against the might of Russia while the rest of the world watches. Couldn't NATO at least protect them from incoming bombs by declaring Ukraine a no fly zone?
We have never seen this kind of horror so clearly and so graphically as we do now. Wars filled up the column inches of the broadsheets and occasionally the front pages of the tabloids, but this one, with social media, is happening in real time right in front of us. We oldies are thinking, jeez, this could have happened to us if 'the Few' and Dad's Army hadn't guarded us against the Nazis. And of course it did happen to other European countries which is why we fought so hard to hold onto all the freedoms we hold so dear.
Now I feel really scared. Hitler did not stop at invading Poland. Putin has stashed enough arms and ammunition to take over the world. That's what mad men do as history and James Bond have shown us. The world is now at a pivotal moment, not too dissimilar to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Joe Biden is in a horrendous position, and thank heavens for all his political experience, because he is now playing a game of nuclear chess. Putin is feeling emboldened because his troops are now marching in Kyiv. My greatest hope is that Putin's soldiers start asking themselves, what am I doing, these are my friends, my relatives. It's happened before, it can happen again.
At this moment I am rooting and praying for President Zelensky, what a hero and an inspiration, so polemically different to every other politician we have ever seen. I hope he gets all the miracles he needs to get through this, I just wish the world would do more to save these innocent people, what is the use of a powerful international force if it is kept only as a threat. If I were Biden, I would bring the full force of NATO against the invading Russian army. Stop them before it goes too far, because too far is what Putin is aiming for. Putin wants all the territories of the former Russian Empire under his control and he has embarked on a mission to get them back. I don't think he will stop at Ukraine, do you?
*if you mention Hitler or the Nazi's, you've lost the argument.