The Saga Continues In You Know Where

March 30th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

Seated in a stately room on two sides of a large table covered with a starched, white tablecloth, looking for all the world like a couple of teams discussing a private equity acquisition, Ukrainian and Russian negotiators are meeting in Turkey to see if there exists anything resembling a face-saving exit ramp for Vladimir Putin, who, more and more, seems to fancy himself the second coming of Ivan The Terrible, the first Tsar of all Russia. Yesterday, the Russian side said it was “drastically” pulling back its troops from Kyiv and Chernihiv  as a demonstration of good will and sincerity by the invaders.  Frankly, I wouldn’t trust those guys (they’re all men) any farther than I could kick Mr. Putin, which I would dearly love to do.

The U.S. and its NATO and European allies are justifiably skeptical. “There is what Russia says and there’s what Russia does,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. “And what Russia is doing is the continued brutalization of Ukraine and its people and that continues as we speak.” The U.S. Department of Defense has yet to notice much of a pullback.

The recent Ukrainian counter-offensive not only stopped Russian advancement, but also drove back its troops. The invaders are now digging in, demonstrating Russia’s version of 21st century trench warfare.* This puts a period to the utter failure of their remarkably poorly planned and executed blitzkrieg attack. An invasion, a “special military operation,” ( Oh, it was certainly special), that was supposed to last a few days, is now in its second month. On Day 2, in a fit of vainglorious overconfidence, Russian state media accidentally, and rather prematurely, you might say, released, and shortly thereafter retracted, a celebratory victory press release.

After all the killing and destruction, it appears the only things Russia has achieved so far are:

  1. Worldwide condemnation and isolation;
  2. The total destruction of some of the earth’s most beautiful cities;
  3. The evisceration of the Russian economy;
  4. The wanton and callous killing of thousands of Ukrainians and up to an estimated 15,000 Russian soldiers (It took four years for that many American soldiers to be killed in action during the Vietnam War);
  5. The creation of four million refugees;
  6. The first-time-ever, joined at the hip unity and cooperation of NATO, the European Union and the U.S.;
  7. Significantly increased funding by NATO for its defense; and,
  8. The emergence of Ukraine and its heroic President as important players on the World stage.

Other than that, the invasion has been a smashing success for Mr. Putin.

To understand what is driving this insanity and, if you can bear it, peer into the warped mind of Mr. Putin, I recommend reading two long-form essays. The first, The Logic of Vladimir Putin, a New York Times Magazine piece by John Lloyd, written in 2000, the year Putin was first elected President of Russia. The second, another New York Time Magazine article, The Making Of Vladimir Putin, published this week, 22 years after Lloyd’s, by the brilliant Roger Cohen, the Paris Bureau Chief of the Times. Among other things, these two articles prove the truth of Lord Acton’s famous 1887 dictum, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” (If nothing else, the two essays provide solid rationale for term limits in the U.S. Congress and a limit of two terms for presidents).

Reading the two essays makes how we got to where we are actually understandable. I’d go so far as to say Putin is almost a tragic figure in the Shakespearean sense. But that doesn’t change the fact he is has become a walking, talking monster. I’ve always thought it would be nearly impossible for any Russian leader to outdo Stalin in bottom-of-the-soul cruelty, but Mr. Putin is giving it all he has.

Because of Vladimir Putin’s paranoid megalomania, about the only honest thing we can say about how this current lunacy will end is that we have absolutely no idea how it will end.

And so it goes.

*As the great Chad Mitchell Trio put it in 1965, “I want to go back to the days when men were men and start the First World War all over again.” The song, Barry’s Boys, was about Barry Goldwater, but you get the point.

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