I cannot help now but remember back to the 1990s, shortly after the fall of the dictatorial USSR, being alongside Russians and Ukrainians in the US as university students, and later as my students, talking about the NHL, joking about whose Olympics team was better, and above all now and then discussing WHY we had been adversaries since 1945… but we were now, thankfully, no longer adversaries. Sure, we had all thought too, there would always be disputes and whatnot because that is what countries do. However, we also thought the next generations would not face what ours had; they would read about it only in history books.
Well, we were wrong. We are back here again… with the arising of and consolidation in power of yet another authoritarian megalomaniac who had gotten to power initially through democratic means and then worked his damnedest to destroy opposition and democratic institutions. While that was happening, many of us outside debated what he was, but one Vladimir Putin has now shown his brutal hand fully – launching on his whim the largest war in Europe since 1945.
We had mildly put up with the “Sudetenland”-like land grab of the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula and his Russia’s ongoing support for insurgents on Ukrainian territory in the Donbas region. But with outright war begun by him as of yesterday, nothing he or his Gromyko-like mouthpieces f-cking now say publicly matters an iota. We are done trying to interpret him and “make allowances”; it is now all about what has been done and what is done.
In the immediate sense he appears to have begun this war to overthrow the internationally-recognized Ukrainian democratically-elected government because it was to him leaning much too close for his authoritarian comfort toward the European Union and the NATO security alliance that includes the United States. (Gee, there’s a surprise: they perhaps prefer the EU to someone else who drops bombs on them, eh?) Yet both the EU and especially NATO had tacitly already accepted Ukraine would never be a member of either group. However, that “unspoken” admission Ukraine was in his “backyard” already was not good enough for him.
Perhaps he dreams of statues of himself and a new dictatorial USSR reaching to the Adriatic and the Elbe, but he can keep dreaming because that is all that is: a fantasy. Tactically, yes, he may succeed in the near-term in defeating the outgunned, outmanned Ukrainian military, decapitating the Kyiv government and replacing it with another Belarus-style puppet regime. But what he did in reality yesterday was he also made a strategic blunder of the highest magnitude.
For he has in that single day created a depth of sympathy for and solidarity in Europe and in America, and in many other places around the world, with Ukraine and Ukrainians that was not there nearly as much before.
The result will be that in the longer term, given what will become Russia’s pariah status under him, if he is not assassinated by some disaffected “Stauffenberg” Russian general or official within his inner circle, after his thug regime finally gives way (because thug regimes always do eventually) if he does not have to shoot himself or take poison he will be standing trial at The Hague.
It may take “20 years” or more, but Ukraine will certainly now one day be a member of the EU and of NATO.
But there is NOTHING for Russia to fear about that and there never has been. To any Russian friends reading this – and I know I have a few Russians who do – we do not blame you for this. You may well be at home privately furious and cursing and wishing he would be gone. In this “social media” world, slamming a lid down on all public dissent is not quite as easy as it was in 1939 or 1956 or 1968 or even 1988, and we see some of you bravely in the streets; and we pray for you and hope your view win’s the day and above all we also know the risks you run protesting publicly against his regime because it may lead to serious jail time or worse.
He has been telling Russians for years that we in the US somehow had something against Russia. He is a f-cking liar – top to bottom – because I am an American and I know what we are and what we hoped to see from the 1990s. Americans wished then and wish now for nothing more than ongoing friendship and even an alliance with a democratic Russia and a peaceful Europe.
For now all that matters though is thousands of lives will be destroyed because of Putin’s vainglorious personal ambition. Once Ukraine is overrun there will then be some Ukrainian government-in-exile and confrontation elsewheres between him and us, and maybe war(s) elsewhere, and who knows what else. Unless he is overthrown and soon this new unnecessary confrontation that is entirely from his side and his alone will follow all the rest of us for the rest of our lives and probably drag our kids and maybe grandkids down too because nothing like this ends in a day or a month or a year – it takes decades to resolve.
As long as his clique rule and terrorize Russians, we too will have a very difficult next few years, and perhaps longer, ahead of us.