By William J. Furney
Whatever Vladimir Putin achieves in Ukraine, and perhaps even beyond, the scowling Russian leader with a country-size chip on his muscular shoulders is finished on the world stage.
Not that he cares. As tanks inch closer to Kyiv and advance troops breach the Ukrainian capital’s defences, many the world over are wondering what’s on the mind of the Russian president who ordered an invasion of the eastern European nation this week and whose southern Crimea peninsula he annexed in 2014.
Is Putin, like many a crazed, self-serving dictator before, mad? Has he lost his marbles as he gambles on a high-stakes act of aggression that could spark a third world war and that threatens to cripple his own economy as hard-hitting sanctions take effect and the ruble dives to a record low? A growing body of observers and analysts seem to think he has.
“I wish I could share more, but for now I can say it’s pretty obvious to many that something is off with Putin,” US Senator Marco Rubio wrote on Twitter. “He has always been a killer, but his problem now is different and significant. It would be a mistake to assume this Putin would react the same way he would have five years ago.”
Rubio, a former vice-presidential candidate, may know more than most of us, given his role as vice chairman of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence and the classified material it receives. And he warned Russia’s military chiefs to “think very carefully” before carrying out Putin’s orders, saying that the president, at 69, “is two years shy of the life expectancy of a Russian male and you will spend the rest of your lives evading an international tribunal for committing his crimes”.
Not that the generals, currently, have a choice in the matter, in following the diktats of their determined boss, whose frigid visage devoid of smiles may reflect what’s going on inside.
“You’ve all seen it now. The small, mean, vicious yet weirdly blank eyes. The stubby, stabbing fingers that jab as he humiliates his underlings, making them shake with fear. The joy he takes in sadism. It’s almost comedy villain stuff,” writes Russian analyst and author Peter Pomerantsev in this weekend’s Observer newspaper. He argues that Putin’s military machinations are an attempt to try to “utterly change the world” as he revealed that the Russian leader made a rape joke during a call with French President Emmanuel Macron last week to suggest what he was planning for Ukraine: “Whether you like it or not my beauty, you will need to put up with all I do to you.”
Rape and pillage is precisely what’s happening in Ukraine, as Russia inceasingly takes control, and many wonder if history is not repeating itself and we’re back-forward in time from when Germany invaded Poland, in 1945, an attack that resulted in World War 2 — leaving people the world over to wonder if Putin is the new Hitler.
“The columns of tanks and the air strikes are very similar to what Europe saw a long time ago, during WW2, something about which it said ‘never again’,” said Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, a former comedian who turned down a US offer this week to escape his embattled nation, instead requesting more firepower for his people to try repel Russian forces. “But here it is again — now, in 2022, 75 years after World War Two ended,” he said in an address as he accessed Western nations of dither and inaction.
Seizing the moment, and hoping to rescue himself from a rolling PartyGate scandal that threathened to end his premiership, Churchillian Boris Johnson pleaded with European countries to do more to help Ukraine and its 44 million people in their desperate hour of need.
“More support must be given to Ukraine, as a matter of the greatest urgency, the prime minister urged,” a Downing Street spokesperson said on Friday. In an address to the nation hours after Russian troops invaded Ukraine, a day earlier, Johnson said “our worst fears have now come true and all our warnings have proved tragically accurate.
“President Putin of Russia has unleashed war in our European continent. He has attacked a friendly country without any provocation and without any credible excuse” as he vowed Britain would defend Ukraine’s right as a sovereign and independent nation.
The West is hoping a slew of financial sanctions of key Russian people and institutions, as well as, most recently, kicking the country out of the SWIFT banking system, will hobble the country to such an extent that Putin will have little option but to halt his military action and retreat. But if the analyses of Putin’s truculent state of mind are anything to go by, such measures may amount to nothing as Russia continues to move ahead with its land-grabbing plans — propped up by new pal China, under fellow despot Xi Jinping — and ignore the wider world and its calls for peace.
Whatever the outcome, Putin is finished abroad. As UK Foreign Secretary Lizz Truss said on Sky News this morning, his assault on Ukraine “could well be the beginning of the end” for the isolated and paranoid dictator.