By William J. Furney
Nearly three months in, and all the invading Russian leader has achieved in Ukraine is mass death and destruction, derision around the world and an overarching humiliation he will never shake off.
His people think him a hero, battling to preserve the Russian way of life — language and culture; a sense of shared identity — in a region that was once part of the great motherland, long lost. Because Putin’s iron-grip control on the media guarantees only one side of this tragic misadventure — his — gets out. And if Russians think less of the ageing, long-time ruler, they must keep it to themselves or risk arrest by heading out onto the streets in increasingly rare anti-government protests.
Boris Johnson, ever grateful for the conflict saving his party-riddled bacon, pointed out the obvious this week when he said relations between Putin and the West were beyond repair. “Repentance is going to be very difficult for Vladimir Putin now,” he told LBC radio.
“Nothing is impossible, I suppose, but I just cannot see for the life of me how we can renormalise relations with Putin now. He has grossly violated human rights, international law; he’s guilty of absolutely barbaric onslaught on a totally innocent country — and to renormalise would be to make the mistake we made in 2014,” referring to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula, soon thereafter, the international community treating Putin as if nothing had happened.
Instead of attempting to prevent NATO expansion, the opposite-reaction effect of his war in Ukraine has led to neighbours Finland and Sweden — fearful of additional Putin military moves — seeking collective security and attempting to join the alliance, whose entrenched, Musketeer-like motto is “an attack against one ally is considered as an attack against all allies”.
Disgracefully, NATO member Turkey, headed by ostensible dictator Recep Erdogan, has ruled out supporting the Nordic nations’ accession. After Friday prayers, the controversial leader, who survived a coup d’état attempt in 2016 and has been busy locking up people and clamping down on independent media ever since (sound familiar?), remarked to reporters that “we don’t feel positive about this”.
That’s because he believes several Western countries, including the NATO hopefuls, are harbouring individuals who tried to topple him from power, such as the influential cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he blams for orchestrating the plot — which is why he said on Friday that Sweden and Finland are “home to many terrorist organisations”. Never mind that countries are trying to protect themselves from a crazed, bullying, invading Putin; for Erdogan, still smarting from the unseating endeavour, it’s all about himself.
And his words count, because all member nations must agree on new NATO applications. So Turkey could scupper the bids.
Russia, petulantly, responded to Finland’s alliance aspiration by cutting off its electricity supply to the country it shares a 1,300km border with, claiming there were problems with unpaid bills — an assertion few believe, given Moscow’s loose affiliation with the truth and reliance on fibs to get by. Helsinki and electricity firm Fingrid brushed off the move, saying power supplies from Moscow were low anyway (around 10%) and, with additional wind generation and a new nuclear station coming online shortly, they could do without it and would soon be “self-sufficient”.
Putin, meanwhile, snivilled that it would be a “mistake” for Finland to join NATO.
No one asked you.
Getting nowhere fast, and digging in for some glimpse of additional territory grab in Ukraine, it’s likely the conflict will drag on, not for months more but years, as various politicians and observers predict. What ex-KGB agent Putin thought would be his most glorious moment is fast turning into his biggest disaster — shut out of goods and services, including international banking; under a mountain of damaging sanctions; and a pariah on the world stage.
He may control thought and suppress insurrection and political threats at home (poisoned-then-jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny), however fluidly, but Putin does not have a vice-grip hold on the views of the people of the world. Just like in mind-controlled China, where the population dare not speak out against the brutal communist leaders, in Russia, the official line the Kremlin peddles is belied by a harsh reality the rest of the world knows.
And as rumours and reported accounts from Russian military officers swirl about 69-year-old Putin’s health — either “very ill with blood cancer” or on the way out — it may be time someone, either in the Kremlin or high military ranks, wrests control before the deranged president does more harm, to Ukraine and the wider world, humiliating himself and Russia even further.