Ukraine II: The Politics of Lunacy

A highly simplified crash course on the situation in Ukraine, second analysis

A lot happened in a few short days. It seems the wrath of the West can manifest itself in much harsher terms than Russian President Vladimir Putin imagined. When the Free World gets together and synchronizes its efforts, things start happening with dizzying speed and staggering levels of punishment. It was a splendid example of economic might overwhelming a system that knows only physical force.

The ruble is now worth less than a U.S. penny, its lowest value ever.

The Russian stock market was hammered to the point it remains shuttered for now. Nearly one trillion dollars in assets are frozen. Almost all of Russia’s international commerce is halted or hobbled.

The bulk of the world’s airspace is closed to Russian aviation, both commercial and private.

For the first time, Germany broke 1940s-era policy to permit German-manufactured or designed weaponry to be delivered to a conflict zone. Because the ban applied to German partnerships, France and Holland are now able to supply Ukraine with German-tagged armaments, too.

Switzerland relaxed its sacrosanct neutrality and froze Russian assets held by its banks.

Petroleum giants BP and Shell dumped sizable stakes in Russian oil ventures.

The BBC declared a culture war on Russia, stopping all content licensing to Russian customers. Likewise, Warner Bros, Sony Pictures and The Walt Disney Company froze the release of films in Russia. Musical artists canceled scheduled appearances in the country.

Sports authorities disqualified Russian teams and athletes.

Boeing suspended parts, maintenance and technical support for Russian airlines. Numerous Boeing and Airbus contractors similarly removed themselves from Russian service.

Apple and other companies halted Russian sales operations.

Washington State’s governor directed state agencies to cut ties with Russian entities.

The Oregon Liquor & Cannabis Commission removed Russian vodka and other spirits from liquor store shelves.

And much more.

Overnight, the Russian economy was largely ruined. Foreign commerce, culture and travel dried up. Russia lost the respect and credibility it commanded — the respect and credibility Putin craved.

We saw notable social adjustments, too. Nations turned their backs on Russia. Bickering conservative and progressive Americans found common ground, a noble cause around which all could rally.

The entire world witnessed the transformation of a television comedian into a head of state, a man of conviction and unbelievable courage. People from across the globe gave generously to support President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his heroically struggling nation.

None of this was necessary.

As Putin schemed to deny the resource-rich Ukraine E.U. and NATO memberships, thereby keeping it in the Russian sphere of influence, the disingenuous old Soviet KGB man rejected persuasive or diplomatic solutions in favor of what he liked best: force. Badly misjudging global reaction and bungling nearly every step he took as the world pilloried him, Putin made perhaps the worst oversight of the entire affair: He forgot to leave himself an exit ramp. Putin had no way to reverse course without looking like an incompetent fool.

By all accounts, Vladimir Putin is a cold fish. He’s been described as icy, emotionless, spiritually dead. But on a less repulsive note, everyone knew Putin was at least predictable.

Only now, after committing the most catastrophic blunder of his life, he’s not.

Suddenly, the icy man gets emotional — he makes deranged statements to justify regime change in Ukraine. Among other oddities, Putin said he needed to denazify Ukraine — the democratically elected Zelenskyy is a Jew who lost family in the Holocaust. Putin’s bizarre statements and actions raised questions to his stability. But many of us remember the bald-faced lies the Soviet government used to release routinely, so we wonder. Is he nuts? Is he faking it? Is he throwing a fit?

Make no mistake, Putin’s tantrums in no way lessen his determination. On the contrary, his anger and seeming instability make him more inclined to act dramatically. This is why the U.S. and E.U. have been very careful responding to Moscow’s unchecked belligerence.

At some point, the man might discover he’s got nothing to lose — a horrifying thought, considering Putin’s got the ability to reduce the Earth to a ball of radioactive ash.

The unbalanced Putin’s verbal attacks on Ukraine became actual military attacks. Having not earned the malevolence of an invasion, uncertainty and unease spread among Ukrainians. But Putin’s missteps and gaffes continued as the vaunted Russian army’s performance proved less than stellar. Plagued by logistic and seeming personnel-readiness and discipline issues, the army’s numerous errors and failures banished Putin’s visions of blitzkrieg.

This farce embarrassed him, a feeling Putin fears and abhors.

But the juggernaut is yet to come. Historically, the Russian order of battle uses sheer numbers to overwhelm an enemy. Flaws in Russian equipment and training are eventually offset by sheer force — quantity smothers quality, over and over again.

To accompany those numbers, the battlefield specialty at which the Russians excel is artillery. For over one hundred years, Russian soldiers have been masters of the mortar and the field gun. The real action has barely begun.

Tuesday evening, a Russian cruise missile wiped out a major government building in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city.

The unsettling air of menace continued to be broken by moments of black comedy, courtesy of bad planning, low morale and general incompetence.

On Sunday, the world watched a massive Russian convoy snake toward Kyiv, eventually growing to over 65 kilometers in length. But even a potentially terrifying 45-miles worth of matériel and munitions bearing down on civilian targets is vulnerable to Putin’s self-imposed bad luck. The convoy ran out of fuel, costing it many hours in delays on its journey to Kyiv.

Ukraine has begged the U.S. and E.U. to enforce a no-fly zone over its airspace. When reporters ask about the no-fly zone, U.S. officials immediately pivot to the arms-supply chain, stating (correctly) the importance of maintaining this flow of matériel. They usually try to avoid pointing out that such a move would put the U.S. and E.U. on a war footing with Russia, a dangerous escalation.

Ukraine’s military commanders and tacticians have likely determined that, with a no-fly zone and the existing weapons supply chain in place, Ukraine actually stands a fighting chance against Russian forces, toe-to-toe.

Putin, as you might imagine, isn’t pleased.

While Putin may be experiencing a level of frustration he hasn’t felt since he was a child, he remains unaffected by sweeping public opinion, a trait unheard of in a political leader. The entire world hates him and he doesn’t care. But whether he knows it or not, Putin is saddled with the Achilles’ heel of a king: he may be a feared leader but he remains so only at the pleasure of his people.

Maybe the Russian people need to be reminded their name is on this mess, too. A free nation is under attack at this very moment, in the name of the Russian people. Everything else considered, the one remaining action that stands a chance of ending this madness is for the Russian people to stand up in sufficient numbers and cry, “Enough!”

In the Soviet era, the Russian masses were firmly controlled. But now? Not so much. In the old days, the KGB or the militsiya would arrest whoever dared raise displeasure. But in this non-Soviet Russia, things are different. Putin might well arrest 50 or even 500 protesters. But if the disgruntled show up in numbers like 5,000 or 50,000, no one will be able to stop them or prevent their message from being heard around the globe.

Like I said in my previous column, the Russian people are no longer willing to be seen as Europe’s backward-yet-belligerent bumpkin-bullies, a role to which Putin is subjecting them, yet again.

Putin will set siege to a nation that didn’t ask for it, using the overwhelming force of his army and his “surgical” armaments. After the cities of Kharkiv and Mariupol were shelled Monday night, the Russian government warned Ukrainians of impending artillery and missile strikes.

But even as Moscow promises surgical strikes, the Russian military arrives with a decidedly sloppy precision — shelling schools, apartment blocks, restaurants. Occasionally, they hit a government target. Even the sacred Holocaust memorial at Babyn Yar was hit today, killing at least five.

The Russian people deserve better than the lurching leadership it currently possesses — leadership that attacks first, tries diplomacy later.

It’s time for the Russian people to step up and condemn the addled, narcissistic, delusional schoolyard bully who claims to lead them. It’s time for the Russian people to remind the world — and themselves — that they are a noble and heroic people, worthy of a noble and heroic leader.

The people of Ukraine and, indeed, the entire world would be deeply grateful.

Photograph © 2022 Dovile Ramoskaite via Unsplash

This is part 2 of a 6-part series. Click here for part 1. Click here for part 3. Click here for part 4. Click here for part 5. Click here for part 6.

5 Replies to “Ukraine II: The Politics of Lunacy”

  1. Thank you, Matthew, for the information and thoughts. We here in the U.S. have a similar opportunity to redefine who we are and what we will support. Just because a person raises a lot of money or seem to have the support of the military, doesn’t make him/her a fit leader. An informed voter will describe the future. By the way, we are all one world now, since everyone seems to have the ability to drop a nuc.

    1. Don’t forget that the Russian government is a transnational crime syndicate masquerading as a government. Putin invaded because he was already desperate to hold on to power. If he ever falls out of power, he is dead. Desperate men do desperate things. If Ukraine continues to resist things will escalate. The only remaining question is to what extent.

    2. The nuke club is actually a fairly small group, still, although I admit there’s a little bit of hope on my part, too. The level of technical and scientific knowledge required to develop, maintain and deploy them is tremendous, not to mention the expense. Additionally, the need for testing and the weapons’ very radioactivity makes them difficult to hide, compared to other weapons. Still, it’s not impossible that entities outside the group possess nuclear weapons of some sort.

      As it stands, designated nuclear weapons states via the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) are China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S.

      Outside the NPT, India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan have them.

      Within NATO, the U.S. has shared nuclear weapons with Belgium, Holland, Germany and Turkey. The U.S. retains launch authority over these weapons.

      The good news is the number of nuclear-capable states is shrinking, not growing.

  2. Expect a call any day now from the New York Times or the Washington Post to be offered a job as one of their nationally-syndicated columnists.

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