“Nothing is easier than self-deceit.
For what every man wishes,
that he also believes to be true.”
“Stupid is as stupid does”
Mick Jagger taught the world that it can’t always get what it wants. But if I could get what I wanted, just once, I would hope for a moment of clarity in which the western ‘democracies’ looked back upon the events of the past decade with absolute objectivity – if necessary, viewing their own actions and reactions as if they had been carried out by someone else – and appropriately judged them with candor and responsibility. Once I would have hoped these executions and maneuvers would be assessed with a generous dose of “What the fuck were we thinking?” But I’ve grown a touch cynical since then, and I’m pretty confident much if not all of it was deliberate, planned. What in the name of God are we turning into?
Such a moment of clarity, too, might reveal the grotesque misjudgments which prevailed in the quickening events that resulted in Russia entering Ukraine upon a military operation. For months a substantial force of Russian military equipment and personnel remained near the Ukrainian border with Russia, within Russia but in plain sight of observers. The purpose of this seemed clear to everyone, not least the Ukrainians – we see you, and we know what you’re thinking. Don’t do it. Because unremarked by many and almost exactly a year ago, President Zelensky had issued a decree that Crimea was to be recaptured by Ukraine, and began to deploy his forces along the borders of the rebel eastern provinces. Most thought – I among them – that the Russian forces arrayed within easy striking distance would deter the Ukrainians from anything foolish. In this, NATO was in exactly the kind of no-lose position it relishes after months and years of careful plotting and instigation – if the Russians reacted, it would be an unwarranted invasion of Ukraine, exactly as NATO had been warning of with increasing stridency, because it was provoking just such a development. If it did not, the Ukrainian forces would inexorably roll over the eastern provinces, all the way to Crimea, and bring it back under Ukrainian control while Russia raged from the sidelines, impotent.
Anyway, I have no intention of simply lifting all the references from Jacques Baud’s seminal post, “The Military Situation in the Ukraine”; it is a dramatic departure from The Narrative, and I’m sure the Wikipedia Patrol is already hard at work painting him as some sort of compulsive loon, who occasionally escapes from the asylum long enough to expound a crazy conspiracy theory before the white coats seize him and hustle him back to medicated slumber. No matter – his work speaks for itself, and is impeccably referenced using official UN and national reports and documentation. Although it provides powerful substantiation for what we have been arguing here for years now, and could not have appeared in a more timely fashion unless it could have averted the crisis altogether; although I enthusiastically urge that it be shared widely – it’s not the piece I came here today to talk about. This is.
Yes, that’s The Thinking Westerner’s position as laid down in The Atlantic: NATO has been handed the puzzler of how to make Putin think he won, while displaying to the entire rest of the world that he lost, convincingly. And it’s what makes Baud’s exposé so serendipitous, because he recounts how the west has completely lost its mind, to the extent it believes – or affects to believe – its own Hollywood nonsense.
And in precisely the moment of clarity and reflection I described in the beginning of this effort, the dedicated observer might note that western think-tanks were occupied with how they might rescue Putin from his crazy bad self, only three weeks into an invasion the Ukrainians were supposed to be winning on sheer guts.
How could that be? I guess we should take a closer look.
Well, that didn’t take long; first sentence – Putin must be stopped from colonizing Ukraine. Yes, yes; and punished for his barbarism, bla, bla, goes without saying. But my interest was immediately piqued – where did Putin say, ever, that he intended to colonize Ukraine? Has nobody at The Atlantic noticed that at least a third of Ukrainians speak Russian as their daily communication, and nearly everyone in Ukraine can understand it whether they choose to use it or not? That many Ukrainian families have relatives in Russia, and vice-versa? That before the west started its eternal meddling, Russia was Ukraine’s biggest trading partner by far – a situation whose western tampering has resulted in a drop of more than $36 Billion in national GDP since Yanukovych was in power in 2013, while the population today is about the same as it was in 1963, according to the World Bank. Ukraine is already, to a large extent, of a common culture with Russia, and there would be no need to colonize it.
Well, maybe I spoke too soon – The Guardian’s premiere Russia analyst, Shaun ‘I Hate Dill’ Walker informs all that newspaper’s readers that not only did Putin plan to remove Zelensky and his government and replace them with subservient pro-Russian stooges, he failed shockingly at it. Look, there’s no use beating a dead horse; I’m sure you see my point. It ‘seems’ to noodniks like Walker and McTague and Murray that a government coup in Kiev was Putin’s plan, and since that didn’t happen, it was a shocking failure. The possibility that it didn’t happen because it was never a Russian plan to do it is not entertained. Of course he meant to do it – that’s what the west would do.
Just before we go back to the Putin Offramp, I was struck again – in the last reference quoted – by Zelensky’s assumed arrogance and Bush-like syllogisms.
“Zelenskiy said Ukraine was “waiting for meaningful steps” from the Nato, EU and European Council meetings today, and listed some so far unheeded requests, such as a no-fly zone, aircraft and tanks. “At these three summits we will see: who is a friend, who is a partner, and who betrayed us for money.” Zelenskiy, who will speak to Nato members by video on Thursday, said he is asking the alliance to provide “effective and unrestricted” support to Ukraine, including any weapons the country needs to fend off the Russian invasion.”
Anything we want. No restrictions. If you don’t give us what we want, you betrayed us for money. You’re either with us, or you’re with the terra’ists. Spoken like a man whose country has gotten used to living on handouts as if it had earned them with honest toil. Maybe he’s said that ‘Ukraine is the front lines of Yurrup’ canard so often that he has begun to believe it.
Anyway, that was a lot of discussion considering we didn’t get past the first sentence. The incongruity I wanted to highlight was that only three weeks after launching a military operation that is supposed to be an embarrassing failure, the west is already talking about rescuing Putin from himself. Unless the Western Fans of Putin Club has started to give away free Keurigs, I am guessing the membership still numbers in the dozens. Such generosity of spirit seems a little…off. It’s almost like the west wants to wrap things up with a conclusion that everyone can live with before Russia wins.
Now, see, I’m having a harder time with this that I expected. I mean, consider this:
“What makes this situation even more dangerous is that Ukraine is (legitimately and sensibly) being armed and supplied by the very military alliance Russia most fears, NATO. Meanwhile, Russia is being squeezed by an ever-tightening economic blockade designed to force its defeat. On top of all this are credible claims that if this campaign ends in humiliating defeat for Russia, it will prove terminal for not only the country’s national prestige and power, but Putin’s regime itself.”
So supplying Ukraine with weapons so that it can absorb even more of a beating over a longer time by a much larger and stronger opponent is now just legitimate and sensible. Kind of like giving a punch-drunk fighter amphetamines so he can go back in the ring and get his head torn off by the gorilla he’s fighting. And who, pray, was the source for these ‘credible claims’? Alexey Navalny? Stas Belkovsky? The Riddler? Any of the dozen or so ‘Kremlin-watchers’ the west regularly calls upon for ‘analysis’ that later proves to be about as accurate as it might have been had it been foretold by groundhog shadow?
Ukraine is not going to ‘win’, and the west knows that. It could give Zelensky nukes and Ukraine would still lose, and that is kind of foreshadowed by its willingness to capitulate to Russia’s demands for Ukrainian neutrality and a pledge to not join NATO, expressed nearly a week ago. Whoops! Surprise! Even though Ukraine is willing to formally renounce its NATO aspirations, western eggheads tell us that joining NATO is written into Ukraine’s constitution, and it cannot change its mind in wartime! That would require a constitutional amendment or a referendum. So it has no choice but to go on taking punishment until it has to surrender unconditionally, because the west wants a return on its weapons-and-money investments, and won’t let it quit. The fact that the intent was written into the constitution without holding a referendum – so that there is no real appreciation for how much public support in Ukraine joining NATO enjoys – seems not to matter. That was back before Zelensky put on his Serious Green T-Shirt, so there’s no reason to pay any attention to what he said then.
“Britain’s defense secretary has said that Putin “is a spent force in the world.” His French counterpart has declared, “Ukraine will win.” A consensus is building in Western capitals that Russia’s calamitous handling of the conflict means it may already have lost—indeed, that its political goals may never have been realizable in the first place, given the size of Ukraine and the opposition of its people to Russian control.”
A consensus is building in Western capitals. Based on what? How obviously Ukraine is ‘winning’ when it has offered to give the enemy what he asked for, but is not allowed by its western backers to stop fighting? I don’t think the UK Defense Secretary’s assessment needs be regarded with any degree of seriousness – he’s probably already planning a Wikipedia reversal of Ukraine’s surrender. And France’s Florence Parly can’t tell jihadists from wedding celebrants; I don’t think her forecast of who will win should count for much. But those factors aside…doesn’t it seem like there is a bigger issue here than Ukraine, considering how eager the west is to resolve the situation on its own terms – so eager that it offers to “write off Putin’s bloodstained debts” before the conflict is even over? Is there something in this of “just let our boy win, and we’ll see you right”?
“Putin appears to preside over something like a Mafia state: corrupt, kleptocratic, and violent, based on networks of loyalty and territorial claims that have nothing to do with popular will and that must be opposed.”
This is the guy you ‘may have to forgive’? And he ‘appears to preside over something like a Mafia state’ to who? Yes, Luke Harding, I know, it was the title of one of his deathless pulp novels. But who else? This is Russia’s annual GDP adjusted for Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) during ‘kleptocrat’ Putin’s tenure.
Considering the country has been under the most vehement sanctions by all the NATO countries since 2014, Putin must be pretty damned good at corruption if he can make it pay on a national scale. Describing it as a ‘mafia state’ sounds a little like jealousy.
Now here’s the UK’s annual GDP adjusted for PPP over the same period. Obviously the UK, by way of contrast with Russia, sucks at corruption, because its citizens are currently experiencing the same purchasing power per pound as they had in 2009. The obvious qualifier there is that nobody – well, except maybe for Boris Johnson – is trying to ruin the UK and wreck its economy. The developed world is not raining sanctions on its head and it is supposed to be some sort of haven for dirty banking thanks to its lax laws. ‘Lax’ rhyming with ‘tax’. The figures are ranked by the same authority, the World Bank, so forget about confirmation bias. But Russia’s economic performance under the strictest and most far-flung sanctions on record, plainly trying to ruin the country and all its citizens, is far more stable and equitable than that of the UK. Think I’m joking? Check this out:
“The independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) said the spring statement had given back only a sixth of the tax increases announced by Sunak during his two years as chancellor and that even after these measures, living standards would fall by more than 2% this year – the steepest drop since records began in the 1950s. It comes as some vulnerable people using food banks decline items such as potatoes because they cannot afford the energy to boil them, according to the boss of the supermarket Iceland.”
Of course, that’s the lurid British press, with its penchant for flamboyant exaggeration and seeing poison spies under the bed. Take no notice.
“Second, the West must not close off potential compromises that the Ukrainians themselves would be willing to negotiate. If Putin is to accept a negotiated defeat, he will require a fig leaf to hide the reality that he has failed to subdue Ukraine. There has been speculation, for example, that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky might be prepared to formally renounce his pursuit of NATO membership, one of a number of pledges that could be made to serve as a pretext for Russian de-escalation. Zelensky could also promise not to send troops into the Donbas, for example, or seek to retake Crimea—or even to seek nuclear weapons, or allow them to be stationed on Ukrainian territory. In other words, he could use Russia’s absurd propaganda to his advantage by formally pledging not to do things that he or any of his successors would have considered doing anyway.”
So there you have it. If Zelensky offers to renounce his pursuit of NATO membership – which he was pretty clearly told was not going to happen anytime soon by authorities who know that ‘joining NATO’ is not as simple as holding a national referendum and, upon a successful vote, assuming membership – it is because the clever west already thought of letting Putin have that one so he could feel like he was a winner. Despite Zelensky’s presidential decree that Crimea be recovered by the Ukrainian military, sending troops into Donbas was ‘absurd Russian propaganda’ that Zelensky would not have considered doing. Welcome to the parallel universe; mind that first step, now.
“The situation today is not the same as it was then. Unlike Khrushchev, Putin has not simply walked up to a line, but crossed it, unleashing a terror for which he should be held accountable. The horrible reality, though, is that the best option for the West might involve finding a way for him to not be held as accountable as he should be—but then to never forget what he has done.”
Now I can die: I’ve seen everything. Putin unleashed terror beyond anyone’s imagining, but it might be best if the west just pretends it never happened, although they must secretly remember it but are honour-bound not to bring it up in conversation. And that’s before it is even anything close to over, is very much ongoing and the only scale of measurement by which Russia is suffering a calamitous defeat is through making up objectives which are not part of Russia’s plans, and then ridiculing it for failing to achieve them.
“Although uncomfortable, embarrassment is a necessary pre-runner to recognising one’s mistakes and making progress on the path. Speaking openly about our faults, in a well-intentioned but direct manner, is often humorous because we all tend to know the truth about people even though it is usually not stated outright.”