One hopeless dinner

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the food that was hopeless. Like all worthy men, our host did all the cooking, and, like all worthy men, he did it well.

“Now, Dmitri, bring me my slippers in your mouth”

It’s just that somewhere between the roast capon and the cheese board I lost, along with the will to live, whatever little hope I still had for the West. That had to do with the husband and wife eating on either side of me.

During the Medvedev tenure as figurehead president, the man served as ambassador of a major European country to Russia. Now retired from the diplomatic service, he sits on an influential advisory board to his country’s government.

He and his wife both fell in love with Russia, and they even learned its language to a decent standard. Now they were sorry Putin had spoiled what otherwise had been a perfect reign.

My probing questions established that, according to my interlocutors, until 24 February, 2022, Russia had followed an ever-ascending path to democratic virtue. The ex-ambassador couldn’t for the life of him understand why Putin had had to go and mess it all up.

That tragedy had happened all of a sudden, completely unexpected, he said. Well, I had expected it, said I smugly. Just look at Putin’s CV both before and after he assumed power.

“What about it?” “Well, to start with, he is a career KGB officer.” “So? Americans have their CIA, which is just as bad.” “Not quite, I’m afraid. I’m not aware of the CIA murdering millions of their own citizens.” “It was the Communist Party that did that, not the KGB.”

“Now, Putin started his tenure by having several apartment blocks blown up in Moscow and elsewhere. When the tenants were sleeping in their beds.” “It’s not proven Putin had anything to do with it.”

“And then he started the second Chechen war, killing civilians indiscriminately.” “The Chechens are nasty bits of work. They had it coming.”

“Then there was that little matter of Russia attacking Georgia in 2008.” “Russia did nothing of the sort. It was Georgia that attacked Russia.”

“Did the Ukraine also attack Russia in 2014?” “Nobody attacked anyone then. Russia merely claimed what was historically hers, the Crimea.”

“So did all those journalists and politicians murdered by Putin in fact commit suicide?” “Nobody was killed while we were in Moscow.”

At that point I started reeling off the names of Putin’s victims, and a good job I could remember quite a few. Otherwise my interlocutors would have denied everything, like a criminal who refuses to admit to any crimes, other than those the police can prove he committed.

“Politkovskaya?” “Oh yes, I remember now.” “Estremirova?” “Quite, I forgot about her.” “Baburina? Starovoytova? Shchekochikhin? Nemtsov?” And so forth, with each name wrenching reluctant admissions and so-what shrugs. Clearly that litany made no dent in my interlocutors’ affection for President Medvedev and, until 24 February, President Putin.

“But Medvedev was never a real president. He and Putin simply concocted a cynical ploy to bypass Russia’s constitution. Putin had to relinquish the post for a couple of years not to have too many consecutive terms, but he still called all the shots.”

“No, he didn’t. I met Medvedev quite a few times, and he was firmly in charge. And a fine man he was too.”

“He was a KGB thug, just like his master. I once saw a video of a drunk Medvedev ranting about the Arab Spring, saying if he were Mubarak he would have turned it into a nuclear winter. Practically every word was the kind that even my late mother never knew.”

“Impossible. Medvedev doesn’t swear. He has a doctorate in law.”

“So you disagree that Putin and his regime are evil and fascist?” “Of course, I do. He is like any political leader, getting some things right and some others wrong. Once this little conflict is settled, things will go back to normal, and Russia will resume her march to goodness. And in any case, the word ‘evil’ has no use in politics. It’s just too extreme.”

“What about Hitler?” “Well, except him. But you aren’t suggesting Putin is as evil as Hitler?” And so forth, way past the cheese board and even the chocolate mousse (homemade).

Why am I bothering to tell you this story?

Because my (otherwise charming and perfectly civilised) interlocutor embodies within his lofty frame the entire political mainstream of his country and other EU members, at least in the high-rent end of the Union.

They can’t wait for some sort of ceasefire, bogus or otherwise, to go into effect in the Ukraine. Then they’ll be able to race against one another to the honour of being the first to repeal all the sanctions and readmit Putin to… well, any organisation he’ll wish to be readmitted to.

Errare humanum est, and all that. Attacking the Ukraine was a mistake, but can you name one politician in history who was never wrong? Now things are going back to normal, goes the refrain. The words ‘until next time’ are never uttered, nor even thought.

And what about those thousands of dead Ukrainians, millions driven out of their homes and even their country, smouldering remnants of cities, children orphaned or killed, women raped? Oh well, war is a nasty business, we all know that. Let bygones be bygones, what?

All this goes to show that, even if some irate Russian general fires a warning shot through Putin’s head, Putinism won’t die. The West will do all it can to commit gradual suicide, by creating an environment in which Putinism can thrive.

Ladies and gentlemen, we don’t deserve to survive.   

The generals’ plot against Putin

On 22 July, 1944, Claus von Stauffenberg attempted to kill Hitler, unsuccessfully. In the aftermath, almost 5,000 conspirators were executed.

Many of them were high-ranking generals, including Erwin Rommel, one of Germany’s most talented field commanders. All those officers wanted to wrestle political control from Hitler and seek favourable surrender terms, thereby saving whatever was left of Germany.

Reading today’s news from Russia, I’m here to report that exactly the same thing has… not happened there. But the operative word here isn’t ‘not’. It’s ‘exactly’.

For something has happened that suggests that the generals are telling Putin in no uncertain terms that they’ve had enough. More important, he is forced to listen.

Four days ago, deputy head of the General Staff, Gen. Rutskoy, hinted that the war objectives were changing. Russia was abandoning the idea of total victory and was ready to limit her appetite. Instead of capturing Kiev and putting paid to the Ukraine’s sovereignty, the Russians were prepared to consolidate, and slightly expand, their hold on Donbass.

That wasn’t just a lowly Major-General running off at the mouth, as it turns out. Earlier today Defence Minister Shoigu, flanked by the Who’s Who of the Russian high command, held a teleconference in which he admitted defeat by claiming victory.

“Overall, the main goals of the first stage have been accomplished,” Shoigu said, trying to sound triumphant, but failing. “The combat potential of the Ukrainian armed forces has significantly decreased which allows us to focus the main attention and main efforts on achieving the main goal – the liberation of Donbass.”

Excuse me? Since when is that “main goal” so puny? When Putin launched the ‘special operation’, he stated much loftier objectives: the “demilitarisation and denazification” of the Ukraine. That is, liberating not just Donbass but the whole country from her Nazi regime (led by two Jews, Zelensky and his defence minister Reznikov).

In other words, wiping an independent Ukraine off the map and reincorporating her into whatever the Russian Empire calls itself these days. And now the generals are openly admitting the war objective hasn’t been achieved. That’s how military defeat has been defined since Thucydides at least.

It’s also a message to Putin: you can scream about ridding the world of the Judaeo-Banderite Ukrainian Nazis to your heart’s content, but the army has had enough. 

Some 15,000 Russian men have been killed, at least seven of them generals (for comparison’s sake, America has lost two generals in all her post-1953 wars). Most of their bodies were left where they fell, to rot in the field and to be devoured by wild beasts and stray dogs.

That treatment of fallen soldiers is nothing new for Russia, of course. Thousands if not millions of soldiers killed in the Second World War were never buried properly. And the burial sites of even 43 (!) generals remain unknown to this day.

But Putin isn’t Stalin, much as I hate to break the news to him. And his generals, while not quite matching their Nazi colleagues in professionalism, are perhaps taking their cue from the Germans’ treatment of impending defeat.

None of them has so far done a Stauffenberg, but the very fact it’s the generals, rather than their Commander-In-Chief, who have made the announcement speaks whole libraries, not just volumes. No matter how they spin the war, Russia has lost.

Khrushchev also tried to spin the Cuban crisis, presenting it as a victory. Yet no one believed him, and his Kremlin days were numbered.

Then the Soviets tried to spin their 1989 retreat from Afghanistan as a resounding success, and the USSR collapsed in 1991, partly as a result of what everyone knew was a humiliating defeat (another comparison: in the past month the Russians have lost roughly as many men as during the 10-year war in Afghanistan).

I don’t want to jump the gun, as it were. It’s possible that the teleconference and the Russian troop movements in the Ukraine are merely a ruse de guerre. The Russians may be trying to create a long operational pause, regroup and then go on the offensive again, perhaps this time with doomsday weapons.

One can’t put anything past them, and yet it does look as though Putin no longer has the support of the army, and quite possibly of the other siloviki (FSB, internal troops, National Guard, armed police units etc.). If so, and you know how much it pains me to say so, it’s not just his political life that’s hanging by a thread.

Generally speaking, I try not to indulge in conjecture and guesswork. Cassandra’s fate isn’t something that appeals to me. But one has to analyse what one sees, especially if such analysis isn’t peddled as God’s own truth.

Let’s wait for Putin’s announcement. Will there be one? Ever? I don’t know. But then it’s not just faith and charity that are cardinal virtues, but also hope.

P.S. Shoigu also mentioned in passing that no general mobilisation is on the cards. No doubt millions of Russian mothers heaved a cautious sigh of relief.

“For God’s sake, this man can’t remain in power”

So spoke Joe Biden, and, though I couldn’t understand why he was talking of himself in the third person, I rejoiced. Seldom does one see a politician capable of such scathing self-laceration.

But then I realised Joe was speaking not of himself but of Putin – and rejoiced even more. Seldom does one see a politician capable of such uncompromising language.

My elation didn’t last. For the entire US political establishment gasped collectively and began to apologise in a truly abject chorus.

Regime change? Don’t be silly. The president didn’t mean it the way it sounded. Of course, he wants Putin to remain in power, upstanding statesman that Vlad is. That was just a slip of the tongue, we all make them. Joe meant to say, “this man MUST remain in power”, but he got momentarily distracted.

Biden’s colleagues were all shaken and Blinken. But they were right to apologise. Joe indeed spoke out of turn, and he indeed didn’t mean to sound so bolshie. And anyway, his actions speak louder than his words.

Biden’s administration proudly announced that its support for the Ukraine’s heroic struggle is unconditional. Just look at the amount of military aid the US is providing: 800 million’s worth a year.  That’s 800 big ones. Dollars. Bucks. Clams. Greenbacks. That’s a lot of support, isn’t it?

Well, that depends on how one looks at it. And the best way to look at it is by following Descartes’s dictum that all knowledge springs from comparison (that may explain his weak faith in God, who is, after all, incomparable).

Thus the Duchy of Luxemburg (p. 630,000) is providing $250 million’s worth of military aid to the Ukraine. That’s less than a third of the aid generously offered by the US (p. 340,000,000), but it stacks up quite favourably in per capita terms.

And the Czech Republic’s (p. 11,000,000) contribution of $1 billion trumps America’s not only relatively but also absolutely. Suddenly, one is beginning to fear that Biden indeed meant to say he wanted Putin not only to stay in power but also to reduce the Ukraine to cinders.

The Ukrainian army is using up 500 Stingers a day, and about as many Javelins. The US has just sent over enough of the former to last merely 3.5 days of action, and barely enough of the latter for a day and a half.

One can discern some logic in Nato’s (which, not to cut too fine a point, means America’s) reluctance to enforce a no-fly zone over the Ukraine, stopping thereby terrorist attacks on civilians. Americans fear that even one little dogfight between an F-35 and a MIG might trigger a nuclear holocaust, especially if the F-35 emerged victorious, as it almost certainly would.  

Fine, one may accept that – even though there’s much evidence against such a doomsday scenario. After all, in 2015 a Turkish F-16 shot down a Russian SU-24M fighter-bomber, and the Russians swallowed that insult without trying to take out Istanbul. And in 2018, American forces in Syria wiped out at least 200 Russian mercenaries of the Wagner gang (owned by Putin’s close associate Prigozhin). Again, no ICBMs were launched at Washington, D.C.

But even accepting that a direct involvement of Nato forces in the Ukraine is fraught with danger, it’s still hard to understand why the US is refusing to provide effective anti-aircraft systems. You know, the S-300s and Patriots of this world.

Such weapons are purely defensive by definition. Unlike, say, the Javelins, they can’t be used offensively even in theory. What they could do is save thousands of civilians from wanton destruction. And that’s what Nato is refusing to do – as it refused to transfer to the Ukraine some 20 Polish MIGs that had already been promised.

It would be tempting to say that Biden and his friends considered and rejected the argument that the Ukraine is fighting for their freedom as well. But they did no such thing.

This isn’t about arguments. It’s about character and courage. Of course, those American politicians who, unlike Biden, still have all their marbles intact, could be persuaded that the Ukraine is merely the first battlefield in Putin’s war on the West.

But even if they were certain about that, they still wouldn’t change their craven behaviour. What they miss isn’t mental strength but testicular fortitude. Perhaps they should follow fashion and ‘transition’ to men.

A life stolen

Many commentators don’t realise that any information on the number of Russian tanks is misleading. For, unlike the Americans, the Russians don’t melt down the previous, superseded generation of their armour.

Don’t nick the kit, lads

Thousands of those slightly obsolete, but still perfectly usable, machines are mothballed in storage for future emergencies. One such emergency has now arrived, and the other day a Russian regiment was supposed to take delivery of newly reactivated tanks.

Waste not, want not is a sound idea that should work in all walks of life, including the military. Alas, this sensible practice is defeated by a Russian tradition of long standing: thieving.

You see, many electronic components in modern tanks contain precious metals, gold, platinum, that sort of thing. The temptation to steal those parts is strong, and it becomes irresistible when the mark stays in a dark warehouse for years.

Who’s to know? ask Russian soldiers, taking their pliers and screwdrivers out. A tragic answer to that frivolous question was delivered yesterday. The officer ordered to put those tanks back into service, that’s who’s to know.

The officer in question, the regiment commander, arrived with his crews at the storage facility near Bryansk, only to discover that 90 per cent of the tanks, their electronics long since stripped, were now useless lumps of armoured steel.

Out of desperation, the officer shot himself, thereby partly redeeming Russia’s martial honour, badly tarnished by this war. His suicide also proved yet again that an army isn’t a law unto itself. It’s a microcosm of society, reflecting and often magnifying its features.

One feature of Russian society has since time immemorial been the urge to steal anything not bolted to the floor or nailed to the wall. One story springs to mind.

Back in the 1820s, Alexander I asked his court historian Nikolai Karamzin how provincial officials were going about their duties. “Ils volent, sire,” replied the historian laconically (“Thieving, Your Majesty,” as translated from the official language of the court).

This, by the way, is one of the differences between the Russian and Ukrainian national characters. Today’s Ukraine is almost as corrupt as Russia, but there theft is still seen as an aberration rather than the norm.

In Russia, larceny is an ontological, rather than existential, trait. It originates from the historically cavalier treatment of private property, that cornerstone of Western polity.

That explains the initial popularity of communism and anarchism there. A Russian is emotionally and, if you will, historically predisposed to agree with Proudhon’s maxim about property being theft. The idea of dispossessing the rich and giving all their money to the poor has an instant appeal to most Russians.

If you read practically any great Russian writer, you’ll find echoes of that attitude. For example, Dostoyevsky describes in his Diaries how a Russian peasant ties up his wife and beats her to a pulp with a stick until she stops moaning and moving.

Correctly identifying such behaviour as brutish, Dostoyevsky adds that this violent savage is still purer, more spiritual than “a German Vater who works hard all his life and saves up to provide for his Kinder.” This wasn’t so much an endorsement of domestic violence as a statement of contempt for hard, remunerative work (and, of course, the West).

Tolstoy felt burdened by his baronial estate all his life and tried to give it away (or gamble it on a single hand of cards) on many occasions. Only his wife’s threat of legal action prevented the writer from beggaring his family.

Russian folklore has a whole thesaurus of proverbs on the same theme: work is useless, wealth is shameful. Off the top:

“Work isn’t a wolf, it won’t run away into the forest”; “You won’t get a stone house by honest work”; “Poverty is no vice”; “He who doesn’t nick, doesn’t eat”; “Wealth is made on people’s tears and misery”; “You can’t tell a rich man from a thief”; “Wealth is dirt, brain is gold”; “Money, like stone, lies heavy on the soul”; “If your family counts, forget about money. If you count your money, forget your family.”

Without delving too much into history, such economic anomie was cultivated over centuries by the nature of the Russian state. The country never had European-style feudalism. The tsar related to the aristocrats the way the aristocrats related to their serfs.

Implicitly, every estate in the country belonged to the tsar, who could bestow it on his favourite today, then take it away tomorrow. (Thus, dacha, the Russian for country house, is a cognate of the Russian for ‘give’. Country houses were given, not earned.) Catherine II, for example, rewarded her more ardent lovers with whole provinces. At the same time, most prison sentences included total confiscation of the convict’s property.

Peasants had at best a leasehold on their parcels, with the landlord keeping the freehold in his hands. Any peasant could be instantly dispossessed by the landowner, who in turn could be just as easily dispossessed by the tsar.

Also, even now most Russian villages are made of wood, whereas as recently as in the 19th century so were the towns. This explains the ease with which the Russians burned down Moscow (including 30,000 of their own wounded being treated in its hospitals) before surrendering it to Napoleon in 1812.

This also explains why fires were pandemic throughout Russia, often claiming up to 80 per cent of all houses in a town. Moscow papers in the 19th century didn’t even bother to report fires burning down less than 10 per cent of all buildings.

Hence, property in Russia was difficult to acquire, but easy to lose. That left a mark on the Russian character, and it still hasn’t been expunged.

For example, most Russians who find themselves in the West don’t understand the concept of not being able to afford something. That, to a Russian, means not to have the physical wherewithal to buy.

A Russian is likely to be baffled when his English friend tells him he can’t afford a £1,000 bottle of wine. “Don’t you have £1,000 in the bank?” he’d ask with genuine surprise and a touch of derision.

It stands to reason that people so contemptuous of their own property are unlikely to respect anybody else’s. Russians know that theft is a crime but, for them, it’s a malum prohibitum, not a malum in se.

And theft of public property is almost a badge of honour. “Public means belonging to everybody, right? I’m one of the everybody, so it belongs to me too.” Such is the unspoken – and often spoken – attitude to such matters.

There we have it: a grounded tank regiment, and its commander with a bullet in his head. All as a natural continuation of a fine Russian tradition – that is universally despised in the Ukraine.

P.S. For my linguistically gifted readers, here’s an obscene but hilarious Ukrainian song on this very subject:

Where there’s smoke, there’s war

Multiple Warsaw sources are reporting smoke coming out of the Russian embassy, which is consistent with the burning of documents.

One hopes those Russians won’t set their whole embassy on fire

Exactly the same was observed in Kiev a week before the Russian invasion. Russian diplomats were busily burning their files, those they didn’t want to fall into enemy hands.

Three days ago, 45 Russian diplomats, or rather spies working under diplomatic cover, were expelled from Poland, with the Russians promising a swift tit-for-tat retaliation. Juxtaposing the two developments, one could be forgiven for entertaining macabre premonitions.

Against the backdrop of some Russian diplomats in Warsaw packing their bags and others burning their papers, the Nato summit in Brussels looked especially pathetic. Our, in a manner of speaking, leaders were all mouthing the same line, often in the same words: “We must do all we can to make sure the war doesn’t escalate, and we aren’t dragged into a direct conflict with Russia”. Implicitly, that was leaving the Ukraine to her own fate.

Col. Putin must have been grinning like the Cheshire Cat. I suspect he felt like Hitler did after the Munich Agreement was signed. Speaking of Chamberlain and Daladier to his coterie, Hitler sneered: “What nonentities!”

Our, in a manner of speaking, leaders are all in the throes of wishful thinking, schizophrenically divorced from both observable reality and any sensible ratiocination. They think that wishing will make it so, whereas in fact their cynical cowardice is an ironclad guarantee of exactly the outcome they dread.

It takes myopia bordering on total blindness not to see that Putin’s whole reign is a gradually escalating war on the West. That war is conducted in increments more or less evenly spaced.

In 2000-2001, Putin’s air force levelled Grozny, the capital of the breakaway republic of Chechnya. No breakaways will be allowed, was the message.

In 2008, Russia attacked Georgia and helped herself to some of its territory. Same message, different geography.

In 2014, in a direct prelude to the current war, Russia annexed the Crimea and a large part of Eastern Ukraine. Everybody who had eyes to see, and especially ears to hear, knew the aggression was exactly that, a prelude.

Putin consistently refused to recognise the Ukraine’s sovereignty, treating the country as part of Russia’s patrimonial estate. It’s just that he wanted to repossess the Ukraine piecemeal, rather than all in one go.

Yet the propaganda rhetoric accompanying those heinous acts was only partly aimed at Chechnya, Georgia and the Ukraine. Another motif began to sound in a crescendo soon reaching dominance: all those enemies of Russia weren’t free agents.

They were puppets whose wires were pulled by the US, Nato and the West in general. Hence Russia wasn’t just reclaiming her birthright possessions. She was using their territory as the initial battlefields in the war on Russia’s historical enemy: the West.

That’s what our, in a manner of speaking, leaders refuse to see: you can’t prevent what has already happened and neither can you avoid what is bound to happen. The war is going on and it will definitely escalate, that’s not even up for discussion.

The only questions are where, how and on what scale. Every hope of eventual de-escalation is going up in smoke at the Russian embassy in Warsaw.

Much is being made of Russia’s reorienting her war effort towards consolidating her control of the areas she occupied in 2014. Our papers are blowing triumphant bugles: Russia is retreating, the Ukrainians are vanquishing.

This reminds me of Herodotus, writing about the ancestors of today’s Russians some 2,500 years ago. When confronted with resolute defence, marauding Scythians would retreat at a gallop, encouraging pursuit. Their enemies would fall into the trap and gallop after them, extending their lines more and more. At the right moment, the Scythians would suddenly turn around and rout their pursuers.

It’s possible that the Russians are trying to lull the Ukraine (and the West) into a false sense of security before regrouping and relaunching their offensive. It’s also possible, in fact likely, that Putin has milked this stage in the war for all it’s worth.

He knows that the West can be manipulated by nuclear blackmail. He has learned that, come what may, the West will be feverishly looking for any reason, conceivable or otherwise, not to stop Russia by force. QED.

Putin has also been reassured that Nato won’t respond in kind to his use of WMDs, especially tactical nuclear strikes. This reassurance, along with the clearly demonstrated inadequacy of Russia’s conventional forces, points to the next stage of escalation: a one-time use of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

Poland has been mentioned in that context for several weeks now, since most Western supplies reach the Ukraine through her territory. Polish eastern airfields especially are believed to be a likely target for a tactical nuclear strike, to be followed by an ultimatum similar to the one preceding the attack on the Ukraine.

That ultimatum was dismissed by the West out of hand as an empty threat. Our, in a manner of speaking, leaders ought to have followed Putin’s pronouncements more closely. Roughly at the time of that ultimatum, Putin explained his philosophy in simple words even Biden should have understood: “You should never threaten anyone. If you brandish a pistol, shoot.”

The West has never understood Putin or Russia in general, displaying most lamentable failure of either morality or intellect or, typically, both. That’s why, trying to avoid a nuclear exchange, Nato is hastening its arrival.

The question isn’t, or rather shouldn’t be, whether or not Putin will use tactical nuclear strikes (to begin with). It should be whether the ostrich strategy so blatantly displayed at the Nato summit is more or less likely to prevent that crime.

My contention, based on my understanding of Russia in general and Putin’s plans in particular, is that Nato’s refusal to engage Putin and even to supply the Ukraine with adequate defensive weapons makes further escalation, possibly with nuclear weapons, a dead certainty.

President Zelensky knows this better than I do, which is why he sounded positively Churchillian in his post-summit speech: don’t give us fulsome reassurances of sympathy, he was saying. Give us the tools to do the job – on your behalf, ladies and gentlemen.

If you give us just one per cent of your tanks, aircraft and AA systems, Zelensky was saying, not only the Ukraine but all of Europe and the world will be a hundred per cent safer.

And please, “never tell us again that our army does not meet Nato standards… We have shown how much we can do to protect against aggression everything we value, everything you value. But Nato has yet to show what the Alliance can do to save people.”

I disagree with Zelensky there. So far Nato has shown exactly what it can do: express deep concern and sympathy, supply some weapons except those that can stop mass murder, and hope, fingers crossed, that the aggression steadily escalating for 20 years will somehow peter out of its own accord.

The smoke people smell in the Warsaw air is the stench of blood, cordite and noxious fumes. It’s the stench of war into which we are sleepwalking thanks to the soporific guidance of our, in a manner of speaking, leaders.

P.S. The exact tempo of escalation is hard to predict. However, considering Putin’s age and reportedly failing health, he certainly won’t wait many years before taking the next step.

The beam in thine own eye

There’s much discussion going on about Russian musicians being cancelled unless they agree to denounce Putin publicly.

This reminds me of a crude but, to me, funny joke I once heard in America: A woman is buying a chicken. She picks up the bird, smells under the wings and between the legs, and says: “This chicken stinks.” “Madam,” replies the butcher, “are you sure you could pass the same test?”

I wonder if those who refuse to book Russian musicians have heard that joke. Even if they haven’t, I’m sure they must know the biblical injunction about the mote and the beam, which makes the same point more elegantly and, if you will, devotionally.

First, I’m in favour of isolating Putin’s Russia totally. If that means banning all Russian musicians, then so be it. Not many of them are worth hearing anyway, and those few who are haven’t lived in Russia for years.

The ballet of both the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky theatres, on the other hand, is definitely worth seeing. But I can only pray that missing it would be the greatest sacrifice we’ll have to make courtesy of Putin’s fascism.

The whole brouhaha came about so quickly and comprehensibly because the public has been paper-trained to accept cancel culture, with people’s careers ruined for uttering a single word contradicting woke virtues. If cancelling people for bad reasons is par for the course, then doing so for good reasons feels like a hole in one.

However, we aren’t banning Russian musicians unconditionally. They can still come if they mouth any version of the slogan currently popular in both the Ukraine and Russia: Putin is a dickhead (polite translation of the Russian Путин хуйло). That way they could save their Western careers at the cost of losing their domestic ones.

This strikes me as hypocritical. If denouncing Putin publicly is a pre-condition for appearing on concert platforms in the West, why single out just Russian musicians? Why not demand a similar declaration from Western ones too? And why, for that matter, are Chinese musicians not required to repudiate Xi on pain of losing their Western engagements? Actually, banning them all would represent even a smaller loss to music.

Generally speaking, if we cancelled every writer and musician with whose politics we disagree, we (well, I) wouldn’t even be allowed to read War and Peace (soon to be retitled Special Operation and Peace, one hears).

Yet speaking not generally but specifically, boycotting all Russian musicians – and not just Putin’s propagandists like Gergiev and Netrebko – only makes sense if we admit that the West is de facto at war with Russia, even in the absence of such casuistic formalities as an official declaration.

If we stop cowering behind such casuistry to pretend the West isn’t at war with Putin, even though he is manifestly at war with the West, then yes, Russian musicians become enemy aliens who can’t be allowed in.

Even in that case, however, cancelling performances of Tchaikovsky’s, Scriabin’s or Prokofiev’s works will continue to be an exercise in monumental and hysterical cretinism. Whatever next? A pyre of Tolstoy’s, Dostoyevsky’s and Gogol’s books?

Now, this is where that woman with her chicken comes in, or, if you’d rather, the story of the mote and the beam.

If we are de facto at war with Russia, how is it that Western media continue to be open to pro-Putin pieces? Surely they must be treated as enemy propaganda, whose disseminators should be put into internment camps at least for the duration of the war? (Messrs Hitchens, Liddle, Buchanan and Carlson spring to mind.)

We do have freedom of speech, but it’s never absolute even in peacetime, never mind during a war. If you disagree, try to publish in any mainstream newspaper an article about homosexuality being a deadly sin, or different races having different median IQs, and see how far you’ll get.

If Lord Rothermere’s Daily Mail wasn’t allowed to publish during the war the same pro-Nazi articles it had published before the war, then how come the same paper is allowed to publish Hitchens’s thinly veiled pro-Putin propaganda now?

And if we see nothing wrong with that, then why punish Russian musicians simply because they refuse to act as dummies to our self-righteous ventriloquists? That strikes me as illogical and therefore hypocritical.

I don’t think an apolitical pianist who’d rather not kill his Russian career by taking an anti-Putin cue would do us much harm. Certainly nothing even remotely comparable to that done by the musings of a Putin fan writing deranged nonsense, along the lines of Moscow streets and churches being so lovely that we should stop arming the Ukrainians.

“Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” And, if I may add my own comment, if thou won’t, the best thing thou can do is shut up.

Putin is right

These words are burning their way across my lips. But they need to come out because few people realise how true they are.

Nato’s strategy in Europe

Our papers are filled with triumphant noises about Putin’s miscalculations. Whatever the sheet, it contains all the same hymns.

Putin underestimated the strength of the Ukrainian army. He overestimated the strength of his own. He didn’t count on the ferocity of the Ukraine’s resistance. Nor did he expect such an instant and massive arrival of Western sanctions and boycotts. He looked forward to a cakewalk, but instead walked into a carnage.

All of this is true. Yet none of it contradicts the title above.

For Putin didn’t start the war because he thought the Ukraine would roll over and die within days. He started it on the assumption that the West is weak, decadent and therefore a soft touch. And this assumption has been vindicated so comprehensively that one has to commend Putin’s perspicacity.

The miscalculations that so excite our commentators would matter only if Putin’s fascist regime pursued strictly limited objectives, such as reincorporating the Ukraine into whatever the Russian Empire calls itself nowadays. It doesn’t though. Nor am I really sure they were miscalculations.

For Putin knows that part of the world as well as I do. His understanding of Russia (and to a limited extent of the Ukraine) is as native and visceral as mine – which is essential for anyone wishing to penetrate Russia’s enigmatic quality that so baffled Churchill. I doubt Putin is as well-read on this subject as I am, but unlike me, he is privy to a huge corpus of intelligence data, which he is professionally trained to analyse.

Hence, if I knew the Ukrainian army would fight ferociously and expertly, he knew it too. If I knew the Russian army wasn’t as formidable in battle as it was on paper, so did he. If I knew the Ukraine spent the eight post-2014 years training and arming her soldiers, Putin knew it better: he had at his fingertips detailed reports of every Stinger and Javelin delivered, every Ukrainian unit holding tactical exercises, every Ukrainian general drawing strategic plans.

Quite apart from the usual SIGINT and human intelligence resources available to any major power, Putin could rely on a swarm of his spies buzzing around the Ukraine. That’s the legacy of the Soviet Union, and every one of its former colonies is similarly infected.

(That’s the only reason I’ve ever been sceptical about admitting former Soviet and Warsaw Pact republics into Nato. Since most of their senior officers were trained and indoctrinated in the Soviet Union, at least some must have retained their erstwhile loyalty.

That creates a counterintelligence problem for Nato, as anticipated by St Matthew: “For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad.”

As if to vindicate that biblical prophecy, the Hungarian Sándor Laborc was appointed chairman of Nato’s Intelligence Committee in 2008 – the year Russia attacked Georgia. The two developments might not have been coincidental, considering that Gen. Laborc was an honours graduate of the Dzerjinsky KGB Academy in Moscow, where he had studied for six years.)

One way or another, Putin had to know what to expect, at least in broad outlines. And yet he pressed ahead, potential risks notwithstanding. Why?

Is he bent on self-destruction? Or mad, as so many of our hacks like to aver? Didn’t he know he could be overthrown/imprisoned/assassinated if things went awry?

Any of such outcomes may yet befall Putin. After all, every Caesar breeds his own Brutus. Every tyrant has a praetorian who daydreams of assuming dictatorial powers himself.

So it’s conceivable that an army or FSB general may slip a little novichok into Putin’s tea and then move into the Kremlin, using Russia’s tactical setbacks as a justification. Yet if it’s indeed an army or FSB general who’ll administer such a coup de grâce (who else?), then Putin may die, but Putinism will live on.

For Putin’s strategic assumptions, and therefore objectives, have been vindicated. He has proved that the West will huff and puff, and it’ll punish Russia economically but, come what may, it won’t confront Russian aggression militarily. A little nuclear blackmail, and Adolph is your uncle.

Moreover, Nato will even try not to upset Russia too much by arming her victims too well. To wit: not only has Nato refused to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukrainian cities, but it has even blocked the transfer of Polish MIGs to the Ukraine, denying Ukrainian pilots a chance to stop by their own efforts the ongoing massacre of civilians.

If we understand that the Ukraine isn’t the destination, but merely a step along the way, then Putin (or whoever gets rid of him) can afford to take half a step back. He may wring some minor concessions out of Zelensky, declare victory, go home and regroup.

He wouldn’t even be desperately unhappy. Yes, he didn’t achieve all his tactical objectives in the Ukraine. But strategically, he’d feel satisfied. The West is so impotent that Putin’s next step could be a giant stride towards dominating Europe, whatever articles the Nato Charter may have.

If the West won’t fight over the Ukraine, it won’t fight over the Baltics either. Or perhaps even Finland and Poland. After all, they all used to belong to the Russian Empire, and the West was satisfied with that claim when Putin grabbed the Crimea. Prior possession seems to be 100 per cent of the law in those parts.

And the Ukraine isn’t going anywhere. Even if a ceasefire is called, and the Ukrainian state remains sovereign for the next year or two, the Ukrainians won’t have time to prepare for Round 2 adequately. Any ideas to the contrary, and perhaps a limited nuclear strike will disabuse them.

Here you may think I’m letting my imagination run too wild. Putin’s nuclear bluster is good and well, but no nuclear strike will ever go unanswered, no doubt there.

This brings me to Yulia Latynina, the anti-Putin Russian journalist who in 2017 had to emigrate after credible threats on her life. She now runs her own streaming service, where some 10 days ago she interviewed Michael McFaul, former US ambassador to Russia, head of a think tank and a close, if unofficial, advisor to President Biden.

Latynina is well aware of Putin’s plans for an incremental advance, dipping his toe in the water and, if no sharks are about, taking the next cautious step. The question that bothered her, as it does me, was where the US would draw the red line. Surely, she asked, if Putin launches a tactical nuclear strike, Nato will have to respond in kind?

Not at all, replied Dr McFaul in his ungrammatical but understandable Russian. Just because Putin is crazy, that doesn’t mean we should be too. Latynina, who until that moment had been suitably differential, visibly winced.

Unfortunately, that interview went unnoticed in the West – partly because of the language in which it was conducted and partly because Western countries would rather not scare their own people too much.

If Putin borrows his strategy from Hitler, our peerless leaders borrow theirs from the ostrich. Or else from a child, who thinks that, if he shuts his eyes, a scary apparition will go away.

If history teaches anything (which it usually doesn’t), the lesson is that a fascist regime bent on conquest can’t be mollified, appeased or bribed. Sooner or later, civilised countries will have to fight, and sooner is better than later for reducing the damage.

Here too Putin is right. Not long ago, he shared with his adoring audience his youthful experience as a self-described ‘common thug’. “When a fight is unavoidable,” he smiled nostalgically, “you should always strike first”.

That I’m sure the West will never do. In fact, I’m beginning to doubt its ability to strike even second.

41 million equals 3.5 million

Do you think my arithmetic is faulty?

Finish ambush, 1939-1940

Fine, I admit adding up isn’t my core strength. However, I do know that 41 is greater than 3.5. But does Harry Howard, history correspondent for The Mail?

Apparently not. This he proved when drawing this parallel between the current rape of the Ukraine and the Soviet attack on Finland in November, 1939: “…more than 80 years ago, the similarly small Finland took on the might of the Soviet Union…”

If you look at the title above, the first numeral is the 2022 population of the Ukraine and the second is the corresponding statistic for Finland, 1939. I wouldn’t call that ‘similarly small’, would you?

Oh well, that’s just a careless oversight, we all commit them. The problem is that Mr Howard then proves the points I’m making increasingly often. One of them is general: the professional level of our journalism is slipping.

The other is specific: hacks writing about Russia, past or present, don’t study that subject deeply enough. Howard’s article is a case in point.

He first shows his ignorance by repeating Soviet propaganda on the casus belli: “At the time, Stalin feared an attack by Nazi Germany… and claimed the need to protect the capital Leningrad… from attack.”

Any serious student of the Second World War will know that Stalin didn’t fear a Nazi attack – not in November, 1939, nor at any time until it actually occurred on 22 June, 1941.

Putin’s role model compared the relative strength of the Red Army and the Wehrmacht, and, unlike me, Stalin was good at arithmetic. He knew the Red Army enjoyed an overwhelming numerical superiority in personnel and every type of armaments.

Soviet tanks not only were the next generation compared to German panzers, but also outnumbered them at least 7:1. The Red Air Force’s planes were comparable to the Luftwaffe’s, while outnumbering them in every category (except dive bombers). The Soviet artillery park was several times greater and, unlike the Wehrmacht that was mostly equipped with WWI guns, it was state-of-the-art.

That’s why Stalin was so shocked when the Nazis did attack two years later: he had done his sums, concluding that, if anyone was to launch a first strike, it should have been him. So it wasn’t his fear of Germany’s attack on Leningrad that made him pounce on Finland.

What was it? According to Howard, “the Winter War began… when Finland refused to agree to Stalin’s demand to give up territory so he could push Russia’s border westwards.”

Now, unlike me, Marshal Mannerheim, the Finnish leader, was good at maths. And unlike Stalin, he was a professional soldier who, under Nicholas II, had risen to the rank of Lieutenant-General in the Russian General Staff (Finland was part of the Russian Empire at the time).

Hence Mannerheim had no trouble comparing a series of numerals, starting with those in the title above. He also knew that Finland had precious few tanks and practically no air force.

So why did he prove so intransigent? Surely he knew Finland couldn’t hold on to every inch of her territory in case of a Soviet attack? Why didn’t he avoid bloodshed and let Stalin have a part of Karelia, hoping he’d choke on it?

Simple. Unlike Mr Howard, Mannerheim knew Stalin wasn’t just after a piece of Finland. He was after the whole thing.

Some of it was pure acquisitiveness: following the Nazi-Soviet Pact, Stalin was in a hurry to claim the lands stipulated in that document. But also coming into play was Stalin’s particular hatred for Poland and Finland, the two parts of the Russian Empire that had repelled the Bolsheviks by force.

The Poles routed the Red Army in the 1920 Battle of Warsaw. The Finns had their own Civil War at the time the Russians had theirs. But the outcomes were different.

‘White’ Finns, brilliantly led by Mannerheim, defeated the ‘Reds’, and their chieftain, Otto Kuusinen, ran away to Moscow, where he stayed until his death in 1964. Hence, in addition to his imperial greed for territory, Stalin hated the Finns in general and Mannerheim in particular.

Just like Putin today, Stalin wanted to restore Russia within the borders of the Russian Empire. Having had to contend himself with merely half of Poland, he now wanted all of Finland.

To that end he formed a quisling communist government of Finland, led by that same Otto Kuusinen, an old Comintern subversive. Staffing the government proved hard because by that time Stalin had purged Comintern, executing most communist leaders taking refuge in Moscow. However, he did keep Kuusinen and a few others on tap. Just in case.

Mannerheim knew that, and he was also familiar with the song offensive being prepared by Stalin. Anticipating his conquest of Europe, Stalin had commissioned more than 70 rousing songs to be sung by the Red Army as it marched into one country after another.

Some of them were used, some weren’t because the requisite conditions failed to materialise. One that was used featured the refrain “Admit us Suomi, you beauty, into the necklace of your limpid lakes”.

Apart from waxing poetic about Finland’s limpid lakes, the song also explained that “Your motherland has been taken away from you more than once; we’ve come to give it back to you; we’ve come to assist your reprisals, your repayment with interest for your humiliation…”

Howard writes that Finland suffered defeat, in spite of inflicting heavy casualties on the Russians.

True, as a result of the war Russia did claim about 10 per cent of Finland’s territory. But do let’s agree on the terms. In military terms, victory means fulfilling the original objectives, not 10 per cent of them.

Since Stalin’s objective wasn’t pushing the Soviet border away from Leningrad (as he and now Howard claimed), but incorporating Finland into the Soviet Union, the Red Army suffered a crushing defeat. Stalin was incensed, and he continued the fine Russian tradition going back to Ivan the Terrible by executing all of his own returning POWs.

Still, why did he agree to a ceasefire? The Finns had been fighting heroically and brilliantly, but towards the end of winter, 1940, they had run out of steam. The people were exhausted, the army was bleeding to death and running out of essential supplies.

Why then, having suffered horrendous losses, did Stalin agree to take merely a patch of Finland’s territory? It wasn’t just the casualties – the Russians tend not to care about such details.

But the Red Army had been made to look ridiculous in the eyes of the world. And the Soviet Union had been expelled from the League of Nations, meaning Stalin had failed to fool anyone into thinking he was anything but a diabolical aggressor.

At that time, the Red Army could redeem itself by indeed occupying all of Finland. Why didn’t it?

Here Howard misleads his readers again: “Exhausted Finland had been forced to fight without the assistance of Britain and France – who were already at war with Germany.”

In spite of being at war with Germany, Britain still managed to send some volunteers, mostly pilots, to fight with the Finns. But that was just a token gesture.

However, another gesture came with the force of a sabre cut. HMG communicated to the Kremlin that, unless the Russians stopped their advance, the RAF would take out the Baku oilfields by an air raid from its Iraqi base at Mosul.

Apparently, by way of illustration, the British sent Stalin a documentary film about the everyday life of British aircrews in Iraq. Suddenly the documentary footage was interrupted by an animated sequence showing a dotted line on the map, starting at Mosul and going dot-dot-dot all the way to Baku. Stalin got the message and called a halt.

None of this means that parallels can’t be drawn between the on-going monstrosity and the Winter War. Yet if such parallel lines start at ignorance, they end up at misinformation. Which seems to be the stock in trade of our press nowadays.

“And you lynch blacks”

When in my misspent Moscow youth I freelanced as interpreter-guide, mainly to American student groups, I was instructed how to parry critical comments about the Soviet Union.

Yes, but we buy oil from Saudi Arabia

The instruction period was short: the title above emerged as the main mandated reply to any criticism.

“Your shop shelves are empty.” “And you lynch blacks.”

“You have no real elections.” “And you lynch blacks.”

“No foreign newspapers are sold.” “And you lynch blacks.”

“You keep millions in concentration camps.” “And you lynch blacks.”

“You sent tanks into Hungary and Czechoslovakia.” “And you lynch blacks.”

“Russia is much poorer than any Western country.” “And you lynch blacks.”

And so on, ad infinitum. Not wishing to come across as more stupid than God originally made me, I couldn’t bring myself to mouth such obvious inanities. And anyway, I already knew the expression “two wrongs don’t make a right”.

Even assuming that every tree in America was indeed decorated with dangling blacks, that didn’t make Lenin’s and Stalin’s crimes any less objectionable. Hence the requisite reply was a non sequitur, a rhetorical fallacy.

A few years later my toxic presence could no longer be tolerated in the Soviet Union, and the investigating KGB officer magnanimously gave me the choice of going either West or East, meaning a Siberian prison camp. A tough one, that.

When I found myself in the US, I didn’t see any dangling blacks. However, I did see, read and hear countless journalists, academics and casual acquaintances who responded to criticism of the Soviet Union with more sophisticated versions of the same argument I had been loath to use as a 20-year-old.

By then I had already started reading National Review and so knew that such shoddy reasoning was called ‘moral equivalence’. This is how it worked:

“The Soviets have concentration camps.” “We kept Nisei Americans in internment camps. What’s the difference?”

“They have the KGB.” “We have the CIA.”

“The KGB spies on its own citizens.” “So does our FBI.”

“The Soviets killed millions.” “We killed four at Kent State.” “Four million?” “No, just four. But numbers don’t affect morality.”

“The Soviet population is thoroughly pauperised.” “We have poor people too.”

“Soviet medicine is antediluvian.” “But it’s free.”

“They are taught nothing but lies about the West.” “We tell lies about the Soviet Union.”

The preponderance of ‘moral equivalence’ was so universal and uniform that I wondered if the wielders of that argument were beneficiaries of the same instruction I had received way back then, and from the same source.

Most, I’m sure, weren’t. But some, I’m equally sure, were. Otherwise it’s hard to explain why they were all singing the same tune from the same hymn sheet, in unison.

This brings me to Peter Hitchens, who unfailingly provides topics for me on “any given Sunday”, to borrow the title of the American film. Yesterday he was appalled by what he tends to call our hysteria about Putin’s beastliness, which is hypocritical and Russophobic. After all, we continue to trade with the ghastly Saudi Arabia.

And didn’t we invade Iraq in 2003 exactly the same way Putin invaded the Ukraine in 2022? Thus we have no moral right to protest against indiscriminate bombings of civilians, something of which, Hitchens hastens to disclaim, he wholeheartedly disapproves.

This coincides, almost verbatim, with the line peddled in Putin’s speeches (including the two most recent ones) and those of his mouthpieces. Except that they tend to go further back, all the way to the Second World War, the mainstay of Putin’s militarist ideology.

Suddenly echoes of my unlamented youth begin to reverberate through both RT and, courtesy of Hitchens, The Mail on Sunday:

We bombed Dresden, they bomb Mariupol, what’s the moral difference?

We invaded Iraq, they invaded the Ukraine. Same thing.

We trade with Saudi Arabia and China, so how come we refuse to trade with Russia?

One such exchange is doubtless being kept for future use: We nuclear-bombed Hiroshima, they nuclear-bombed [whatever the target will be]. Where’s the moral distinction? 

Variations differ, but the theme never changes, and neither does the implicit upshot. Let’s abandon the Ukraine to her fate, stop this hysteria and go back to treating Putin as if nothing happened.

That’s where the non sequiturs come in. We can discuss the West’s immorality to our hearts’ content, inevitably agreeing in the end that Western countries have been known to sin both individually and collectively.

Yet there are degrees and nuances. A boy telling his mother to shut up is a sinner, and so is a boy who cuts his mother’s throat. I don’t know whether God will judge both equally, but anyone insisting on such parity in this world is either dishonest or certifiably mad.

Now, I detested the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and I agree it was immoral. Even worse, it was geopolitically illiterate.

And yes, the rulers of Saudi Arabia and China both run abhorrent regimes, with the latter capable of presenting an existential threat to us in the future.

And yes, I’d be happier if we didn’t allow evil regimes to hold our economies to ransom, something that both Saudi Arabia and, many times over, China are doing.

By all means, we should discuss this in a different context. But in this context, tying that to Putin’s mass murder is simply regurgitating enemy propaganda.

Neither Saudi Arabia nor China is waging vicious war in the middle of Europe, and they aren’t threatening us with nuclear annihilation. Neither Saudi Arabia nor China is trying to blow collective security sky high, not yet at any rate. Russia is, and Putin’s fascist regime is a factor of what Oliver Wendell Holmes called “a clear and present danger”.

Hence Putin’s and Hitchens’s pathetic attempts to invoke equally black pots and kettles must be dismissed with contempt. China definitely and Saudi Arabia probably are the bridges we’ll have to cross sooner or later. But the bridge separating us from a nuclear exchange with Putin’s Russia has already been mined, and his finger is already on the button.

One has to admire the steadfast consistency with which Hitchens peddles Putin’s lies and lines. Vlad rages about Ukrainian Nazis; Peter refers to the Ukraine gaining independence as a “putsch”. Vlad explains the war is necessary to stop Nato’s eastward expansion; Peter repeats the lie with canine fidelity. Vlad talks moral equivalence; so does Peter.

One could be forgiven for thinking there exists an osmotic link between the two. At least I hope the link is merely osmotic.

Leni Riefenstahl, eat your heart out

The son et lumière was missing, and the whole tenor was less operatic than operettic. But it’s the spirit that counts, and Vlad’s second coming before the adulating public did manage to convey the essence of a Nuremberg rally.

Straighten your arm out next time, Vlad

Putin bravely emerged from his faraway crypt into the lay world, driving tens of thousands into mandatory frenzy at Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium. Walking to the microphone, Vlad was noticeably unsteady on his feet, which didn’t at all lower the volume of the uproar.

However, once the initial clamour died out, many enthusiasts began to sneak out. Most of those shirkers were government workers shepherded in willy-nilly, or else students told they could play truant this once. Having ticked the required box, they sneaked out to go about their daily business.

Yet even such national traitors couldn’t subtract anything from either the pomp or the circumstance. Even old Leni would have liked the stage set, though she’d have had a thing or two to say about the lighting (“Vhere are ze torches, mein Russische Führer?”).

There were flags aplenty, and flying banners proudly displayed the letter ‘Z’, the symbol of the ‘special operation’. That made me wonder what happened to the other half of the swastika. The stadium was also decorated with a giant slogan “We don’t give up our own”. That made we wonder who “our own” were.

According to reports I’m unable to verify, Vlad belied his modest salary by wearing a £10,000 jacket and a £2,400 jumper. But the speech he made was priceless, replete as it was with evangelical overtones.

They say generals always fight the last war. Vlad went them one better by backtracking to even earlier battles. He kept putting the word ‘Nazi’ and its derivatives into every other sentence, no doubt expecting to evoke the Red Army’s stand at the gates of Moscow in December, 1941.

For a second there I thought he was applying that designation to Russia herself, where fascistic parties regularly claim at least 20 per cent of the vote. Contextually, however, it became clear Vlad was referring to the Ukraine, where the corresponding number is a mere three per cent. But the event wasn’t about hair-splitting pedantry, was it?

The rally was ostensibly staged to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the Russian democrats’ previous attack on the Ukrainian Nazis. That daring action, according to Vlad, stopped the genocide perpetrated by the latter.

It’s good to see that the Russians are acting in the spirit of their proverb, “It takes a wedge to knock out another wedge.” Only real genocide can stop imaginary genocide, and Vlad is a keen connoisseur of folklore.

A pedant would again argue that, since the Russians aren’t killing Ukrainians simply for their ethnicity, what they are committing should be more appropriately called ‘democide’, not ‘genocide’. I’m glad we’ve sorted this lexical confusion out, but one way or the other Putin’s ‘lads’, as he calls them, are murdering Ukrainians indiscriminately.

The ‘lads’ are being mown down in their thousands, but, according to Vlad, they are happy to die for “the universal values of Russia”. These have been passed down through generations from St John, whom Vlad thereby co-opted to the noble cause of bombing theatres and maternity hospitals.

To support his statement about every conscript going to his death with a smile on his face, Vlad actually quoted the fourth evangelist: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

There Vlad made a dramatic 20-second pause, no doubt expecting a standing ovation. When none came, he repeated the quotation verbatim, and at that point the crowd got its cue and applauded, albeit rather perfunctorily.

Thus encouraged, Putin pressed on: “The best confirmation of this is how our lads are fighting during this operation, shoulder to shoulder, helping each other… We haven’t had such unity in a long time.” Can’t imagine why not. 

To add an historical perspective to the religious one, Vlad then invoked the spirit of the 18th century admiral Fyodor Ushakov, who in 2001 was canonised by the KGB Church… sorry, I meant the Russian Orthodox Church, for having killed an awful lot of Turks.

At that point, many in the crowd began to whistle, the Russian equivalent of booing. The broadcast was instantly interrupted, and some revolting pop music began to be played (disclaimer: all pop music sounds revolting to me).

Leni Riefenstahl must have been looking on with mixed feelings from that great studio in the sky. On the one hand, the production values were a bit hit and miss and, let’s face it, pop can’t compete with Wagner for dramatic effect.

But then it was good to see that Nazism was still alive in Moscow, even if she found it somewhat wanting in style. Next time get your big torch out for the lads, Vlad, she said – and went back whence she had come.

P.S. Malicious rumours to the contrary, the title of Tolstoy’s celebrated novel hasn’t been changed to Special Operation and Peace.