The world drew its breath in, opened its mouth agape and eyes wide, stiffened its back against the chair and prepared itself.
The Victory Day parade, and Putin’s momentous speech to be delivered in Red Square, kept the world on tenterhooks. No one hoped for another Sermon on the Mount, but at least a version of Mark Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar was coming, the world knew that for sure.
Analysts were having a field day, confidently predicting the contents of the much-anticipated address. Minor differences notwithstanding, most of them agreed on the main points.
Putin was going to abandon the mendacious term ‘special military operation’ and officially declare war on the Ukraine. That would enable him to introduce martial law, call up the reservists and declare a total mobilisation. It was also possible that…
Well, all sorts of things were possible. Or rather probable. Or even definite. And none of them happened.
Putin’s voice was getting hoarser the longer the speech went. Those who regularly propose pessimistic bulletins on his health felt vindicated. Everybody else felt bored.
No war was declared. No mobilisation was announced. No threat to turn Nato into smouldering radioactive ruins was made. Instead Putin regurgitated the propaganda heard around the clock on Russian TV, making me wonder who was plagiarising whom.
Heroic Russian troops were fighting to protect the security of the motherland. The special military operation was a preemptive strike. It was absolutely necessary because Ukrainian Banderite Nazis, in cahoots with those Nato vermin, were planning a genocide of Russians, to which end they were trying to acquire nuclear weapons.
Is that it, Vlad? Give us a break, lad. You are president, not a talk show host on the First Channel of Russian TV. Tell us something we haven’t heard a million times already. Please?
And you call that a Victory Day parade? Half the usual complement of military hardware was on show – even when the Germans were rolling on to Moscow, Stalin managed to put on more of a display on 7 November, 1941.
Foreign leaders must have been warned that the spectacle wasn’t worth the price of admission. For that, or perhaps also some other reason, none of them was in attendance. They must have known they wouldn’t even get to see an Air Force fly-by, a constant feature of such festivities in the past.
The Russians cited bad weather as the reason for that omission. What kind of excuse is that? First, the video of the parade shows a few clouds in the sky, but no rain. But even assuming there was the odd sprinkle here and there, that shouldn’t have been a problem.
Back when I was a child, the Soviets used special planes to chase rain clouds away. It never rained on their parade, that was guaranteed. So where’s the pomp, Vlad? Where’s the circumstance?
There was a nice touch though, if not without a healthy dose of cynicism. Granite slabs were laid out, with the name of a hero-city chiselled on each. That was a status awarded to the Soviet cities that suffered most during the Second World War.
Two of them were Kiev and Odessa, and Vlad ceremoniously adorned all slabs, including those two, with flowers. Just as he was paying his floral tribute to Odessa, the Russians hit the city with a barrage of missiles, thereby testing the present state of its heroism.
Putin must have realised that his thunder had been stolen the day before by one of his closest accomplices, Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian space agency Roskosmos.
The former deputy PM didn’t beat about the bush. “Nato is waging war on us,” Rogozin announced. Here’s a man who tells it like it is.
Capitalising on his hands-on knowledge of rocketry, Rogozin then explained that, in a nuclear war, Russia could destroy all Nato countries in half an hour. But, he added magnanimously, Russia wasn’t going to do that.
Why not, pray tell? Whenever Lenin discussed some forthcoming bestial act, his favourite formula was “we can and therefore must”. And here is one of his spiritual descendants saying we could but won’t? I don’t get that.
Rogozin helpfully explained. “But we must not allow it, because the consequences of the exchange of nuclear strikes will affect the state of our Earth. Therefore, we will have to defeat this economically and militarily more powerful enemy with conventional armed means.”
As an environmentalist of long standing, I welcome Russia’s commitment to the Earth’s ecological health. Over the past 100 years or so, such dedication has been nowhere in evidence.
Back in the ‘60s, for example, Japanese physicists came to a Moscow conference equipped with Geiger counters. They then refused to leave the hotel because those counters were going haywire (the hotel was a few hundred yards from where I lived).
But hey, better late than never. However, jokes aside, both Putin’s and Rogozin’s speeches make me worried.
For by now everyone in the world knows that Russia can’t “defeat this economically and militarily more powerful enemy with conventional armed means.” That leaves only two options: either admitting defeat or achieving that objective by unconventional means, meaning WMDs.
Far be it from me to doubt the veracity of Russian leaders, but observations suggest that what they say doesn’t always accurately reflect what they do – or are planning to do. Putin’s refusal to declare an all-out commitment to the war and his silence on nuclear weapons dovetail with Rogozin’s denial that such weapons would ever be used. The effect is spooky.
If we know that Russia won’t defeat the Ukraine, never mind Nato, in a conventional war, then Putin knows it too. He also knows that he can’t afford defeat – his political career wouldn’t survive it, and neither in all probability would he.
I don’t mean to sound alarmist, but heaving a sigh of relief is premature. For the time being, let’s keep our powder dry – and marvel at the videos showing murderers, looters and rapists goosestepping on the Red Square cobbles.