“Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice, and that shout is resonating through my mind even as we speak (about the Ukraine, what else).
The only obvious development is that Macron and Biden are angling for a joint Nobel Peace Prize, and they may even invite Johnson and Putin to partake. Everything else is open to conjecture.
Trying to come up with a theory explaining all the facts of the on-going Ukrainian brouhaha, I studiously avoid even hints at a possible conspiracy. Alas, when I impose that requirement on myself, I can’t think of any theories whatsoever. All I can do is offer you facts.
Today’s headlines scream of Biden and Putin agreeing “in principle” to hold a summit on the Ukraine. That agreement seems to have been brokered by Manny Macron, who desperately wants to claim the role of a world leader in spite of his obvious limitations.
The reports of that momentous shift fail to mention whether President Zelensky will have even a walk-on part to play in that forthcoming spectacle. One would think he is entitled to at least that, but this horror show may have a different plot.
He was certainly not invited to attend the annual Munich Security Conference that ended yesterday. There 30 presidents and prime ministers, 100 ministers, heads of Nato, the EU and the UN supported by a group of top international experts were mulling over the crisis at the Russo-Ukrainian border.
Kamala Harris graced the assembly with her presence, lending it credibility with her vice-like grip on international relations in general and Eastern Europe in particular. She probably wanted to offer her perspective as a ‘woman of colour’, only then to realise that no chromatic differences exist between the Russians and Ukrainians.
Zelensky was, colloquially speaking, NFI, but he came anyway. To draw a parallel with that other Munich event, he didn’t want to be cast in the Beneš role, watching from the sidelines as Czechoslovakia was being gift-wrapped for Hitler. Zelensky insisted on having a say in the fate of the country he has been elected to lead, and fancy the gall of some people.
Having crashed the party, he shook the distinguished assembly by uttering the N-word. No, not that one. The word was ‘nuclear’, as in the capability renounced by the Ukraine following the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.
Then the Ukraine agreed to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in exchange for the US, Britain and Russia guaranteeing her territorial integrity — a promise broken in 2014. Now Zelensky hinted, not so subtly, that the Ukraine may not keep up her end either, by possibly developing nuclear weapons or, more likely, unveiling one or two devices she might surreptitiously have held back just in case.
The way he spoke suggested that Zelensky is growing into his unlikely role: “ We will defend our land with or without our partners’ support…,” he said.
“We appreciate any help, but everyone must understand that these aren’t charitable contributions that the Ukraine needs to beg for or remind about…
“These are your contributions to the security of Europe and the world, for which the Ukraine has been a reliable shield, holding off one of the world’s largest armies over the past eight years.”
In general, whatever scenario is being played out, Zelensky acts as if he hasn’t read the script. For weeks now he has been saying that Western politicians and media are whipping up the hysteria, claiming that a full-scale invasion is imminent.
Biden in particular puffs up his cheeks, adjusts his footing to make sure no tumbling accident occurs, focuses his eyes on the teleprompter and pretends to be a Mister-Know-All – only succeeding in coming across as a Mister-Know-Bugger-All.
A fortnight ago he said that his unimpeachable intelligence sources were certain that Russian armour would roll on to Kiev on 16 February. That fateful date came and went, and Biden again cited his unerring spy services in moving the date to 20 February, presumably to coincide with the end of either the Munich conference or the Peking Olympics.
Some commentators are opining that this is a devilishly clever strategy. The US publicises accurate intelligence reports as a way of telling Putin: “We’re on to you”. This is supposed to make him squirm and cancel his plans, although it’s not immediately obvious why he should be so docile.
In the meantime, the US embassy was evacuated from Kiev to Lvov, which contributed to the doomsday atmosphere. Sceptical observers point out that the embassy stayed put in 2014, when the Russian invasion of the Ukraine was in full swing, with thousands being killed, all sorts of sophisticated weaponry being fired and civilian airliners being brought down by Russian SAMs.
History buffs even note that the US embassy in Moscow, 1941, was only evacuated when Nazi officers were able to see the dreamy spires of the Kremlin through their field glasses. Why such a hasty flight now?
After all, even assuming that the Russians are planning to take Kiev, surely that would take days, rather than hours. Plenty of time for the Americans to move out, one would think.
Biden has graciously agreed to have a chinwag with Putin, but only if Russia doesn’t invade. He thereby played the popular grammatical trick of implying that such an invasion hasn’t yet taken place. This is either perfidious or ignorant or stupid, take your pick.
The Russian invasion of the Ukraine happened eight years ago, and war has been raging uninterrupted ever since. Over 14,000 Ukrainians have been killed, along with some 4,000 Russians, and they haven’t fallen victim to traffic accidents.
However, Manny’s initiative and, so far, Biden’s and Putin’s acquiescence suggest that the Drang nach Kiev is being put off yet again. The proposed summit will take days, possibly weeks, to organise, and meanwhile those Russian tanks will have to be revving up their engines without putting the gear stick into Drive.
My reluctance to indulge in conspiracy theories notwithstanding, the aspiring analyst in me has to look for some explanation of these facts. Applying the ancient cui bono principle, I can’t help noticing that all three parties, Joe, Manny and Vlad, stand to gain much and lose nothing by maintaining the border tension for months without a major escalation.
Both Macron and Biden have elections coming up this year, presidential in France, congressional in the US. Anybody familiar with the mentality of modern politicians will know that these events overshadow everything else in their minds.
So suppose the summit takes place and a ‘diplomatic solution’ is found. Biden certainly, Macron probably and Johnson possibly will mount their white steeds and ride in as some kind of knights errant whose gallantry has saved the world from a major war.
The Nobel Committee will start arguing how many ways the Peace Prize could be split, and the politicians involved will win a secure place in history – along with the hearts of their voters that aren’t at the moment glowing with affection.
Putin too will have a claim to his share of the Nobel spoils, while achieving his objectives without too many KIA notices reaching Russian families. He’ll get his hands on the garrotte slowly throttling the Ukraine.
When the peace parties have claimed a resounding victory, it will be churlish for the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ and Manny to support the Ukraine. God forbid Vlad changes his mind and decides to march anyway – especially if that comes before the Nobel Committee has voted.
The only assured loser will be the Ukraine, left to her own devices in a state of virtual isolation, with Putin clogging her energy arteries and the West starving her of investments. Before long, Putin will achieve his goals of grafting his bandit bailiwicks of Donetsk and Lugansk onto the Ukraine’s body politic.
These cancerous cells won’t take long to destroy the host organism, making armoured thrusts unnecessary. The Ukraine may still be allowed to retain her nominal independence, but it will be the independence of, say, Czechoslovakia, c. 1960.
Such is my attempt at rational analysis, undertaken in full realisation that ratio may not apply to the situation in hand. One thing for sure: the Nobel spirit is in the air.
P.S. Speaking of the Peking Olympics, a Finnish cross-country skier, Remi Lindholm, suffered a frozen penis during the 50km race. The reports don’t state whether the athlete was male or female, which, considering that his Christian name could be either, is a regrettable omission, and one out of touch with our times.