I like some modern politicians more, or usually even less, than others. Yet I pride myself on understanding them all, good, bad or indifferent.
Their motives are hardly enigmatic. Anyone blessed with a rudimentary understanding of human nature, especially if laced with a soupçon of scepticism, can read politicians like an open trash novel.
Thus I’m sometimes pleased, more often disgusted, but hardly ever confused. Yet Putin has succeeded where so many have failed: I’m man enough to admit I’m utterly mystified.
What has produced this rare effect is his comment on Sweden’s and Finland’s impending entry into Nato. This has a direct bearing on the on-going war, or rather the reasons for it put forth by the Russian side.
Putin, his propagandists, emissaries and Western agents, witting or unwitting, have been screaming that the eastward expansion of Nato presents a mortal threat to Russia. One such Western groupie (who will henceforth go unnamed lest I may be accused of waging a personal vendetta) has been playing this theme with no variations in his Sunday columns for at least 15 years, hardly ever omitting it.
The theme had a crazy logic to it. Nato has devised an anti-Russian conspiracy. At its heart is the strategy of encircling Russia with Nato members, like a noose tightening on the neck of this saintly, peaceful country.
Nato leaders are waiting for a propitious moment to catch Russia unawares and strike. But not on your nelly, says Putin and his aforementioned cohort. Russia is forever alert, ready, in the ignored words of the British anthem, to confound her enemies’ politics and frustrate their knavish tricks.
What those Western scoundrels describe as Russia’s acts of aggression against her neighbours are actually preemptive attempts to beat Nato to the punch. Russia has to lash out because she has been severely provoked and menaced by Nato’s expansion.
This story bears no relationship to reality, but it adds up on its own terms. Nato has indeed been expanding eastwards over the past 30 years. Russia may indeed feel threatened, even if no threat actually exists. But perception is reality, didn’t Andy Warhol say that? So, if Russia perceives danger, it’s real.
Alas, seen in that light, the attack on the Ukraine diverts from the ironclad logic of the narrative. First, no plans had been afoot to admit the Ukraine to Nato, certainly not in any foreseeable future. But fine, if Putin felt such a development was imminent, it was.
But how was the attack on the Ukraine supposed to roll Nato back? What response did Putin envisage? That all the recent Eastern European members would rush to the exit? Not very likely, is it? Much more realistic was to expect that even those countries that had until then resisted Nato membership would be frightened into joining.
That’s exactly what happened with Sweden and Finland, and these – with no disrespect for such Nato members as Albania or North Macedonia – are serious and prosperous Western countries. Moreover, Finland in particular has been shoring up her defences against a possible Russian aggression ever since 1945.
The Nato Summit at Madrid fast-tracked their membership, which instantly proved that Putin’s professed strategy was counterproductive. Rather than emasculating Nato, the attack on the Ukraine tightened Nato’s muscles. Rather than limiting Nato membership, the attack has expanded it.
One would expect Putin to respond by visiting the ten Egyptian plagues on those pesky Scandinavians or at least by making credible threats to that effect. And sure enough, that was his immediate reaction. But that happened before the Madrid Summit.
Now he has changed his tune. Speaking at a press conference the other day, Putin said: “We have no problems with Sweden or Finland, of the kind we regrettably have with the Ukraine. We have no territorial issues, no disputes, nothing to worry us about Finland’s and Sweden’s Nato membership.”
Excuse me? There I was, thinking that Putin gnaws at his fingernails day and night worried about Nato breathing down Russia’s neck. Yet now he has “no problems” with Nato getting another 830 miles of border with Russia. Moreover, that border now runs a mere 240 miles from Petersburg.
Just a few months ago Putin fretted about the missile flight time from Poland to Moscow. Yet Poland is 867 miles away, as the missile flies. So what about the flight time from Finland to Petersburg? Putin ought to be weeping and wailing and gnashing his teeth, yet he just shrugs: “No problem”.
Let’s walk backwards now. Putin clearly isn’t worried about Nato launching missiles at Russian cities because he knows no such threat exists. Ergo, he isn’t really worried about Nato’s eastward, or for that matter northward, expansion, not for any military reasons at any rate.
Ergo, he didn’t attack the Ukraine to stop that development, especially since the Ukraine herself had no chance of being admitted into Nato at least for a generation. Ergo, he did so for some other reason.
In search of what that might have been, I backtrack to 24 February and find out that Putin’s stated aim was then to “demilitarise and de-Nazify” the Ukraine. Since every Russian (and the nameless pundit I mentioned earlier) knows that the Ukraine’s commitment to both militarisation and Nazification is unwavering, that aim could only have been achieved by occupying the whole country and installing a puppet regime.
Yet, as if committed to deepening my confusion, Putin says that: “Nothing has changed. I did say that in the early morning of 24 February, and I said so publicly to the whole country and the whole world… I specified the ultimate goal: liberating the Donbass, protecting those people and creating guarantees of Russia’s security.”
That means leaving those militarised Nazis to their own vices and devices in the rest of the Ukraine. It also follows that at issue here is the security of Russia herself, not just that of the denizens of the Lugansk and Donetsk provinces of the Ukraine.
Hence, if I understand correctly which I’m sure I don’t, it’s not Nato in general, but specifically those two provinces that threaten Moscow and Petersburg. Is that what Vlad is saying? I’m no longer just confused. I’m befuddled.
In any case, how does the terroristic bombing of schools, hospitals, kindergartens, residential buildings and shopping malls, like the one in Kremenchug, fit into this redefined plan? It doesn’t. That’s why nothing like that ever happens.
Thus Putin: “The Russian army doesn’t strike civilian targets – there’s no need.” However, Russia does strike such targets even in the absence of a need, unless of course all the video footage of fires, ruins and corpses is fake. Or unless the Ukies are killing their own civilians to make Russia look bad.
But wait a moment. Just as I was ready to accept that version of events, the Russian Defence Ministry admitted that the Kremenchug shopping mail was indeed destroyed by a Russian rocket, although that wasn’t its intended target.
This doesn’t really clarify matters. If anything, it obfuscates them. Surely even the legal sense for which the Russians are universally famous should stretch to realising that the defence of “I didn’t mean to open fire on that crowd of schoolchildren, it just happened” wouldn’t cut much ice in any court.
There’s only one way out of the growing confusion, mine and no doubt yours. We must ignore the noises produced by Putin and his shills, both in Russia and in the West.
Instead, we should rely on the evidence before our eyes, as processed by the minds God gave us. Then none of us will be confused.
We’ll know that Putin’s evil fascist regime attacks its neighbours because it can’t stand the thought of their joining – no, not Nato, but Western civilisation. Membership in that club potentially comes packaged with the kind of freedom and prosperity Russia has never had, not ever will have unless she too travels the same road.
Fascist regimes can’t compete against civilised countries – they can only try to destroy them, either by occupation or by sabotage or by indiscriminate bombing. For fascist regimes are by their nature terroristic, and this is what terrorists do – they wreak destruction.
Like werewolves, Russian ghouls can only be stopped by a silver bullet. This is a metaphor for a resolute Nato response – whatever form it has to take. (Note to Nato leaders: expressions of concern and half-hearted arms supplies don’t qualify.)