The two men in question are Volodymyr Zelensky and Vladimir Putin, hero and zero.
Volodymyr is leading his nation with the kind of courage that no modern Western politician has ever shown, nor, I’m convinced, can ever show. By contrast, his namesake Vladimir is cowering in his Urals bunker, 1,300 miles away from the action, just in case.
Just in case of what? A Nato missile hitting the Kremlin? Ukrainian special forces going on a mission to kill him, the way he sent out his Chechen bandits to murder Zelensky and everyone close to him?
If you insist that none of this is likely, you miss the point. Even if the probability of a serious risk to his precious person is measured in the thousandths of one per cent, that probability would be too high for Putin. Like most bullies, he is a coward.
If the two men are separated by a mere 1,300 miles geographically, morally they are light years apart. The moral swamp inhabited by Putin lacks novelty appeal – I’ve known everything there is to know about him since his name first appeared in the news. But I’m genuinely surprised to see Volodymyr Zelensky soar to such moral heights.
He wasn’t especially good as a peacetime leader. Then neither, for that matter, was Winston Churchill. But both men came into their heroic own when guns, not politicians, began to do all the talking.
Churchill’s heroism was mostly moral; Zelensky’s, also physical. What is it about this young Jewish man, who first became popular as a comedian, that drives him to the front line, rallying his nation to fight for its freedom, its very life?
When in 2004 Ukrainian people rose against Putin’s puppet government (a genuine popular revolution that Putin’s acolyte Hitchens describes as a ‘putsch’ in the hope of evoking Nazi associations), its head Yanukovych fled in a Russian plane, never to be heard of again – this though his life was in no immediate danger.
You can be sure that Putin will try to do the same when his time comes, as I pray it will soon. But Zelensky isn’t running even though Putin has sent out a Chechen assassination squad with the specific task of murdering the Ukrainian president.
That vile attempt has failed. Ukrainian forces ambushed the Chechen hit squad and blew its 56-tank column apart with the anti-tank weapons provided by Nato. Hundreds died, including the Chechen general in command.
As an aside, there I was, believing Messrs Farage, Hitchens, Zemmour et al. that, unlike our own impotent governments, Col. Putin is an implacable enemy of fundamentalist Islam. Yet his Chechen murderers were photographed praying with their imam before the mission, their bushy beards touching their camouflaged thighs. Now their 72 virgins await, and I hope they have enough of their bits left to do those lasses justice.
When Zelensky addressed his nation from the front line, saying, “This may be the last time you’ll see me alive”, he wasn’t pulling a PR trick. He leaves that activity for his Western colleagues to indulge in. Zelensky was ready to look death in the face, as if saying, “Death, where is thy sting?”
I don’t know about you, but that was the first time in my life that a politician’s words truly moved me. Suddenly I knew how Britons must have felt when listening to Churchill’s “blood, toil, tears and sweat” speech on 10 May, 1940.
Since I’ve promised Penelope not to swear in writing (she gave up long ago the effort of extending that injunction to everyday speech), I shan’t comment at length on the mantras being repeated by Putin’s British quislings.
Nor shall I try to get to the bottom of the tastelessness, intellectual paucity and moral decrepitude required to repeat at this time their pro-Putin apologetics, along the lines of “it’s all Nato’s fault.” Such an undertaking would take Shakespeare’s genius, not my modest ability.
One ‘argument’, however, is worth mentioning because it’s a ubiquitous component of their shamanistic chants. Instead of being tough on Russia, they say, we should concentrate on our real, more powerful, enemy – China.
The logic is staggering in its implications. They seem to be saying that, because Xi isn’t our friend, we should let Putin rape any European country he fancies.
One enemy at a time, chaps, if you please. And I hope it will be one at a time, for Xi may be sufficiently emboldened by the West’s limp-wristed sanctions on Putin to launch an attack on Taiwan. But, thank God, he hasn’t yet. So I suggest we follow the example set by Teddy Kennedy in 1969 and drive off that bridge when we get to it.
I don’t know how long the Ukraine can hold out. Nor do I know how close the Russian invaders have come to taking the 50,000 casualties Putin reportedly regards as acceptable.
If it’s true that the war is costing Russia £15 billion a day and her armament stocks are running out, perhaps there is a flicker of hope that the fascisoid aggressor will retreat, tail between his legs. Or maybe even a flicker of hope is too much.
Putin’s stormtroopers are clearly prepared to do to Kiev what they did to Grozny (see the photo), the capital of the same Chechnya that now sends its murder squads after Zelensky. Grozny was inhabited by Russian speakers, 80 per cent of them actually Russian. That didn’t stop Putin then, as it probably won’t stop him now.
But unlike Grozny, which was only founded in 1818, Kiev is an ancient city that has retained some lovely vestiges of its past beauty. What Putin is perpetrating now is therefore not just a war crime or a crime against humanity. It’s also a crime against the same Orthodox culture he professes to worship.
If you still harbour doubts about who’s on the right side in this war, just compare Zelensky’s handling of it with Putin’s. That done, I’m sure you’ll join me in shouting: Slava Ukraine! Geroiam slava!
The words came to me not in Ukrainian but in Russian, which is how I’ve transliterated the battle cry of Ukrainian patriotism: Glory to the Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!
And, may I add, glory to one particular hero: Volodymyr Zelensky.