- 15 Apr 22
The invasion of Ukraine has triggered the most appalling bloodshed imaginable, as well as one of the biggest humanitarian and refugee crises since the Second World War, displacing millions of Ukrainian citizens in a matter of weeks. Orchestrating all of this grotesque barbarism is one man on a mission: the war criminal Vladimir Putin...
The sheer horror of what we have been witnessing is impossible to compute. We all know the starting point: seven weeks ago, the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, embarked on a monstrous, sustained military assault on Ukraine. The tanks rolled in. And whatever badly researched intelligence had been fed to him, he – and his army generals – expected a quick victory.
The working assumption seemed to be that within days, a puppet government would be installed, a mirror image of the patsies he maintains in Byelorussia and Chechnya, and Putin would get to make victory speeches to adoring crowds in Moscow.
That didn’t happen. Instead, with the Ukrainian people and their army resisting fiercely, and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy showing leadership qualities that no one had anticipated, what had begun as a Russian coronation turned into a modern version of the killing fields.
The Russian war machine lost the battle for Kyiv and its tanks and soldiers were forced to retreat ignominiously. They have suffered huge casualties – though it is impossible to say right now just how bad the picture really is from the Russian perspective. Ukrainian estimates suggest that by April 6th, the Russians had lost close to twenty thousand troops, as well as seven ships, 722 tanks, 1,911 armoured combat vehicles, 342 pieces of artillery, 108 rocket launcher systems, 55 air defence systems, 152 aircraft, 137 helicopters and 76 fuel tanks. More conservative numbers have been advanced by Oryx, the military intelligence blog which uses photographs from the warzone to count Russia’s military losses. But no one disputes the fact that their losses have been enormous.
Beaten in battle, they nonetheless inflicted appalling casualties – on civilians. After their retreat, Ukrainians discovered bodies dumped in the streets of Bucha, outside Kyiv, that had been bound, battered and butchered. They found bags of corpses lining muddy trenches. Limbs protruding from mass gravesites. They found evidence of appalling war crimes that scream to high heaven for justice. But justice, it appears, there is none.
Russian soldiers raped women. Indeed, they used rape as an instrument of war, and not for the first time, by a long stretch. They murdered civilians in cold blood often using tattoos as a marker. As the Nazis did. One shudders to think of what they have done to gays. They turned entire areas into open graveyards.
Did they do all of this on the way in, while they were bunkered there or after the orders to retreat were issued? Was the order given to retreat and kill as many civilians as possible on the way out of Kyiv? Or is this just what they do? The liars and masters of disinformation in Moscow deny it like automatons, but the stomach-churning evidence is there of individual people – citizens of Ukraine – slaughtered with unforgettable and unforgivable malice.
I know nothing about warfare. But everything I read suggests that the Russians completely underestimated the capacity of the Ukrainian army to respond. That the morale of their conscripts was low. That they came ill-prepared. Did stupid things. Got stuck in the mud. Ran out of food. Became sitting ducks for cleverly organised Ukrainian mobile attack units. Abandoned their vehicles. Came apart at the seams.
Almost certainly, Putin himself had failed to anticipate the scale of the reaction from the US, the EU, the UK and other NATO countries. Enough weaponry was provided to give Ukrainians a fighting chance and they have used what they were given well. Meanwhile, the sheer folly of sending inexperienced Russian troops blind into a mission from hell was exposed.
So, what does someone like Vladimir Putin do in circumstances like these?
Watching events unfold, it became clear very quickly that far from looking for a fig leaf, claiming some kind of bogus victory and retreating to hold onto the Donbas region, Putin would abandon all pretence at reason, civilisation or humanity. He and his generals embarked on a campaign of genocide.
There is no other word for it.
Firing missiles from missile ships, and from inside Russia itself, they set about razing the city of Mariupol. And then, at every opportunity, they extended that campaign of deliberately and indiscriminately annihilating buildings, infrastructure and people. They used phosphorous bombs, ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, cluster bombs and more, boasting at one stage that they had used hypersonic Kinzal missiles for the first time. They indiscriminately hit hospitals, schools, houses, office buildings, theatres and train stations.
They pretended to agree to the creation of humanitarian corridors and then reneged on that commitment, attacking people who were fleeing. The purpose was to inflict maximum carnage. And to brutalise the Ukrainian people out of existence, to make them pay for resisting the grisly embrace of the Russian bear.
In a piece of Orwellian double-speak, the Russians said that the purpose of the invasion was to prevent ‘genocide’ and to ‘de-militarise and de-Nazify’ Ukraine. But their own fascistic, genocidal objective was confirmed in Putin’s own speeches and by articles published by key figures in his menagerie. They brazenly insist that Ukraine has no right to exist. That the entire country must be de-Nazified. That it isn’t just the politicians, it is the people.
The shelling of Mariupol was described by Volodymyr Zelenskiy as a terror that will be remembered for centuries to come and for good reason. As I write, the word is that tens of thousands of Ukrainians have died and hundreds of thousands are still trapped there. The Ukrainian army are preparing for what they believe may be a final battle for the city. If enough weapons are supplied by NATO members and other States, they may be able to hold out and force the Russians back. And if they succeed in that, who knows? Putin may decide to use chemical weapons or even “tactical” field nuclear weapons.
All of this is, of course, part of a wider plan to remake the world in the image of Vladimir Putin.
– To re-establish as far as possible the territories of the old Soviet Union as a set of puppet States.
– To take control of the Ukraine’s huge agricultural engine and thereby to control food supplies around the world
– To cause conflict within, and maximum damage to, the European Union
– To damage and weaken the power and resolve of NATO
– To trigger a massive refugee crisis thereby fuelling the rise of right-wing, nationalist, anti-European, anti-immigrant and anti-LGBT politicians and parties
– To use Russian control of European energy supplies to send the cost of living soaring
– To damage Joe Biden as President of the United States of America and further push the US into the hands of right-wing anti-democratic forces.
This is the twisted ideological machine that has been engaged in a covert campaign, using disinformation spread via social media and tech platforms (who take the money and run), to meddle in elections and referenda in the US, the UK and across Europe. Who brazenly poison and murder members of the Russian opposition wherever they can track them down. Who sent their thugs to assassinate Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, England and killed an innocent local woman instead. Who had their agents at the Russian embassy in Dublin linking up with loyalist extremists and dissident Republicans alike, with the objective of fomenting violence, hatred and political instability in Ireland.
I could go on. No matter how you dice it, the inescapable conclusion is that there really is a battle being waged by an aggressively militaristic totalitarian power on the democratic world. On freedom of speech. On the right to vote in elections structured to reflect the will of the people. On equality and the right to work freely for a wage that is meaningfully negotiated. On even the most basic human rights.
In the Presidential election in France, the fascistic Marine Le Pen is – on the first run-off – within four points of President Emmanuel Macron. In the US, it is looking increasingly likely that the Republicans will take the House of Congress in the November elections, turning Biden into a lame-duck President and paving the way for the return to power of Donald Trump. In Hungary, the odious Viktor Orbán has just won another term by completely denying the main opposition access to the media.
“The whole world has seen tonight in Budapest,” Orban crowed, “that Christian democratic politics, conservative civic politics and patriotic politics have won. We are telling Europe that this is not the past; this is the future. This will be our common European future.”
He was singing from the Vladimir Putin hymn sheet.
What he failed to mention was that he had achieved the dominance he now enjoys in Hungary by creating an increasingly authoritarian and repressive State, operating under what is merely a parody of democracy.
He stoked racism and anti-immigrant sentiment. He took over the media and crushed dissenting voices.
He took political control of the courts, destroying their independence.
He passed a raft of new anti-LGBTIQ laws.
He attacked liberal academic institutions.
He censored artists, implementing a cultural policy designed to advance a single, nationalist narrative and to define alternative viewpoints as anti-Hungarian.
This really is the future as envisaged by the authoritarians and the self-styled ‘strong men’ who are wrestling both separately, and in unison, to subvert the idea of democracy and take control. In case anyone failed to notice, it is where Boris Johnson and his cronies on the more delusional far right of the Tory party have started to take the UK. And, even more so it is where Donal Trump will be heading if he does return to power in America – embracing the fundamentalist Christian right, and all of the madness that they are responsible for, in order to secure an impregnable hold on power.
All of that, of course, is academic as far as the people of Ukraine are concerned. They are in the bloody here and now of a relentless war, that has assumed the character of an existential struggle, against an enemy with an absolute contempt for human life, and for any form of international law.
Is it morally sustainable to leave them to fight Vladimir Putin’s barbarian hordes on their own? And even if he and his army are repulsed, can the man responsible for all of this – and the generals who do the stinking, murderous work for him – be allowed to crawl back to their comfortable mansions in Moscow and elsewhere, their dark money stains now highlighted in the revelations of the Pandora papers, never to face any consequences for their actions?
Is this really how it must be?
Increasingly, even moderate voices are saying that Vladimir Putin must be defeated and brought to justice. It is a conclusion with which it is increasingly hard to disagree.