HOW THE STORY HAS CHANGED. Last week it was all about the baiting of the Russian Bear. In that story, the bear, hard-pressed by its enemies, prepared to lash out defensively against its tormenters.
But, as Harold Wilson memorably observed: “A week is a long time in politics.”
Translating the tragic events currently unfolding across Eastern Europe into a new story requires a new plot, and, if not a new cast of characters, then a ruthless reassigning of the roles of hero and villain.
In this story, a brave Ukrainian hunting-dog lifts his muzzle to the eastern wind and catches the unmistakable scent of bear. His sharp ears have already detected the snapping of twigs beneath leathery paws and the rhythmic huffing of this most feared of beasts. As the great Russian bear lumbers towards him out of the forest, the much smaller creature lets out a low growl and bares its teeth. Fearless and furious the Ukrainian hunting dog hurls itself upon the predatory giant.
From the houses and outbuildings of the farmstead other dogs come running. Leaping into the unequal contest: claws raking, jaws biting. The bear, confused and bleeding, pauses. All around him, the frigid air carries the angry protests of the neighbouring farmers’ dogs.
Miraculously, the Ukrainian hunting dog’s teeth make it through the monster’s hide – and what it bites, it holds.
Enraged, the bear rises up on its hind legs, roaring in pain and fury.
This is not what it expected.
This is not what any of us expected.
What has become of the shrewd and cynical Vladimir Putin? The ex-KGB officer who mixed boldness and caution in equal measure? The Russian President who always took as much as the West would let him bite off, but never more than he could chew – and swallow? A little chunk of Georgia, here; the whole of the Crimean peninsula, there; and, since 2014, a third of the Donbass.
For twenty years, that Vladimir Putin: Putin the chess-player; had slowly but remorselessly restored to Mother Russia her stolen pieces.
But Ukraine? Geographically, the second largest country in Europe, population 41 million, and boasting a much stronger and better equipped army than eight years ago. Ukraine was always going to stick in the Russian Federation’s throat and, if he wasn’t extremely careful, choke its president.
With his seventieth birthday just nine months away, did Putin feel the icy breath of his own mortality chill upon his neck? Was he struck with terror by the realisation that his time on this earth was fast running out, and with it all hope of making Russia great again? Did he feel the disappointment and reproach of those merciless ghosts gathered at his shoulder: Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Stalin, the man of steel?
Did no one tell Putin that history is a poor teacher – and an even worse guide? Did his Marxist instructors not instill in him the great truth that men do not make history, history makes them.
Like the former comedian-turned-Ukrainian-President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Dismissed as a pawn by friend and foe alike: a joke. But nobody’s laughing now. His social media broadcasts from the heart of his besieged capital would have done Winston Churchill proud.
Cometh the hour, cometh the one liners. Zelenskyy telling his American sponsors that he needed “ammunition – not a ride”. Telling his people: “I’m right here, where I’m supposed to be.” Or, the doomed Ukrainian garrison of Snake Island, ordered to surrender, snapping back defiantly: “Go fuck yourself!”
Putin saw a Ukraine wreathed in the mists of history: Ukraine as the mystical heart of Mother Russia. But, while he pursued this medieval mirage, History, in full battledress, was making a new Ukraine. A Ukraine that, henceforth, will define herself by the sacrifice and suffering of her heroes: the men and women who made her – at last – a free and independent nation.
That monstrous bear, in its fury, may kill the brave Ukrainian hunting dog. It may even kill his brothers and sisters who fight alongside him. But the Russian Bear cannot stay on the Ukrainian farm. It is a beast of the forest, and to the forest it will, in the end, be forced to retreat.
And Vladimir Putin? He will go to his grave with the taste of failure on his lips. Bitter as gall.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 4 March 2022.
This is the first suggestion I have read that Russia will fail in it's objectives in Ukraine. Mind I am inclined to assume that Russia's objectives are what Russia says they are rather than what Western politicians and commentators presume they are.
But in all comment I have seen up until now by US govt and NATO and UK , no one expects Ukraine to defeat Russia and send them home with their tail between their legs.
Thus the rational for giving Ukraine all possible encouragement to put up a valiant fight against the giant bear , and sending in masses of weaponry can have no purpose but to prolong the agony and add to the list of casualties on both sides. What good is that?
Poor little Zalenskyy must have been sucked in to believing he would actually get some help from those that have been goading his country on for the last 8 yers or more; with vague promises of NATO membership and protection. Surely under these circumstances he could at least expect air cover, for a Western Ukraine retreat surely.
NO no soldier we don't want a fight with Russia thanks, that's all your's.
What the hell is their purpose? Are they waiting till Ukraine is used up in the hope of weakening Russia enough to have a go at it themselves? No . They won't do that .It would lead to a nuclear war with not even US a winner.
Eventually Zelenskyy will wake up to the fact that Russia is a better friend than US/NATO. Though how the neo nazi faction of his government and population is going to react to that he can also imagine. We need to offer him residence as soon as he has signed the agreement.
D J S
Obviously Putin as Hitler did, has run out of Fingerspitzengefühl. But he still has a Backpfeifengesicht.
The "neo-Nazi faction" gained about 1.6% in the last Ukrainian election as far as I know. That's less than ACT. Who are just as nutty just less authoritarian.
"Eventually Zelenskyy will wake up to the fact that Russia is a better friend than US/NATO."
Interesting that the far right supports Putin but I guess they would love to have a government like his, where you can fix elections and put the opposition in jail – or even poison them.
And while I'm pretty sure that the West is not going to send troops to Ukraine, particularly considering Putin's state of mind and his nuclear option, they are sending weapons. It is possible that in spite of his state of mind Putin eventually might come round to the idea that invading Ukraine is doing more harm to Russia (Or more to the point his leadership, because like Trump he sees everything in terms of himself) than good.
He's unified the West as never before, at least since the Cold War ended.
He's been condemned by much of the rest of the world, except for those countries that apparently buy arms from him.
He is driving his country into the arms of China, which probably isn't a good thing.
You know what, if one of your major supporters is North Korea, you're definitely on the wrong side of history. And of morals as well. :)
Those Russians are way out of line. We're the ones who do the invading round here thank you very much.
It is really strange. If you had the mongrel mob on your property and they advanced inch by inch on to your property, as the West does - just look at a map prior to 1990 - what would you do if you complained to the police but nobody came. You would take matters into your own hands. Diplomacy is the only answer. Compromise and solutions are always the answer. This emphasis on personalities whether it Biden, Johnson, Putin, Ardern, Morrison, Trudeau, Xi, Macron is ridiculous. They are merely mouth pieces for their government.
Putin's aims and actions are paralleled by Hitler's inexorable invasions of European countries. For anyone wishing to snort at this as alarmist over-reaction, I exhort you to read the link below. No hyperbole or conspiracy theory here.
David Stone: I agree with your comments. Only people reading Ukrainian (and Western) narratives could possibly conclude that Russia is losing to what somebody in this household calls "Ukraut" military.
However, I don't favour offering Zelensky asylum/residence. Let him stay in the Ukraine, or seek refuge in some neighbouring country. Poland, for instance.
Guerilla Surgeon: "The "neo-Nazi faction" gained about 1.6% in the last Ukrainian election as far as I know."
Whether one wishes to characterise it as far right or far left, neo-Nazism is central to the Ukrainian political environment. I will go with "far right". Azov is part of the far right, not the whole of it.
All mainstream Ukrainian political parties are far right - every one of them wants a unitary Ukraine with a single language and no minority autonomy whatsoever. They believe in this so deeply that they won't let go of it, even to support their NATO aspirations.
Hungary has sworn to block Ukraine's entry into NATO because of its treatment of the Hungarian minority in Transcarpathia.
Romania has been quieter but they hate the Ukrainians too, in addition to having territorial disputes that seem minor to an outsider but are extremely important to them.
Romania also hasn't forgotten that the Ukrainians backed the Russian position on Transnistria back in the 1990s.
Things like this are the reason that America has been obliged to settle for giving Ukraine a sort of 'stealth NATO' membership, expanding bilateral military cooperation between the two. Britain and Poland have done the same to a lesser degree.
Andriy Parubiy has been a leading member of every major pro-western party since 2000, and the Ukrainian language law was partly written by Irina Farion.
Even though they don't get many votes, the leaders of these fringe parties still get appointed to military commands, government offices and so on.
I assume that you know the reason for Russia's invasion of the Ukraine. The citizens of the Donbass have been subjected to shelling by the Ukrainian military since that area declared its desire for independence in 2014, following the US-sponsored putsch in Kiev. The Ukraine has ignored the Minsk Accords, and the western countries tasked with overseeing their implementation have done nothing.
Last I looked, there have been at least 14000 deaths and much destruction. This is the equivalent of the NZ government sending the military into the South Island and shelling towns and cities, were it to declare independence (which has been talked about in the past!). What sort of government does that to its own citizens? I need hardly add that Kiev hasn't accepted the Donbass's declaration of independence. The citizens of the Donbass have for some time been pleading with Russia for assistance.
Moreover, Kiev is attempting to eliminate the Russian language from the Ukraine, despite many citizens being ethnically Russian, most especially in the Eastern Ukraine. Note that Zelensky gave his recent address to the nation in the Russian language.
This war is both legal according to UN charter provisions, and most emphatically justified.
I said as much to the hairdresser, who had previously taken as gospel what had been on the TV news. This is Russia, I said. It'll have dotted the i's and crossed the t's. This isn't that superannuated old cretin in the WH. There isn't the slightest chance that Russia has just blundered into this situation: that's the specialty of Uncle Sam, as we've seen over and over in my lifetime.
I don't doubt that Russia would have preferred not to be fighting its brothers in the Ukraine. But needs must and all that...
Mark Simpson: "Putin's aims and actions are paralleled by Hitler's inexorable invasions of European countries."
Uh...no. That description much more neatly applies to US adventurism in so many countries over my lifetime.
The situation in the Ukraine bears no resemblance at all to WW2, save for the fact that Nazis (of the neo- variety) are involved. And this time, they're being invaded, rather than doing the invading.
I assume from your comment that you know nothing about what's been going on in the Ukraine - in particular the Donbass - since 2014. And, moreover, you're unaware of, for instance, the atrocity committed by those neo-Nazis in Odessa in 2014. It's necessary to know about these things - along with the bigger geopolitical picture - in order to understand why Russia has invaded. For some time, the citizens of the Donbass have been pleading for Russian assistance: now it is being given.
The Politico link: it's American: nobody could possibly take it seriously. They are notorious for Russophobia, and completely failing either to understand the politics or to recognise their own part in how things have turned out in the Ukraine.
World War 3? Good grief....
You've almost got it, Chris.
Think like an Eastern European, my friend, and it'll come to you.
"Eventually Zelenskyy will wake up to the fact that Russia is a better friend than US/NATO"
You can tell a New Zealander who has no idea how Eastern Europeans think or view the world...
D'Esterre, yoiur pro-Russian views are well known.
It would be interesting where you source your information from. Is it Moscow-sanctioned? It certainly dores not take into account Ukrainian right to self-determination or that the neo-nazi "strength" in Ukrainian polics has been vastly over-stated.
I put it to you that far right, neo-nazi, and right-wing conspiracism is probably stronger here in Aotearoa. The recent occupation of Parliament and nearby precinct had noticeable elements of far right involvement. Did you see any trade union involvement? No, neither did I.
Justifying Russia invading another country? We might as well use the same arguments to justify US imperialism in Latin America or wider Western (US, UK, French, etc) interference in Middle Eastern nations.
It's a slippery slope when you validate and argue for "spheres of influence".
Just having watched a video, Russia's GDP is closer to Spain's than Italy's. So, no' much. Italy is a champion economy, and our UK is second to Germany, surprisingly. France, third.
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