One day – in how many years from now I know not – you will be my age, teetering on the brink of ninety. I hope you will remember Putin’s War. Unless you are Ukrainian or a Russian military you won’t have lived directly through it. But you will have watched the news reports, seen the brave Ukrainian Prime Minister encouraging his people, read some of the commentaries that thoughtful journalists and others inspired and listened to the politicians deliver their party-committed views. You will, I am sure, spare a thought for those who died and the loved ones they left behind. You may also, I hope, contribute some dollars for the recovery and rehabilitation of those who were injured. You will have your own views about what went wrong.
Whether you will know if Putin was sane or not is more doubtful. He hasn’t done very sane things for Russia in the past few weeks. I think insanity is the most likely explanation for his behaviour. Perhaps he thought President Xi would support him whatever he did. If so, he rather misjudged. Perhaps his secret service intelligence over Ukraine has been poor. Despots often end up with inept spy systems, especially those who rely on corrupt cronies for their survival. Then again, Putin may be just pretending. I think this is the second most likely reason for his weird behaviour. You don’t need such big tables if you are serious. Whether mad or mischievous he is clearly losing on two grounds – in the battles, where the Ukrainians have shown such courage, and in the minds of the world’s informed and sensible thinkers, where he is condemned forever.
All that you know. But, as Stephen Sackur might say, “What are you doing about it?” I ask not for you as an individual but you collectively as the West. It is less than one hundred years since we saw all this with another madman, Hitler. He was advancing across Europe when the British and others drew the line over Poland. Imagine if we had not done so. Putin is repeating the same exercise. Hubris or a warped mirror are allowing him to think he can win – and I agree with him. Under present circumstances, he can. “Protecting the borders of Russia” applies whatever size the border. Therefore the bigger Russia gets, the bigger the border to protect. There is, I’m afraid, a world war of sorts at the end of all this. So when is the best time to join this grisly project? Half way through is always a bad time to do so. When victory stumbles into sight is good for troop conservation but bad for a country’s morale.
When worldwide public opinion is against one side would seem to be the best time. You will have noticed that Putin is now confirmed as the villain. It is possible that he will become more so in due course. But his own people are fed such fake news that to rely on that could be a mistake. If we were confident of a revolution in Russia, we could hang on for a while. But we know that is very unlikely. So the time to express strength and solidarity is now. First, NATO must protect the skies. Putin has said that will be the equivalent of a declaration of war with all NATO countries. We’d better find out if he is right.
In Sunday’s BBC News report we saw Petro Poroshenko, an earlier Ukraine President who I met when he visited Singapore some years ago. Now he is marshalling the citizens who want to escape the onslaught they see coming. His plea? Let NATO close the skies over Ukraine and take whatever comes after that.
The Ukrainians need our support. Let us not live to regret a failure to give it.
If we don’t, the lights will soon be going out all over Europe. Again.
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