I have been spending a lot of time on Twitter reacting to all the Putin apologists out there, a number of whom are just paid agents and trolls. Sometimes I wonder why I do this, since it is certainly futile, but I know the answer. It isn’t dissimilar to why I feel so strongly about what has been done to children during the epidemic. If you have any kind of a moral compass and even a modicum of human empathy, some things are just obviously wrong and can’t be excused or justified, and often they involve the innocent and the powerless.
People tend to analyze these international crises only through a focus on leaders and countries. But I think most about the effect on the average citizen. Two weeks ago, Ukraine was a fairly modern nation; people were going to work, to school; families were enjoying themselves. There was an awareness of the Russian threat, but most likely few actually imagined he would invade the entire country, much less attempt to destroy it. Now everyone’s life has been upended. Millions are fleeing, never knowing if they will see family, friends, their home, their possessions, their work again. Imagine being a child in this situation. Imagine the terror, the anxiety, the sadness these people are enduring. If you can’t imagine that, you have no empathy.
And why is this happening? It is happening because of one person and one person only. Vladimir Putin has a long resentment against the collapse of the Soviet Union, which he blames on the US and Europe, and a delusional fantasy that he can rebuild that Russian empire. He is aging, and may be in poor health so that he feels more and more impelled to act on his fantasy. He may have picked now because of a perception of weakness in the West, but this was foreordained and planned for years. He was always going to invade Ukraine, unless he found another way to subjugate it, as he has with Belarus. We have seen over his long reign that this is a conscience-less individual, a pyschopath. He has no human feelings and no act is too brutal for him. Remember, this is a man who personally authorizes the murder of opponents, inside or outside of Russia.
For a while, he was content to seem to be shrewd, duplicitous and manipulative, but not unreasonable or crazy. That no longer seems to be the case. The pictures of him at tables or in rooms far away from any other person reveal just how isolated he is. The testimony of foreign leaders and emissaries who have met with him recently also speaks to this change. I don’t think the distancing and isolation is CV-19 fear, it is fear that many of his own lieutenants want him gone. It is also possible, as several have noted, that he is on steroids or other medication that induces a facial puffiness and sometimes may affect cognition and emotion. He may have had a transplant, which also would lead to distancing due to immunocompromised status. In any event, the bubble has intensified and his delusion is likely even stronger. And so now the world must react to this psychopath.
As is always the case, these serious events bring out the best and worst in people. And the typical flaws in human thinking and reasoning are revealed. You must watch language carefully, it reveals biases. And you must never lose sight of what is happening to the people of Ukraine. One of my favorite Putin-apologist memes right now is the claim that Putin has been “provoked” by a series of actions by the US or Europe or that he was “forced” to act. Use of language is always telling. The works “provoked” or “forced” imply justification in a reaction, and absolve Putin of responsibility. Putin wasn’t provoked or forced to do anything; he alone made this decision and took this action. And the notion that it was provoked is clearly rebutted by the fact that it was long planned, this was no sudden reaction to some “provocation”.
There are a line of people saying that the “explanation” is that the US encouraged expansion of NATO or hostility to Russia or demonized Putin. Putin is a demon, he does not need to be “demonized”. There are evil people and he is one, notwithstanding the fact that a certain President once said he looked into his soul and saw something positive. Putin has no soul. The US created an alliance in Europe which was a reaction to Russia’s refusal to leave Eastern Europe and its turning those countries into vassals of Russia in the Soviet Union. Ask anyone who lived in those countries during Russian rule and you will not hear a good word. The alliance allowed the growth of strong economies and democracies which improved the standard of living of their citizens. Of course the Eastern European countries that had been subjected to poverty and terror during Russia’s rule wanted to join the EU and NATO. They never wanted to be subjugated again. And they are all likely very glad they are part of NATO now, as they see non-member Ukraine being destroyed.
These “explanations” for Putin’s behavior are the usual academic even-handed, “sophisticated” analysis of a situation, which is nothing but a high-toned glossing over of evil, one which ultimately excuses it. Another meme one sees frequently is that there are “far-right Nazis” in Ukraine and they are ultra-nationalists. This somehow justifies Putin invading the entire country. One semi-humorous aspect of this is that many far-right nationalists actually adore Putin. Even in the US now you see some of these people saying we need a leader like Putin. But what use of this language really is, and conservatives in the US are all too familiar with this tactic, is pejorative, lazy labeling as a shortcut for real thinking and analysis, which were it done, would not stand up. Right now, I hope there are a lot of extreme nationalists in Ukraine, who are willing to fight the Russians to the death.
Finally, I love the morons whose logic skills extend to “someone in Ukraine did something bad sometime so it is fine that Putin invades and destroys the whole country” or “something bad happened somewhere else in the world and no one stopped it, so whatever Putin does should be okay too.” People are not aware of how flimsy this literal non-sense is. They get emotionally engaged and their ability to reason disappears. Sound like the epidemic response?
And then we get the JD Vances and Tucker Carlsons of the world, people I often find admirable, but who take the approach that we just shouldn’t care what happens to Ukraine, it is not our business, we have our own problems, and it doesn’t affect us. JD Vance will never get my vote or support now and I am disappointed in Tucker. This is extraordinarily dangerous thinking, which the 20th century should well have taught us. And the lack of humanity is distressing to me and speaks of some absence of basic empathy toward the plight of others. Surely were they citizens of Ukraine they would not be saying “well, its just fine if no one helps me or cares about me”. This turn your back on your neighbor attitude is most often compounded with the “explanations” or “justifications” for Putin’s actions.
I could go on with these examples that so enrage me on Twitter and elsewhere, but the bottom line, notwithstanding the apologists love affair with him, is that Vladimir Putin, a literal murdering psychopath, has sent his military forces into an independent country with the goal of subjugating that country’s population to his will and he does not care how much destruction he causes or how many people he kills in that effort. There is no justification for what he is doing to the men, women and children of the Ukraine. Period. And attempts to “explain” it and to revisit history at this point are engaging in a sunk cost fallacy. The issue now is how best to address his actions.
I don’t think it would be wise for the US to become directly involved militarily, mostly because Putin clearly is off his rocker and delusional and not constrained by any advisors he listens to. But I do think we should send every bit of military assistance we can to the Ukrainians trying to fight for their country. And I think we should make life as miserable as possible from Putin, his oligarch buddies, the country of Russia, and yes, even the Russian people. That means shutting down purchases of all Russian exports, including oil and gas, and banning of imports to Russia. It means not allowing Russia to participate in international events of any type. It means seizing the assets of the oligarchs, selling them and giving the proceeds to the Ukrainian resistance or holding them as a fund for rebuilding Ukraine. It means taking every possible step to make it clear to Putin, and more importantly, his military leaders and his wealthy advisors, that these actions will be unrelenting until there is a full and unconditional withdrawal from Ukraine and return of the country’s independence.
And what will be the consequences of the invasion, which we already see unfolding? Not what Putin imagined; as is typical with leaders who live in a literal bubble, delusion and fantasy predominate over reality. Putin apparently believed he could waltz into Ukraine, be greeted as a liberator, or just roll over the country’s resistance, and that in any event, the West would express outrage, slap on a few ceremonial sanctions and go back to watching Instagram and TikTok videos. What he has accomplished instead is creating greater resolve around the world, reuniting Europe in seeing him as a very dangerous person, causing Germany and other nations to rearm and to reinforce defenses against Russia, and causing his country’s economy to crater. His people will suffer mightily and Russia will come out of this affair a vastly weakened nation.
He has likely inflicted heavy damage on his military, which now must expend tremendous resources in attempting to occupy an entire country hostile to his invading force. It should be familiar to Russians from Afghanistan, and certainly is familiar to the rest of the world, that lethal technology is at a point where it is cheap and readily available to civilians. Asymmetric warfare capabilities mean that no matter the technological superiority of an invading force, it will pay a heavy price. IEDs, drones, ambushes–there are a multiplicity of tactics which make it dangerous for an occupier to ever leave a heavily fortified area. Ukraine is an extremely large country with long borders with countries friendly to resistance to the Russians. Handheld anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons will come into the country by the thousands. This will be a Russian nightmare.
This is a most dangerous time. Putin can never admit error or backtrack. The only way out of this for him is literally genocide in Ukraine, which would remove opposition and which he certainly would be capable of, or he is removed from his position as leader of Russia. We can assume that the oligarchs and the military are deep in discussions about how to accomplish this, and Putin can isolate himself all he wants, at some point it is just a matter of time before it occurs. I would put the over/under at his remaining in office at 6 months. Let’s all hope that happens soon, before he engages in some truly lunatic action, which he is fully capable of.
In the meantime, we all should stand with firm resolve against this atrocity, we should offer all the support we can to the citizens of Ukraine and we should remember that a better world happens only if we are willing to take those actions which make it happen.