Monday, December 5, 2022

David and Goliath

Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is perhaps one of the few remaining despots in the 21st century who fancies himself as a kind of a Tsar legend-in-the-making of his people, predestined to reclaim the glory days of Tsarist Russia. As president, he has tied his personal destiny to that of the Russian state and actively deployed various interpretations of the country’s past to reinforce policy positions, frame key events, and cloak himself in the mantle of historical legitimacy. However, Putin’s dream of making Russia great again; or precisely, making himself (Putin) the greatest Russian ruler ever, comes with a heavy price. Putin has always been a Russian imperialist who was shocked by the downfall of the Soviet Union, or, as he use to call it, a version of the ‘historical Russia’, and believes that Ukraine was a crucial actor in the Empire’s dismemberment. This is at least partially true: Ukraine was the largest Soviet republic that declined to sign a new Union treaty in summer of 1991; it never ratified even a more loose Commonwealth of Independent States charter; it rejected the Russia-picked candidate in 2004/05 presidential marathon; it opted out of any Customs or Eurasian Union with Russia, and finally it revolted against the Moscow-imposed cancellation of the EU Association Agreement in 2014. Ukraine under president Volodymyr Oleksandrovych, instead moved closer to the west. Zelenskyy sought membership of the European Union and NATO. This infuriated Putin who even called Zelenskyy a Nazi (even though the Ukrainian is a Jew). He launched the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February this year by lying that he only wanted to get rid of Ukraine of its Nazi party leadership under president Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskyy whom, he vowed to depose and replaced. Putin expected that his invading Russian forces would hardly take a week or so to conquer/liberate Ukraine. However, all of Putin’s much vaunted army and sophisticated weapons could only presently occupy hardly 15% of Ukraine. Putin invaded Ukraine during February by unleashing the entire might of the Russian military- around 2 lakh infantry including armoured and artillery brigades, air force and navy. Even currently, the Ukrainians are pushing the Russian invaders out of the 15 % occupied lands. Putin, now in his 23rd year in power, has repeatedly sought to justify Russia’s actions in Ukraine, where his forces have devastated cities, killed thousands and forced millions of people to flee, by propounding a view of history that asserts Ukraine has no real national identity or tradition of statehood. As way back as in June this year, Meduza, a Russian-language outlet, reported that the Kremlin was planning to combine all the lands into a new federal district that could be annexed by Russia as soon as this autumn. This came true on September 30 when Putin annexed Ukraine’s four regions-Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk and Donetsk- after a farcical referendum. Ukraine has fought courageously against a far superior Russian invasion force that has reduced most or Ukraine into rubble and several thousands civilians killed. The Ukrainians have bloodied Putin’s nose and now all that can do is issue threat of use of nuclear weapons if Russian territory (now inclusive of the annexed Ukrainian regions) are attacked and understood as a threat on Russia’s existence. Putin’s invasion has only strengthened unity among the free world’s big powers and they need to act so that the world remains free of despots like Putin, Xi Jin Ping and some others.

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