Putin must be real bad at playing risk, but he is a shrewd politician
Sunday March 06 2022
War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing, I am a pacifist and in this day and age, it seems to be especially obsolete.
Remember when most of us thought that Vladimir Putin would look at Russia’s odds if he invaded Ukraine and figure it’s not worth it? He is otherwise such a shrewd politician. Well, all that was only 10 or so days ago.
In the last article, I said, tongue-in-cheek, that “this time the revolution will be tweeted.” If I ever regretted a joke it would be now. I pray that Twitter does not ban Russia because civilian reporting and live footage are necessary. People are documenting the ugly truth and letting us bear witness. Social media has so far been one of the most effective ways to push back against Putin’s misinformation inside and outside of Russia.
There is so much to talk about I can’t even begin to be comprehensive, but let’s start with President Putin’s super long meeting tables. I have always wondered a little about Putin, especially after pictures were released a few years ago showing him doing very macho things.
Far from being impressive to anyone other than Donald Trump, I think he raised many eyebrows. I figured he was a little “different,” which is fine — unless you’re the lifelong dictator of a superpower with the world’s largest number of nuclear weapons. In that case, being different is not okay.
Which brings me to the monster tables. If this practice was kept to a few meetings in the Kremlin that we would never know about, that would be a little peculiar but okay. But he met with President Emmanuel Macron, a fellow head of state, and placed him at one end of a hilariously huge table. That thing was half a kilometre at least. Seeing this, I felt bad for Macron, perched on his seat, leaning forward. First, he had to wrestle Donald Trump. And now this. I thought, “this can’t be good.”
The world has had its fair share of dictators and, if you look closely and are immune to the worship of powerful people, you can find their signs of potential instability. Like when old presidents try to prove they’re more powerful than younger guys. Red flag.
Then Putin sat across a room from his senior advisers who were all lined up on their chairs like primary school children who have been invited to watch a show at a neighbouring school. Putin proceeded to dress down his Chief of Intelligence, and he made sure that the exercise in power and humiliation was seen by the press, which means we all got to see it too.
Even after this, I had hope because I figured that the risk to Russia, if it invaded Ukraine, would act as a deterrent. Yet here we are. I have spoken to several of my fellow countrymen who are fans of Putin. They don’t seem to have any idea why everyone is terrified of an escalation. They are proud that someone has the courage to stand up to the white man.
I don’t have the heart to tell them. As they speak, I keep in mind Africans who were denied evacuation from cities that were under attack or threat of attack. The fleeing Africans were told that these efforts were only for Ukrainians — which can’t be true —and point-blank informed that as black people they were on their own and they would have to walk to safety.
Meanwhile, horrified at the first European land war since WWII, a number of television anchors and commentators have said that they would never expect to see this level of fighting because Ukraine isn’t Africa or the Middle East, where “these things happen.” This is from people who suffered two world wars and fought by proxy in the Cold War — and that is the most recent encounter.
The deliberate forgetting of their own history, which stretches back in time, shocked me. There is racism in Europe, I know this. But war changes everything.
This does not reflect well on a people who have risen up and resisted their invaders in a way that is admirable. I cheer them on as they keep fighting, knowing their losses will be great, knowing they might be occupied. People who know far more than me about this conflict have tried to explain it, but the only ones I have understood are a couple of Russian journalists who are in exile in the US.
They keep cautioning that Putin cannot, must not, be underestimated and when asked for good news they usually decline with an undeniably dry sense of doom. One lady shared this Russian joke: just when you think you have hit rock bottom, you hear someone knocking from the floor beneath you. Grim, but funny.
Speaking of grim but funny, how about that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy? As I said, social media is making a huge difference and we have seen a leader at work on the front lines and we know it is not a photoshopped exercise in war games. People have made much of the fact that he was an entertainer. Would it have made more sense to us if he had been a cobbler? A bartender, maybe?
Generally, comedians have to be incredibly insightful and smart about human nature to have a chance at success. If Zelenskyy has coupled that kind of intellect with courage, patriotism and a gift for speaking not just to Ukrainians but to the world to appeal for a peace that will allow humanity to survive, then I salute him.
Keep the people of Kyiv in mind.
Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report: E-mail: [email protected]