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Putin’s pyrrhic victories

This article was originally submitted on the 24th March

We’ve seen it all before: notorious, power-mad dictator uses a massive army to brutally invade a smaller neighbour, citing “shared history” and some sort of pan-nationalism – a sorry excuse to justify ensuing horror and atrocities. Given they’re two of the most ruthless, deranged and sick monsters to ever walk the earth, Vladimir Putin must hold Adolf Hitler in high regard; I am sure that he is feeling the pressure to live up to the terrifyingly efficient Nazi annexations of Germany’s neighbours. But though his position and intentions are similar to Hitler’s, Putin’s campaign in Ukraine has been nothing short of an embarrassment by comparison.

Though Hitler himself deserves absolutely no glorification, his initial campaigns in Europe were undeniably scary. 1938 represented a watershed moment for European peace, as the moustached megalomaniac managed to almost silently occupy both Austria and Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile, the UK, France and the US looked away in silence and even assisted him, too scared to directly engage lest they start another World War (not that that policy got them very far in the end). On the face of it, Putin’s Ukraine mission indeed seems similar—it’s a close neighbour with territory that once (briefly) belonged to Russia, and which Putin has eyed up for many years. In terms of Western response too, our government is understandably constrained in some ways and inexplicably insensitive in many others; the result is that we are responding with about as much pressure on Putin and pathos for his victims as we did 85 years ago (given that sanctions alone, though surprisingly strong this time around, are unlikely to make the Russian army back down now). 

But unlike Adolf, Vladimir has made the grave mistake of underestimating the underdog. While the 1930s Nazi invasions were swift and decisive, over in a matter of days with little resistance, Russia’s ongoing ‘operation’ in Ukraine has rapidly turned into a bloody battle of sheer attrition. I am sure that Putin planned to use his army and Kremlin-backed rebels to topple the government quickly and quietly while NATO stood and watched. Instead though, he has faced a national and international solidarity movement rallying behind his diminutive victims who, admirably led by the seemingly fearless Volodymyr Zelenskyy, have brazenly and defiantly refused to give him an inch. Here he is, a veteran of one of the world’s most notorious secret services and the dictator of a world power for twenty years, and he is being out-strongmanned by a former comedian who played the President of Ukraine in a television show for longer than he has been the actual President of Ukraine. Putin’s army has twice the numbers and vastly superior tech, yet even Western special forces personnel are shocked at how ineffective their advance has been. The Russian people are, despite his best efforts, protesting against him. His closest major ally China are distancing themselves from his disastrous warmongering. While Hitler overcame military and diplomatic handicaps to take over half of Europe, Putin has been dealt all the cards and still can’t seem to win. His inefficacy is embarrassing, and it’s clear that the whole world agrees.

You can raze a city and reduce it to rubble, you can round up and kill a President and his cabinet, and you can burn every blue-and-yellow flag you see, but you can never quite manage to crush the spirit of a nation. Putin expected an easy invasion of an insignificant neighbour, but what he has gotten is anything but. Sure, he’ll probably take Mariupol and Odessa and Kharkiv and Kyiv and successfully annex the country. But the past few weeks have shown us that if his aim is to destroy Ukraine, he’s taking on a task that no amount of ruthless force can ever hope to achieve. He’s losing this war, and he knows it. And as he rolls in his bed at night, haunted by the consequences of his unbridled egomania, I hope his dreams are filled with the sounds of shells, screams, and the ever-defiant cries of “Slava Ukraini!”.

Image via kremlin.ru on Wikimedia Commons