Random thoughts on Ukraine

This situation is too serious to lie about it

If there’s one thing I learned in the past 20 years, is that computer games have become too realistic. Whether it’s Ukraine claiming to have downed a Su-35 or Russia praising their tank divisions, there’s a game with scenes realistic enough to be posted online as reality.

Trouble is, it furthers polarisation into people that become too disillusioned with the heavy work required to find true information and people who simply won’t do the work and become fodder for manipulators.

“Putin will never …” is a gamble the world can’t afford anymore.

I recently finished reading Putin biography by Stephen Lee Myers. It’s a fascinating read in the sense that it hints at what it takes to grow into the kind of leader Putin was … 10 years ago. Somewhere between what I read in the book and what I see (and hear, when I listen to his speeches) there’s a fracture.

Putin was described by many as a keen chess player and a brilliant strategist. My take was that of a pragmatist without scruples who plays the populist card just enough to make most people think that he cares. But Putin was never described as irrational.

Yet, he annexed Crimea, invaded Ukraine, went hard into Syria and now put his nuclear arsenal in high alert. Surely he did consider the backlash? British and Finnish intelligence suggests he was taken by surprise.

For a pragmatist and a strategist, he sure backed himself in a corner. He can’t be seen as weak, therefore the war must be won (and I’m not sure Ukraine’s president can muster the creativity to give Putin an out that will help save face). If he makes nuclear threats, he must be considering the option of using that.

Kasparov was right

Given that hindsight is always 20/20 and all that, Kasparov was right. Well, he’d always been right, but continental Europe has put energy security above all else. After all, Putin is the gassiest of them all.

Or … did it?

Is it security to spend decades under the oily boot of a character like Putin? It’s not just that he can pull the plug on deliveries but payments directly bolster his ego and his armed forces.

Leaders like Obama or Merkel have always hoped that Putin will fall in line and eventually carve a niche for themselves while allowing others to conduct their business according to international law. It’s not a wrong thing to hope but that doesn’t preclude measures to insure the above mentioned security — you can hope and still prepare.

The love for money might save us

Putin has a symbiotic relationship with Russia’s oligarchy. There’s no going around that. However, oligarchs are known as such because they like money and know how to make them. It’s not easy watching your fortune cut in half over night while the other half becomes partially inaccessible. I don’t see the oligarchy behind Putin for much longer, if the measures against Russia persist.

China’s president Xi gave a reluctant blessing to Putin over an understanding that Ukraine would be taken fast. This hasn’t happened and China won’t put their economic dreams on hold for the love of Putin. Global markets are volatile at the moment and Chinese companies need stability to keep building the new Silk Road to Europe (where Ukraine was to be a major part of).

Also, China loves western money and I’d be surprised if the week passes without China making it a bit clearer that if Putin won’t put together his s**t, Russia will truly be on its own. A telling sign is that China didn’t vote against the UN motion condemning Russia’s invasion (as it often does, against the Western countries).

Of course, China has its own itch (Taiwan). I’m quite sure China simply prefers to watch and gauge the West’s reaction to Russia just to be able to adjust its own plans with Taiwan — see as China has steered away from acknowledging Russia’s invasion as … well … an invasion.

Russia is not its leaders

Might sound obvious. I can’t think of a country that *is* its leaders, even those who claim to be democratic.

I hope we won’t need another Stanislav Petrov in the near future but I’m sure if the need arises, there will be takers unwilling to shoulder the responsibility of nuclear war. Putin might give orders, but not even Putin can go press a button to directly launch anything — there’s still a chain of command even there.

Racism everywhere

According to CBS, we should care more about Ukraine, because it’s civilised (unlike Iraq or Afghanistan).

In theory we’re ready to admit that fighting occupation is a duty (and right) of the occupied and as such it’s perfectly fine to show Ukrainians giving video tutorials on social media on making Molotov cocktails complete with details on how to make them stick better on armored vehicles. What happens if a Palestinian teenager did that? (no need to imagine, IDF will grab location from metadata and blow up their house with anyone else in it).

Turns out that boycotting and banning an occupier (as defined under international law) from sports competitions isn’t at all wrong and anti-semitic (as claimed against the BDS movement). It’s just another way of chipping away at illegal occupation.

It would be really great if the world could find the recipe for supporting victims in a conflict without minimizing or taking away from others (no, Ukraine’s determination is not unprecedented as neither is this conflict the works in Europe since WW2 — Belfast stopped being a warzone in 1998 and Sarajevo happened in the 90’s as well).

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