Poor Vladimir Putin. He’s facing a major dilemma. Monday is the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War and Vlad the Invader was hoping to have something big to celebrate.
Like a victory parade down the streets of Kiev, but that’s out of the question; they’re littered with too many hulks of destroyed Russian tanks and equipment abandoned by his fleeing army.
And he won’t be able to sail into Odessa harbor strutting on the deck of his flagship, the Moskva. It’s on the bottom of the Black Sea, complements of a pair of Ukrainian cruise missiles.
If he wants to see the Moskva he can buy one of the most popular postage stamps in recent history. It was issued by Ukraine and portrays border guard Roman Hrybov responding to orders from the Moskva to surrender his post on Snake Island. It shows Hrybov giving the Moskva the one-fingered salute and declaring, “Russian Warship. Go F*** Yourself.”
After being captured and tortured he and his group were released in a prisoner swap. There have been many other heroes of this strange war, including the babushkas, the old ladies, who used their cell phones to alert the army about Russian movements.
Putin, the neighborhood bully, had planned to send one of the mightiest armies in the world swarming into Ukraine to be greeted as liberators, quickly overthrowing the democratically elected government and installing his own puppet regime on his glorious way to restoring the Russian empire.
The war is far from over, and many more will die until he grasps the reality that no matter the outcome he and Russia have suffered a stunning historic defeat.
As a dictator unshackled by the truth, Putin will no doubt find some way to commemorate victory on May 9, and maybe even convince some of his fact-starved population that they are celebrating his heroic leadership.
Putin has reaped a whirlwind of humiliation, defeat and destruction. He has gone from world leader to war criminal and pariah in a matter of weeks.
French President Emmanuel Macron called the invasion of Ukraine “a turning point in history.” President Joe Biden quickly branded Putting the “aggressor” and said he must leave the world stage.
The hero of this war is Volodymyr Zelensky, who rallied his country and the world with his tenacity and toughness. Putin has sent several hit teams to take him out, but he continues to be seen in public with his troops, his advisors, his people and foreign leaders. He’s given a new meaning to reality television, meeting with reporters and speaking by video link to the United Nations, US Congress and the Knesset, while Putin remains isolated and issuing threatening diatribes.
Zelensky has shown it is possible to go from television performer to hero president and not just be a buffoon in an ill-fitting suit. Perhaps the thin-skinned Putin recalls how the former comedian used to ridicule him and other Russian politicians.
One of Putin’s excuses for the invasion was “denazification” of Ukraine. When it was pointed out that Zelensky is Jewish, had lost family members in the Holocaust and was democratically elected by over 70 percent of the vote, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said (falsely) that didn’t matter and he’s still a Nazi because Hitler also had Jewish blood.
That sparked outrage in Israel, where the government had been hedging its bets in this war.
Many of Israel’s friends have been disturbed by that country’s ambivalent response to the Russian invasion, a reluctance to enthusiastically line up with the United States and the Western democracies. The Israeli pubic strongly supports Ukraine by a three-to-one margin, but many recall Ukraine’s history of violent antisemitism; others resent Zelensky’s Holocaust comparisons to what the Russians are doing to Ukraine today.
The Israeli government has been supportive but cautious out of strategic concerns. Russia controls the air space in Syria and gives Israel access to attack Moscow’s Syrian and Iranian allies it considers threatening so long as it avoids Russians.
Ukraine once was home to the largest Jewish community in the world and it also has a centuries-long history of violence against Jews; it can be difficult for some to see a new Ukraine where a Jew was popularly elected. Today’s Ukraine has apparently changed, not only because a Jew could become president. A Pew Research poll shows 83 percent of Ukrainians today have a favorable view of Jews.
Lavrov’s comments may have been enough to move Israel to finally doing more to aid Ukraine. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid condemned his counterpart’s comments as “unforgiveable and outrageous.” Putin may or may not have apologized personally to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, but his foreign ministry’s antisemitic attacks go on.
The Nazi comparison is actually more apt the other way, with Putin’s invasion likened to Hitler’s 1939 attack on Poland, and the brutality, the slaughter and the antisemitism.
During the Cold War years the Israeli army revealed to the world the poor quality of Soviet equipment and tactics provided their Arab allies. One of the amazing lessons of the present conflict, in the view of many military and security analysts, is how little the Russians have learned.
It appears to have failed on so many levels: the quality of leadership; the poor training, discipline and low morale of its soldiers; the high casualty rates, including generals; failure of supply lines, maintenance, communication, reliable equipment; basic supplies like food, water, spare parts and ammunition. Putin’s well-oiled military machine often ran out of gas or broke down and was abandoned, where resourceful Ukrainians repaired them and turned them against their original owners.
Columnist Fareed Zakaria, noted, “Russia’s military has become the topic of widespread scorn, dismay, and mockery among military analysts in the West.”
“Russia is actually showing the world they are not as strong as we thought they were,” John Spencer, a West Point expert on urban warfare, told the Washington Post
“They’re a poor-quality military with poor-quality leadership and poor logistics—and seemingly highly inclined to corruption,” Joel Rayburn, former US special envoy for Syria who closely monitored Russian operations there, told New Yorker Magazine. It reveals “a military machine on the Russian side that could not pull off a confrontation with any NATO power.”
Nina Khruscheva, an international affairs professor in New York and granddaughter of former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, said in a New Yorker interview that he is a “ruthless megalomaniac” who appears to “have lost all grip on reality” and he appears “clearly” “suicidal.”
Those are troubling words about an unpredictable megalomaniac who has been desperately rattling his nuclear sabre and making threats. That is not the formula for a celebration on May 9.