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Ukraine: Feelings of Horror, Outrage, Futility

Updated: Feb 26, 2022

Reports from Ukraine are grim. Russia is bombing Kyiv and Russian forces are converging on the capital. According to a Washington Post report this morning the Pentagon claims the Russian offensive has lost momentum but cautions that could change in coming days. Ground and missile attacks in other parts of the country are ongoing. The situation is too chaotic to speak with confidence. Conflicting reports abound.

News of antiwar protests in cities across Russia is heartening (Anti-war protests across Russia – in pictures, The Guardian, February 24, 2022). I do not think anyone should be optimistic about the effect they will have but we can be hopeful. What can be counted on is that the tyrant Putin will respond with an iron fist. In this country we rightly condemn police violence against largely peaceful protesters. The risks taken by Russian protesters is of a magnitude far exceeding anything faced here. I do not know what can be done to support them. Expressions of solidarity with Russian protesters and Ukrainian patriots may amount to little more than symbolic gesture. It goes without saying that we look to and support authorities in the US and Europe for whatever more is possible.

Joe Biden has done yeoman work repairing and restoring international relationships badly and deliberately frayed under the regime of the disgraced former president. This made possible swift imposition of sanctions in coordination with NATO and other allies. No one knows what deterrent effect sanctions will have. If any it will be in the long term after a lot suffering, destruction, death. The tyrant Putin is willing to risk a European war or worse and calculates that the West is not. He appears to believe he can act, if not with impunity, at least with consequences he can endure.

Thus far the energy sector is exempt from sanctions that would have a real impact on Russia but also inflict serious collateral economic damage in Europe and the US. Biden's rationale for the exemption is protection of global supplies. Resistance to energy sanctions by Germany and other European countries dependent on Russian oil and natural gas factored into the decision. One might reasonably surmise that domestic considerations are also a factor. Americans are not being asked to send sons and daughters to war. Will they accept economic sacrifices that come as a consequence of sanctions? And if so, for how long? These are open questions. Whatever sacrifices likely to be asked of us, they will be minuscule next to those taken on by Ukrainians.

For now the West is united and the US appears to be rallying behind the president in support of Ukraine. It remains to be seen how long this will last. Biden is not an inspirational figure. His performance as president has been up and down, to put it kindly. He faces formidable challenges on the home front: the covid crisis, easing off at present but it has eased off before only to come back with a vengeance; inflation; ongoing efforts to overthrow the government. A congresswoman in his own party, Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), is scheduled to deliver a response to Biden's state of the union address, a comic routine customarily reserved for the opposition party. That's a lot of balls to juggle.

There is all sorts of speculation about the tyrant Putin's endgame? From today's Politico Magazine (What Does Putin Really Want?):

  • regime change in Ukraine that will replace the current democratic government with a puppet sympathetic to Moscow;

  • nothing short of a revanchist imperialist remaking of the globe to take control of the entire former Soviet space;

  • Donbas and Luhansk officially become his fiefdom;

  • Ukraine to be a neutral state like Finland, Sweden, or Austria with Crimea, Luhansk, and Donetsk becoming puppet states;

  • subjugation of Ukrainians into a sphere of Russianness with Ukrainians as subjects of the Russian state;

  • three endgames: The first and most immediate is to install a new government in Kyiv that will be subservient to Moscow. The next goal is to get the West to recognize that Russia has a right to a sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space and that NATO and the EU should stop trying to engage these countries. The third—and most ambitious—is to relitigate the end of the Cold War, revise the current Euro-Atlantic security system, and recreate a sphere of influence in the states of the former Warsaw Pact; and/or

  • recreate the Russian Empire with himself as tsar.

Maybe Putin sees himself as the successor of Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great. Or maybe behind the walls of the Kremlin he drops the macho, biker pose to cross-dress as Catherine the Great. (see Vladimir Putin’s alpha male apparel, BBC, and scroll through for more nifty photos of Czar Vlad.)

These are top-of-the-head thoughts dashed off on Friday morning, February 25. What is expressed here could be outdated the instant it is published. Nothing written here will change anything. Yet to remain silent seems profoundly wrong. Short of going to Ukraine and taking up arms against the forces of the tyrant in the tradition of the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil, and we all know how that turned out, speaking out to express solidarity with Ukrainians and the Russian opposition to the tyrant is something I can do. It is weak, ineffectual, frustrating. As Brooklyn Judy used to say, sometimes things just be that way.

I can also contact the White House and my congressional representatives to express support for Ukraine and willingness to accept sacrifice as a consequence of sanctions and other action to resist aggression. And I can seek other suggestions and options.

Politics is a duty. Poetry is a need. —Alexandros Panegoulis

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