How long does it take for the penny to drop for Vladimir Putin finally to accept that he is not going to win? At every step the West takes ever more drastic measures across every front – short of military intervention – to stop and reverse Russian aggression in Ukraine. The Paul Volcker style head of the Central Bank, Elvira Nabiullina, who once offered her resignation, unveils a plan to save the Russian economy from disaster which candidly accepts that, more or less whatever is done, the country will be condemned to second best for years to come. Duma deputies breath fire and brimstone. The Poles are threatened with having their fuel cut off. A dastardly plot is uncovered, Stalin style: to assassinate some of Russia’s best loved, reactionary media figures; by far the largest of whom is still mourning the loss of his mansion (confiscated) in northern Italy. Fires unaccountably break out in sensitive military installations: three out of four floors at the space research institute, with 17 dead. A lone ISIS terrorist is reported captured while plotting.
Then, all of a sudden, while Foreign Minister Lavrov is still prattling on about the dangers of nuclear war, at the end of his favourite long table the puffy faced president on steroids is back-tracking towards the old minimalist demands for recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, plus Crimea of course, pressing for a “Kosovo” solution; as though the great crusade against Nazis and the extinction of what Molotov would have called – as he did Poland in 1939 – a bastardised state were merely some kind of distant dream from which he has just awakened with a sore head rather than a kiss from a princess.
And why was this done at a staged visit by UN General Secretary António Guterres – surely this was not his own idea – at which Putin could suddenly unveil a retreat? It was only last week that a Major-General in temporary command of the Central Military District – a veritable recruiting sergeant for NATO – spoke freely of seizing the entire Ukrainian coastline and then moving in for good measure on Transnistria on the other side of the river from Moldova. Yet another brilliant idea from the military worthy of Defence Minister Shoigu in his cups.
The General Secretary’s loud protestations against Putin’s war had echoed repeatedly from New York from the very start in late February, yet the Russians did not turn a hair. Putin certainly did not then appear to lose a night’s sleep as a result of them. Guterres, after all, has no power at all and looks like a gentle old man, a sort of Pablo Neruda, who might be invited to drop in for a sherry around Christmas; certainly not the fearsome, larger than life figure that Putin would see as a worthy adversary.
At the same time that Maria Zakharova is giving one of her splenetic performances to the press at the Foreign Ministry, drunk or sober, but certainly the worse for wear, explaining her grandmother’s bloodcurdling view of war, Nezavisimaya gazeta, which had once spouted doubts about the other war – in Syria – found strength enough to protest at Duma attempts to shut dissent down by plastering those uttering unwelcome truths with the xenophobic label “foreign agents.”
Not only has the penny finally dropped, but the entire treasury now appears to have fallen through the floor.