As I sit down to write, there are reports that Kiev is surrounded and not surrounded and that Zelenesky has agreed to talk and not agreed to talk. In other words, nobody really knows what is going on. This is the most talked-about but least reported-on war I’ve ever seen. I think this is because we lack any real war correspondents – people who would actually go into the combat zones and see what they could see. Those old reporters would get things wrong from time to time, but not usually: the willingness of people to pay them to risk their lives for a story was dependent upon accurate reporting. These days, the reporters all stay where they can get an easy TV hookup and a drink after their daily 20 minutes of broadcasting the latest rumor they picked up over lunch.
The MSM is filled with stories of glorious Ukrainian victory. Social media has a plethora of accounts putting out alleged video of the fighting. But I’ve literally seen the exact same picture described as Russian and Ukrainian troops surrendering. Part of our problem here is that there’s no physical difference between Russians and Ukrainians and their military equipment is similar. Anything can be anything and none of us can really tell if a particular armored column driving through a non-descript Ukrainian town belongs to either side.
That said, the Russians clearly have advanced, and in some cases pretty deep into Ukrainian territory. The eyes of the world are fixed on Kiev but the real action is the Russian advance out of Crimea towards Mariupol in the east and Odessa in the west. Especially towards Mariupol because if the Russians get there, we might find a significant portion of the Ukrainian army is encircled. And that might be why Zelensky wants to talk (if those reports are correct): work a deal before the Ukrainian army in the east has to capitulate (in the face of Russian air power, a withdrawal is probably not feasible).
Part of the problem the world has in dealing with this is that we don’t know Putin’s intentions. He hasn’t really stated them. My thinking when it started is that he wanted the line of the Dnieper: essentially taking the part of Ukraine where ethnic Russians make up the bulk of the population. That still might be it – with the moves towards Kiev and Odessa merely to obtain bargaining chips to obtain Ukrainian agreement to surrender the Donbas. But there is a chance he wants the whole of the Ukraine. That, I think, would be foolish on Putin’s part as he’d be taking control of a hostile population and pretty much force Poland and Romania into massive military build up and close alliance.
Naturally, the Democrats are trying to pitch this in a manner which forces us to back them politically. We have to rally ’round the flag, right? If recent polling is correct, that isn’t happening: Pudding Brain is cratering to his lowest ratings yet. I know some people who have become emotionally invested in opposing Putin and this has made them turn the Ukrainians into pure heroes. I’m not having any of that. The Ukrainian government has been corrupt to the bone since it was set up after the fall of the USSR. They had 8 years to prepare for this and it doesn’t look like much was done – they should have had layered defensive positions and a plan to mobilize the entire population at need. But I guess giving no-show jobs to Hunter Biden was the best they could do. I am sympathetic to their plight, but only to an extent – the people of Ukraine are ultimately responsible for the sort of government they endure. If they truly loved their country, they would have made sure that no matter what else happened, national defense was carried forward with conviction. They didn’t and now Ivan is knocking at the gates.
On the other hand, I also know people who are making a hero out of Putin and so they cast aspersions on the Ukrainians. Putin’s propaganda is that he’s only going in to rid Ukraine of neo-Nazis. This is based upon the Azov Battalion of the Ukrainian militia and the actions of Ukrainians during WWII.
The Azov Battalion originated in the 2014 conflict – and it clearly has links to white nationalist groups and some of its symbols are obviously based on Waffen-SS symbols. But I doubt they hope to revive a Nazi empire. The symbols they use are more for anti-Russian than pro-Nazi reasons. This is because during WWII quite a lot of Ukrainians did work with the Germans against the Soviet government. They also fought the Germans quite a bit. In the end, the outside observer can only look with a bit of sympathy on people who were caught between Nazis and Bolsheviks. If you were Ukrainian in 1941 you had family members who had been starved to death, murdered or otherwise brutally oppressed by agents of Soviet power. It wasn’t just a portion of the population: all of them had reasons to hate the USSR with a white hot passion. In come the Nazis and the Bolsheviks are gone…the Nazis then proceed to murder, rape and loot to their hearts content. This did cause some Ukrainians to become pro-Soviet partisans…but quite a number let that Nazi brutality roll right off their backs and they became ant-Soviet partisans. If you ever wanted to know how bad Stalin’s rule was, there’s your answer: some people would rather help Nazis if that meant keeping Stalin out.
And they kept up the fight – for ten years after the end of WWII, Ukrainians continued a forlorn struggle against Soviet power. Without any outside support they were eventually crushed…but the memory of them endured and their symbols remained potent to Ukrainians who remember and dislike Russian rule. And, so, there you go: the Azov Battalion. So, I don’t put much stock in pro-Russian claims that Ukraine is a neo-Nazi hotbed.
I think that this is one of those events where we’re just going to have to see how it comes out. It is, though, a war I want no part of. I don’t even want to arm the Ukrainians at this point as I’m concerned that we’ll just end up supplying the Russians as we did the Taliban. The Europeans can provide all the aid Ukraine needs – let them do it. Keep our soldiers home – at most I’m ok with providing humanitarian relief.