Putin in His Labyrinth

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Will he invade Ukraine? He is inside a bunker somewhere in Russia. Alone in a room surrounded by screens showing satellite imagery of his troops and those of his enemy, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).

He has been kept busy lately with so many world leaders coming to see him, to show him deference, respect, and talk about Ukraine, about his plans to invade or not his rebellious neighbor. He will do with Ukrainians what he did with the people in neighboring Belarus who, choosing to protest their last election’s rigged results favoring continuing ties with Russia, ended up instead crushed by the power of the state. They wanted democracy? Sure. A big kick in the pants and everyone straight to prison is what they got.

You don’t turn against Putin’s rule and get away with it. And yet, Ukraine ignored the facts and chose to defy him. Again. They have chosen to keep cozying up to the West. To talk about one day joining NATO – and their president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has kept acting like he was independent and willing to challenge mother Russia.

So, to set things straight, he’s surrounded Ukraine on all sides possible – north, south and east – and is ready to invade them. Why? Because such talk of independence is like a cancer or a virus. It spreads, making people think that they can one day do as they wish, without consulting him. But, he, Vladimir Putin, will show the price they will pay. He stated it very clearly to the West. He wants assurances that Ukraine will never be part of NATO. And that the West does not hold any military exercises in countries that border with Russia. Every Russian needs more space. Ample room to breathe and develop. Lebensraum, as the Germans would say.

So far, the West has not accepted his demands – they’re being testy for some reason – but he’s got assurances that America will not send troops into Ukraine. That’s all he needs to invade. For now. He loves being the talk of the world. Finally. His name in the leading articles of every major newspaper. Everybody taking a guess at what he might do. Or not do. The stock markets everywhere going down when he says one thing, going up if he says another. Beautiful.

The fates of thousands of people at his disposal. If he says ‘roll with the invasion,’ the explosions and roar of tanks and guns and airplanes will start immediately and he will destroy his opponents. Just like that. What power to have!

He’s sure he’s envied by so many leaders in the world who can only dream of being in his position. And he’s convinced that the Russian people love him. Not just love him but adore him. He is their hero. What they all have wanted to be. Just like Xi Jinping is to all Chinese. He does wonder, sometimes, that being in power as long as he has, has taken out something vital from ordinary Russians. That they may have lost the will to assert themselves politically. Of course that doesn’t include Alexei Navalny, whom he’s keeping in prison and will keep in prison for as long as he lives. He only needs to charge him again and again with some other offense, and the lawyers and judges will not dare defy him. Oh, the beauty of absolute power. He smiles.

He thinks of Donald Trump in America. He, too, wanted absolute power, but the man wasn’t ruthless enough. You have to be ruthless to get to where he is now. No room for anything else.

But will he invade Ukraine? That’s the question everyone wants an answer to. He wonders what the odds in Las Vegas are. The positives far outweigh the negatives, that is clear to him.

He will order a blitzkrieg and the poor Ukrainians will be so overwhelmed that they will lay down their arms instantly and beg for mercy. The disobedient Zelensky will piss in his pants when he hears the thunder of the jets over Kyiv and wonder why he ever stopped being a comedian.

And at the first sounds of warfare, all the business elites in the West will rush to call Joe Biden and plead – on their knees – that the sanctions he imposes on Russia be mild and not hurt their bottom line. Plus, they will add, ‘won’t China help Russia sidestep the sanctions, anyway? Why create needless trouble?’ ‘Mr Biden,’ they will implore, ‘You’ve been a politician all your life, you know how important it is to compromise. Please sir. Sacrifices need to be made. Let Putin have Ukraine and everything will be okay. What’s the big deal? They are barely 43.5 million people.

And Putin will smile again and now think about what he wants for lunch. He’s in the mood for lamb. Roasted lamb – ‘a la Putin’ – one of his favorites. My little lambs, he thinks. Deathly afraid of the brilliant moves of Russia’s leader. The comforts the Europeans have worked for have softened them. All of them. Except for the British. Bulldogs they fancy themselves to be, but we’re bears! And Putin laughs.

He now takes a moment to call the kitchen to order his choice.

He’s counting on all those businesspeople in the West to help his cause. The same businesspeople who have been pleading with their governments to look the other way when it comes to China because there’s too much money in that huge market. So never mind the Uyghurs. Think of the bottom line. Think of the Money.

Who said the world was perfect? Some will have to be sacrificed. It’s the way things are. Examples are everywhere. A minute ago, everyone was in an uproar about Burma and the repressive generals, now everyone seems to have forgotten about it. Except the Burmese.

But that’s the world, isn’t it? Might is Right.

Biden may have unified the West in opposing him, but after he invades, a few weeks later, everyone will get back to business, the stock market will rally and people will ask, What was that all about? Never mind. Who’s going to be in the next Super Bowl?

Meanwhile, the cartographers will quietly redraw the map lines of Russia and no one will mind. China and Xi Jinping will grumble publicly, just a little, about his annexing Ukraine, to satisfy America, but will keep buying from him the oil, gas and minerals they need. Of course they will. The Chinese know they can’t piss him off. Anyway, he’s got way more nuclear warheads than they have.

He pauses.

He’s feeling hungry. It will be a little while before the roasted lamb will be ready. And he wonders again, when will be the best time to invade Ukraine. Tomorrow? The next day? He’ll decide after lunch.

And what country will be next? Because there must be another one to follow. Little Moldova? Why, his troops can do them in an afternoon. A mere exercise for junior officers.

No. He needs to think big. Big. He wants to go down in history as the man who recovered all the territory taken from them when the Cold War ended. He wants to be known as the man who redrew the map of Europe. Glory awaits the bold!

And so, if, as he suspects, the sanctions by the West prove to be of little consequence, why not go for it… go for it and test NATO. Invade Poland, or Hungary, Romania. All three? Just dare them and expose how weak they are. Dare!

Oscar Valdes. Oscarvaldes.net. anchor.fm, buzzsprout, apple and google podcasts

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