He thought it would be easy. Surround Ukraine with 200,000 soldiers, war planes, tanks and missiles, make threatening noises and gestures, and Ukrainians would look at each other and realize they had no chance. A nuclear superpower was demanding their surrender: give up their government and demilitarize. If not, they would be run over.
Accustomed to most Russians – not all – bowing to him and not protesting, Putin thought Ukrainians would respond the same way. After all, he had already taken Crimea from them in 2014, and they had been pushed back in the Donbas area.
Putin reasoned Ukrainians would be tired of war and would just stand by, perhaps even applaud as his troops rolled into Kyiv, unopposed.
He would then meet with their president, a former comedian, pat him on the back and put him on a bus to Poland.
There would be protests in the West but they would all calm down once they realized he could cut off their oil and gas supplies and hurt their pocketbooks.
But something different happened.
Ukrainians said, hell no! This is our land and we’ll defend it.
So Putin ordered the troops to move in, still hoping the sounds of the tanks and the roar of the jets would bring Ukrainians to their senses.
They did not.
What has followed has been an unbelievable story of courage and determination, with their president, Volodymyr Zelensky, committing to the task of leadership with great valor.
That amazing story has shaken the West out of their complacency and united them in support of Ukraine.
A divided EU-US alliance has found new vigor and a willingness to stand firm against the aggressor. Sanctions that were not enforced when Putin invaded Crimea, now had a devastating effect.
Just yesterday, Putin went on TV to tell Russians who still believe the story that Ukraine is a Nazi threat, to prepare for yet more hardships, as they contend with job losses, inflation and growing scarcities as a result of the sanctions.
Russia is now on the verge of defaulting on their debt.
The assets it holds in foreign banks, American and European, are frozen. They cannot be used to pay down Russia’s debt.
Putin spoke calmly, promising relief to his fellow Russians who believe they are on the right side of history.
But what I didn’t see in his expression was a trace of remorse.
The thousands of casualties, both Ukrainian and Russian, meant nothing to him.
The horror of the carnage doesn’t touch him.
He is, somehow, insulated from it.
Over 3 million Ukrainian refugees have fled to the West in search of safety – mothers with their children – while the men of fighting age stay behind to resist the barbaric Russian onslaught.
The thousands of dead and maimed don’t seem to weigh on Putin’s conscience.
How did that happen?
He first became prime minister in 1999 and has been in power ever since.
How is it possible that all the leaders he’s come in contact with over the years, didn’t get the essence of the man?
The ascent of Putin has been the failure of leadership in the West.
And the failure of the Russian people – not all – to not stand up against him.
But now the end is near.
The unceasing brutality he’s unleashed on Ukrainians has been seen by everybody, except Russians themselves, for they live in a censored bubble.
Where can he go hide?
China, in its remarkable denial of the extent of the savagery, has become his accomplice.
And Putin is counting on them to circumvent the sanctions.
But the West won’t be easily side stepped.
Putin has begun his fall but he remains a dangerous adversary.
Knowing that his end is near, he will not tolerate the defeat of his army and will resort to nuclear weapons if he thought it would spare him the embarrassment.
Will he fire a nuclear weapon on Kyiv? It is possible.
Will he fire several? He may.
Putin will not survive the scorn he has earned from the rest of humanity, but he may yet stay in power a while longer, until Russians choose to retire him.
The world is waiting.
Oscar Valdes oscarvaldes.net, medium.com, anchor.fm, buzzsprout, apple and google podcasts.