He’s alone in the room. He’s ordered dinner but he has some time yet.
It’s an ample room so he has space to stroll.
On his desk a series of phones are neatly arranged, along with some papers that arrived earlier which he has not finished reading.
On the wall across, in front of the desk, a bank of monitors show images of the war.
He’s standing in the center of the room, hands behind his back, head slightly bowed.
‘I admit… the invasion has been a mistake. I underappreciated Biden… and I overestimated the power of the Far Right in America. I clearly did not imagine that Europe would embrace America after the way that Trump had treated them.
And also grossly underestimated the will of the Ukrainian people… and that a small time comedian like Zelensky would have it in him to rise as a leader.
Those are grave mistakes on my part… and I’m not coming up with a way to undo them.’
He walks a short stretch and stops.
‘I am surprised that the Russian people have been so cooperative… so willing to believe everything I say to them. Which gives me hope that I can pull out of this hole I’ve dug myself into. But there’s no hiding from the fact that I will be a diminished leader on the world stage.’
He rubs his face slowly.
‘That hurts. I’m not winning the war. I didn’t imagine that America would be so vigorous in their defense of Ukraine. That they would be willing to spend so much money to back them up.
Why, even Republicans have joined in the effort. I missed that completely.
Biden has not got enough credit for his leadership of the western alliance…but he will… which is why I think he will be reelected… if he chooses to run… and does not fall ill.
As to Trump… he’s done… he won’t recover.
But will I?
I’ve fallen from a position of being feared, even respected… to being called a killer. And what leader from the top nations of the world will want to meet with me?
I’ll have to content myself with meeting with Viktor Orban, Modi, Xi Jinping, Erdogan, Marcos and other lesser figures.’
He turns around to see images of the bombing of a Russian depot in Crimea on the TV monitors.
‘A lot of Russians have died because of my decisions. How long will they be patient? Daria Dugin’s car was bombed. It was probably meant for Aleksandr, her father. Will they try to get to me? Yes. But I’m well protected.
Still, it won’t look good if an attempt is made on my life.’
He walks a few paces forward.
‘What options do I have? The way things are going, I don’t think we can beat the Ukrainians. Not with their motivation to fight and their help from the West.
I have talked about using nuclear weapons but if I do, retaliation will come. Xi has been very clear that it would be a bad choice.
But there are other things I could try… like targeting Zelensky himself and bringing him here, if he survives. I’ve had a hit squad training for that purpose for a while.
It would be demoralizing for his people. In the confusion, we push forward, gain more territory and right away ask for negotiations to end the war. So we split Ukraine. Having gained territory I can call it a victory.
I then offer to resume gas shipments at lower prices and that would relieve pressure on Europe.
As to Zelensky, I’d keep him as a hostage… put him on trial for crimes against humanity.’
He walks forward a few more steps, looking up now, more confident.
‘I’ll never regain the world standing I had but… so long as Russians want me, I’ll be their leader.’
A call comes in announcing that dinner is ready. He buzzes in the waitress, Hanna, who brings in the dishes and sets them on his desk. She bows, turns and leaves.
‘I’ve diminished myself as a man by my own hand and yet… I still see a future for myself.’
‘Sooner or later… some courageous Russians will encircle my bunker and tell me it’s all over. Just go into retirement, Mr Putin. It could be anybody… anybody with the guts to risk their lives. I know they’re out there… waiting for the right moment to strike. But they’ll have to be good… very good.’
He sits down to eat. He inspects the bottle of wine and opens it. In the last couple of months he’s only been drinking wines from 1999. The year he first became prime minister. He pours himself a glass, swirls the wine, then raises the glass for a toast.
‘To my future. To never giving up’.
He drinks. ‘Delicious.’
He turns off the monitors on the wall and looks at his music selection. He picks Tchaikovsky. His 1812 Overture. The Story of Napoleon’s defeat by the Russian army.
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