Putin and The Soldier

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Andrei G., 22, a soldier who took part in the invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, 2022, was selected to meet with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin.
Andrei had distinguished himself on the battlefield where he showed courage and skill.
He served 6 consecutive months without a break until a battlefield explosion severely injured his right arm tearing it off at the shoulder. The remainder was amputated.
He was awarded a medal of honor for his service to Russia which he is wearing pinned to his jacket on the right.
He and Putin sit across each other in the room. Two military aides to Putin stand by.
Through the window we see snow falling.
It is mid morning in Moscow.

Putin – If there were more like you, we would have already conquered Ukraine.
Andrei (left hand resting on his thigh) – There are more like me. Many more. On our side and their side. But they are fighting for their land. We are not.
Putin – Ukraine is our land. Fascists in their government have manipulated public sentiment against us. Those Fascists are being paid by the West, which wants to extend their control over our people. But just like we defeated Hitler, we will defeat them.
Andrei – Why do they want to extend their control over us?
Putin – To take over our vast national resources and to encircle China.

Andrei looks down at his hand as he pauses.

Andrei – The Ukrainians I have fought don’t look like they are being manipulated by anyone.
I have served because I answered the call to duty. In combat I killed 16 men. I am not proud of it.

The two military aides look at each other.

Putin – You are probably suffering from combat fatigue. It will affect your judgment, even make you depressed. But you will recover, I am sure of that. I will have our military psychologists work with you to restore your health and judgment.

Andrei shakes his head slowly as he looks at Putin.

Andrei – How do you recover from killing 16 brave men?
Putin – Combat fatigue is pernicious, it affects your mood also. You need time to heal. We have specially designed settings to treat the condition. I will send you to one.
Andrei – I don’t think I have combat fatigue. If I did have it, I’m over it. I got over it while recovering from the surgery to remove what was left of my right arm.
Putin – Combat fatigue will make you say things you will regret later. For instance, because of your courage, once you get treatment, you could have a good job in the army as a motivational speaker, speaking to the troops to help them fight better. It comes with good pay and chances for advancement. With only one arm, your possibilities for work are diminished.
Andrei – I may have only one arm but I am an intelligent man. I would like to explore my options. But thank you.
Putin – Of course.
Andrei – I have other concerns… which I’d like to share.
Putin – Go ahead.

Andrei (sensing that the moment is precious) – This is your war, Mr President, not Russia’s war. If I had been using my brain I would have defected, like so many have done since your expanded order for recruitment…

Putin’s eyes narrow as the two aides share a look of concern between them.

Andrei – … but because I didn’t think clearly, I became your accomplice and then killed 16 men. Brave men, all of them, fighting for something that mattered, not for the vanity of one person.

Flushed with anger, Putin’s expression turns somber. He looks directly at Andrei.

Andrei – In battle, in the fury and danger of every moment, I developed a conscience… and having done so it became harder to kill Ukrainians… or send others to kill them in your name.

Putin thinks of ending the interview and glances at the aides standing by. They are ready to step in.

Andrei then reaches for the medal of valor pinned on his right chest and awarded by Putin himself, takes it in his hand and extends it to Putin.

Putin (exploding, shouting) – Fool! Fool! To show my gratitude I have offered to give you something but you sit there and tell me I’m a liar. Fool! You have no understanding of what it means to lead a nation, to not let it be pushed aside by the West and China.
Russia will not be humiliated!
Andrei – You mean you will not be humiliated…
Putin – Silence! How dare you.
Andrei (defiantly) – Why should we pay for your dreams of power?
Putin – I said silence!

And with a sudden swing of his arm he swats the medal off Andrei’s hand, the medal tumbling to the floor and bouncing off before coming to rest near a wall.

The two aides quickly step front and placing themselves on both sides of Andrei, pull him back by his shoulders.

Aide – We should remove this man, Mr President.
Putin (controlling himself) – Wait.
(to Andrei, calmly) I should send you to prison for your disrespect… but I won’t. Instead, you will be discharged from the Army.

Andrei shrugs with an air of insouciance.

Putin – … but you shall not speak of your ideas to anyone… understood?

Andrei stares back.

Putin signals for the aides to remove Andrei.
They pick him up by his shoulders, escort him out, wait a few moments for a vehicle, sit in the back seat flanking him and drive off.
Moments later, near a corner in central Moscow, the car stops, one aide gets out and Andrei exits after him.
Not a word is exchanged between them.
Andrei walks off and disappears into the crowd of pedestrians.
The time is 11 am.
The snow is still falling.

He hasn’t been heard of since.
His family put in a complaint with the authorities.
Some say he crossed the border with Estonia and then joined Ukrainians in their fight.
Some say he emigrated to America. Others say he was seen in London.
No one is certain.
But wherever he is, his proud and defiant spirit lives on.

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