I read yesterday that US representative Scalise from Louisiana had raised the question of continued support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia. He would not commit to continuing with such support should Republicans win majorities in the House and Senate on November 8th. It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that the gentleman is running for reelection. He argues that the moneys spent on Ukraine’s fight for its survival should instead be spent on preparations to confront China’s rise and, generally, on other projects here at home. Up until now it has been US support that has been the largest in defense of Ukraine. Europe, has contributed too, and the energy shortages and inflationary pressures have hit them the hardest. Yet, the western alliance against the brutal bullying of Putin stands. Mr Scalise should wipe off his moral compass. It has got foggy. He can’t see clearly anymore. I’m assuming he once did. But to threaten to withdraw funds from Ukraine is tantamount to saying, ‘Russia, go ahead and kill Ukrainians at will, do what you want with that nation.’ So, no, Mr Scalise, to withhold support from Ukraine now is the equivalent of appeasing Putin. And Trump also, who’s known to be sympathetic to Putin. Putin’s strategic mistake in Ukraine was not to have invaded while Trump was in the White House. If he had, he would have, likely, taken over all of Ukraine because they would not have had the means to defend themselves. And the world would be a poorer place as a result. With the approaching mid term elections, president Biden has to make clear our support of Ukraine’s struggle remains a central issue. Mr Biden’s exemplary leadership of the western alliance has Putin on his back foot and today, there is a good possibility Ukraine may drive Russia back to its borders. I am gratified to hear that Ukraine will not respect Russia’s efforts to legitimize the territories it has grabbed from Ukraine by force. Putin has taken to insisting that any attack on those territories would be an attack on Russia itself. But we won’t fall for that lie. President Biden and his administration are determined to keep supplying Ukraine with what it needs to fight the good fight. He is fully aware of the enormous benefit the world and America have already derived from Ukraine’s heroic fight. Ukraine’s valor has reminded us all of the effort needed to protect our freedom. The vigilance, the focus, the never lowering our guard. These are critical times for our nation and the world. On January 6th 2021, a sitting American president chose to incite a riot to overturn the official result of an election that had defeated him by a wide margin. Sadly, there are still those who believe his nonsense rhetoric. And even worse, that Trump holds influence over the minds of many confused Americans. Apparently, he holds influence also over the mind of representative Scalise. Dear sir, time to wipe off your moral compass. Mind you, those smudges may be hard to clean. But you should try.
Biden is in the White House, Putin is in his bunker. They talk via a special channel using advanced Zoom technology and they both fill their respective screens. While not visible, in the room with Biden are Kamala Harris, Antony Blinken and Jake Sullivan. Two unnamed assistants sit near Putin.
Biden – It’s time to end this. Putin – Are you speaking for Zelensky? Biden – No… he speaks for himself. Putin – What do you propose? Biden – You pull back to behind your borders… and agree to pay reparations. Putin – You’re mad. Biden – You’ve just mobilized 300 thousand Russians to fight in Ukraine… 300 thousand men not well trained, and vulnerable to getting killed or maimed because they’re no match for Ukrainians… and for what? Putin – I have a dream of a greater Russia… a Russia that will be respected everywhere… consulted in all important decisions… Biden – You’ve had more than 20 years to do that… and you didn’t do it.
Putin lowers his eyes.
Biden – In those 20 years, China rose to become the second most important economy in the world… even though they were still denying their people the freedom of speech… but they let them create, invent, copy from the West which they were clever to invite in. But all the while in Russia, the power stayed concentrated on you and your oligarch friends. Now China is running into other problems which will limit their growth, but we won’t talk about that this moment. Putin – I admit they have done better than us… but they’re not better than us… like you’re not better than us. Biden – I agree… but we work hard to assure the freedom of all our people… citizens and residents… immigrants from all over the world who come in search of liberty and opportunity. Putin – You’re a racist country. Biden – We have been… and maybe still are… but we keep working on it.
The two men look at each other directly.
Biden – You started this war… not because you were being threatened… but because of envy… envy of all the nations which have surpassed you during the time you’ve been in power. So you invented this dream of a greater Russia to make up for all your blunders… and chose to sacrifice your fellow Russians. That is unforgivable. Putin – Unforgivable? Biden – There’s no way back. Putin – I know that.
Biden – You can’t bring back the dead, the maimed… the tears for whom will never dry. And yet you go on TV the other day to say that representatives of NATO nations are threatening Russia with nuclear weapons. No one has said that. You invented it to justify calling for another 300 thousand people to join in your madness. Putin – I am not mad. Biden – I know… which gives me hope. Putin – Hope? Biden – Yes, hope that you announce to the world that this is over.
Biden – Admit that you made a colossal mistake out of envy… and that you deeply regret you have not made Russia a leading nation in the world… as your nation would have become… if they had been free. Putin (to himself)- My dear Russia… Biden – There is still time… time to act to redeem yourself. Putin (pulling his head back as he closes his eyes) – That time has passed… I’ve killed too many people… destroyed too many things… Biden – You could ask all the oligarchs you’ve made rich… to contribute four fifths of their wealth toward a fund to rebuild Ukraine. Putin (shaking his head slowly) – They’ll kill me. Biden – … and you could start by surrendering four fifths of your own wealth to set the example. Putin (smiling) – You’re mad, Biden. Biden – I’m sure there are better ideas to act on… but what is clear to me is that this is over. You can still insist on causing more damage, but it will get you nothing… and because it will be at the expense of your people, they will become less forgiving. Russia needs to breathe… you need to take your boot off their throats. Putin – I still have my nuclear weapons… Biden – What good will they do?
Putin lowers his head.
Biden – The West will never submit to you, or to China… or anyone. We will die for our freedom, like Ukraine is doing. Putin – Ukraine is now part of the West? Biden – Yes. You wouldn’t let them in, so they fought their way into it. Putin – I won’t surrender.
Biden is silent.
Putin – There’s still a chance we could beat Ukrainians. Why won’t they let me keep Crimea, the Donbas? Biden – Because it’s their land. Putin – You didn’t say anything when I first took it… Biden – It was another president… another time. Putin – I’m not envious of America. You’re a mess… violent… racist… Biden – … and free. The nation chose Trump as president in 2016… but didn’t like what they saw and didn’t reelect him. That’s choice. If Americans had reelected Trump in 2020, then you would’ve had no problem taking over Ukraine. Trump would’ve gone to your inauguration in Kyiv. But we didn’t reelect him and we won’t again.
Putin nods slowly.
Putin – I liked him… I should’ve invaded while he was president. Biden – Missed your chance. Putin – I won’t surrender. Biden – Then the dead and the destruction will keep climbing… for what? As destructive as you’ve been, you are still a human being… better die as a human being who acknowledged his humanity, than as one who never did.
Putin shakes his head.
Putin – I will not surrender. Russians love me. I am not envious. Russia will be great again. Biden – Putin… Russians are scared of you… and that feeling is just sinking in in all those Russians you’ve just called to enlist. They’re now learning that because they didn’t stand up to you before… you own them. Putin – I have more nuclear weapons than you do, more than anyone on this earth. Biden – You can’t win a nuclear war. Putin – That’s what they say but I will… and we’ll pick up the pieces… and we’ll be the greatest nation on earth. Biden – Russians will stop you. Putin – No, they won’t. Russians love me.
Putin pauses, looks tired.
Putin – I’ve had enough for today. Biden – Should we meet again? Putin – Maybe… I’m not sure… I’ll let you know… but maybe this will be our last meeting. Biden – Please do what is right. If not, we will stop you. No matter how much pain we must endure.
Putin looks directly at Biden for a moment, then his screen goes dark.
Just learned that Putin has authorized that 300 thousand Russians be conscripted into the army. In other words, he’s giving you no choice. Just do as Putin says. He’s ordering the mass enlistment because he’s losing the war in Ukraine. A war he started because he didn’t give a damn about Ukrainians and thought they would kneel before him and kiss his feet when he asked them to join a new and greater Russia. Something like the Soviet Union but even bigger. Maybe to include all of Europe. And as you know, or maybe don’t know, if you only watch television and avoid the internet, Russians are losing in Ukraine. One estimate has it that there have been 80 thousand plus Russian casualties so far, from a total of 200 thousand he sent in starting on February 24th, hoping to quickly take Kyiv, the capital, and then march all the way to the West and South and celebrate a grand victory. But Ukrainians didn’t cooperate. Instead, they put up a heroic fight in defense of their land, a feat we haven’t seen since World War II. You see, contrary to what the television is telling you, Ukrainians don’t want to be Russian. They want to be Ukrainians and rule their own land. Would you want China to invade you and tell you how to live your life? Of course not. (although it could happen one day if you don’t keep your guard up) The war has been a colossal tragedy. Putin is getting beat by the Ukrainians but he’s saying, ‘Wait, I have more Russians willing to die for my dream of a great Russian empire. And after I use these next 300 thousand, I’ll enlist another 300 thousand if I need to.’ You get what I’m saying? That’s right. Your life means nothing to Putin. He’ll put a helmet on you, give you a gun and tell you, straight ahead, and kill as many Ukrainians as you can.’ You might want to ask, ‘what am I fighting for?’ And he’ll likely answer, ‘for a greater Russia.’ Eighty plus years ago Russia fought bravely against the Germans in World War II and helped turn around that war. Twenty million Russians died in that disaster. And you showed enormous courage, but you were fighting for your land. You weren’t taking another people’s territory (at least not at first, then Stalin decided to conquer parts of Europe). There is a similarity between that war and this one in Ukraine. They were started by one man. One man who convinced millions of other people that they needed to offer their lives for his dream. Yes, Hitler and Putin have much in common. But dear Russian, you do have a choice. You can rebel. You can say ‘No! I won’t go into Ukraine to kill people who are fighting for the freedom to be who they want.’ You could say that. And say it loud so others can hear you. And Putin will put you in prison for not giving him your life to play with. But you will be alive. And if all Russians say ‘No! I won’t go fight Ukrainians,’ then Putin will have to back off. That’s why it’s so important that you listen to your conscience. Do not believe what the government’s television is telling you. You do have an enemy to deal with but it’s not Ukrainian. Your enemy is Putin. The man you didn’t think you had surrendered to until he came asking for your life.
Read an article earlier today on the heroic resistance that Ukraine put up at the beginning of the war which prevented Russia from taking control of Kyiv. Titled ‘The Ragtag Army that Won the Battle of Kyiv and Saved Ukraine,’ by James Marson, it is a detailed account of the brave actions that some of the participants engaged in so they could stop an impending Russian occupation. Here’s the link https://www.wsj.com/articles/russian-invasion-ukraine-battle-of-kyiv-ragtag-army-11663683336?st=zx1dqhhndyr5z6z&reflink=desktopwebshare_permalink The article captures the commitment of a people determined to not be vassals of another nation. People from very different occupations came together to say to the Russians, ‘No, you shall not pass.’ And Kyiv was not captured. As I read it, I felt that those men and women’s actions were speaking to all of us here in America, saying, ‘freedom is in the fight to defend what you value, freedom is in the fight to have your voice heard, in the fight to be respected and in the fight to learn to respect others.’ I couldn’t help but think that, no matter what else they do with their lives, those men and women will always be able to say that they stood up and offered all they had when their nation demanded it. Their struggle for their independence is now in the 7th month. Thousands of lives have been lost with more to come. But today, because of Ukrainians’ will to fight and the enormous support they have got from the West, we can see that the end is near. We should not think in terms of a protracted war. We should think in terms of ending this war as soon as possible. The recent advances by Ukrainian forces offer a great opportunity to accomplish this. There is evidence of low morale in the Russian army, of incompetence and lack of commitment. This is the time to strike hard against the enemy. I do not see this war as a war against Russia but as a war primarily against Putin. And there is evidence that more and more people in Russia are gaining the courage to disagree with him. Putin knows he’s headed for a defeat. He may or may not be able to stay in power after that. But our task is to help Ukraine push Russia out of all their territory as soon as possible and to achieve that we should give them everything they need. Will Putin use nuclear weapons? I don’t think so. You have made it very clear that any such action will not be tolerated. Putin does not want to be extinguished. He still sees some role for himself as an ally of China. But when and if that happens, will be up to the Russian people. A Free Ukraine has become a shining light for all the world to see and, I trust, an inspiration to Russia itself. You, Mr Biden, have played a leading role in making it happen. Do not deprive yourself of the chance of seeing it in its full splendor. This is the time to give to that great nation all the support they need. We must not hesitate.
This is the time to push Russia back and out of Ukraine. Out of the Eastern section and out of Crimea as well. This is the time to push Russia back to behind its borders. Putin is losing the war. Desperate, he’s now bent on targeting all of Ukraine’s infrastructure, bombing dams and power plants. If his missiles were to hit a nuclear power plant, that alone would create a radioactive disaster with regional and global consequences. So this is the time to get those longer range missiles into action so Ukrainians can hit Russia’s supply lines and cripple their ground offensive. The momentum is with Ukraine as winter approaches. More people within Russia are speaking out against the war. The EU has wisely shut down the issuing of visas to Russian citizens. Russia’s shutdown of gas supplies to the EU in the hope of splintering the alliance is not having the expected effect. The EU has organized so they are creating efficiencies and helping each other if necessary. China knows well that Putin is on the defensive and will voice support for him but they will not support a losing effort. We in the West, meanwhile, must stay focused. Zelensky is right. Russia can be beat and should be beat. And what a difference that is from just before the invasion 7 months ago in February, when the world was filled with uncertainty about the outcome. Back then Putin looked like the grand strategist, the great master of geopolitics. Today he’s reduced to the size of a retreating petty tyrant who’s responsible for massacring tens of thousands of Ukrainians and willing to kill even more if he gets the chance. Putin has called prison inmates to fight in the war with the promise that, if they fight for 6 months, their sentences will be forgiven. He’s called in mercenaries, i.e. the Wagner Group (Russians), already on the ground. He’s flying drones sent from Iran, a theocratic dictatorship rife with corruption, which is more than eager to attack anything western. What is remarkable in the face of all this chaos, is the power of the West to unite and focus on the task at hand. A new balance of power is thus being created by the war. Not only is Russia being exposed as a deeply flawed nation, filled with shortcomings, but China, too, has lost standing in the world with their support of Russia’s losing cause. Joe Biden, our president, and most of the leaders of the EU and England (former prime minister Boris Johnson) deserve great credit for their commitment to building an alliance. Hungary has remained pro Russian and Turkey has not joined in the sanctions against Putin. The Turks prefer to play both sides. Now the West is close to a substantial victory. Putin will make threats to use his nuclear weapons but we should not be intimidated and stand firm. Russia must leave all of Ukraine. Ukraine remains the unquestionable hero, the catalyst of this important realignment of forces, during which, Volodymyr Zelensky, their president, has kept his focus and determination. Let’s give them the weapons they need and finish the job.
Meanwhile, in Syria, the dictator Assad, long reliant on Putin to repress his opposition, must be wondering if he shouldn’t start pivoting to China. Offer them land for a military base, for instance, in exchange for assistance quieting the rebels. ‘And it would be good practice, for when they decide to trample on Taiwan,’ says Assad to himself.
The recent advances by Ukrainian troops and their recapturing of territory has further raised the possibility that they may defeat the Russian army. If so, how will Putin respond? Some speculate that without a face saving outcome, without his having something to show Russians to justify the loss of life and resources, his political standing would be in jeopardy and he will be inclined to use nuclear weapons. I disagree. I believe Putin has intimidated his countrymen so thoroughly that they will accept the losses. And if internal forces unite to remove him from power he will outsmart them and send them to prison with long sentences, like Alexei Navalny, if not underground. He’s determined to die while in power and, barring some unmanageable illness, he’ll live for another 30 years. Sad for Russians but that’s who they’re choosing. There’s another reason Putin won’t go nuclear. China. Xi Jinping. The chairman, who also wants to die in power, doesn’t want to get caught in the crossfire should Putin wish to go nuclear. Xi, who’s closely following the recent developments, would be the first to remind Putin that Ukrainian flesh has become Western flesh. The chairman will tell Putin, ‘because of their heroism in the battlefield, which your troops have not shown, Ukrainians have conquered the hearts and minds of the western world. They are now part of them. So, to put it bluntly, Vladimir, if you choose to use nuclear weapons on Ukrainians because you’re despairing that your soldiers can’t stop running back, and abandoning valuable armament in the process, it will not just be Ukrainian flesh burning with radioactivity, but western flesh. And the west will hit back hard… and they will tell me, Chairman, screw you, you’re an accomplice of Putin, you’ve had a hand in supporting him and his henchmen, so we’re going after you, too. So it won’t be only Russian flesh burning with radioactivity but Chinese flesh also… and how will I be able to explain that to my people? And they’ll lose confidence in me and I won’t be able to rule until I die, like Mao did. I won’t be able to see China become the foremost power in the world, ten times superior to the Americans.’ Putin will hear this, if he hasn’t already, and decide to either militarize his entire nation, announcing that a new Hitler has appeared in Ukraine and Russia’s existence is in danger, so they must all remember their great WWII hero, Stalin, and fight again with the same tenacity they once did, or say to his people that the setback Russia has suffered is temporary and they now must regroup and plan their next assault. Putin is a determined man. He will kill whoever gets in his way. His nation has abundant resources but the West will need to learn to live without them. That is our challenge. Live without them so we can isolate him. And hope that Russians will one day awaken from their long sleep and retire their leader. Give him a pension and, as punishment, force him to watch video replays of all the destruction he’s caused. Roll by him the names of all the people who’ve died because of his actions. Russians and Ukrainians. Watch in the morning and in the afternoon. One hour break for lunch. In the meantime, the recent Ukrainian advances tell us exactly what must be done. Give those brave soldiers every weapon they need and let them drive Russia back to behind its borders. We’re almost there. We can win.
Through intimidation. How do we get it back? Through confrontation. (Is there room for persuasion? Of course. The earlier the better.) So we should be keenly aware of any evidence of intimidation in our interactions with other human beings. Make a note of it. We must be aware also of a tendency in frightened human beings to identify with the aggressor. The frightened person takes their side. We’re all vulnerable to being intimidated but the more aware we are of it, the more likely we are to recognize it. Fear is a powerful force. In America, the second amendment gives citizens the right to bear arms. Will it make a difference if our civil liberties were to be endangered? It will depend on the civic education of the bearer of arms. A person with a proper civic education will clearly understand the importance of respecting other people’s rights even if he/she disagrees with their views. Increasingly, though, in daily discourse, we see evidence that people with strong views on any given subject are intolerant of those who disagree. The opposing parties don’t want to give in, which leads to the shunning of civil dialogue as a means to building bridges between the dissenting parties. We’re doing too little bridge building in America today. Too little of holding conversations with those with dissenting views just to get familiar with the arguments. Even if no agreement is found, bridge building lets us learn about the other side and that is invaluable, for it informs us about their humanity. The learning of freedom starts at home, with parents encouraging their children to speak their minds, to feel at ease in expressing their opinions. ‘What do you think, Nancy?’ ‘And what do you think, Tommy?’ ‘I hear you,’ replies the parent, ‘And I think this and that.’ The foundation of dialogue is laid out at the dinner table, or in the after dinner chat. The beauty of it is that the child internalizes the exchange and begins to ask questions about other things as well. The benefit will extend to the classroom, where the child will ask better questions in class. And also in their interactions with friends. And so the civic spine of a human being is formed. Step by step. If children like that want to later become soldiers when they grow up, they will have a sense that their acquired powers are to be used in defense of freedom, not to suppress it. And so the people of that nation will not be fertile ground to grow a totalitarian regime like in Russia or China today.
This is the time. The time to break the chains that Putin has wrapped around your neck. You are not the nation you could be. You have the capabilities to stand as one of the first nations in the world, but you are not because to do so you need freedom, and freedom is not something Putin is willing to give you. Your leader is determined to enlarge his personal power, not the power of the rest of Russians. To do so he has chosen to invade Ukraine because they did not kneel before him. That is what you are doing, Russia, kneeling before Putin because you do not dare to raise your voice. You have gone so long without hearing your voice that you’ve forgotten what it sounds like. That happens in dictatorships. It is happening in your neighbor China, where Xi Jinping and his gang keep constant surveillance and restrictions on their citizens. They say that it’s in the interest of a greater future, when China will dominate the world. But freedoms restricted lead to impaired development in human beings. Russia, you need to get back your voice. The world needs you. You went for centuries under the foot of Czars, then under Stalin and those who followed. Only for a brief period, under Gorbachev, did you smell freedom, only to have it disappear under Putin. Think of the enormous role you could play in world history if you chose to turn West. You could choose whatever system of government you wanted. A system like the British have, or we here in America, or the French or the Germans or the Finns or the Swedes. But you would be free. Personally, I would be partial to a federal system of government that would make you the United States of Russia. And you would enrich the world with all your talent and resources. You would break out of the cultural isolation that Putin likes to keep you in because it suits his purposes. And by turning West, then China would have to moderate its plans for world domination because they would become impossible to achieve. This is the time to turn West. For your development, for your economic growth and the realization of your potential as a nation. Think for a moment of the cruelty that Putin has inflicted on Ukrainians and Russians. Sending them to their death because he has a dream of a larger Russia. But you are already large enough territorially. What you need is to unleash your talents, break out of you isolation and join the rest of the world fighting for democracy and the affirmation of human beings. Russia, the world needs you. This is the time to rise and retire Putin. Send him to his dacha for a permanent vacation. Russia deserves to be all it can be and the world will be better off for it. Just do it!
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He’s sitting at his desk in his office in Beijing. He’s going through reports of his subordinates’ performance. Some are as loyal as he wants them to be, some not so much. The latter are put on the heap for reassignment, i.e. demotion.
News of Nancy Pelosi’s (Speaker of the US House of Representatives) plane arriving in Taiwan flashes on a large screen on a wall across. He smiles. ‘Beautiful.’ He pauses as he takes in the landing of the plane, the sight of the welcoming committee waiting on the tarmac. ‘The more Americans challenge me on Taiwan, the more I can keep my people furious about their interfering with our sovereignty and the more they will accept the restrictions I impose on their freedoms. Freedom should be reserved for the leadership, the very accomplished and faithful to the ideas of the party. Freedom in the hands of regular people leads to chaos, like in the West, where freedom got Trump to be elected. And where they may elect him again.’ He laughs. ‘But what really gets my people to tolerate the harshest of restrictions on their liberties is the promise that one day soon, we will make our move for world dominance. And we’ll have Americans queuing up to learn Mandarin. Won’t that be a beautiful sight? I can’t wait.’
A voice through a speaker on his desk interrupts.
Speaker phone – Chairman, the cyberattack committee wanted to go ahead with targeting the list of American and English companies they sent you this morning. Have you had a chance to go through it? ‘I have. Leave company D out for now but proceed with the rest. We need their technology.’ Speaker phone – Indeed, Mr Chairman. ‘Thank you.’
He grows silent, a hint of worry on his furrowed brow.
‘That drone attack that killed the Al Qaeda leader in the center of Kabul has got me worried. I don’t think the Americans would ever try that on me. We would fire missiles immediately on them… but so would they on us. In the confusion, would Russians jump in, too?’
He returns to his papers, assessing the loyalty of his subordinates.
He pauses again.
‘Western businesses have been very good for us… and our forcing the transfer of technology has been essential to what we have become in so short a time. But they are growing more distrustful. Which is why we’re trying to extend our influence over other nations… but the idea of freedom keeps coming up. It’s hard to squash it, snuff it out, like we’re doing here in China. Maybe the Chinese are more pliant… more willing to tolerate structure… and surrender their personal dreams in the interest of the nation. That is what we’re banking on to build the new Chinese Empire. The pliant quality of Chinese citizens, willing to work hard for the good of the party and the nation, and willing to surrender their personal ambitions. In the meantime, I get to extend my rule… until I die… like Mao did. Oh, to die in power… what a wonderful idea. The whole nation grieving for me. The thought of it brings tears to my eyes.’
He dabs his moistened eyes.
‘And now this war in Ukraine. When will it end? Putin acts like he’s going to win… but it’s starting to look like he’s not. The West has got bolder… now committing to sending in fighter jets. And the Russian military may want a change in leadership… which may align with us or not. New leadership aligning with the West would be disastrous for us… which is an argument to assist Russia win the war… but if I do… western markets may close off to us. They’ve warned us, Biden has. Anyway, we’ve bought enough Russian oil. Putin should be bolder… send in a team to kidnap Zelensky… take him to Moscow and try him for crimes against humanity. I fear he’s running out of time. He may ask us for more drones, to attack Zelensky in Kyiv, like the Americans did in Kabul… but if one of our drones hit Zelensky… that would be a problem.’
He closes his eyes for a moment.
‘But I don’t trust Putin. Sooner or later, he’ll remind me that he has more nuclear weapons than I have… I know that’s coming. But what I admire in him is how he’s domesticated his people to do as he pleases. I should learn from him. And how he persuaded Donald Trump that he had nothing to do with interfering in America’s elections. That was beautiful to see.’
He returns to his paperwork, sorting out the most loyal from the less loyal.
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He’s pacing in his office in his bunker. He looks a bit tense but controlled, mostly an enjoyable feeling. He’s just finished a half glass of vodka with his filet of salmon, done ‘a la Vladimir’ by his personal chef. He is careful with his drinking. Always has been. He remembers Boris Yeltsin very well, and how drink undid him. On the other hand, if it hadn’t been for Yeltsin, who handpicked him, he wouldn’t be where he is now. He thinks about freedom, how the West carries on and on about it. Absurd.
‘There’s no freedom on earth, not really, it’s all in heaven. Which is why I’m not disturbed by all the casualties I inflict, death merely passage to a great and fair world. I mean… sometimes it does occur to me that heaven is a useful fiction but… what are the chances of that? Minimal. Have to play the odds… and I’m a gambling man.’
He paces some more.
‘The thought of the cartel drug lord in Chihuahua, Mexico, enters his mind. ‘How interesting. The young fellow kills two Jesuit priests and gets the third one to hear his confession. He didn’t kill him, so the likelihood is the priest pardoned him. What was he going to do, staring at the two dead bodies in front of him? “No, you’re a murderer, I’m not going to pardon you.” Of course, he pardoned him. Then said a couple of prayers with him, to console and send him off. I would’ve done exactly the same thing. Save your skin. Oh, the power of the gun.’
He stops and takes another sip of his vodka.
‘I have thought of putting a military base in Mexico. Just to piss off the Americans. I doubt the president of Mexico would let me, but just the talk of it would be enough to rile the Americans, which I love to do. I can even talk of putting bases in other countries, too, say Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba. Just to keep the Americans guessing.’
On the TV monitors affixed to the wall, scenes of the destruction in Ukraine flash by.
‘I am the toast of the world. I am reviled in some sections, sure, but in others I am a hero. And I love the invitation to the upcoming G-20 meeting in November. Joko Widodo, the Indonesian president, personally extended the invitation. Just beautiful. I’d love to attend. By then I will have conquered all of Ukraine, or if not, at least destroyed most of their infrastructure, their schools, universities, hospitals, industries, malls, whatever. Turned them into beggars. Just so they never forget what it means to defy me. The West will soon forget them, anyway, worried as they are of having to pay more for gas and so on. And when I get to the meeting, there will be leaders of nations lining up to shake my hand and bow and have a photo taken with me. For posterity. Beautiful. Narendra Modi will be there, and Xi Jinping, and I’ll try to mediate between them. Wouldn’t that be wonderful, if India would join our bloc? They’re cooperating so far. Then it would be Russia, China and India, against the West. We would be invincible.’
He crosses to a mirror on the wall adjacent and looks at himself. He smiles.
‘I’m strong and fit, good for another 20 years in power.’
He thinks of Trump.
‘I’m sorry to hear about what he went through after his defeat at the polls. I can only imagine what it would be like for me. Of course, I’d never give Russians the chance. But I’m sorry for Donald because I like him. I wish there was some way… well… not now. I certainly hope he runs again. If it hadn’t been for him, I wouldn’t have felt so certain that I could get away with invading Ukraine. I mean… I knew it wasn’t in him to rally the Europeans to oppose me… and he wouldn’t have started something on his own. Instead, he would’ve called me up and said something like, “Vladimir, you’re making me look bad by threatening to go in all the way like that… so in the open… instead, do it with stealth… get one of your people to run for president of Ukraine and get the comedian out. No military intervention, just infiltrate the government… meddle with the electoral process… and I’ll make sure NATO never makes Ukraine a candidate for membership. Be more subtle.” And just that thoughtfulness on his part, would’ve saved lives… Russian and Ukrainians both, and we would all be grateful. Of course, they wouldn’t be free… they would be part of my growing empire… but again, what’s all the fuss about freedom?’
He paces a little more.
‘This freedom thing is a ruse the Americans play on their people. Are people killing each other, free? Of course not. This freedom thing is a mirage. Opium for the masses. Hmm. I know that’s not original but sounds good. Can’t remember who said it. Must be the vodka. Are all those homeless people in America free? Right. All the poor people free, too? Sure. The only really free people in America are the ones with money. The rest don’t even vote or are too tired after work to think about it, which is why Trump stands a chance of getting elected and… if he plays his cards right, even getting the constitution changed so he can run again, for a third term, though he might be too old by then. But good for his successors. Anyway, he’s sure to beat Biden easily. Biden doesn’t have a chance, not with the drubbing I’m going to give Ukrainians and the relentless inflation. Hmm. The supreme court voided Roe vs Wade. The two term limit is next. Beautiful. Count on me, Donald, even if you can’t hear me. And, yes, I’d love to accept an invitation of yours to Mar-A-Lago and play a couple of rounds of golf. And do an appearance with you in your platform, Truth Social, and the world would be a more peaceful place. With fewer dead and ill. And Donald would let the Russian vaccine be used worldwide. Or talk to Xi, so he would use it in China. Not that their vaccine is bad. Just not as effective as mine.’
He opens his arms wide, a smile on his face.
‘Oh power, how grateful I am that I can hold you, how grateful that I will have you until I die.’
He frowns. His thoughts turn to the testimony of Ms Cassidy, a White House aide, on her recollections of what happened while the January 6th rioters were headed to the capitol.
‘That got away from Donald. If we had spent more time together, I would’ve made clear to him that he was in his right, as president, to have a gun on him, just in case, and when he got in the limousine to go to the capitol and lead the charge of the protesters in an unprecedented act of heroism, and the driver refused, he would’ve flashed his gun and made it clear who was boss. I bet the driver would’ve taken him… and the counting of the ballots would’ve been tampered with and Donald’s election would’ve been ratified by the conservatives in the supreme court and the world would’ve been spared the misery of Ukraine. Trump would have, single handedly, changed the course of history. But it got away from him. Not too late, though. There’s still time. Overturning Roe vs Wade is just the start. We have another election coming up. And Russians and Americans will become the best of friends.’
‘I love me.’
Oscar Valdes, medium.com, anchor.fm, buzzsprout, apple and google podcasts