He was sitting at his desk in his bunker when the call came in. The general he had summoned had arrived. Putin reached over to the photo of Josef Stalin he kept on his desk and put it in one of the drawers.
The general stepped in. Putin signaled for him to take a seat across. The general did.
Putin – Good to see you.
General – Pleasure as always, Mr President.
Putin – Wanted to hear from you directly how are things on the front.
General – There has been much resistance as I detailed on my report from yesterday but I’m confident we will prevail.
Putin – How long?
General – That’s a hard question to answer.
Putin – A guess…
General – It could go on for months… with the West providing so much equipment.
Putin looks off as he nods.
General – Their morale is high… they’re good fighters. It’s their land we’re taking over…
Putin – No, General, it’s our land.
General – I meant they’ve been there for a long time… and they’ve been able to put up with a lot of killing.
Putin leans forward, intertwines his hands.
Putin – Do I look like I’m having trouble sleeping?
General (scrutinizing briefly Putin’s face) – Mr President, your expression looks fresh and healthy.
Putin – You know why?
General – You’re convinced you’re doing the right thing?
Putin – Yes… God is on my side.
The General nods.
Putin – The Russian orthodox church says I’m in the right and that’s good enough for me.
Are you a believer?
General – I am.
He had prepared himself for the question.
Putin – I don’t want to keep losing Russian soldiers… so I may have to use nuclear weapons.
The General flinches, surprised by the statement.
Putin – Even though I think that a long war will eventually work to our benefit… carefully placed nuclear weapons would make a big difference. The war is raising energy prices, fueling inflation, creating food shortages, lowering morale throughout the West. Do you follow the capital markets in the West?
General – Not regularly, Mr President.
Putin – They’re panicking, selling and selling, the likelihood being that they will go into a recession… even a depression… which would erode support for Biden and his people. All of which makes it more likely that America will see more political divisions and increase the possibility that Trump will be reelected in 2024.
General – That would be good for us?
Putin – Of course. He’ll agree to the superpowers carving out spheres of influence and we’ll all live happily ever after. I will do everything possible to see him reelected… but I can’t wait that long. Nuclear bombs in Kyiv, Lviv, Odessa… will send a clear message. Surrender immediately. Or else… more will be on the way.
The General looks down at the ground for a moment, gathering his thoughts.
General – Wouldn’t that be killing a lot of innocent people?
Putin – Innocent? If they’re collaborating with the enemy they’re not innocents.
General – But don’t you think the West will figure out you’re planning a strike and do something about it?
Putin – Maybe. But they have a lot of people to consult before they make a decision. I can make my choice quickly.
General – They may have a plan ready to go…
Putin – Perhaps. But I’ll take my chances.
General – That would be a big chance you’d be taking. It would change the history of the world.
Putin nods as he narrows his eyes.
Putin – I hadn’t thought about it that way… but it definitely would. Still, the Japanese were able to rebuild.
General – Too many innocent people would be killed or burned.
Putin – There are no innocent people in this war…
General – The children…
Putin shakes his head as he looks directly at the general. Why is he having to repeat himself?
Putin – Do you think the West will give planes to Ukrainians?
General – I’m sure they’re thinking about it. The Czechs already send in helicopters and are repairing them too. With planes they could hurt us badly.
Putin – Another reason to drop the nuclear weapons.
General – But the West may respond by using nuclear weapons on our troops and that would be it.
Putin – I don’t think they would. They would think it inhumane… or wrestle with their conscience. Advantage Putin. For I would not hesitate to fire on Washington, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam…
The General looks off for a moment,
Putin – A lot of killing, you think?
General (now looking at Putin) – That’s… destroying the world as we know it…
Putin is struck by the statement.
Putin – The world as we know it…? Interesting. General, I detect a certain pro-Western bias…
General (puzzled) – How so?
Putin – What about China, India, Africa, South America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia… aren’t they important engines of growth?
General – Of course, but the cities you mentioned are at the cutting edge…
Putin – No, general… they’re decaying cities, filled with corruption, greed, moral decay and perversion… but you don’t seem to get that.
General – I do… but there’s a vitality there that enriches our world…
The general catches himself. He had forgot caution.
Putin (eyeing the general carefully, speaking deliberately) – I’m not just fighting for Russia, general, though I’ve warned them… said it again and again… do not encircle me with NATO. I must have my Ukraine. How many times do I have to repeat it?
I’m fighting for a new world order… so the nations of the East and South can emerge… and shake off the shackles of unrestrained capitalism…
The general nods uncertainly.
General – If we attack… wouldn’t they destroy Moscow, St Petersburg… so much life, so much history?
Putin – I would get to them before they get to us.
General – How can you be sure of that?
Putin – I am sure. That’s why I have ruled this nation as long as I have. That’s why people believe in me.
But rest assured, general, it won’t come to that. If the West chooses to use nuclear weapons against our troops in retaliation, then there will be nothing left in Ukraine… and I will take it over and rebuild.
Putin sits back in his chair, taking his time.
Putin – General… your pro-Western bias worries me… I believe that’s made you less effective on the battlefield.
General (quickly, emphatically) – I assure you it has not. What I said is simply an acknowledgement that the cities you mentioned are creative centers… I believe in Russia’s importance in the world, Mr President…
Putin (ignoring him) – Which may be why we’ve not gained more territory.
General (urgently) – Mr President, I have given the war effort and our conquest of Ukraine all of my energies, day and night…
Putin – But your attitude would easily lead to a lack of conviction… in ways not easily detected…
so be quiet, please.
Putin – I hate to do this, dear sir… how long have you been in the armed forces?
General – Thirty five years, sir… and proud of it.
Putin – It may be time for you to retire.
The general’s heart sinks. He closes his eyes.
Putin – You have been obedient and loyal… but maybe it’s time for you to spend more time with your family.
General – But why, sir?
Putin – I don’t think you have the commitment I need to have my orders followed unquestioningly. I don’t get that you’re hungry for victory.
General – That is not true.
Putin – Be quiet.
Leaning forward, the general rubs his face. His eyes now moistened.
General (choosing to fight) – Don’t you think it’s good for Russia that you hear different opinions? For instance, our soldiers’ morale has been low, that has affected performance on the battlefield.
Putin – And what have you done about it?
General – I’ve told them that we must sacrifice for a greater Russia. I’ve joined them in the front lines… stood side by side with them… they just don’t believe me. I’ve proposed they be given bonuses…
Putin (firmly) – The morale of our troops has been low because you lack commitment, general. That is why.
The General looks off, feeling defeated.
Putin (softly, almost caringly) – You’ll be placed under house arrest effective immediately. Return directly to your home. A security detail will follow you. You may leave now.
General (pleading) – I don’t deserve this, Mr President.
Putin – That is my final decision.
General – Will you please reconsider?
Putin – Didn’t I just say my decision was final?
The General stands, salutes energetically and exits.
On the way out, he thinks to himself, ‘And what do I tell my children that I did for mother Russia?’
Oscar Valdes oscarvaldes.net medium.com, anchor.fm, buzzsprout, apple and google podcasts