Only a Dream, Mr Zelensky?

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Mr Zelensky, president of Ukraine, recently stated publicly, after a meeting with chancellor Scholz of Germany, that perhaps Ukraine’s desire to one day become part of NATO was only a dream.

Dear sir, now, more than ever, Ukraine needs to embrace her dream.

When Russians are growling at your borders, baring their teeth and threatening to devour you with their superior forces, Ukraine needs to embrace her dream.

When many in the world have rushed supplies to you so you can fight the good fight, Ukraine needs to embrace her dream.

We don’t know how this will end, but there have already been thousands of courageous Ukrainians who have given their lives in combat because they believed in their country’s dream.

This is not the time to hesitate.

While your country remains divided, a majority have spoken up and said they want to chart their own course in history. They have stepped up and said they do not want to live under the feet of a bully neighbor.

I read that many of your citizens have chosen to no longer speak in Russian and so affirm the Ukrainian language.

Ukrainians and Russians have shared a past but Ukrainians reject being chained and oppressed by them and wish to embrace the future as a separate nation.

To forge ahead on this uncertain path, the nation needs to dream.

You should not, as their leader, in a moment of great consequence, succumb to doubt. Russia is forcing a course upon you. They are not asking but compelling you to obey them.

They say that they feel threatened. But the West nor you have threatened Russia. It is an invention of theirs to grab more territory. An invention of a leader who wants more and more land under his authority.

In the face of overpowering forces, it is the dream your people harbor that will sustain the hope to fight on. It is the dream that will fuel the resistance against the intruders.

Mr Zelensky, time is running out. It may be that you are now living the last days of your presidency.

Let your people know, on any occasion you have, that you stand with the dream of a free Ukraine. That you will fight for it, and never bow to anyone who wishes to decide for you what your future should be.

Sir, you owe it to yourself, to your nation and to your children.

Long live a free Ukraine.

Oscar Valdes., buzzsprout, apple and google podcasts.

Getting Closer

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Putin keeps circling Ukraine, amassing troops around it and tightening his grip. Ukrainians are running out of air. They have started to have trouble breathing.

Putin is loving the world’s attention. This is what he’s always dreamed of. Americans rushing frantically, here and there, trying to convince allies that the time is now and some allies saying, ‘Well… I’m not sure.’

Putin laughs. And he thinks, you have to be doing like the ostrich does, to not see what’s in front of you.

But of course he will invade.

The West is divided. Beautiful. Just Beautiful.

Trucker protests in Canada are now spreading to America and France and affecting commerce, rattling nerves. ‘We need freedom!’ they chant as they blare their horns for hours on end stressing everybody else. ‘Pay attention to me!’ ‘I count too!’ ‘No vaccine mandates!’ they say.

And in their minds, they must be convinced that if they keep it up, they will be able to bend the arm of government and boost the chances of a nationalist party rising to the top and finally putting an end to that nasty immigration problem they have and can’t solve, plus the worrying about other countries far, far away. Too far.

Long live Trump!

And when Putin runs over Ukraine and crushes them, shamelessly making the country a province of the greater Russia, the protesters in the West will simply say, ‘Putin needs his space. So long as he respects ours, we’ll be okay. He’s one of us, a devoted nationalist.’

Meanwhile, to aid their case, business interests in Germany are saying that the talk of economic sanctions on Russia when they invade, would affect them as much as the Russians and that prices would go up for all. So no sanctions, please. We cannot afford it. How about a slap on the wrist, instead? If Putin wants a little bit more of Ukraine to feel less anxious about his hold on power, why not give it to him? It’s just Ukraine, so relax. Anyway, the man won’t live forever. And we need to keep an eye on our bottom line, that’s number one.’

And Putin will be smiling. He could kiss the truckers and their rants and the businessmen fretting over the bottom line being above everything else.

‘You are lovely, thank you’ Putin will say. ‘I agree with you, some people need to be sacrificed sometimes. We all know that. The Germans knew it. They just went about it the wrong way. You won’t see me making that same mistake again. I promise. So long as I live.’

If divisions in America are not enough, then there’s inflation.

Supply chains have not got back to normal, demand is driving up prices and traders and investors are panicking. Stocks are dropping like lead in water – straight down – investors  worrying that the new interest rates the Federal Reserve will set in March will be either too high or too low. The Federal Reserve won’t be able to do enough to calm the nerves. If the new rate increase is 0.5 bps investors will sell because the central bank is too aggressive. If the new rate increase is 0.25 bps then the Feds don’t know what they’re doing and are avoiding reality. Either way, value will drain out of the markets.

Putin will be salivating.

‘Oh, I never imagined it would look this good. In congress, Republicans and Democrats can barely agree on anything. Republicans have Biden checked. The poor guy, a lifetime waiting to govern and then he gets blocked. And Republicans will squash him in November. No, not squash but stomp on him. And Kamala Harris can forget about it. The two houses will be Republican and my good friend Donald Trump will win in November 2024. It will be great to see him again. He and I can talk. We can divide Europe according to our wishes. He can keep Britain – I’ve never been fond of those rascals. But Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Baltic nations, they will come my way. A new era dawns. Thank you, Donald, for planting the seeds. Thank you for inspiring the Capitol assault on 1/6/2020and the way that has influenced the imagination of Americans. Thank you, you are the greatest. I wouldn’t be on the brink of invading Ukraine and making it a province of Mother Russia if it weren’t for the way you set things up. The way you showed Americans that there is indeed a place for totalitarian government, for the rule of the majority. I’ll be forever grateful. And maybe, you can change the constitution so you can get elected a 3rd time. I promise you all the help I can possibly give.  I’ll keep you out of it, of course, so as not to compromise you. What are good friends for.’

And Putin has one final thought.

It has occurred to him to contact some groups and urge them to stage another assault on the Capitol… and even the White House itself. But it might be too obvious. But there are people willing. Still, he will tread carefully. He knows the field. He was once a trusted KGB man. So he knows that world. In and out. And how some spies will work for both sides.

Feeling like he’s on top of the world, he smiles confidently and says, ‘I’ve got them.’

Oscar Valdes., buzzsprout, apple and google podcasts

Russians Should Not Wait for History

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What keeps them from resisting Putin’s rule?

The largest nation in the world, with vast mineral resources and a capable people,

is not on a par with the leading nations of the West. Is not on a par with China.

People don’t travel to Russia as they do to other leading nations.

But they have nuclear weapons in abundance, so they are prone to scare the rest of the world with firing them. Never mind that the rest of the world will fire back too and the result will be catastrophic.

Why are Russians so afraid of the rest of us?

Why do they let a man like Putin be their leader?

Russia is not a free country.

Dissident organizations that Putin sees as critical of him are labelled terrorists and banned. Critics of his regime are imprisoned or killed.

Putin is a defender and supporter of Assad in Syria, of the ruthless military in Burma, of Maduro in Venezuela, of Ortega in Nicaragua. Name a repressive government in the world and the likelihood is that Russia is having a hand in propping them up and defending them.

Still, most Russians seem able to turn off the lights at night and sleep till morning, their conscience undisturbed.

Today, Russia is a threat in Ukraine, a country with whom they have a shared history. Mind you, neighbors disagree all the time and should be allowed to do so. But Putin says no, Ukraine cannot disagree with this wonderful system I lead, this majestic empire of ours, and if they stray from our path we will crush them.

And so Russians are afraid because they have been intimidated by Putin and his close supporters.

It can happen anywhere. Trump in America wanted to do it. His supporters still try.

But the price we pay in allowing it is great.

The price of yielding to fear is that we are diminished as people, as human beings.

The price is that we get smaller inside.

The price is that we give up on opportunities that may not come back.

Putin wants to govern until he dies. But the longer that Russians put up with him, the more lasting the damage he inflicts on them.

And he will invent all kinds of threats from the West or anywhere, to tell Russians ‘look at what they are doing to us! But I’m here to defend you!’

It’s all a show, ‘The Putin Show.’

History will see it clearly, but Russians should not wait for history. Their lives are now. They need to step up and dare to develop their vast potential and in so doing rise to be among the leading nations of today’s world.

It will take courage. But anything we earn takes courage.

Fellow Russians – brothers and sisters – you have the power.

Oscar Valdes., buzzsprout, apple and goggle podcasts.

More Absurdities

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On Sunday, president Macron of France was quoted by a French newspaper as stating that he did not believe Russia’s goal was to seize Ukraine, but instead to ‘clarify the rules of cohabitation’ with NATO and the EU. He added that Russia had a right to seek security guarantees from the West.

But who is doing the threatening in Ukraine?

Who has encircled it with 130,000 troops?

Who annexed Crimea in 2014, biting off a huge chunk from Ukriane?

Who has fueled a war in the Donbas area in eastern Ukraine with cumulative deaths estimated to be 14,000 and counting?

The West is racing to help arm Ukraine with defensive weapons only, not the kind they could use to attack Russia. And the West is doing it so Ukrainians can put up a good fight when the Russian tanks start rolling and their airplanes start strafing their people.

Mr Macron’s need to seek attention seems to have outrun his common sense.

Maybe it’s the prospect of national elections later this year that is the key motivator.

Mr Macron went further. He stated that one of the models on the table was to make Ukraine like Finland during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, when the Finnish were allowed to remain ‘independent’ but they could not join NATO, and Russia was permitted to have ‘considerable influence over their political options.’

So the West allows Ukraine to be ‘considerably’ influenced by Russia?

Doesn’t that sound like betrayal?

To please Putin’s paranoia?

In another article, mention is made of a spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, a woman declaring that the West was demonizing Russia, so as to take public attention away from their domestic crises, invest huge sums to arm ‘fragile democracies’ (as in Ukraine), and bolster an image of invincibility that has been weakened by the Afghanistan collapse.

But do we have political prisoners like you do?

What about releasing Alexei Navalny, whom you poisoned and nearly killed?

What about your branding every dissident organization you find upsetting, a terrorist one?

In democracies we sometimes elect people to govern us who are not fit, but we can throw them out at the end of their terms. You can’t do that. You’ve been stuck with Putin since 1999.

Yes, we parade every day our million flaws so that the whole world wonders how it is we still function.

But we do.

And we prosper.

Unlike Russia, where, with no free press, the citizenry is daily growing convinced that it is America who wants to invade them.

Quoted statements for this piece come from articles appearing in the New York Times on 2/7/2022. The reflections and judgments are my own.

Oscar Valdes., buzzsprout, apple and google podcasts

Germany: You Got Help to Pull Out from Under the Russian Boot

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Now it’s time you return the favor. Help Ukraine. They need weapons.

The use of weapons in defense of freedom is a responsible act

Why is Germany so reluctant to stand up against Putin?

After overcoming a history of atrocities against Jews and starting World War II – Germany has made a courageous effort to confront its past. And that gives the nation gravitas.

They know what it is to struggle with guilt. They know what it is to struggle with fear, misery and pain.

But their choice to not send weapons to Ukraine is worrisome. Furthermore, they do not wish to join in sanctioning Russia with exclusion from Swift, the infrastructure that allows interbank transactions, should they invade.

Germany is fully aware of the consequences. They are saying, ‘we understand the threat to Europe that a Russian invasion represents but we believe we will be spared.’

And they probably will.

But they are wrong.

Germany, by virtue of its standing and accomplishments, is a leader in Europe. Will they allow their position to be tarnished?

Ukraine wants to keep moving towards Western Europe and Russia is saying no. No and we will invade you, says Putin. No and we will arm your brothers and sisters in the Donbas area and fuel a fight that will keep you killing each other rather than letting you go to the West.

The same thing happened to Germany after WWII when the nation was divided into East and West, the Soviets (Russia) controlling the East. While the greater prosperity in the West kept acting as a powerful factor urging their unification, a bitter and resentful East Germany, went on shooting dead all those attempting to cross to the West.

Other countries intervened to help Germany become one nation.

Now they are being asked by history to play its part in assisting Ukraine.

But Germany is conflicted, reluctant to stand up against their former oppressor.

They have the power to assist, the strength to be a deciding factor.

And yet they will not.

But you can’t give in to a bully and keep your self respect.

Because you once misused weapons and caused immeasurable pain, does not excuse you from using them when the cause is honorable.

Ukraine’s plight is dire. They want freedom.

Germany has freedom. It needs to prove to itself that it can help defend it against the greatest oppressor those neighboring countries face – the reality of a life impoverished by the rigidities and cruelty of a repressive system, as in East Germany after WWII and until October 1990.

Will Germany defy Russia or bow to it?

Defiance in defense of a nation begging for help is a mark of immense courage.

And a chance for Germany to restore its full pride as a people who can and will bear arms responsibly in defense of justice anywhere in the world.

Oscar Valdes. google and apple podcasts and buzzsprout

Biden’s Response to Putin

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Has been energetic and realistic. He has not looked at the 130,000 Russian troops amassed on Ukraine’s eastern flank and said to himself, ‘maybe they’ll go away.’

I understand that Biden’s characterizing such buildup as presaging an ‘imminent attack’ has unsettled Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, since the latter has his nation’s economy to manage, but to think that Russia’s military buildup is meant to merely kick off a war of nerves on Europe and America, is pure poppycock.

Putin wants to inflict harm on the West for what he sees as his diminished great power status, particularly in light of China’s rise.

Just 20 years ago China’s GDP was estimated to be $1.34 trillion while Russia’s was $306 billion. But in those two decades, China’s GDP has grown more than 13 times to become an $18 trillion economy while Russia’s has only gone up 5.5 times.  (2021 figures)

So China has zoomed past Russia and left them wondering, ‘what the hell just went by?’.

To make matters worse, all this has happened while Putin has been in power. So it is a great embarrassment for him and his nation, to be seen by the rest of the world as having been outclassed by their neighbor.

It has got to hurt Putin.

In his moments alone he has to wonder what didn’t he do to better direct the course of Russia.

He wishes he had had the daring to accomplish, steal, connive, do whatever worked, to rise as the Chinese have.

But he didn’t.

Meanwhile, the longing to be in the spotlight doesn’t go away. So what better way than to invent a crisis and claim that the West is a threat to him.

President Biden has seen right through it. He has not dithered. He’s acted promptly and is making every effort to get an incredulous Europe to face the facts. That to be dependent on Russia for energy is a horrible idea, in light of Putin’s predatory history.

Europe has been steeped in denial, which leads to timidity and so favor the notion that the threat to Ukraine is mere bluffing.

Putin is a wounded and vengeful man, who cannot blame anyone but himself for not releasing the considerable powers of Russia to reach as high as they can. Had Russians been allowed to be part of a market economy that embraced political freedoms, Russia would now be a leading economy. But it didn’t happen.

The blame falls squarely on Vladimir Putin.

He cannot live with that truth so he invents threats, hounds, imprisons or poisons dissidents, stokes a resistance movement in eastern Ukraine that has cost 14 thousand lives so far.

Oh, yes, he has modernized his Army and now has supersonic missiles. And gas and oil and wheat to export, but the potential of Russia, under his power, has been wasted.

He can’t face that truth so why not demonize the West instead.

And when Biden stands firm, Putin then talks of the West ‘goading’ him into invading Ukraine. Or he gets Xi Jinping to send a Chinese official to tell the West to ‘calm down.’

No. There’s no time for that.

Putin’s threat is real.

President Biden has had the wisdom to face it and should not relent one bit in his stance to confront Putin.

And Putin should think of stepping down. He has done enough harm.

Oscar Valdes  apple and google podcasts, and buzzsprout

Why Putin Will go to War

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One. He clearly sees the divisiveness in the West. Germany is ‘uncomfortable’ providing weapons to Ukraine, supposedly because they started WWII and they have all that angst weighing on them. But it must not weigh on Germans that much because they sell arms to Egypt which is run by a dictator. Oh, but they did contribute 500 helmets to the alliance’s efforts. Terrific. Never mind that thousands of Ukrainians are about to die to satisfy Putin’s ambitions.

Two. Putin controls the supply of natural gas to Europe, and Europeans are loath to inconvenience themselves with shortages. Businesses will put all manner of pressure on politicians to quickly submit to the great Putin. All the while saying, ‘Why, he just wants Russians to have a little more space to stretch.’

Three. Putin is convinced the sanctions the West will impose when Russia invades will not last because of the above.

Four. Russia’s economy gets support from China who, for now, will buy enough of their energy supplies to bolster their invasion of the Ukraine. In today’s papers, a senior Chinese official came out urging America to ‘calm down.’ As in, don’t get too excited, it’s just the Ukraine. Surely the Chinese statement was prompted by Biden’s decision to send troops to the border with Russia. Of course, China is all in for their ally Putin, and eager to disrupt the US-EU alliance.

Five. Putin doesn’t give a damn. He has little regard for human life. Remember the Malasyia Airliner Flight 17 shot down on July 17th 2014 as it flew near the Ukrainian-Russian border on its way to Kuala Lumpur? It was brought down by a Buk missile fired by Ukrainian dissidents and supplied by Russia. A Dutch-Australian investigation put the blame squarely on Russia but they denied any involvement. 283 passengers and 15 crew members were killed.

The good news today is that Putin was disappointed by the written response to his requests provided 2 days ago by the US-EU alliance. Good. The West is maintaining a firm stance and that is a strong deterrent. Still, for the reasons above, Putin will invade anyway. It’s his gift to the Russian people. ‘We will reestablish dominance over territories formerly in the Soviet Union and push westward.’

So it’s Biden, the leader of the Free World, against Putin, the leader of the Un Free World.

(China doesn’t have as many nuclear warheads as Russia and the US but it’s working on it)

Oscar Valdes., apple and google podcasts and buzzsprout

Putin Wants War

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Something about his inflated ego, courtesy of the docility of the majority of Russians who have tolerated his repressive rule.

The man has mobilized large numbers of soldiers and war materiel.

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck.

Putin has been further emboldened by the divisiveness he sees in the West, notably Germany and now Macron in France talking about the EU needing to formulate their own strategy, separate from the one of the alliance with the US.

An invasion of Ukraine would be a serious blow to the Free World. A country which has been urgently asking to join us in the West, being trampled on by a thug.

So far, about 14000 Ukrainians have died over the last few years in the Eastern section, as separatists supported by Putin challenge the democratically elected government in Kyiv.

But Russia wants more, regardless of the cost. They want the whole of the Ukraine. The annexation of Crimea in 2014 was not enough.

Putin believes he needs a war to ensure Russia’s security, but no one is threatening Russia. We, in the West, have plenty of problems to solve. Anyway, all they have is oil and gas but that can be had from elsewhere. The security crisis Putin speaks of is entirely his invention.

The US-EU alliance should not give in an inch to Russia.

And NATO should keep open the option for Ukraine and any other former Soviet nation to join them.

Any concession to Putin under threat of invasion is bad news. It would be read by the rest of the world, and China, as a sign of weakness.

We can’t afford it. Not now, not ever.

There are a lot of highly capable men and women presently strategizing how the West should proceed, but from a citizen’s point of view, it makes sense to put troops and materiel on the border with Russia. If you threaten us, we will respond.

And keep the troops there until he backs off, otherwise he’ll bring troops back and then we have to send them in again, making the West feel like a yo-yo.

The fact that Europe grew so dependent on Russia for their energy needs, i.e natural gas, speaks of a horrendous lack of foresight. Somehow, the EU did not factor in that a regime where a dictator has the boot on the throat of his people, with dissidents in jail or murdered, is likely to think they can push others around.  

Putin’s repeated abuses in Ukraine were not given the importance they required. And because of it the current crisis has occurred.

Putin wants war. The West needs to act like it’s ready.

Blunt talk from our leaders is essential. We need to know where we stand.

I read that in Ukraine, president Zelensky is choosing to say to his people that things will be okay. To be patient. I disagree. Ukrainians need to hear the truth. Just like we do.

Oscar Valdes.  apple and google podcasts, and buzzsprout

Does the West Have the Guts?

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Putin is sitting at his desk in the Kremlin. He is alone.

‘So the head of the German navy said that Crimea (annexed forcefully by Russia in 2014) was “gone, it will never come back” and that I, Vladimir Putin, only wanted and “probably deserved respect”, and that it would be “low cost, even no cost” for the West to give me such support, in part because it needed Russia as a bulwark against China.’ (WSJ 1/22/2021)

Putin laughs.

‘Beautiful. I should send him a check. Just beautiful. And if that is the head of the Navy talking, then he reflects the opinions of many Germans in the armed forces. In other words, they’re acknowledging their weakness and their need for me and all Russians, to defend them from the Chinese. Never mind Ukraine, they can be sacrificed. They are expendable to keep me happy. To give me respect.’

He shakes his head slowly, still in disbelief at the comments from the German officer. Now a hint of a smile forms on his lips.

‘If I hadn’t put the pressure on them, the cracks wouldn’t have shown. I would never have guessed it… Vladimir Putin as a defender of the West. This is too much’.

He smiles broadly for a moment and then, leaning forward, hands clasped, his mood turns somber.

‘Ukraine is mine. The West cannot get consensus, and I’ll drive my army right through their doubts. And the sanctions they will impose, whatever they may be, they won’t work because they won’t last, because Germans will start complaining of how cold it gets after I turn off the natural gas they depend on me for. And they’ll start calling their prime minister pleading that he intervenes, that their factories cannot produce enough and they’re not making enough money. And they’ll beg that the government appeal to my generosity.

And the French will bitch that they can’t get enough croissants, and the Italians not enough pasta, and Macron and Draghi will call pleading for a meeting with me. 

Or they’ll turn to America for help, but the Americans will say they can’t act without consensus – but nothing can get through their congress, and their people keep tearing each other apart over vaccinations, abortion, gun control, race, women’s rights, so how are they an example to anyone?

And all the while, I’ll be smiling, as I arrive in Kyiv at the head of my triumphant army, secure control of the country, appoint one of my devout followers to write a new pro Russian constitution, then take a well deserved vacation in Sochi, do some skiing, and plan my next move.

Life is beautiful. Yes, it is.’

He stands, crosses to the window, looks out.

‘What is the secret of my astounding success? Simple. My willingness to act. To repress dissent if necessary. To squash opponents if called for. Alexei Navalny will never rise to power while I’m alive. I’ll invent charges for him to die in prison.

And those I’ve sent into exile will die in exile.

But I do have to invigorate Russia’s economy. I must do that. My fellow Russians expect that from me. Trump said “America first. Well, I say Russians first”.

And to do that I will look to the Chinese system. It is much better than democracy.

Look at how fast they’ve risen. I’m envious of them. I recognize that.

But I don’t trust the Chinese, either.

They mesmerized America with the promise of riches. How can you explain that America has fallen behind in their production of microchips? In artificial intelligence?

The Chinese cast their spell and America relaxed. “Don’t worry, America, we have what you need,” they said, but the tags read “Made in China.” “We are making you money, isn’t that what you’re about?” And America nodded a little more, its belly growing in size, its robust quarterly reports in hand as it dozed off.

China smiled.

Then it struck. The South China Sea is ours. The Belt and Road initiative is on. We’re going after Taiwan. We’re conquering outer space on our own, never mind the International Space Agency, which you denied us entry to. And there we are.

Trump may have put America to sleep – in terms of their place in the world – but the trend was already there. Hubris. It will kill you.

Now it’s Russia’s turn. My turn.

And so this is only the beginning. For I will keep annexing territory. Little by little. The Baltic countries look like a good possibility. Little Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia. Who will go to war for them? No one. They are too small.

Then I expand. Poland would be a good one to catch. A fat little fish.

And again, who will go to war for Poland?

Not Germany. Not America.

In America they’ll say, ‘Wait, we’ve too many problems here at home, with our schools, immigration, racism, inequality, we need more time.’

‘Once upon a time they had fight in them. Now it’s gone. But they will still kneel before China to get their money.’

Putin laughs. Then the pensive and serious mood returns, eyes narrowed.

‘Ukraine is mine. Not just the East, but the whole country. It’s mine.’

Oscar Valdes. apple and google podcasts and buzzsprout

Putin on the Verge

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He is alone in his private residence. He is standing by the window, looking out onto a beautiful forest covered with snow.

He has Ukraine surrounded by troops in the East, South East and in the north in Belarus. He knows the Ukrainians won’t be able to stop him, once he gives the order to invade.

He has enjoyed enormously being in the headlines, day after day, everyone talking about him. How will the world ever forget him? They cannot. He is now part of history. Forever. Immortal.

He rubs his chest lightly as he smiles.   

He looks back at his desk, and the phone on it. He needs only to reach over, pick it up and order that his troops march into Ukraine. Just that, no more than that, and thousands of lives will cease to exist. Unless, of course, they all fall to their knees and beg for mercy.

What a life he has lived. So privileged.

Thinking to himself, he says, there is something so special about having so much power over people. So much power over the hapless Europeans who start shaking the moment he talks about holding back his supply of gas to them.

And he smiles when he thinks of his power to deceive, to persuade, to pressure. What talent!

‘Yes, I want to rebuild the Soviet Union. I want to have Russia be the number one power in the world. And I have the guns, the supersonic missiles that can get to Washington in 5 minutes. I have them.’

‘Sure they will retaliate, but I’m convinced my weapons are better. My resolve greater. My willingness to destroy unmatched.’

‘I have been able to bully others all my life. No one, no one at all, has bullied me back.’

And now he thinks of how he has no trouble sleeping. None at all. He puts his head on the pillow and wakes up refreshed 8 hours later. What a gift.

‘How can a man have so much power?’ he says to himself.

His eyes brighten. ‘I convinced others to give theirs to me, that’s why,’ and he laughs.

‘I convinced them that I would be their shepherd.’ He laughs again.

‘I do worry that I’ve caused lasting damage to my fellow Russians… that my being in power so long has led to an atrophy of their will to be. I do worry. But I won’t live forever, so they’ll have other people govern them. Meanwhile, I will rule this land as I wish and die in power, like Stalin did. President for life. What a charmed life. People will write and write things about me, like some hapless blogger is surely doing just this moment, trying to imagine what goes through my unique mind. But they won’t come even close. There has never been anyone in the world like me. No one. And I will continue to sharpen my cyberwarriors to undermine my enemies. One after the other. They will get so good at it that I will decide elections in other countries.’

He turns around and takes a few steps to sit at his desk. His phone is within arm’s length.

‘I can pick up that phone right now, order the invasion, and all the world’s attention will be on me, on my next moves. Europe will tremble with fear. America will squirm, Xi Jinping worry about what I’ll do next.’

He crosses his legs and brings his hands together interlacing his fingers.

‘I can see the headlines all over the world… “Russia Invades the Ukraine. Troops within reach of Kyiv.” “The Russian leader speaks of Lebensraum. More living space for Russians.” “Germany and Europe Panic”

He laughs.

‘Oh, I’m a genius. Yes. And right now, other world leaders are simply envious of me. But they can’t stop me. They don’t know how. Worse, they won’t dare.’

He rubs his face.

‘I enjoy seeing the world scared of what I can do. What pleasure that gives me.’

‘Ha! And Russians will celebrate me. And I will destroy completely all those who’ve dared oppose me here in my land. I’ll simply get rid of them.’

‘This will be the century of Vladimir Putin. I am now 69 and will govern for another 31 years, and all the while the world will be in awe of my powers.’

‘And next will be Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland. And no one will stop me, no one has the guts to stop me.’

‘I can live with fear… yes… and know how to stare it down… but so few people can.’

He pauses, holding his hands locked in front of him.

‘It’s up to me… and only to me… I alone choose the fate of thousands of people… hundreds of thousands… millions…’

He reaches over to the phone but hesitates… and hangs his head for a moment.

Then, raising it slowly… eyes narrowed as he looks off… the expression determined… fearless,

he says, softly,

‘Do I invade today or tomorrow?’  also available on apple and google podcasts and buzzsprout