Posted: 2022-03-04

Ruthless warmongers are very slow learners and it may take years for the penny to drop in the crazed brain of Vladimir Putin or his successors in the Kremlin.

In 2019 Vladimir Putin told the Financial Times that liberal democracy has ‘outlived its purpose’ and that liberalism as an ideology has ‘come into conflict with the overwhelming majority of the population’.


There is nothing new in a Russian leader’s contempt for western liberal democracy. Lenin declared that parliaments were ‘historically obsolete’ and that it was just a matter of time before they disappeared. In 1956 Khrushchev told western ambassadors that the West was dying and uttered the notorious words: “We will bury you.”


35 later later it was the Soviet Union that was consigned to the graveyard. Although Putin has declared that the collapse of the USSR was the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century, he seeks to resurrect the bones of the old imperial Russia set in train by Ivan the Terrible even further back in the 16th century. Putin dreams of a revived slavonic motherland under Russian hegemony ruling over countries like Ukraine as vassals.


Yet many of Russia’s former client states including Ukraine have tasted 30 years of independence and have no desire to rejoin a greater Russia. They have also become burgeoning liberal democracies, seeing it as the fairest and wisest political system yet devised. They understand that it is a necessary compromise which ensures that individuals and minorities have some fundamental rights as well as majorities, and that political life is a constant negotiation between them. 


Last year Putin wrote an essay entitled On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians, outlining his belief that they are one people divided artificially by borders and outsiders. He has now repeated this claim on Russian TV. 


It is true that in the early 1990s Russia and Ukraine were friendly neighbours. In the 1994 Budapest Memorandum Ukraine actually gave up the nuclear weapons on its territory, the third largest nuclear arsenal on earth. In exchange for this major concession, Russia and the West pledged to respect its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia has now proved that its promise was empty.


Relationships soured after the authoritarian Putin came to power, especially when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. The Russian President’s aggressive approach created a strong sense of Ukrainian national identity imbued with deep anti-Russian sentiment even before the current 'special military operation' began. Therefore bombing and shooting people into unity is likely to be entirely counterproductive, as the IRA eventually realised here. 


In the modern world, invaders often make this same mistake, as Russia, the US and the UK discovered in Afghanistan and the ‘coalition of the willing’ discovered in Iraq. Initial military conquest may be easy but maintaining control over the defeated country can become an insurgent quagmire which ultimately leads to a humiliating withdrawal. 


The last thing that Ukrainians desire is to return to autocratic Russian rule. Sure, they will probably pay a heavy price in lost lives for their adherence to western values, and Putin is likely to win his brutal war, but ultimately he will lose the peace. 


The sad truth, though, is that ruthless warmongers – not to mention their appeasers – are very slow learners who are not always prevented from wreaking havoc on the world. It may take years for the penny to drop in the crazed brain of Vladimir Putin or his successors in the Kremlin



Brian McClinton, 4th March 2022