Ignorant musings on Ukraine

I was planning to get back to blogging, honest, but life has been busy.

But here are a few thoughts about the topic on everyone’s mind; they’re not likely to be better than anyone else’s.

  1. Practically speaking, it makes absolutely no difference how much I express outrage here or on social media, or whether I put a Ukrainian flag in the window. But I still think I’ll join the rally in Nottingham city centre on Sunday.
  2. I want to pray for an end to the war, and an end that isn’t just Ukraine having to give in. Which is difficult to visualise. It means praying for overwhelming opposition inside Russia by people who will be risking imprisonment or worse; praying for a stance by other non-Western governments (China is alas probably a lost cause, but how about India? Indonesia? Nigeria?); praying for superhuman powers of negotiation at the UN.
  3. In 390 AD, the Emperor Theodosius’ soldiers massacred civilians in Thessalonica. He was forced to do penance by the tough stance of Bishop Ambrose of Milan, who refused him communion until he repented. What would happen if leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church tried something similar?
  4. I do have sympathy for the Russian government’s dislike of NATO expansion over the last 30 years. But then one can sympathise with the Germans after the Treaty of Versailles. Nothing remotely justifies invading Ukraine, and indeed there has been depressingly little attempt to justify it (to the West).
  5. My mother and I had a fascinating trip to Russia in 1988, visiting Moscow, Leningrad (as it then was), Novgorod and Vladimir (it’s a historic town.) I am so glad we went then, when glasnost and perestroika were in full swing, and hope and free speech were high.

I am very ignorant and shocked.

Love (and apologies for long absence) from the PPI Blogger

  • Stephen Sheridan

    27th February 2022 at 11:56 am Reply

    Dear Penelope

    I owe this forum a big apology for the last time I posted here. I had the sin of pride and intellectual arrogance in assuming that Putin would not attack. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Through my Polish side and interests I know some of the history and geography of the region. I still stand by the history, but that is dangerous, as history is what Putin uses as his excuse for his behaviour. I also assumed that Western intelligence reports were exaggerated for political reasons. I did this not because I had any faith in what the Russian regime says – they are obviously egregious liars of the worst kind – but because I lost all faith in Western intelligence after the bare faced lies that propelled us into the Iraq War. Please forgive me.

    I went to a local Catholic Rosary followed be Mass which was dedicated to prayers for peace in Ukraine last night and it was very moving. All we can do is praise the Lord, pray for peace and let our secular selves pass the ammunition to the Ukraine.

    I have read more about Putin now and learned the lesson that when observing a dictator we should always believe their opinions are what they write themselves. If the political leaders in the Twenties and Thirties had taken what Hitler and Lenin had written themselves about what they wanted to do as serious, then their decisions should have been different. Putin wrote an essay in July 2021 which summed up his belief that the Ukraine was the fitting together of a Tsarist region (including Crimea) together with elements in the West which previously belonged to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and subsequently the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He is technically correct in this aspect.

    However a new Ukrainian identity was forged by the Stalinist genocide during the forced agricultural collectivisation in the Thirties and during the oppression by both Stalin and Hitler during World War 2. Ukrainian nationalist partisan units fought both Germans and Soviets and there were also Ukrainian elements that sided with the Germans against the Soviets (now reborn in a small group of militias like the Azov Battalion which uses a SS Divisional symbol). This nationalist vision has grown and Putin’s actions to destroy it have now made it a concrete reality. By seeking to suppress something he has actually made it stronger. His assertion that Ukraine is de-Nazified is prepostrous. The likes of the Azov Battalion are a tiny element of Ukrainian society and President Zelensky is a Jew many of whose family were murdered in the Holocaust. Putin expected Russian speakers in the East to great his army as liberators. Instead they have bravely fought back or just stood weaponless in the path of tanks like the unknown man at Tianamen Square. One old Russian manner Kharkov (no I am not using this re-spelling of cities – we don’t call Moscow Moskva and in English it is Kiev not Kyiv) said: “What the F are doing here? I am Russian too. Go the F back to Russia!”

    God willing, Putin’s legions will find themselves smashed to pieces against the rock of the desire for freedom. A former comedian and a former boxer will turn out to have more courage than the acres of Western professional political leaders. I suspect that the majority of ethnic Russians in Ukraine will start to identify as Ukrainians.

    Why does Putin think he can get away with this? Because we in the West told him he could. We said we would not put NATO troops in to defend Ukraine (partly because there aren’t any troops to send – Western Europe has basically disarmed since the end of the Cold War), we accepted the Crimea annexation and the carving off of Eastern parts of Ukraine without anything gained in return, but most importantly we became dependent on his energy. Ever since Biden scrapped Trump’s energy self-sufficiency that was gained through fracking and Germany got rid of its nuclear power, the default power source is gas, since “renewable” energy is nowhere near ready to replace it. All the wind farms and solar panels need gas as their back-up. In the UK the last line of power generation are massively inefficient diesel generators. Putin knows that all he to do is turn the gas off and the lights literally go out all over Europe.

    So while our leaders argue about pronouns and CRT, a wave of blackouts, impoverishment and hyper inflation awaits us and nothing has been done to prepare us for it. We have much more than just the Ukraine to pray for. It is not the Emperor Theodosius that we need to remember, but the Emperor Honorius, whose chaotic regime resulted in the sack of Rome and the effective collapse of the Western Roman. Empire.

    The West failed to engage properly with Russia after the fall of Communism – instead the financial vultures were let loose on Russia and the Russians will not forgive us for that, but that is too late to fix. Could we have re-negotiated on NATO with Putin? Until last Thursday I thought we could, but now I see that it would not have made any difference – he was going to take Ukraine no matter what, because he thinks he is the political heir of Peter the Great (a statue of whom he keeps in his office). Biden’s chaotic departure from Afghanistan was the green light to Putin and subsequent shambolic “diplomacy” by ignorant and arrogant Western politicians only encouraged him. We are no longer taking seriously in Moscow and Peking. The Chinese are just watching to see if Putin succeeds. If he does then Taiwan will be next as the opportunity will just be too tempting. With a corrupt senile buffoon as POTUS and an imbecile as Veep backed by a woke military leadership, the CCP will never have a better opportunity.

    Don’t put any hope in the Russian Orthodox Church – they have always followed the authority of the Tsar and Putin has endowed them handsomely with money and power. Don’t put any hope in India or the rest of the world. India abstained in the UN Security Council vote. Ever since the US backed Pakistan in the 70s wars and India became reliant on Soviet military equipment, the ties between Russia and India have been very strong. India would be an ally against China, but never against Russia.

    Our only hope is that Putin’s army exhausts itself and he has to withdraw, but still no one will move against him as all senior roles are his acolytes. The army is the only conceivable force that could depose him, but it will take a while for some one to build up a power base to do it. He is still far too popular and he has a huge propaganda and disinformation machine. In his anger at his failure he will lash out. If we are unlucky then he will try for the Baltic States and see if NATO lives up to its statements, using the Russian settler minorities (that were settled there by Stalin in 1940 and 1945 to colonise those nations) as an excuse – straight out of the Hitler Sudetenland playbook. If we’re unlucky he’ll simply cut the gas off for as long as he can and sell it all to China and we’ll have a far worse energy crisis than the Seventies. There isn’t much time to shake our culture out of its narcissistic self-absorption. When the lights go out, the gangs will rule. A trigger warning about a potentially transphobic book won’t be much use when some one takes your food after beating you over the head with a baseball bat.

    Si vis pacem, para bellum.

    Still probably better to ignore me – I was very wrong last time and I am a natural pessimist…

  • Stephen Hall

    1st March 2022 at 5:16 pm Reply

    Thank you Penny, I’ve been missing your blogs. One feels that to avoid further bloodshed and avoid backing Putin into a corner, he needs to be given an ‘out’. But it’s hard to see what that might be that wouldn’t reward him for his invasion.

    Images of cheering Russian-speaking Ukrainians welcoming the Russian tanks have been conspicuous by their absence (and if there had been any, you can be sure Russian state media would have leapt upon them). This seems to undermine Putin’s case. While it may be that 50 years ago a proportion of the population, at least in Eastern Ukraine ‘felt Russian’, Putin’s rough wooing of recent years will, I imagine, have left them feeling decidedly Ukrainian. People’s sentiment can change over time, and history moves on. Just as polite Dublin opinion in 1916 was initially aghast at the Easter Rising, but became more nationalist in response to the British Government’s over-reaction at the time.

    All so sad and unnecessary.

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