He’s back –that strutting Russian officer, with his bullying sidekicks, last seen in Budapest in 1956, is now in Ukraine and doing exactly the same. Of course, as in Hungary, he would claim that he has been “invited” in to defend the country against Fascist mobs but it’s all lies. He’s there because Ukrainians have dared to aspire to glance westward rather than remain a supplicant of Moscow.
In 1956 realpolitik dictated that we stood by as the Russian tanks moved into Hungary to crush the uprising – but we did have the good grace to weep for those brave freedom fighters as they were imprisoned and tortured and executed by the grim legions of Soviet terror. Indeed, throughout the west those tears were followed by a sense of shame and guilt that we just watched as they drowned.
But in 2014 there are few tears and little, if any, sense of shame. The liberal left is mute, as always in the face of Russian aggression, incensed, no doubt that the Ukrainian protestors should dare to go around toppling statues of Lenin. But what is far worse is the attitude on the right. “Russian sphere of interest” is the current weasel phrase. Until a couple of decades ago Ukraine had been a colony of the Russian Empire for centuries, we hear from many “conservatives”, so what else should they expect if they annoy Moscow. It’s like getting an axe buried in your head in the East End in 1960 because you had a few beers too many and started badmouthing the Krays – you deserved it because you were STUPID….
Or, if “armed men” are swaggering around Crimea pulling down Ukrainian flags well isn’t that the same as what happened in Kiev?
Actually – no. Power didn’t shift in Kiev because the demonstrators, armed to the teeth with assault weapons, stormed into parliament and arrested President Viktor Yanukovych and his ministers. There was violence and there were bullets and scores of people killed and wounded. But the shootings were ordered by Yanukovych and the violence instigated by his security apparatus – and when the bullets failed to intimidate the crowds his authority just melted away just as it did in Petrograd in 1917 and Tehran in 1979. The government disintegrated and the police disappeared from the streets.
There was no putsch – just a power vacuum that the anti Yanukovych elements began to fill.
Still the myth of an armed insurrection has grown legs, conveniently reinforced by the Russians with references to gangsters, neo Nazis and anti-Semites. Standard agitprop in the best soviet mould, naturally and total bullshit. But the essence of the tragedy is not Putin’s lies – as a former KGB hack it came with his mother’s milk.
The most shocking aspect of the whole affair is how so many on the right are gloating over Putin’s actions. He has become, with his anti gay and anti Islamic rhetoric the antithesis to the gelded softness of the western elite. He rides a horse, Obama rides a golf cart. He hunts animals, Cameron strokes them. He vows vengeance against Islamic terrorists, the BBC worries about Islamophobia.
Our emasculated, feminised and over sentimental me-me-me society makes many of us uneasy. But a corrupt self serving regime led by a posturing bully like Putin who feeds on grievance is no substitute for the rule of law.
Realpolitik once again demands that there is little we can do to protect Ukraine from Putin’s bullying. But for crying out loud don’t bolster the man’s ego by gleefully supporting Russia’s right to strut imperiously into anywhere that once fell under the writ of tsar or commissar.
You would have thought that we had learned that lesson with that other gangster in in 1938.