Dear Mr. Putin,
At this writing, thousands of blameless people are scrambling for shelter along the Dnieper, trapped between a vulnerable nuclear reactor and a mighty river’s gushing banks.
The dam has burst, and your place in history is drowning.
Reporters say the Soviet-built Nova Kakhovka dam’s cement wall cracked not because of external impact but because of internal sabotage.
Pundits say that since the dam was under your occupation, you are the one who uncorked this humanitarian catastrophe. Your people say it was the Ukrainians, who this way sought to divert attention from what they claim is a faltering counterattack.
We say that even in the unlikely event that this atrocity is not your doing – it’s still your fault.
Whether Russia attacked it or not – Ukraine dam destruction is Putin's fault
IT’S YOUR fault because the dam would have been intact if not for the war that has your name written all over it. You conceived this war, you waged it, you doubled, trebled and quadrupled its intensity and you, more than anyone else, are the one losing it.
The war is yours because you consulted no truly independent forum or individual before sparking it. You conducted no political debate before or after sending commandos to depose an elected government, and you prevented your media’s uncensored coverage and free criticism of the war that you have imposed on your people, their neighbor, and the entire world.
Everyone knows you have already lost the war, and if this flooding is indeed your idea, it means that you, too, know you lost, and thus turned to an act of military desperation and moral bankruptcy.
We know you can’t win because the enemy that first withstood your invasion and then regrouped, rearmed and counterattacked has now brought the fighting to your land.
In Shebekino, 10 km. into Russia from the Ukrainian border, Ukrainian attacks caused its 40,000 inhabitants’ evacuation. “There is no power, no public transport, no residents, just an empty, shattered town in smoke,” a resident told The New York Times.
In Belgorod, 40 km. into Russia, 2,500 residents were moved into makeshift bomb shelters and thousands more fled on their own. And in Moscow itself, at least 30 drones landed last month at five locations, including in some affluent neighborhoods.
War, you now know, is a two-way street. It’s a lesson other aggressors learned before you.
It happened to Japan five months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when American warplanes bombed Tokyo; it happened to Germany less than a year after its invasion of Poland, when 95 British bombers emerged above Berlin; and it happened to Egypt when Israeli warplanes emerged above Cairo two months after Egyptian aircraft greeted the birth of Israel with a bombardment of Tel Aviv.
Now, you too are learning that aggression might work when its victim is weak, but if resourceful and motivated it will fight no matter what the cost, and its power will steadily grow, while the aggressor’s strength will dwindle and its spirit will die.
And that’s the other thing about your war: Your people don’t believe in it.
THE PEOPLE who were not asked whether to wage this war, and who were not properly informed about its reasons, costs and setbacks, still know enough to flee its trenches.
Hundreds of thousands have fled Russia rather than fight in Ukraine, a voting by the feet that made you pass a special law that threatens draft evaders with up to 10 years in prison. Even so, you had to send convicts to the battlefield. That’s not how nations fight. It certainly isn’t how they win.
In World War II, Churchill’s son, Randolph, fought with the Special Air Service in Libya; Roosevelt’s son James fought as a marine in Midway; and Stalin’s son Yakov Dzhugashvili fought as an artillery officer in Smolensk. That’s how it is when the leaders’ war is the people’s war.
How many among your many ministers, oligarchs, governors, lawmakers and advisers have a kid in your war’s blood-fields? The people know the answer, Mr. Putin, because they know who is with them in the trenches and who is not.
The enemy, at the same time, has all the sense of purpose that your warriors lack. They are fighting for their lives, their land, their families and their homes. Just like your people don’t want to fight, they do want to fight.
Lastly, your arms – inferior and under-produced to begin with – are no match for what the enemy is steadily gathering, the way the Red Army did after Germany’s invasion of Russia. Soon the Ukrainians will challenge you with Abrams tanks and F-16 fighter jets. Their decisive advantage in motivation will be redoubled by vastly superior hardware.
Such is the military balance, which is separate from your diplomatic trouncing after your gamble triggered not only NATO’s active aid to Ukraine but also its expansion to Finland and Sweden. In short, Mr. President, on every possible level, your gambit produced defeat.
They say you wanted to be Peter the Great, the violent visionary who led Russia to imperial splendor. Alas, yours is the path of Czar Nikolai, who journeyed from military defeats to personal demise.
Even so, and even at this late hour, you can still change course.
One meeting, Mr. President, one meeting with Ukraine’s leader can stop the bloodbath and reboot your situation. One meeting, after which the two of you will jointly order a ceasefire, launch a humanitarian rescue operation, and start diplomatic talks that will take years to produce peace but minutes to undo war.
If you do this, Mr. Putin, you will be remembered not only as the man who started the senseless war that killed, displaced and dishonored hundreds of thousands but also as the one who ended it.
The writer, a Hartman Institute fellow, is the author of the bestselling Mitzad Ha’ivelet Ha’yehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sefarim, 2019), a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s political leadership.