Ukraine gives Russia's Vladimir Putin the finger - opinion

As an autocrat unshackled by the truth, Putin instead took his perch at Red Square and declared his failed invasion of Ukraine “necessary, timely and the only right solution.” Wrong on all counts.

 RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin attends a flower-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, on Monday, Victory Day. (photo credit: SPUTNIK/REUTERS)
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin attends a flower-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, on Monday, Victory Day.
(photo credit: SPUTNIK/REUTERS)

As I sit here in Vermont reading President Vladimir Putin’s Victory Day speech justifying his disastrous invasion of Ukraine, I am reminded of the sage advice given a different president bogged down in a different losing war. Senator George Aiken of Vermont told Lyndon Johnson that Vietnam was a lost cause and the best strategy would be to “declare victory and get out.”

As an autocrat unshackled by the truth, Putin instead took his perch at Red Square and declared his failed invasion of Ukraine “necessary, timely and the only right solution.” Wrong on all counts.

He had been planning on a triumphant parade in the capital of Ukraine to mark the defeat of Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War 77 years ago, but Vlad the Invader doesn’t have much to celebrate.

He had to cancel the victory march down the streets of Kiev, which he failed to capture. The streets are littered with too many hulks of destroyed Russian tanks, abandoned equipment and dead soldiers left by his fleeing army.

And he won’t be able to triumphantly sail into Odessa harbor strutting on the deck of his flagship, the Moskva. It’s on the bottom of the Black Sea, complements of a pair of Ukrainian cruise missiles.

 Russian President Vladimir Putin watches a military parade on Victory Day, which marks the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in Red Square in central Moscow, Russia May 9, 2022. (credit: SPUTNIK/MIKHAIL METZEL/POOL VIA REUTERS) Russian President Vladimir Putin watches a military parade on Victory Day, which marks the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in Red Square in central Moscow, Russia May 9, 2022. (credit: SPUTNIK/MIKHAIL METZEL/POOL VIA REUTERS)

If he wants to see the Moskva he can buy one of the most popular postage stamps in recent history. It was issued by Ukraine and portrays border guard Roman Hrybov responding to orders from the Moskva to surrender his post on Snake Island. It shows Hrybov giving the Moskva the one-fingered salute and declaring, “Russian Warship. Go F*** Yourself.”

After being captured and tortured he and his group were released in a prisoner swap. There have been many other heroes of this strange war, including the babushkas, the old ladies, who used their cell phones to alert the Ukrainian army about Russian movements.

Putin, the neighborhood bully, had planned to send one of the mightiest armies in the world swarming into Ukraine to be greeted as liberators, quickly overthrowing the democratically elected government and installing his own puppet regime on his glorious way to restoring the Russia Empire.

The war is far from over, and many more will die until he grasps the reality that no matter the outcome he and Russia have suffered a stunning historic defeat. Putin has reaped a whirlwind of humiliation, defeat and destruction. He has gone from world leader to war criminal and pariah in a matter of weeks.

French President Emmanuel Macron called the invasion of Ukraine “a turning point in history.” US President Joe Biden quickly branded Putin the aggressor and said he must leave the world stage.

The hero of this war is President Volodymyr Zelensky, who rallied his country and the world with his tenacity and toughness. Putin has sent several hit teams to take him out, but Zelensky continues to be seen in public with his troops, his advisers, his people and foreign leaders. His wife, also a Putin assassination target, met publicly with First Lady Jill Biden on Mother’s Day.

Zelensky has given a new meaning to reality television, meeting with reporters and speaking by video link to the United Nations, US Congress and the Knesset, while Putin remains isolated and issuing threatening diatribes.

Zelensky has shown it is possible to go from television performer to hero president and not just be a bombastic buffoon in an ill-fitting suit. Perhaps, the thin-skinned Putin recalls how the former comedian used to ridicule him and other Russian politicians.

One of Putin’s excuses for the invasion was the denazification of Ukraine. When it was pointed out that Zelensky is Jewish, had lost family members in the Holocaust and was democratically elected by over 70% of the vote, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said (falsely) that didn’t matter and he’s still a Nazi, because Hitler also “had Jewish blood.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has said Putin called to apologize for the antisemitic attack, but there’s been no confirmation from the Kremlin and Lavrov’s Foreign Ministry has kept up its attacks.

Many of Israel’s friends have been disturbed by that country’s ambivalent response to the Russian invasion, a reluctance to enthusiastically line up with the US and the Western democracies. It could weaken Israel’s standing on Capitol Hill. The Israeli pubic strongly supports Ukraine by a three-to-one margin, but many recall Ukraine’s history of violent antisemitism and others resent Zelensky’s Holocaust comparisons to what the Russians are doing to Ukraine today.

The Israeli government has been supportive, but cautious out of strategic concerns. Russia controls the air space in Syria and gives Israel access to attack Moscow’s Syrian and Iranian allies it considers threatening, so long as it avoids Russians.

Ukraine once was home to the largest Jewish community in the world and it also has a centuries-long history of violence against Jews. It can be difficult for some to see a new Ukraine where a Jew was popularly elected. Today’s Ukraine has apparently changed, not only because a Jew can become president. A Pew Research poll shows 83% of Ukrainians today have a favorable view of Jews.

The Nazi comparison is more apt in reverse, with Putin’s invasion likened to Hitler’s 1939 attack on Poland and the brutality, slaughter and antisemitism.

During the Cold War, the Israeli army revealed to the world the poor quality of Soviet equipment and tactics provided to the Kremlin’s Arab allies. One of the amazing lessons of the present conflict, in the view of many military and security analysts, is how little the Russians have learned.

Moscow appears to have failed on so many levels: the quality of leadership, poor training, discipline, low morale of its soldiers, high casualty rates, including generals, supply lines, maintenance, communication, reliable equipment, and basic supplies like food, water, spare parts and ammunition. Putin’s well-oiled military machine has often run out of gas or broken down and been abandoned, only to be reclaimed by resourceful Ukrainians who repair them and turn them against their original owners.

Columnist Fareed Zakaria, noted, “Russia’s military has become the topic of widespread scorn, dismay and mockery among military analysts in the West.”

“They’re a poor-quality military, with poor-quality leadership and poor logistics – and seemingly highly inclined to corruption,” said Joel Rayburn, former US expert on Russian operations. It reveals “a military machine on the Russian side that could not pull off a confrontation with any NATO power.”

Nina Khruscheva, an international affairs professor in New York and granddaughter of former Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, said in a New Yorker interview that he is a ruthless megalomaniac who appears to have lost all grip on reality and clearly suicidal.

Those are troubling words about an unpredictable megalomaniac, who has been desperately rattling his nuclear saber and making threats.