Friday, April 22

Ukraine, nearly two months later . . .


In my previous post I noted how I had learned that Ukraine men would fight and not give up easily but, nevertheless, expected that, by now an unpleasant situation would have arisen with Russia trying to run the country, businesses reluctantly trading as part of the Russian economy but those who chose not to fight accepting that life needs to go on and secretly hoping that there would be an opportunity to put things 'right' again once more decent leaders took over at the Kremlin. I expected that there would be a large number of military people still actively disrupting Russia's attempts to run things, with varying degrees of success. In some cities and towns I could imagine resistance being particularly effective and there being little impact from the invader's presence other than it being a thorn in the nation's pride. In others resistance is troublesome but no match for Russia's supposed superior numbers and general might.

I was quite wrong again. 

What has transpired is absolutely appalling, dreadful and downright evil behaviour by Russia's troops who, at the same time, have achieved very little. Indeed, at the time of writing, Russian troops have been taken out of all areas apart from the Donbas region in the East and along the South coast areas. Russia failed miserably to take any towns or cities other than some small areas in the East where there had been fighting and no real success by either side since 2014. Aided by a great deal of equipment, training and resources from other countries, the Ukraine fighters have achieved a lot and surprised everyone.

Whilst the bravery of Ukraine men and some fortuitous supplies and assistance here and there has prevented Russia from taking control of anywhere, Russian bombardments, missiles and general destructive activities have destroyed vast swathes of towns and cities in the East and South. Kharkiv looks wretched, once a large, vibrant and pretty city. Mariupol looks like something from an apocalyptic movie, almost every building either flattened or blackened, scarred by an extraordinary amount of bombs and missiles. Many other towns look almost as bad - even outskirts of Kyiv have been badly damaged and we now read reports not only of residential property being blasted out of existence but the people living there too, nearly all women, children and old folk who either chose or had to stay, also being killed - shot, many executed after being tortured or subjected to the cruellest of degrading acts by the invaders.

However much one tries to understand the reason for Russia wanting to take control over this area, this destruction and wanton killing is almost completely incomprehensible. What is the point of destroying infrastructure, resources, factories, food production, power generation, civilians? If you wish to steal a neighbour's car a normal person certainly wouldn't dream of wrecking it first. If you wanted their house, a normal person wouldn't dream of destroying its roof and walls and its contents. What has happened there is more like one of two things: a sort of punishment, revenge for such successful resistance and the massive loss of life and equipment experienced by the Russians, much like a mother might in the old days have whacked her child if he didn't behave as she wants, or as a bully beats up some kid who refuses to part with a toy, or could it be simply that Russia just doesn't care and if vast swathes of Ukraine become ugly, concrete-strewn dusty fields over the years then so be it. They simply don't care.

I feel it is a bit of both but mostly the former with two types of individual doing the damage. The first type is the frightened and very inexperienced young Russian boy with a gun in his hand or weapon at his disposal. Faced with resistance he just fires as one might in a video game. Shooting first and asking questions later does make some sense to this kid. He is scared, he's seen many of his colleagues blown up in tanks stuck in the mud or troops killed, cornered by Ukraine military and he reckons he may be next so he shoots whoever is approaching him. He probably has no idea of the procedure he'd have to follow in taking a prisoner, never mind a bunch of prisoners. They may only have been six or seven old women shouting at him but he simply had no idea what to do. So he shoots them. And the little girl that was with them. That I can understand although that doesn't in any way excuse it, of course. What I can't understand is the rape and torture and execution of people with their hands tied behind their backs. That's a different story altogether and shows some sort of planned intent, not just an instant defensive reaction.

And that's where the second type come in. The more experienced fighters brought in to support the Russian army from Chechnya, Syria and other countries. These men are tough and used to war and know how to win skirmishes and don't panic or just react blindly or stupidly. They'll have decided what to do and just go in and do it. If they need information about where Ukraine fighters may be hiding then they'll get it one way or another. If they just fancy the look of a pretty girl, or boy, I suppose too, then they'll take what they can get as no-one's going to stop them. They rule the roost but are no chickens. In many ways they may prove to be the worst aspect of the whole thing when bodies start to be counted and stories begin to be told. I doubt they're operating under any guidance other than the most loosely-worded instructions to take a town, village or factory.

The Russian forces themselves have been pretty useless but these mercenaries and some groups, like the Wagner Group, are the ones who have caused the real damage. They don't care. It's not of interest to them who lives or who dies, What remains or is destroyed.

Add to the equation the missiles fired from distant fields which have landed in almost every town, ostensibly to destroy some military targets but, in practice, merely destroying hundreds of homes instead and you have a recipe for this dreadful scene which we now can see unfolding.

Forces backing Russia - I can't honestly say Russian troops - now do appear to be likely to take some sort of control over who goes where in the Donbas region and, to a lesser extent, along the South coast from Mariupol to Odessa. 

I suspect that Putin might like now to stop and claim that he has taken these two tracts of Ukraine and ended the 2014 project in the East successfully and effectively closed off Ukraine's economy by sealing off access to the sea through ports in the South, as well as opening a corridor through to Transnistria in Moldova, which has been pretty much cut off to date. Whilst not exactly a defeat of Ukraine by any stretch of the imagination, this could be presented in an uplifting and meaningful way to justify what the Russian people must be beginning to see has been more than some military exercises, or whatever terms the Kremlin insisted media use instead of war or fighting, killing, bombing or destruction. He could probably hope to get away with this and no-one would ask about the earlier huge losses or many thousands of young Russians dead.

This might even be seen as a way to bring some sort of  'peace' in the country. Ukraine people thus expected to brush themselves down, fighters to put down their guns and people who ran away to return to the places that remain Ukraine and start rebuilding property, infrastructure and lives.

But no, this is not going to happen. Putin may well make 'success achieved in the South and East' his message (and hope people forget his earlier statement of intent, de-militarisation and de-Nazification) but only Russians will be listening and only Russians will be foolish enough to believe him. The rest of the world will not accept Russia simply walking away and pretending nothing untoward happened. For 'untoward' read 'criminal'. That's what Russian-supporting forces have been in many, many instances already and, I fear, there are plenty more yet to be documented and even more offences to be committed and atrocities enacted, either planned, in revenge or in desperation. Ukraine will continue to fight in every single place. They will receive more weapons, more training, more money and, I do believe more actual manpower and military support too, and we will see some more terrible scenes but we will also see Ukraine gradually retake all the ground it has lost and a very different outcome to that which anyone might have expected.

There may ultimately be an area to the East and in the Crimea where some independent control is instigated for a period. Over time the people in these areas will be able to determine for themselves how they are governed - by Moscow or by Kyiv or even by themselves. Russia's actions of late, however, cannot have made the Moscow Option more likely - which just goes to emphasise the stupidity of the whole affair.

For Ukraine elsewhere, though, there will eventually be a remarkable sense of achievement when it does come to the end. There will be an absolutely massive amount of work to do to rebuild the bricks and mortar but that can be done in a positive manner and I believe there will be plenty of financial support to help this happen and to happen quickly. Cities like Kharkiv and Mariupol, as well as countless others we know little about today but which will have been badly damaged, will need to be redesigned in some cases, with the opportunity to take advantage of new techniques in materials and design and cityscape generally which will be fascinating to watch and, I'm sure, for many residents to become part of.

With Russian influence considerably diminished, Ukraine should benefit from the desire of Europe to assist and welcome them into a trading fold, although I don't see much chance of EU membership for a while. Their economy will need to improve very much and there are many questions about how they manage banking and finances generally, with a tendency to corruption in the past amongst rather too many of those in positions of influence and power. They won't get into NATO either but let's just say that I don't see NATO being fooled again by any future Russia moves.

Russia itself will be a much poorer and rather unwanted country, much like some of its neighbours like Kyrgystan or Tajistan, perhaps, which were also members of the USSR, like Russia and Ukraine had been. We seldom see or hear much of these places now. Russia is a vast geographical state, though, and no doubt will try to be heard but whether we believe what it says, or even want to listen, depends a lot on the extent to which it changes over the years. Russian people will have a hard time in any discussions with the rest of us as they will take some time to come to terms with the total deceit to which they were subjected by their leaders and media. Parents in Russia refuse to believe adult children in Ukraine about what happens now in 2022 and it will be very difficult for any of them to admit that they were wrong. Few people will want to visit or deal with Russia whilst it maintains its silence and lies about events this year. How can we go if we find ourselves arrested for talking about it? At the moment even talking to each other about it could land us in trouble, never mind actually trying to tell residents there the truth! How can anyone do business if every email or phone call is subject to a similar test? I hope no-one, either because they really want to see some Russian scene or because they want to trade there, allows themselves to be gagged and accepts the restrictions which I expect to remain for some considerable time yet. No, leave Russia to stew. Any Russian people who are prepared to listen and accept the facts of 2022 are welcome here and I hope that more and more do leave the country of repression and of no freedom. 

Russia once so proud will soon be a mere shadow of its former self and no amount of parades or holidays celebrating this or that military event will make any difference. Russia will soon be dead. RIP Russia. Long live Ukraine.

All of this is my hope, of course. That is all. I may, again, be proved completely wrong and some very different outcome emerges. This may drag on for years with just enough support from us to keep Russia at bay in most parts but not enough to push them back. That does require us, or someone, actively to get involved. We need to grasp the nettle of war to end this quickly and achieve maximum advantage for Ukraine. We need to put ourselves at some risk of being hit by a missile from somewhere a little north west of Moscow. Every single person in Ukraine at this very moment is subject to that very same risk. We cannot hold our hands to our faces and peep through our fingers any longer. There is a monster. We don't like it but it needs to be defeated and Ukraine is a little kid in its grip who will cease to exist if we just turn away and hope someone else does what we dare not.

So, yes, there are still many different ways that this can end. I know which way I'll vote for.


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