Vlad’s Army

And why we should shut up about its war crimes.

I’ve been reluctant to write a great deal about the war, partly because I’m about as expert in warfare as I am in playing the zither. And partly because so much else is being competently written, and I don’t want to waste my, and your time, duplicating the efforts of others.

That said, it seems pretty clear that Putin has made some pretty serious miscalculations, not least concerning the capabilities of his army, which seems stuck in a neo-Stalinist mindset, and no match in quality for the Ukrainians’ nimble, high-tech forces. Russia seems to have been forced, therefore, to fall back on the old Russian standby of quantity, which, Stalin observed, ‘has a quality all of its own’, and upon the exercise of gratuitous violence upon those of its enemy whom it manages to capture or subdue. Well, we shall see how effective that turns out to be.

In the mean-time, it behoves those of us who wish Ukraine success to be circumspect in our blandishments. The invasion of Ukraine was clearly initiated by Vladmir Putin upon the advice of a tiny coterie – advice which, in key aspects, seems to have been deeply flawed. As such it is rightly seen as ‘Putin’s War’, and he is rightly held to be personally responsible for it.

We keep being told that Putin’s power is practically unassailable. In conventional terms that is probably true, but there is nothing conventional – in Western terms – about this conflict. On the other hand, the overthrowing by intimate personal violence of leaders who have lost the plot is something of a tradition in Russia, hallowed by centuries of practice. The shortest path to ending Putin’s war must be to end his life.

I have heard it said that any likely replacement for Putin would be likely to share his world view, making the benefits of his assassination questionable. I take leave to doubt this, because even a successor who shared Putin’s passion for a recrudescence of Russian Imperial hegemony must surely be deterred from aggressive action by contemplating the fate of his predecessor. So, I still see the assassination of Putin as an event to ardently to be wished for. The extent of Putin’s personal isolation dictates that that can only be done by one of that tiny coterie who still have physical access to him.

I have written earlier about the futility of seizing the assets of émigré ‘oligarchs’, without a corresponding offer to restore them, should the oligarchs, singly, or in concert, contrive to have Putin assassinated.

In the same way, it’s not entirely clear to me what is to be gained by banging on about ‘war crimes’, and it seems to me that doing so, while it might yield a brief sugar hit of self-righteous conceit, may make it harder, not easier, for Ukraine to prevail. Aside from the fact that it ought to be obvious that except for his wish to be seen as a force to be feared, Putin himself cares not a fig for his international reputation, branding as war criminals his generals and senior advisers – the very people you are relying on to undertake the hazardous task of killing their leader makes no sense to me. It won’t make a scrap of difference to the way Russia conducts itself, but it will tell Putin’s inner circle that they have nothing to gain, and much to lose, from bringing about an early end to the hostilities.

Let’s just shut up about war crimes, until we’re in a position to prosecute them.

Tom Forrester-Paton

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