Vladimir Putin is a snarling rat cornered, writes IAN BIRRELL.

Vladimir Putin is a snarling rat cornered, writes IAN BIRRELL.

Outside the window of my apartment, the scene was as calm as possible. Five children dig in the sandy yard, wrapped in thick clothes, scarves and pom-pom hats to keep them out of the cold, while their mothers chat over coffee.

Shoppers fuss with grocery packages. Smokers smoke on the doorstep. Dog lovers and runners enter the nearby botanical garden, with its frozen paths and red squirrels scurrying through the trees.

Welcome to Kiev, the capital of a country surrounded on three sides by a terrifying array of weapons, missiles, troops and tanks.

However, while the West warns of an impending war, the Russian dictator, threatening this country, insists that he has no plans to invade.

As a result of shelling by separatists in Ukraine, a kindergarten, a school and a railway station were damaged

As a result of shelling by separatists in Ukraine, a kindergarten, a school and a railway station were damaged

Claims and counterclaims revolve around Ukraine. Moscow says it is withdrawing troops from Crimea. His henchmen in Donetsk and Lugansk, regions of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists, say they are under attack.

Washington reports that another 7,000 Russian troops have arrived at the border. British intelligence sees approaching armored vehicles, helicopters and a field hospital.

As a result of shelling by the separatists, a kindergarten, a school and a railway station were damaged.

However, amid this rising tension, only one person really knows what could happen: Vladimir Putin, the president behind this menacing military buildup that has brought Europe to the brink of war.

Ministers are right to warn against falling for disinformation. Putin is a master at spinning a web of deceit that uses a well-oiled propaganda machine to trap not only his own people, but many in the West as well. Now he is making ridiculous claims that a genocide is taking place in eastern Ukraine, raising fears that he will use accusations of atrocities against Russian speakers to justify unleashing his military forces.

However, we must ask the critical question: why is the Russian president, with all his bulging bank accounts, yachts and palaces, after 22 years in power, now throwing the dice in this potentially disastrous game?

The answer is simple. He is in despair. Putin knows he is failing both at home and abroad, and that is what makes him so dangerous, like a snarling rat cornered as he looks for signs of weakness in his enemies.

He is in despair.  Putin knows he is failing both at home and abroad, and that is what makes him so dangerous, like a snarling rat cornered.

He is in despair. Putin knows he fails both at home and abroad, which is why he is as dangerous as a snarling rat cornered.

For Putin is losing his long war — to destroy the NATO alliance, undermine European democracy, drive wedges between Western countries, regain control of the lost lands of the Soviet empire, and restore Russia’s position as a superpower. And even as he terrorizes his neighbor and spreads fear across Europe, he knows in the depths of his shriveled soul that his recent actions have only diminished his imperial dreams.

Don’t be fooled by the assumption that the Russian president is winning this fight by forcing foreign leaders to visit him and discuss the future of Europe on his terms.

As Secretary of the Armed Forces James Hippie said yesterday, this may all be a hoax to get a seat at the negotiating table, but it could be done at a much lower cost if there were far fewer forces on the border. Yes, Putin may have sensed the weakness of the West after the fiasco in Afghanistan. But he took these steps because he sees Ukraine slipping out of his sphere of influence towards democracy, and he fears that this could affect his own citizens.

He accuses the West of meddling, but his own meddling eight years ago precipitated a dramatic shift in attitudes towards Ukrainians after the illegal annexation of Crimea and fueling separatist uprisings in Donetsk and Luhansk.

These events were triggered by Ukraine’s attempts to sign a cooperation agreement with the European Union, followed by the massacre of pro-democracy protesters in Kiev and the expulsion of Putin’s crooked ally from the presidency of Ukraine.

Look at the data. Just over a decade ago, only one in five Ukrainians wanted to join NATO. Nearly two-thirds have joined us again, according to a poll this week.

Meanwhile, Putin’s hostility has led to a sharp decline in positive attitudes towards Russia among Ukrainians, despite their deep cultural, historical and personal ties. In early 2014, almost nine out of ten Ukrainians had a positive attitude towards their neighbor. A poll this month showed that figure had fallen to just 34 percent, with sharp drops even in the Russian-speaking eastern regions that Putin claims he “protects.”

As the older generation, some of whom look back to the Soviet Union with nostalgia, dies out, young people are much more likely to support EU and NATO membership and are markedly more hostile to Russia.

A Ukrainian friend in her thirties told me that her generation used to see Moscow as a place to study, start a career, and splurge, but now they look to London, Berlin or Warsaw, in part because of Putin’s aggression.

This shift in attitude is also being encouraged by the government after suffering pro-Russian insurgencies, with steps being taken by the state to strengthen the Ukrainian language and culture. Polls show that even in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk republics, fewer than one in ten want to see statehood pushed through as a result of Putin’s latest destabilization efforts this week.

Military helicopters fire while flying over the Osipovichi training ground during the Russian-Belarusian exercise

Military helicopters fire while flying over the Osipovichi training ground during the Russian-Belarusian exercise “Allied Courage-2022”.

Life for ordinary people on both sides of the border is a struggle, but Putin, having seen his economy ravaged by sanctions in 2014, has focused on building reserves for another conflict, while spending heavily on his military and crushing rivals.

Economist Igor Nikolayev called Russia’s growth over the past 20 years “weak” despite all its oil and gas reserves. Not surprisingly, the polls point to strong frustration among young citizens.

Putin also inadvertently strengthened NATO after two years of debate about its post-Soviet significance and funding disputes instigated by former US President Donald Trump. Although NATO is an alliance of 30 very different democracies, it has shown solidity in recent weeks. He firmly stated that neither Ukraine’s desire to join the club nor the membership of other front-line countries should be determined by Moscow.

Thousands of additional troops were sent to the former Soviet bloc countries such as Poland and the Baltic states, while any attempts by France and Germany regarding the territorial integrity of Ukraine over Donetsk and Luhansk were rejected by Kiev.

The United States, with the able support of Britain, has led the effort to counter Putin’s strategy of sowing discord through disinformation, boldly sharing intelligence about his plans in the most public manner.

It was high-risk and angered Ukraine that the West was over-hyping the crisis, though many analysts believe it may have helped thwart Putin’s initial attack plans.

“The invasion planned for today did not take place only because the West was unprecedentedly united,” one of the Kiev government advisers commented on Wednesday.

This strategy was aided by detailed satellite imagery and people sharing videos on social media of military movements in Russia, Belarus and occupied Ukraine.

The West has also helped Ukraine build its military, and more weapons have been brought into the country in recent weeks to counter Putin’s saber-rattling, as well as financial aid to offset the Kremlin’s longstanding attempts to cripple the economy.

Putin's failures and mistakes explain why Europe is on the brink of war and why these innocent children playing so merrily outside my window are in danger of seeing their lives ruined by this monstrous man fixated only on his own survival.

Putin’s failures and mistakes explain why Europe is on the brink of war and why these innocent children playing so merrily outside my window are in danger of seeing their lives ruined by this monstrous man fixated only on his own survival.

There are even belated signs that the West is realizing the need to stop laundering money stolen by Putin’s cronies, and British ministers have announced plans to reverse the infamous Golden Visa scheme that helped his henchmen funnel their dirty money into our country.

And there is debate, at the very least, about the urgent need to stop relying on Russian energy, although Germany remains Europe’s Achilles’ heel after Angela Merkel foolishly abandoned nuclear power and agreed to build the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

However, all this adds to Putin’s despair. His dream of restoring Russian hegemony has been shattered by the switch to alternative energy sources, the plundering of the state treasury, the lure of democracy on its borders – and now his own actions have resurrected NATO.

For all his fury at the collapse of the Soviet empire that once swallowed up so much of Europe, the endless machinations of this former KGB agent only ripped off a bit of Georgia, took over a piece of Ukraine, and subjugated a shattered Belarus.

Putin’s failures and mistakes explain why Europe is on the brink of war and why these innocent children playing so merrily outside my window are in danger of seeing their lives ruined by this monstrous man fixated only on his own survival.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.