There are photos that, once seen, will haunt the soul against the backdrop of this genocidal Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The first was Russian dictator Vladimir Putin “meeting” his government ministers. Putin is seated at one end of a very long table; his ministers regrouped at the other end, 40 feet away. He is a leader detached from reality, his 190,000-strong invasion force bogged down, with cruise missiles and cluster bombs strafing an array of civilian targets.
Another is of US Representative Victoria Spartz laying a wreath at the Babyn Yar Holocaust memorial in Kyiv when she visited the doomed capital in late January. On Tuesday, a Russian missile hit a nearby TV tower, killing at least five people. NBC News showed footage of emergency officials using fire extinguishers to smother flames on smoldering corpses.
“To the world: what’s the use of saying ‘never again’ for 80 years, if the world remains silent when a bomb falls on the same site of Babyn Yar? At least 5 killed. History repeats itself,…,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote in a tweet.
This prompted Rep. Spartz to say of her home country, “This is not a war. It is a genocide of the Ukrainian people by a madman who cannot understand that the Ukrainian people do not want socialism, the Soviet Union or the communists. They want to be free people. They want to be with the West.
On Twitter last week there were photos of anti-tank hedgehogs outside the Odessa Opera House taken during the Nazi invasion in 1941, and again last week. History repeating itself with the Russian fleet ominously appearing on the horizon.
Traveling to Moscow and Odessa with Senator Richard Lugar in 2007, we passed three enormous sculptures of hedgehogs in the Russian capital, the Monument to the Defenders of Moscow, marking the Wehrmacht’s most eastern advance in World War II. world, a conflict that claimed more than 20 million Russian and Ukrainian lives.
The Odessa National Academic Opera and Ballet Theater is a magnificent building located on a boulevard not far from the Potempkin Stairs that presents 192 steps from the quays to this beautiful Black Sea city. I remember when we left at dawn, dozens of shopkeepers were sweeping the sidewalks in a normal show of civic pride.
In 1941, as the Romanian army stormed the city, the defenders surrounded the opera with anti-aircraft guns. When the siege was lifted after 71 days, Commissar Nikita Khrushchev immediately returned to this liberated city, reporting that only one corner of the opera house had been damaged.
It is ironic that Khrushchev is mentioned here. In 1962, this Ukrainian native’s decision to try to plant nuclear weapons 90 miles from the United States sparked the Cuban Missile Crisis, the most heartbreaking 13-day stretch of the nuclear age. This ended when President John F. Kennedy resorted to a blockade before the Soviet leader backed down. “Bombs don’t choose. They will hit everything,” Khrushchev said. “The more bombers, the fewer peace doves.”
Putin’s decision has, after a week, seemed like an evolutionary disaster. His army bogged down, losing some 4,000 troops in a week (the United States lost 4,431 troops in Iraq and 2,401 in Afghanistan). It may be forced to withdraw or resort to tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield or indiscriminate genocide against urban populations in Kyiv and other cities. Putin must be growing increasingly nervous as Russian citizens continue to protest in the streets, forging long lines past collapsing banks and empty ATMs. The weakness of the Russian economy is collapsing, people are taking to the streets to protest, at great peril to themselves.
There have been silent discussions that Putin’s invasion could backfire in a Shakespearian fashion, with the Russian people convincing the military to do what they did to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, that is that is, to remove him from power. While this remains the longest of the long shots since Donald Trump’s historic upset in 2016, the mantra here is ‘anything can happen’. The next three months could be breathtaking.
On Sunday, Putin put his nuclear forces on high alert. Are we about to enter a period of the first nuclear tightrope of the 21st century? US Senator Angus King observed of Putin: “Right now he is the most dangerous man in the world.
Appearing alongside Rep. Spartz on Wednesday, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham dismissed Trump’s description of Putin as a “shrewd genius” for putting “peacekeepers” in Ukraine. As the world watched, we saw photos of dead Ukrainian children, bombed-out apartment buildings, a million refugees, and a video of a Russian tank swerving to crush a subcompact car.
“It’s a political mistake not to put our bullshit together,” Graham said. “Putin is not a genius. He’s a war criminal.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Putin last Sunday “delusional.” The problem facing Western leaders now is what will he do if he has his back to the wall?
Khrushchev once said, “If you live among wolves, you must act like a wolf.