At last count there was only one English speaker reporting the war from the Russian side. For this recent visitor to Moscow, Mr Putin’s war hardly seemed to exist. No soldiers are marching the streets. The TV featured endless food shows.
Plaintive is not a word one would associate with Moscow’s gutsy Izvestia newspaper.
But plaintive it was back in 2016 as it complained how the CIA would never have tolerated a coup like Ukraine’s 2014 Maidan which saw a corrupt pro-Russian government in Kiev bundled out of power by a corrupt anti-Russian government.
From there on it was all downhill as Ukraine’s semi-Nazi, ultra-nationalists took over to give us the nuclear armageddon we fear today.
Could it have been different? Yes. If the Russian military and their bosses had not been so lazy and corrupt, the army that once defeated Nazi Germany could easily have handled Ukraine.
But as we saw even then, the Soviet armies had to suffer prodigious losses before they could finally get their act together.
This time there could be no time. For this recent visitor to Moscow, Mr Putin’s war hardly seemed to exist. No soldiers are marching the streets. The day I was watching the main TV news channel, Vesti, they gave us a perfunctory 20 minutes to the war and almost an hour to the joyous repair of the bridges and buildings back in Russian hands.
The truck bomb damage to the Kerch bridge linking Crimea with the eastern mainland received hardly a mention. The strategy seems to be to keep bad news off the news. As the US supply of weapons continues, Russia’s TV answer is endless food shows and a few busloads of semi-elderly new recruits proud of their new boots heading for the front.
True, young Ukrainians are fleeing the war as enthusiastically as young Russians. But those that remain seem to show a lot more fighting spirit than the youth we see around Moscow.
One should not generalise but a young Russian-speaking Ukrainian I know who, like most of them (including Zelensky), speaks much better Russian than Ukrainian, turned into a ball of nationalist fervour the moment the fighting started. Nationalism is a strange animal.
A tragedy is already unfolding. The longer the fighting continues the more the semi-Nazi hardcore will start to take over.
The killing of so-called pro-Russian saboteurs in Ukrainian occupied territory is the start. Considering that many in eastern Ukraine have long had Russian family and other links that leaves a lot more people to be suspected. Meanwhile the Ukrainian PR machines have been running rings around the Russian. At last count there was only one English speaker reporting the war from the Russian side. Compare this with the pilgrimage of US and UK mainstream media to Kiev.
Izvestia was right. From the beginning Moscow was naive to trust the Ukrainian 2014-5 Minsk promises of autonomy for the Russian-speaking provinces of Lugansk and Donetsk. The ultra-nationalists, not to mention the US, made sure the promise would not be kept. Autonomy was not part of the Ukraine constitution, they said. Minsk is a dead letter. So Mr Putin has had to turn the two provinces into independent republics to justify support.
Now, with the threat of a full-scale Ukrainian attack on Donetsk and Lugansk, Putin has also turned the largely Russian-speaking provinces of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia into ‘republics’ to justify full mobilisation. But it is probably too late. For the most part he left Donetsk and Lugansk to fight their own battle; they have already lost 18,000 people in eight years of never-ending destruction. They cannot be expected to hold out for ever. With the likes of the UK and a flurry of anti-Russian Europeans barracking on the sidelines the additional two ‘republics’ may not last long either, even with Putin’s belated promise to help.