by Thomas Adcock
Copyright © 2022 – Thomas Adcock
NEW YORK CITY, near America
As we absorb media accounts of Moscow’s ongoing crimes against humanity, targeted on neighboring Ukraine, this much has grown clear: Truth is the first casualty of war, the Russian military slaughters children, the ruble is rubble, and Vladimir Putin is a dead man walking.
Once more the shortest of all war stories: He lied, they died.
They are the usual victims: ordinary people, Ukrainians fleeing for their lives as Russia’s hypersonic missiles slam into their homes, as Russian T-22M3 jets open bomb bays over their cities and villages. He is the usual diminutive man, a throwback monster with what psychiatrists call a Napoleon complex.
Lies are Russia’s absurdities du jour, begun with the Kremlin’s claim that a “special military operation” against a bordering country is necessary to thwart an existential threat. War? Nyet! Call it war, comrade, and you’ll land in jail!
Further, the Kremlin offers up a ludicrous menu of martial purpose: to smash a cabal of drug-addled nazis in Kyiv, or else to prevent the “genocide” of Russophones, or else to destroy non-existent American biological weapons factories in Ukraine, or else to kill birds and reptiles trained to carry pathogens into the very bosom of Mother Russia.
In the days prior commencing their respective moral obscenities, first at the western gateway to Poland and now as encroachment at Poland’s eastern rim, we laughed off two monsters and their lies—
• In 1939 came a bantam popinjay with fluttery hands playing dress-up soldier in knee-high boots, jodhpurs, and a jaunty bandolier. His anti-Semitic rants waggled a greasy forelock and bristle-brush moustache this way and that. He strutted for the newsreels, striking poses that bespeak the malignant narcissism of autocrats with armies commanded to commit atrocities foretold. He was delighted to play a starring role in world war, and untroubled by his prescriptive slaughter of millions,
• In 2022, now comes a sixty-six-inch-tall balding fellow. He owns the flat head of a mid-level bureaucrat, a canned ham for a face, and joyless blue eyes the color of dead fish. He delights in prancing about on horseback for the cameras, sans chemise, believing state propagandists who tell him the masses swoon at the hunky vision of his hairless pink chest. He grabs at an opportunity to incinerate the world, and is untroubled by the corpses of children and pregnant women.
This time, in our time, the flat-headed monster’s own countrymen seem likely to do what needs to be done in forestalling the shame he would impose on their name—and to eventually recover from the economic sanctions justifiably placed against their pariah state. After decades of financial integration with the world, ordinary Russian citizens now suffer severe consumer shortages and deflation: one ruble is worth less than an American penny. This in the space of weeks.
This time, perhaps, the unthinkable may be averted.
Unlike previous eras when the community of nations shrugged off evil— the Chechnya war of 1999-2009 and the devastation of its capital, Grozny; the cruelty of the Russo-Georgian War of 2008; the annexation of Crimea in 2014; the carpet bombing of Aleppo, Syria, in 2016—the world at long last unites in rage at the monster Putin.
Simultaneously, the world exults in the surprise of its new hero—Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine whose courage inspires a world spinning at harrowing speed, a world in which tomorrow only hopes we might learn a bit from yesterday. Ever has it been so, it seems; ever have people survived despite themselves.
Human experience shows that even a ragtag army in righteous service to heartfelt patriots led by a tenacious hero can defeat what appears to be a massively superior force. Here in the United States, this was proven by the American Revolution of 1775-1783. Our colonial militias—farm boys armed with little more than turkey-shooting muskets and hay rakes were led by General George Washington, who lost many battles before triumph at the end—walloped the mightiest brute force the world had seen to that point, the fearsome army of Great Britain.
Human experience shows that lies cannot live forever, nor the subjugation of a people. Emperors wear no clothes; they are routinely deposed and easily disposed, one way or another.
Malignant narcissism blinds a man like Putin to the consequences of his own poor judgment and deafens him to unpleasant predictions of personal demise, should subordinates dare broach the truth of his violent folly.
Thus, a question for one Andrei Kozyrev. From 1991-96, he was the first foreign minister of the Russian Federation, created from the ashes of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Now an exilée in Florida, he was recently interviewed by the American television journalist Ari Melber, who asked, “Is there anyone inside the Russian government who can give Putin bad news?”
Mr. Kozyrev’s answer, spoken in imperfectly perfect English: “That is less possible than to overthrow him, that is Russians’ tradition. They fear to tell the boss the truth, but one day they might come with a weapon and escort [Putin and his inner circle] to the grave or to retirement. Like what happened in Soviet Union. So, it’s better they escort him out than tell him the truth. That is tradition.”
And who might bear the weapon? With no hesitation, Mr. Kozyrev fingered his own former deputy from back in the day—Sergei Lavrov, currently the Russian foreign minister.
Recall that in May of 2017, shortly after Donald Trump took office after success in his Kremlin-backed election campaign, Mr. Lavrov received White House audience with the new U.S. president. The dubious session was off-limits to the American press, though a passel of Russian journalists attended. But the Washington Post managed to report what it learned from reliable sources: Mr. Trump revealed to Mr. Lavrov “highly classified” American intelligence data having to do with military operations in the Middle East.
In Moscow, Mr. Lavrov’s ministry dismissed the Post report in a most Trumpian fashion: “fake news.”
Vladimir Putin, a sixteen-year veteran of Russia’s notorious K.G.B. prior to his political career, surely congratulated Mr. Lavrov for obtaining top secrets from the White House. Just as surely, Mr. Putin is aware of perilous ambition among individuals of his presidium—which includes Sergei Lavrov. As Mr. Kozyrev said of former deputy, “I would watch my back if he was behind me.”
Anatoly Chubais, the godfather Russia’s oligarchy as supervisor of industrial privatization in the immediate post-Soviet years and only yesterday a top-level advisor to Mr. Putin, should likewise peek over his shoulder on a regular basis. A powerful oligarch himself—Mr. Chubais was careful to share the wealth when parceling out public loot to his capitalist confrères—he defied “tradition” by telling The Boss, to his face, that he opposed an ill-considered war on Ukraine. Accordingly, he thought it wise to high-tail it out of town.
Alas, he was tracked to a bank cash machine in Istanbul and photographed. Mr. Chubais has yet to taste the Kremlin’s favored means of expiration, but the Novichok knows where to find him.
Indelicate opinions regarding Putin’s War may be heard at a certain Brooklyn saloon of my acquaintance, an establishment heavily patronized by beefy men wearing shiny suits and diamond pinky rings. It would be unwise to underestimate these men, denizens of a neighborhood known locally as Little Odessa. I am familiar with the house chat and can reasonably imagine any number of habitués voicing a salty formula for détente in the Auld sod: “They gotta whack Putin, that fuck. Zelenskyy, he oughta call me up. I’d provide him with watcha-call-it, fuckin’ plausible deniability. Yeah, me myself and I, we’d air condition that fuckin’ Putin with a little hole to the back of his fuckin’ head.”
Which brings us to the matter of the Kremlin’s formerly Number One useful idiot, Donald J. Trump, currently under state and federal investigation for a host of alleged crimes—conceivably including treason. Conviction(s) could land him in prison for the rest of his years. Accordingly, Mr. Trump would be well advised to decamp from his Mar-a-Lago golf resort and jump an Aeroflot to Moscow. There, he could snag a pentkhaus appropriate for his glitzy style in which to live free from the pesky concern of legal extradition.
Should Donald’s buddy Vlad opt for retirement over air conditioning, so to speak, the two aging potentates might wile away their days reminiscing about the war in Ukraine—an incursion of “genius,” as Mr. Trump assessed it. Or their shared passion for gold leaf décor. Or that wonderful week in November 2013 when the Miss Universe business enterprise was a Trump subsidiary, and the corporate girly show was staged in a Moscow theatre—where the lumbering Donald often, accidentally, stumbled into contestants’ dressing rooms between changes of scanty costumes.
In support of his creepy penchant for swanning around in the company of beautiful women decades younger than himself, the incipient president was accompanied to the 2013 pageant by the comely Olivia Culpo, an Italian American lass he crowned Miss Universe in the previous year. Back home in New York, Ms. Culpo is now hard at work as a self-described “fashion influencer” and “social media personality.”
The Donald’s history of farce and failure has become too much even for his partisan co-religionists. He is richly summarized by syndicated newspaper columnist George Will, a conservative Republican, as “a stray orange hair to be flicked off the American sleeve.” Frightened by the idea that one false move by an idiot could spark World War 3, conservative pundit Mona Charen wrote for The Bulwark, a right-leaning online journal, “Thank God Trump isn’t president.”
Elsewhere in U.S. media, the lovely Tucker Carlson has won the Kremlin’s heart, displacing Donald Trump as Number One useful idiot. Carlson, it pains me to say, is the eponymous host of America’s number one political program on the number one cable television platform, Fox TV “News,” and chief apologist for Russia’s brutality in Ukraine.
Small wonder the Kremlin diktat to Russian propaganda outlets: “It is essential to use as much as possible fragments of broadcasts of the popular Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who sharply criticizes the actions of the United States [and] NATO, their negative rôle in unleashing the conflict in Ukraine [and] the defiantly provocative behavior from the leadership of the Western countries towards the Russian Federation and towards President Putin personally.”
Vladimir Putin is not alone in being a man wearing a bullseye on his back. His nemesis, somewhere in Kyiv, survived three assassination attempts in early March, according to the Times of London—all of them at the hands of clumsy goons on Russia’s payroll. Then in late March, according to a report in the online journal Huffpost, the Kremlin decided to pursue the path of private enterprise and plausible deniability by hiring a mercenary organization called the Wagner Group to hunt down and kill Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“The alleged founder and leader of the Wagner Group, Dmitry Utkin, is believed to have nazi sympathies,” according to Huffpost, “an irony if true, considering how [Putin] has justified aggression in Ukraine by claiming it needs to be ‘de-nazified.’”
Mr. Zelenskyy continues along the path of tenacious heroism, headed toward the Shakespearian moment that will ultimately end Putin’s War, one way or another. An actor by profession, he addressed the British Parliament in a video call two weeks into the war. With a dramatic weight to rival the giants of British theatre, the president of Ukraine quoted from the gripping opening lines of Hamlet’s soliloquy, from the play so titled—
“The question for us now is to be or not to be. For thirteen days, this question could have been asked. But now I can give you a definitive answer.
“It is definitely yes—to be.”
In an essay for the New York Times, columnist Brett Stephens presented a damning indictment of Putin. In addition to crimes listed earlier herein, Mr. Stephens cited even more since Putin’s attaining the Russian presidency in 2000: the Kremlin assigned murder of Putin’s political bête noire, Boris Nemtsov, in 2015; Russian interference in American federal elections of 2016, and an encore for 2020; radioactive poisoning of Russian dissidents Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on British soil in 2018; massive, constant hacks of worldwide computer networks; the near fatal Novichok poisoning of political opposition leader Alexei Navalny in 2020 and his present incarceration in a Siberian prison.
“The West has mainly spent twenty-two years placating Putin through a long cycle of re-sets and wrist slaps,” Mr. Stephens wrote. “The devastation of Ukraine is the fruit of this appeasement.”
But now comes Joe Biden, at least rhetorically. The American president let slip an impromptu remark during a formal speech before a crowd of NATO officials and the Polish public outside Warsaw’s Royal Castle. He lifted his eyes from a politely prepared script to speak from the heart: “For God’s sake,” said Mr. Biden of the bloody monster of Moscow, “this man cannot remain in power.”
European heads of state tsk-tsked Mr. Biden’s straight talk, as did a chorus of second-guessers back in Washington. (Mustn’t pique putrid Putin, you know.) From the pinky ring set at a certain Brooklyn saloon we may hear favorable reaction to Joe Biden’s unappeasing ad lib. Surely this would include a certain Anglo-Saxonism as lead-in to a rousing “Amen!”
Additional Photo Credits
Thomas Adcock—Matt Kollasch/Kollorfoto:Berlin