It takes two to tango. The proverb is seemingly a failed dictum today. The ongoing Ukraine-Russia conflict is at best due to the whim of one.
For Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has triggered a major military conflict in Europe with the potential to kick off a world war, there have been some surreal ideas that he has an appointment with history, with fate.
In 2022, Putin is the architect of the globe’s most infamous catastrophe. He has single handedly created the worst crisis for Europe and the world in recent times.
But how does the man work ?
Some say, he set aside the everyday calculus of political risks and benefits. Others say he has always thrived with a mindset of “diminished sense of danger”. This means what is “dangerous” to the common people, you and me and even other public and military leaders, may not appear dangerous to Putin, a former KGB spy.
It is also argued that Putin’s authoritarian inclination actually came from his former idol and boss, Anatoly Sobchak. Once seen as a possible president of Russia, Sobchak has been a central figure in Russia’s revolution of the 1990s.
Sobchak and Putin worked together when both were mayor and deputy mayor of St Petersburg.
Well, the conventional wisdom suggests if one has to understand the war in Ukraine in 2022, it is pertinent for the world today to understand and analyse the man called Putin.
One simple reference can be Putin’s grandfather was a cook with illustrious Stalin.
Experts and scholars who have devoted time and energy into Russian affairs and working on the life and careers of Putin, Boris Yelstin and Sobchak say the incumbent President had the “diminished sense of danger” even in his childhood.
Nothing about this war was inevitable, says The Economist, adding cleverly that “it is a conflict entirely of his own making”. A few can dispute this.
It’s like the “making” of his career. When boys of his age wanted in the Soviet Union to be a fighter pilot or something glamorous, he wanted to be a spy.
Posted to East Germany as a KGB sleuth, he had mastered smoke and mirrors — that is intended to make one believe that something is being done or is true, when it is not.
He grew up virtually believing that “one spy could decide the fate of thousands of people”. And, thus comes the conviction he is not only a “spy”; he is Moscow — the centrifugal point of power.
And Moscow cannot be silent.
Let’s face the truth. Putin attacked Ukraine in 2022. In the past, he annexed Crimea in 2014 and Putin also had invaded Georgia in 2008. That’s the man for you. The metamorphosis of the man is not sudden.
In contrast, presumably, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky represents the pulse of his country, they all want to fight the Russian aggression. Putin on the other hand wants to revive Russian imperialism.
A survey says about 34 per cent of Ukrainians are ready to pick up arms against Putin’s forces.
There are a few historical tidbits. During the Soviet era, Russia was the most powerful province of the USSR and Ukraine was the second most powerful. Once upon a time. of course it is said Ukraine was considered a chief competitor to the US and it was even perhaps more powerful than Russia.
The two men are now changing the course of history. One trying to invade, and the other resisting the same.
Putin had presumed that Ukrainians and their non-text book variety President would crumble under intense pressure. The US officials have been impressed with the fighting prowess of the Ukrainians, says The New York Times.
Zelensky on the morning of February 26 posted a video of himself on Twitter as Russians had started claiming that he had fled the war-ravaged country.
But Ukraine’s President emerged from his office unshaven, looked red-eyed and declared: “Good morning to all Ukrainians! There are a lot of fakes out there… (but) I am here.”
One video among billions of social media postings and a mere half a sentence “…I am here” perhaps stalled the course of human history at least for the time being.
Snap elections were held not long ago in his country, and Zelensky himself characterized the contest as “maybe more important than the presidential election”.
His Servant of the People party won an absolute majority, capturing 254 of 450 seats — 26 seats, representing Crimea, a Ukrainian autonomous republic that was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, and the war zone in the east — were not contested.
“The result marked the first time in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history that a single party could command absolute control over the legislative agenda,” says a report in www.britannica.com.
Did it mark a new beginning in the history of Europe, Russia and the world? Yes, of course, he has made life tense and competitive if not miserable for Putin.
Now the “worst fear” from the Russia-Ukraine conflict is if Putin falters and fails on ground in the face of stiff fight by Ukraine people and forces, he could actually take the road to “unrestricted war” and use of nuclear powers.
But what matters most for Zelensky is that the capital Kiev has not fallen. There is strong resistance in eastern Ukraine and the President is “happy” to play the role of a national leader.
That was not the role he had chosen, but the one that was thrust upon him. Well, he has carried it off with dignity and strength, says The Economist.
Many of Ukraine’s veterans fought in battles with Russia in the recent past, so there is a subset of the population that is trained and knows how to fight Russians, notes The New York Times.
Nevertheless the world has to find a way to escape the bigger conflict.
(Nirendra Dev is a senior journalist and author of books ‘The Talking Guns: North East India’ and ‘Godhra – Journey of a Prime Minister’)