Aleksandr Podrabinek: On the path to catastrophe

2 May 2022

by Aleksandr Podrabinek

 Source: Radio Svoboda

Sometimes punctuality has great significance; in other instances, being late is fraught with disaster. In the olden days, the delay of a courier with a message could decide a battle’s outcome. A doctor being late can lead to a patient’s death; a delay in firefighters’ arrival, to ashes where a beautiful home once was.

Today, it’s not acceptable for military men to be late, but among politicians it’s rife. I’m not talking about Mr. Putin’s systematic lateness for meetings with heads of other states but about the decisions heads of state are taking with respect to Mr. Putin. I would even suggest that Mr. Putin’s lateness is much less offensive than that of Western politicians in taking fateful decisions. The consequences are incomparable.

The Kremlin had already gone into overdrive, prepared for bloodshed, while the West was still rolling out a bloody carpet for the stairs to Putin’s plane.

Paradoxical though it sounds, being late can be the result of excessive haste. Thus, the Council of Europe rushed to accept Russia into its ranks and then for a long time could not get it to fulfill its statutory requirements. For instance, with respect to eliminating the death sentence from criminal legislation or withdrawing Russian troops from Transnistria. The Council of Europe never did have any success with one or the other, nonetheless it did not expel Russia from its ranks until 2022. A quarter of a century late!

The worst latenesses aren’t those committed by mistake or due to sluggishness but those provoked by an incorrect assessment of what’s going on. When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and the State Duma, like a printer gone haywire, started churning out repressive laws, sensible people in Russia realized that soft authoritarianism was donning an iron carcass and filling up with malice, power, and hatred for the surrounding world. Could this really have ended in anything other than war and mass political repressions?

Meanwhile, the West gazed complacently on what was happening, mildly criticizing Moscow for local excesses and mistakes in the sphere of human rights and calling the authoritarian regime to greater tolerance and adherence to international law. Even then it was clear that the Kremlin had already gone into overdrive and was prepared for bloodshed, while the West was still rolling out a bloody carpet for the stairs to Putin’s plane and receiving him like a dear guest with whom one had to have a conversation and even reach agreements.

And reach an agreement they did! In late 2021, the Western intelligence services disseminated information about the concentration of Russian troops on the borders with Ukraine, which international law qualifies as preparation for war. Back then the harshest sanctions should have been introduced and a joint line of defense with Ukraine set up, but nothing was done. Distrust of intelligence information probably played some role in this.

I remember the inimitable self-confidence, the aplomb, the ironic smirk with which so many experts, political scientists, international journalists, and connoisseurs of the Russian political kitchen talked about the impossibility of a war against Ukraine. They said this throughout the fall of last year and nearly the winter of this — until Russian troops invaded Ukraine on 24 February.

Ukraine could have avoided thousands and thousands of losses among servicemen and the civilian population if they had immediately been supplied at least with the weapons that are coming into Kyiv now, two months after the war began. But the West was late with that, and the price of this lateness is thousands of dead soldiers and civilians, destroyed homes and factories, millions of refugees, and devastated cities and villages.

Even now would not be too late to close Ukraine’s airspace using NATO forces, to defend Ukraine from the total destruction of its big cities and nuclear power stations. But the West won’t understand they were late with this until Russian missiles are fired at Kyiv, Odesa, and Lviv, at the Zaporizhzhya, Khmelnitsky, and Yuzhnoukrainsk nuclear power stations and the nuclear power stations at Rivne and Chornobyl.

The road of latenesses leads to catastrophe. There is nothing else at the end of that path. Then the West will face the ultimate choice: make a forestalling nuclear strike against the agressor, in which tens of millions of civilians will die, or wait for a missile attack from Moscow, hoping to the very last moment that it won’t happen.

Translated by Marian Schwartz

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