His friends watched him pick up a shovel every day and then at the end of the third day, exhausted and resigned to his fate, he lay down and died. Today the Russian military targeted a missile at the Kharkiv museum dedicated to the 18th century philosopher Skovoroda and detonated it. Sometimes history only gives you metaphors. You don’t even have to work for them.
It was one of very many war crimes (over 10,000 at last count) that became the vicious and bloody sideshows of the main bloodbath taking place in Mariupol.
But make no mistake, Mariupol is the main event. This weekend, Putin’s evil empire will unleash new levels of hell on the pitiful inhabitants of this abandoned city – as it should – so that he can boast of a “triumph” on May 9, the day Annual Victory of Russia.
And the incredibly brave men and women who, like Skovoroda, just as surely dug their own graves in the steelworks of Azovstal during the six-week siege of Mariupol, will die.
We should have stopped that. We should have stopped Putin. We should have sent the fighter planes that Volodymyr Zelensky has demanded since the first day of this terrible war.
The arguments against do not hold water. It’s just cowardice. It’s not like we even have to commit troops, just equipment.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said we would, then withdrew it. Poland was ready to supply MiGs but was stopped by the United States and NATO.
It’s as disconcerting as it is cowardly. The main argument seems to be that it would make Putin view Britain and the US as adversaries and thus widen the potential conflict.
But do we really think that Putin is cowering in his bunker (hopefully with a can of petrol handy for his inevitable end) thinking “damn, I’m glad Britain and America don’t are not involved”.
We’re already sending a lot of serious guns – Ukrainian fighters even shout “God save the Queen” when they drop a British NLAW missile for God’s sake.
So why are we holding back from sending the revolutionary weapons that Zelensky says he really needs – fighter jets?
What is terrible is that it will happen, it’s just that we will see tens of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians die before we realize that it is a moral and military imperative.
In fact, it is already happening. On January 30, Agnieszka Brugger, a member of the German parliament’s defense committee, said: “The German government has not provided any arms shipments to Ukraine for almost a decade. A change in policy would make no significant short-term military difference on the ground. but can be a big risk for the very difficult ongoing diplomatic talks.”
Yesterday, the German Defense Minister announced that he would send Mr Zelensky seven PzH 2000 howitzers described as “the most powerful tube artillery system in the world”. This memory of a nation whose initial offer to Ukraine’s war effort was a shipment of pewter helmets.
The second area of concern for peacekeepers without planes is of course the fear of a nuclear response. And, as expected, Putin waved in Red Square today showing off his phallic ICBMs. (And just as predictable as us hacks telling you how scary and scary they are – as if Americans don’t have weapons 1000 times scarier that they just prefer to keep a secret.)
Many people will tell you that no one will ever use nuclear weapons. They are wrong of course, Putin is already using them. Nuclear weapons should not be launched, they are there to threaten. It’s not for nothing that these things are called tactics.
Let’s be honest, Putin threatened us with nuclear weapons and we backed down. He won this fight three months ago. Again, it wasn’t just moral cowardice that was real cowardice.
Would Putin ever push the button? Of course not. He, better than anyone, knows how quickly that would mean the end of his so-called beloved Russia.
Third on the list of peacemakers is this vivacious Russian bot who says it’s just someone else’s civil war thousands of miles from London, Milton Keynes or Leeds. But it’s not that ? This is a war for Europe, and most likely a war for civilization.
In 2008, Vladimir Putin launched the “first European war of the 21st century” in South Georgia. In 2014, the second European war of the 21st century took place in Crimea, and yes that was Putin too. And of course, this year we have European War III courtesy of the same anachronistic fascist.
If Putin wins, he won’t stop there. The conflicts in Moldova and Transnistria are already underway and if he pulls through, I won’t be vacationing in Poland or Belarus anytime soon. Or Finland or Sweden for that matter. And that’s before we even get to how China sees Putin’s bloody escapade as a litmus test for its own designs in Taiwan and indeed the world.
In Neil Sheehan’s fantastic Vietnam War tale A Bright and Shining Lie, US Army Lt. Col. John Paul Vann basically tells us that wars are terrible, but if you approach them with moral courage and let the military (not the politicians) do their job, they can be short and decisive, limiting the carnage and the count. Sadly, we don’t see any moral courage anywhere outside of Ukraine – the pitiful, spineless United Nations won’t even call this a war, with Secretary General António Guterres preferring the term ‘dispute’.
A “dispute” with 40,000 corpses and rising. Which brings me back to Skovoroda. Ukraine’s favorite philosopher was essentially a Stoic in that he believed that the best indication of an individual’s philosophy was not what that person said but how that person acted. Like I said, sometimes history just gives you metaphors on a plate.