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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The good people of Ukraine face life-changing trauma. The bad guy in the Kremlin is wrenching back the pages of history. And the images emerging from the conflict are as ugly as they are horrifying. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, western leaders are struggling.

And no, Ukraine is not, in Neville Chamberlain’s infamous phrase about Hitler’s initial targets, ‘some faraway country of which we know little’.

In the modern world of interlocked trade and communication, the unfolding tragedy is playing out in real time, while the ripple effect will impact all of us.

The haunting image dominating front pages on day one, a defenceless woman with bandaged and bloodied face, is a metaphor for the war’s brutality.

But a tabloid mock-up of the Russian President looking like Hitler, with the caption ‘who do you think you are kidding, Mr Putin?’ was wide of the mark.

That song’s reference to the free world’s military triumph against the forces of evil is not how this conflict will pan out.

The Ukrainian army, buttressed by civilians using any weapons they can get their hands on, is resisting gallantly.

But no other country is going to take on heavily nuclear-armed Russia, for the obvious reason World War Three would likely eradicate the human race.

Instead, the weapon is the wallet. The idea being to hit Putin, his cronies and the Russian economy with harsh enough sanctions to make him back off.

But here’s where it gets tricky. Trade is two-way, meaning hitting them in the pocket also hits us.

Boris Johnson has unveiled a hefty series of swipes, targeting more than a hundred businesses, individuals and outfits with money stashed away here.

But his attempts to get Russia ejected from the world’s biggest platform for cross-border money transactions are taking longer.

Though it’d do much to hobble the Russian economy, the Germans and Italians fear Putin would retaliate with restrictions to gas supplies into Europe.

They’ve come round to the idea, but only on a step-by-step basis. On one level you can see their point. Russia pumps out nearly half the continent’s gas and an awful lot of oil.

And, whisper it softly, Johnson may not be as heartbroken as he makes out about not getting all he wants, straight away.

Though we hardly import any gas directly from Russia, we do get loads of it from Norway and Europe.

Meaning if their heating and fuel bills go up then so do ours. Not as if we haven’t already got a cost of living crisis on our hands.

So for the time being we’re stuck with watching the unfolding tragedy afflicting millions of harmless people in a hitherto democratic country.

But suggestions Putin’s aggression signifies a return to an earlier age don’t altogether fit with the facts.

Hitler and his chum Lord Haw-Haw did their best to mislead the British public in World War Two, but they didn’t have hackers in their armoury.

Putin does. And cyber attacks are very much a runner.

He could if he wanted target banks, transport networks, power stations and cash point machines. It’s even possible passenger trains might be derailed.

The same technology could be deployed to trick us into believing the Kremlin’s actions are justified, and our government/mainstream media are lying to us.

So called ‘troll farms’ are already operating within Russia, in an attempt to keep Putin’s punters onside, but they could well head our way too.

Eagle-eyed conspiracy theorists here in UK are cheerfully pointing out the Ukrainians are a bunch of neo-Nazis bent on slaughtering innocent Russians.

Wonder where they get that idea from?

The calculation was made not long ago that two-thirds of anti-vaccination propaganda was churned out by just twelve online influencers.

It really is that easy. And the feeling of having an inside track, being ever so much cleverer than everybody else, clearly appeals to some.

Donald Trump has also done his bit to generate a post-truth world, endlessly banging on, still, about how his election was stolen from him.

He now makes the point that his mate Vlad Putin is a ‘tough cookie .. with a lot of charm’. Also his hit on Ukraine is ‘genius’.

Yerright. Tell that to those millions of terrified people fleeing their homes, losing all they hold dear and in increasing numbers their lives as well.

So what is Putin about? Few in the sane world would dispute he’s mad, bad and dangerous to know.

Unlike Lord Byron, however, who was once thus described, his dark side is not leavened by any evidence of charm, whatever The Donald might think.

Having been in control of his country for nearly a quarter of a century, he seems living proof that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

His personal fortune, estimated by a leading Russian finance expert to be two-hundred-billion dollars, testifies to that.

Also, in the early days, he was a very different guy. According to Jonathan Powell, Number Ten’s top man at that time, actually a friend to the UK.

As for his motives in trying to crush his sovereign, independent but hugely smaller neighbour, some say he’s simply unhinged.

Early last week he debunked the theory that he’s frightened of Ukraine getting too heavily involved in the west’s security apparatus.

Instead, he maintained with a perfectly straight face – not that he’s ever seen smiling anyway – that the country was always part of Russia.

Conveniently forgetting it’s had its own history and culture since forever, he blamed Lenin and Stalin for giving the place away.

Not that everyone in Russia’s buying that. Hence the protests taking place in many major cities, and mass arrests of those who dare to take part.

And some argue if existing sanctions were redirected to the country’s several thousands strong ruling class, Putin really might have to back off.

Meantime, he’s free to trample on civilians and pour scorn on what he sees as western double standards.

Not like he has no ammunition.

Ethnic cleansing in Ireland under Stuart monarchs, British genocide of the native population in Tasmania, and our active participation in the slave trade.

Then there’s the invention of concentration camps, by, er, us, in the Boer War. And the history of America isn’t really goodie cowboys versus baddie Indians.

But that was then and this is now. And a whole heap of wrongs don’t make a right.

Nonetheless, outcomes are impossible to predict. But, repressive though Putin’s regime is, domestic public opinion might yet play its part.

A poll for the US based news network CNN showed half the Russian population supported the invasion.

Impressive, maybe, but that leaves the other half either opposed or not at all sure.

And the Ukrainians’ echo of Churchill’s defiance, fighting on the beaches, landing grounds, fields and streets, might yet tilt the balance.

Images of too many Moscow-bound body bags could, just maybe, cause Putin’s gamble to blow up – in his own face.

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.


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