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Putin is embarking on dangerous crusade

The Russian president is framing himself as a torchbearer in the fight against the West, which he describes as the ‘empire of lies’

Rusia Ucrania
A Russian armored vehicle in the town of Armyansk in northern Crimea on Thursday.STRINGER (REUTERS)
Pilar Bonet

The nightmare has become reality. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, framing himself as a torchbearer in the fight against the “empire of lies” (for him, the United States and the West), began an unprecedented military operation and invaded Ukraine from different fronts. In an atmosphere that is being poisoned by hoaxes and confusion, so far it is clear that the Russian troops and military are advancing through Ukrainian territory from different directions: they are coming from the border with Belarus, from the rebel territories of Donetsk and Luhansk, and they have even reached the province of Kyiv, where the Ukrainian defenders have made their first captures of conveniently identified Russian combatants. The Russian troops are also coming from Crimea and Kherson, and at the time of writing were already outside Kharkiv. From different areas, news is arriving of combat and deaths, without the chance to evaluate this information as a whole.

At the same time, Russian missiles are neutralizing and systematically destroying the military infrastructure in Ukraine. There are images of explosions in Ukrainka, 40 kilometers south of Kyiv. In the center of the capital, we have heard explosions and air-raid sirens. We can still hear them. We are not sensing panic, but there are huge lines of cars that are leaving the city, and columns of tanks are headed in the same direction. Stores in the center of Kyiv are mostly closed, and people are snapping up supplies in those that are open. There are problems with payments because some credit cards have stopped working. There are also problems with phone lines.

Putin presented the call for a crusade by the Russian world against the “empire of lies” as a “special operation.” There has been no formal declaration of war, and according to the speech that the president made early on Thursday morning to justify the invasion, it emerged that the historical disquisition that preceded the recognition of the so-called “popular republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk was made on February 21 and not February 22, when it was broadcast.

Putin himself said so when justifying the offensive, which could be seen as revenge against a West that he accuses of wanting to finish with Russia and which he has harshly scolded over different political episodes, including the bombing of Belgrade in 1999, as well as the wars in Iraq, Syria and Libya, among others

When reiterating that NATO had affirmed that it would not spread to the east, Putin stated: “There were promises to our country not to expand NATO even one inch to the east. I repeat – they deceived us, in other words, they simply conned us.” But in his seething diatribe on Thursday morning, Putin curiously also found the chance to praise the US as a “great country, a system-forming power,” whose “satellites” obey it submissively, praise it, copy it “and enthusiastically accept the rules they are offered.” “All of the so-called Western bloc, which the US formed in its image and likeness, all of it in its entirety, is what’s known as the empire of lies,” he said.

No one can have any doubts that the Russian president has lost all sense of reality and that his sinister sense of a mission could lead Europe into a new catastrophe

No one can have any doubts that the Russian president has lost all sense of reality and that his sinister sense of a mission could lead Europe into a new catastrophe. Even his loyal ally, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, is seeking a way of distancing himself, at least formally. In a meeting with the leaders of his army in Minsk, Lukashenko said that he had allowed Putin to maintain a small military contingent on the border with Belarus and Ukraine should the Ukrainians attack, but it turned out that instead of an attack the Ukrainians began a Russian “operation.”

The Belarusian leader said that he had ordered his defense minister to speak that night with the head of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry so that he would, in turn, speak with his Russian colleague in a bid to avoid that “operation.” The Belarusian minister said that he had spoken with the Ukrainian, but that he had not done the same with the Russian. Once again he is trying to sit between two stools. Lukashenko is allowing for an attack to be launched against Ukraine from his territory, and at the same time, he is presenting himself as a mediator between Moscow and Kyiv.

It is clear that for a time (how long will up to academics to determine), Putin has been organizing and developing the elements of a giant production intended to culminate with his intervention as a savior in the face of the “empire of lies.” But he could not pull off this scenario, because the different pieces manufactured by the Kremlin propaganda machine did not fit together, such as the evacuation of the civil population of Donetsk, which had to appear like the response to an attack by Ukraine (which didn’t happen). The coordination of the protagonists and the cause-effect relationship did not work as they were no doubt expecting, but the hoaxes and the propaganda have created a great deal of disorientation that has spread throughout Russian territory, and as far as this journalist can tell, was also affecting the perception of the Ukrainians.

From a major urban center in Siberia, an energetic liberal activist stated via WhatsApp that he was preparing a mobilization “against the war and to help the women of Donbas.” The activist did not understand that the troops from his country were advancing through Ukrainian territory and that they had left Donbas behind, which had now become the pretext for the actions of a sick mind.

As for the Security Council of Russia, which gave Putin’s plans its blessing, the broadcast that was offered to the public on television on February 22 was edited and broadcast several hours after it took place. Among the cuts that were made to the footage, were the removal of the intervention of the prosecutor general of Russia. We don’t know what he said, nor what the content was of the cut footage, nor why it was cut in the first place. But it is clear that the group of leaders from the Russian Federation who looked off-color and afraid, and who spoke to support Putin, can be described as “accomplices.”

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