Putin wants to turn back the clock to medieval times. Nato has to confront him

The dominos will fall. If Ukraine collapses, it looks very much like neighbouring Moldova will be next

Sean O'Grady
Wednesday 02 March 2022 16:13 GMT
Defence Secretary says he's not afraid of Putin but he doesn't want 'war across Europe'

It’s quite difficult to envisage a 40-mile-long column of tanks and assorted artillery; it’s more painful to try and imagine what they might be used for.

Soon, it would seem, Kyiv will be subjected to a barbaric, medieval siege. The Ukrainian ambassador in London, Vadim Prystaiko, warned British MPs: “I believe they might use the tactics you described – try to block our cities, try to soften [the] political position, try maybe some riots in Ukraine, because of the lack of foods, against the government.”

Protecting people without food, fuel, warmth, communications, medicines, arms or ammunition – that would be the ultimate test of any city’s willpower. The agony of Kyiv is only just beginning. It will be on a par with the worst from the so-called Islamic State, or indeed the Nazis who surrounded Leningrad: where people used the bark from trees or the leather of their shoes to make soup. Or worse.

With little hope of outside help, the possibility that the siege on Kyiv will be broken is small. Relief can only come with the help of Russians – not the army generals or the Kremlin’s bureaucrats so much, though some must be considering their options – but the decent Russian people rebelling against a gangster.

It seems the “best” option for Putin to take, from his point of view. Putin could threaten the remaining population, including their stubborn Churchillian leader Volodymyr Zelensky, with non-stop bombardment. It is being meted out to Kharkhiv, and the citizens of Kyiv have already had a taste.

Or he could offer to spare Kyiv and its people if Zelensky agrees to an armistice and accepts certain conditions. But what if Zelensky tells Putin to get lost, or a ruder version of that? Putin would have to carry out his threat. He could launch cruise missiles, bombs, thermobaric weapons, firebombs that suck the very oxygen from the air – the beautiful city would be pulverised, and cease to be for all practical purposes. Like the retreating Germans did to Warsaw in 1944, or a modern-day Hiroshima. Like Stalingrad, it would still need Russian forces to eventually move in, dodge the snipers and occupy what’s left, ruined building by ruined building.

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Eventually Kyiv would be taken. But it would not look or feel good – it would become a lasting monument to Ukrainian bravery. Putin, in his dreams, wants a ticker tape parade through the streets, waving at adoring crowds of people overjoyed with gratitude at being liberated from their neo-Nazi oppressors. Instead, he would have to pick his way through nothing more celebratory than a pile of rubble and rotting bodies. The Russian people who’ve been loyal to him and believed the propaganda might start to wonder why “victory” looks like that. Social media, web sources and their friends and families in Ukraine will eventually tell them the truth.

Putin might follow the example of countless invading armies in history who wish to capture a city mostly intact, and starve them out. The west would find it hard to break such a blockade. Flying in supplies at the request of the Ukrainian government is perfectly legal under international law, and isn’t as aggressive as a “no fly” zone. But it still risks confrontation with Russian fighter jets. Smuggling in supplies on land for a city of millions is obviously impossible.

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The people who warn of World War III have a point. On the other hand, perhaps the woman who challenged Boris Johnson in the press conference in Estonia was right – that war is already upon us.

The dominos will fall. If Ukraine collapses, it looks very much like neighbouring Moldova will be next. It, too, has a breakaway Russian-sponsored state, Transnistra, and is ripe for colonisation. Then, perhaps, a rest before Putin comes with demands for formal neutrality and renunciation of Nato by Finland, and getting the military alliance out of the Baltic republics. Then Romania, then Bulgaria, then Poland, then Hungary.

Sooner or later Nato will have to fight. Putin’s ambitions are no secret. He wants to turn back the clock: to medieval times.

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