How far will Putin go?

Summary: as the war in Ukraine continues with missiles raining down and a massive column of armoured vehicles heads toward Kyiv, fears are growing that the Russian president is prepared to inflict massive civilian harm in order to achieve his objectives.

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3 thoughts on “How far will Putin go?”

  1. The general point is a good one, although it is worth deconstructing somewhat:

    The destruction of Grozny was in the pre-smartphone age, and an era / area of limited internet bandwidth. Chechnya is also in a difficult location to reach, making its coverage more challenging. (Cynically, the Caucasus is not an area that resonates much with Anglophone or Francophone audiences, thus Western media covered it less. The same could be said of Francophone West Africa, or Latin America in the Anglophone press.)

    On the refugee issue, the Ukrainian women and children are crossing the borders from their country into the nearest countries of refuge; men of military age are prevented from leaving Ukraine since they are expected to fight the Russian invaders. These people (and many of the foreigners of whatever ethnicitiy moving likewise) fleeing are properly refugees, and entitled to sympathy and suppport. (It is also highly likely that many of the Ukrainians will go back across the border once it is safe to return home, which is not something that can be said of many other migrants, thus likely to decrease the taxes / increase the sympathy.)

    By contrast, it is difficult honestly to categorise as “refugees” those Iraqi Kurds “who left for Belarus in the hope of entering the EU, Azad saved up, asked for financial support from his family, and nearly sold his house” and “went to Belarus with travel agency-arranged flights and visas” over numerous other safe countries from Iraq. ( While their wish is understandable – the streets of London have been paved with gold since Dick Whittington’s time – they have no right of entry to the EU. Is there racism? From the descriptions, undoubtedly. But the main discrimination is on rights of entry, not on race. More importantly, while clearly and cynically weaponised by the Belarusian state, these are economic migrants whose claim to “asylum” or “refuge” status weakens the refuge system for those who have genuine need of such protection.

    “Yemenis, Iraqis, Libyans and Syrians” are all engaged in civil conflict – with extensive outside meddling – as a result of the Arab Spring. Given the political repression, almost no one was surprised by the fact of the Arab Spring, it was merely the timing / spark which was unexpected. The drawn-out descent from peaceful uprising to counter-revolutionary civil strife to civil war was tragic to watch, but not a shock. Many people – including Arab Digest – have been extremely critical of various factions in the various conflicts, in particular the counter-revolutionary axis of Sunni Arab monarchs who have worked assiduously in their own dynastic interests to undermine democracy.

    The most accurate comparison is indeed Palestine, which – like Ukraine – was relatively peaceful before it was shockingly seized by a nation claiming historic / religious rights over its territory. (It remains to be seen if Russia will carry out ethnic cleansing and appropriation of private property, and – should they win – whether the Russians use the same “permit” gambit over UN-mandated returns to their property.) The continuing collaboration by Western governments over Palestine is indeed in shameful contrast to their clamouring over Ukraine. The key difference is whether Putin will stop at Ukraine, or whether – per Fiona Hill ( – he has ambitions to recreate the Russian Empire. That might strike closer to home than Outremer, and risk the chintzy self-actualisation that the complacent West has come to regard as its rightful norm.

  2. Thank you for raising the comparison between the treatment of Ukrainians and that received by Yemenis, Libyans, Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans , Palestinians, etc….. both with respect to empathy with the suffering and the principles of sovereignty. Indeed where was the outrage when they were/are bombed to smithereens with lethal weaponry making no distinction between combatants and civilians? Where was the welcome when they reached the borders of Fortress Europe? Where is the outrage at invasion, occupation, attacks on civilians? Moreover non-white students and others lacking ‘blue eyes and blond hair’ are being thrown off evacuation trains, and held at the borders of Poland, and possibly eventually allowed in if they have on-going tickets…… Remember how refugees were received with icy water from water cannons on the border and left to die in the frozen forests only weeks ago. The racism is not only shocking, what is worse is that those perpetrating it are so shameless about it that they do it openly and explicitly! And then surprise is expressed when people from these countries fail to support NATO!

    1. This needed saying. Without in any way excusing Russian aggression, surely some of the Western commentariat might have noted the difference between Russian tactics (so far) in Ukraine and US “Shock and Awe” in Baghdad or Syrian Regime/Russia destruction in Aleppo. We have to hope that Putin has some scruples and does not switch to all out use of unlimited long range bombardment in this European context.

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