Vladimir Putin, Russia, Weapons
Vladimir Putin President of The Russian Federation

SPECIAL REPORT BY DR. DELE SOBOWALE

“Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppression of body and mind will vanish like the evil spirits at the dawn of day.”

US  President Thomas Jefferson, 743-1826.  Seldom does one article expected to be one-off grow into series as this one on Putin’s  war in Ukraine and on the rest of the world. Make no mistake about it; everybody on this planet will feel the adverse repercussions of this war before it is over.

 The Russians will become the people we love to hate in this century; just as Germans were the enemies of the world after Second World War, WWII. There are similarities in the social and political conditions which produced Hitler in Germany and Putin in Russia; and there are differences in the outcome of conflicts they both induced. 

Let us examine the similarities first. Jefferson and others like him who believed that education and enlightenment would make people free have been proved totally wrong. They lived before the Age of Internet; when dictators can enslave well-educated populations. Germany was the most advanced nation in Europe when Hitler captured it. Many of the academics and ordinary citizens who waved flags and contributed to Hitler’s Holocaust were the leaders in their various fields of endeavours –not illiterates. 

Even today, some of the worst dictators, in the world, rule over countries – China, North Korea, Cuba, Turkey, Iran and, of course Russia – which have the highest literacy. Obviously, educating the people alone does not protect them against rulers bent on enslaving them. There, the similarities between Nazi Germany and Putin’s Russia end.

For the differences, which might determine the outcome of the present conflict, we need to take a brief look at Russian history.

WELCOME IVAN THE TERRIBLE, 1530-1584

The law cant be enforced against a man who is the law’s master.  

Benvenuto Cellini, 1500-1571

The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins/ Remorse from power.

William Shakespeare, 1564-1616, in JULIUS CAESAR. 

Cellini, an Italian author on tyranny and the great William Shakespeare, greatest English writer lived in the Age of Ivan the Terrible. Ivan was the first Russian King to call himself Tsar over all of Russia – including territories hitherto not under his kingdom. He embarked on subjugating neighbours by force. Wait for some of the details of what gave him the title.

I stumbled upon Russian history after staggering into Russian literature in the summer of 1966 in New York City. One of my school mates was very close to Black American legendary author of several books – James Baldwin,  . Jimmy, as we all called the world famous writer spent most of his summer holidays in France; and would let student use his well-appointed flats. I was fortunate to be one of the 1966 squarters in lower East Side of New York. And, I loved reading books, literature and history especially. 

One day, before Jimmy went off to France, I asked him to recommend some non-English authors. Without hesitation he said: “Read Dostoyevsky, Russian dude; it will blow your mind men.” By the end of the summer I had read ten Russian books. I have read several books and many authors since 1966 and one thing has struck me forcefully. 

There are very few love stories in Russian literature. Perhaps that was why ANNA KARENINA published in 1878 by Leo Tolstoy, 1828-1910, so remarkable. It was the unusual story of great love in a country, Russia, whose leaders and people have removed love and God – two elements which create human emotions — from their lives. The typical Russian coming through the literature is a humourless and cold-blooded individual who regards human lives as easily dispensable.

Ivan the Terrible came up repeatedly in the narratives. The next stop was the New York City Library to find out more about this character. I had to rub my eyes several times to be sure I was reading the history of someone supposed to be human.  Ivan was not contented that those he wanted killed should simply be shot or hanged. That way they would die quickly. He had his victims tied behind a horse and dragged around until they fell apart limb by limb, organ by organ with blood and guts splattered all over.

After Ivan, I went into history which revealed that although Russian rulers were uniformly brutal before Ivan, he established the template for the sort of leaders who have followed him ever since. Putin is only the latest; and might not be the last. Russia is perhaps the only nation on earth in which more people have been murdered by their own rulers than by enemies in war. Under Stalin, 1878-1953, for instance, about 60 million Russians died from the time he became ruler till his death. But, only 25 million were killed in combat against enemies. The rest, about 35 million, were wasted by their own leader – without remorse.

I have gone to great lengths about Russian leaders in order to inform Nigerians about the character of the individual now setting the world on fire in many ways. Nigerians, who have taken to social media to express support for Putin, are misguided people. Putin’s war will ruin our lives in many ways and he does not care what happens to us. He will escalate the war, even to nuclear level, rather than retrace his steps. And now he is stuck.

THE MOUSE THAT ROARED – UKRAINE’S PRESIDENT

“It is despair, and despair alone, that begets heroic hope, absurd hope, mad hope.”  Unamuno, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ p 38.

Zelensky, the Ukranian President, who would not have rated a sentence in contemporary history, has become inadvertently immortalised by this war. This is certainly one of the unintended consequences of Putin’s war. Putin wanted to be the lone star of this drama. Suddenly he finds himself sharing the limelight with an obscure figure. In that respect, Putin has already lost. He has made himself a global villain; and created an everlasting hero. That must hurt his ego. It was not part of the script.

If there was one leader who was certain that Putin would invade, despite the deceptive assurances, it was Zelensky. And his accurate prediction of Putin’s motives, coupled with preparations for Russian invasion, saved many lives and made it possible for Ukraine to avert being over-run in a few days – as Putin had intended. Unlike the self-deluded individuals, who thought that war would have been prevented if only Ukraine had agreed not to join NATO, Zelensky knew that submission to Putin on that demand would only lead to more demands.

 Putin is an undisputed dictator; and, as such, any excuse will serve as a reason to go to war. The man had subdued his own people, turned all Russians into his slaves. He was bored and needed adventure. Why not Ukraine? It was as simple as that. There would have been an invasion, just as he took over the Crimea in 2014 by force. He forced Ukraine to seek help from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is like a corner rat is fighting for its life against the aggressor. The war is now in its second week – about a week longer than Putin had planned. At the time of writing this article, there was a ceasefire to allow civilian refugees to be evacuated. Putin, in what must be regarded as a cruel joke, even offered to take them to Russia and Belarus. That would have resulted in the largest number of hostages in history if Ukrainians had fallen for the trick.

On the war front, Ukrainians are proving more resourceful and tougher than the Russian military expected. With a lot of help from NAT the US, Poland and other well-wishers, they have been receiving advanced missiles (together with “advisers” and trainers), as well as satellite images which inform them about Russian convoy movements. With these weapons, they have shot down Russian planes and helicopters; and several of the awesome tanks we all saw on CNN and BBC or Sky News have been reduced to rubble.

The Ukrainians have a wicked advantage with regard to weapons lost. While Russia suffers from each loss, Ukraine is fighting with weapons freely supplied from about 20 countries world wide. 

Consequently, Putin is now desperate. The last thing he wants is a military quagmire which ties his country down for a long time. A long drawn-out conflict invariably favours the defenders. In that eventuality, Russia’s economy, already battered by sanctions, might not be able to support the war effort much longer. 

This explains Putin’s thinly-veiled threat to resort to nuclear weapons.

HOW CREDIBLE IS PUTIN’S NUCLEAR THREAT? 

“Every institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882, VBQ p 105

Government in any country is the largest and most important institution. The President or Prime Minister is the individual casting the long shadow. When French King Louis the 16th (1638-1715, pronounced that “I am the state”, he was only slightly exaggerating. Since the dawn of history monarchs were indeed the state. Most of them have generally allowed the people to love and to worship God in their own way. Russian leaders, since Ivan, have banished love and God from their minds and from country before Putin. He is only the latest, and not the last to be stone-hearted. 

Will he actually go nuclear? That is the question everybody is asking now. Putin has provided us some of the answer. 

The bombing of a Children and Maternity Hospital this week was Putin’s way of letting the entire world know that nothing is off limits – including use of nuclear weapons. Anybody who will kill children and women in labour will do anything – without remorse. He will provide two justifications; if he does go nuclear.

First, he will, quite correctly, point to the fact that America did it first in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945; and nobody called US President Harry Truman, 1884-1972, a monster for deleting over 4 million Japanese in one day. In fact, Truman continued to defend the decision until his dying day by saying that American lives were saved. So, what is wrong with it if Putin wants to save Russian lives by unleashing nuclear weapons? That will be a tough argument to refute by the rest of the world; especially, by America which remains the only nation to have done it.

Second, if Russia is stuck in a quagmire lasting several months; and the Russian economy is ruined, we should not forget that Putin has declared “sanction is an act of war”. It is the next logical step to declare war on all the countries involved in sanctions against Russia. He will not send soldiers or war planes to 40 countries. One or two nukes to three or four, to serve as warning, will do the trick. Many of those spared will abandon the rest.

Instead of asking if he will do it, a more useful question is: why will he do it? For answer to that question we return to one of Putin’s heroes, Adolf Hitler, 1889-1945, for a guide to the future; a terrifying future indeed.

Before starting World War II and annihilating 6 million Jews, Hitler wrote two books in which he detailed everything he would do if he ever got to power. The first Mein Kampf, meaning My Struggle, is the one best known to even ardent historians. The second, not so popular, was titled HITLER’S SECRET BOOK. I once had the two in my library. But, only the second remains with me now. Two statements lifted from that book will be sufficient to give anybody nightmares. Here they are.

“Whereas war at most kills off a fragment, economic warfare murders the future. P 8.

If necessary, when a people’s life is at stake, they should not shrink from daring to shed blood to the utmost,”

Those two statements are important for a few reasons. Economic sanctions were imposed on Germany after losing World War I. That provided Hitler a great deal of the excuses he needed to start WWII. Then, he laid claim to territories which he claimed belonged to Germany and must be returned. Otherwise, there would be war. We can see in the second statement the kind of war he had in mind. But, the most important reason we should not underestimate Putin’s resolve lies in the fact that absolute despots always mean what they say; and say what they mean.

The world assumed in the last century that nobody could be crazy enough to do what Hitler promised. Over fifty million dead souls in WWII confirmed he meant every word of it. We, in this century should not ignore Putin. Like Hitler, he had started by totally enslaving his own people. To him every single one of them is dispensable; and there will be no tears shed for them.

THE HYBRID WAR OF 2022 AND CYBER BANDITS

“Every piece of new technology …will in the end be used quite differently from the way in which its proponents first imagined.

Sir Michael Perry, Chairman Unilever, 1993 VBQ p243

Since 2015, Nigerians who never heard the word “bandit” have become painfully aware of it. It is a word representing a species of mankind who leave blood and tears when they depart after visiting a community. Nigerian bandits have their counterparts on the internet; who emerged on the global scene just about our domestic brands were starting operations.

The inventors of the original internet, as well as those who improved on it, had only one principal objective in mind. They wanted to speed up communication between people and consequently induce personal, economic, social and political development. 

Today, as a result of their valiant efforts, you can sit in your house in Nigeria and talk to your son or daughter in Outer Mongolia and even see them on your set; you can transfer or receive money around the world within minutes; you can order a consignment of toys from China and pay for them without knowing where the place is and while watching African Magic in your sitting room. It is a brave new world. But, like all worldly things, it has turned out to be a double-edged sword. The world had enjoyed the benefits; we are now poised to experience the pains. Putin’s war in Ukraine will set in motion an irreversible trend towards cyber banditry. Here is why.

Russia occupies the largest land mass of any country in the world; one eighth of our planet, not under water, is Russian territory. Ukraine by contrast occupies only a small dot by comparison. That should make the reader to stop and ask: what does Russia need with more land since 75 per cent of what it has is unused? The country is also the eleventh largest global economy – trailing the USA, China, Japan, Germany, France, South Korea etc. 

That last one must be embarrassing to a country which was already sending Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin into space as the world’s first astronaut, when South Korea was just another underdeveloped country. But, Russia possesses the world’s second largest arsenal of nuclear weapons (that advantage might soon disappear if China continues with its own armament development) and all its efforts to close the economic gap has failed. Given the policy of “might is right”, it only makes sense if Russia strikes now while it still has a comparative advantage as the mightiest power in Europe.

However, before deploying tanks and war planes, Putin’s Russia had embarked on the “unthinkable”—she had turned the internet into a theatre of war. Its military and some individuals had unleashed widespread hacking of phones and computer networks of governments, institutions, military, businesses and private individuals. Presidents and Prime Ministers, global businesses, Human Rights agitators focusing Russia, media organisations were steadily hacked and their secret files stolen by Russian invaders working for the Security Services. Naturally, some of those who developed the skill for cyber burglary, for the state, soon diversified into using the “weapons” for private gain. 

They could infiltrate just about any account, not well-secured and clean out the balance in the account. Later, they went into cyber kidnapping. The bandits simply seized an organisation’s network and forced the owners to pat ransom to regain control of their own network. Not, even American government, military and civilian organisations were spared.

“Men make history but, not just as they wish.”  Karl Marx, 1818-1883, VBQ p 93

Thus, long before the first tanks rolled into Ukraine last month, cyber warfare had already been unleashed. Like the invisible burglar, the offenders were difficult, but not impossible to trace. The victims had to learn how to respond; and they did. Now Ukraine alone has between 300,000 and 400,000 hackers with Russia as their target. Certainly, millions of Americans, Britons Germans, Poles, Italians Frenchmen, Canadians etc, who had never thought of becoming cyber criminals have been unleashed on the world.

Putin’s Russia introduced the hybrid war with cyber warfare as the first step. Given the global response, he has sown the wind and Russia is now about to reap the whirlwind. Russian planes, helicopters and tanks are being spotted and struck by missiles from absolutely nowhere because of counter cyber invasion. It is quite possible that when the war finally ends, unleashing cyber warfare might be Putin’s biggest blunder. The hunters have become the hunted.

Unfortunately for the world, by the time the war ends, thousands more cyber-criminals would have been created. The monster created in order to win a war, will remain with us for ever. Your bank account is now under attack more than ever. Perhaps Putin should have considered the observation of Karl Marx, the man who brought Communism to Russia, about men seeking to make history.

HOW IT WILL AFFECT NIGERIA

“People have finally realised that decisions made today will affect life for the next 30 to 40 years…..” Edward Cornish, President World Future Society, 1995.

It is not only decisions made today, but decisions we fail to make, in response to Putin’s war, which will affect Nigeria for a generation or longer. It has already started to impact our lives in several negative ways – even as neutral observers. The sudden rise in the prices of crude oil and gas, the disruption to supply lines, fractured global trade and the strong possibility of global stag-flation will eventually force the Federal Government to reverse itself on the time for subsidy removal. Dollars will be scarce to get; and devaluation of our currency cannot be ruled out. As exchange rate climbs, when states’ revenue allocation from Abuja declines, those states saddled with large external loans will need to allocate a greater percentage of their revenue to debt repayment or risk loan default. The FG faces the same risk with regard to external loans. Loan default by several states and the FG will result in the world slamming the door on our faces for several years. We might find ourselves experiencing several months of scarcity of essential commodities (essenco) – which we last experienced in 1985.

The Nigerian economy will certainly be battered; FG and states will not be able to meet their obligations to ASUU, pensioners and even banks. A country tottering on the brink of catastrophe, we might be pushed over the precipice by a war being fought half the world away from us. Nobody, alive today, will ever forget Putin’s war as long as they live.

WHAT IS TO BE DONE? 

“Leadership is the ability to define issues without aggravating problems.”

Warren Bennis, 1980

I think it was Shakespeare who said “everything helps the unhappy man to fall.” It is a sad commentary on Nigeria’s leadership class that they are absent at a time the country needs them most. The President is again on a sick bed in London. He cannot attend to the urgent challenges presented by the war; but, he has enough energy to approve a palace coup to remove his self-imposed Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC. Is the retired General too tired not to be able to determine degrees of danger to the nation? 

News reports informed us that he handed over to the Vice President, the Minister of Justice and Education. That must be a joke. The constitution prescribes what to do when the President wants to hand over. He writes to the National Assembly, NASS. Baba Buhari failed to do this. So nobody can take necessary action speedily. Baba is really tired.

The VP has no mandate to act. At any rate, the man is more interested in his presidential ambition than in moving to prevent calamity brought about by Putin’s war. The NASS and all the state Governors of the APC have relocated to Abuja, according to Governor El-Rufai. But, they are not discussing Putin’s war. Obviously, Nigeria is deprived of leadership at a critical period in our national life. Yet, without leadership, a serious crisis might escalate into a major disaster.

Despite the lack of leadership, one can still make some recommendations aimed at reducing the impacts of the war. Permit me to list them without elaboration.

  1. Activate the Council of States in order to gain wider support for the tough decisions which need to be made.

2. Establish a War Committee which — among other assignments – will commence to pay attention 24/7 to the war and to report weekly to the Council on its direction, likely impacts on Nigeria and to make recommendations to the President, the Council of States and the Federal Executive Council on measures to take in the national interest.

3. Ensure that the Committee is absolutely non-partisan and includes nobody who is engaged in running for office.

4. Government should always act speedily on their recommendations because a week is a long time in this war.

5. Finally, they should be able to advice the President to call an emergency meeting of all the political leaders – if necessary to agree decide on what is to be done until the end of the war.

LAST LINE. The answer to the question: will Putin deploy nuclear weapons is DEFINITELY YES. Germany was actually working to develop its own nuclear weapon. And, Hitler had chosen its first destination – Russia.

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.