While Putin’s mass murder mission grinds on there are flickering hopes that even he may be starting to see the light. NATO chiefs meeting in Brussels this week will be mulling over the possibility of some kind of messy compromise, to enable Russia’s battered army to rumble out of Ukraine. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, it’s fraught with difficulty but just about doable.
The toll of deaths and mutilations rises by the day and the mass exodus of women and children now runs into millions, as Putin proceeds with his anaconda strategy.
This expression was coined during the American civil war. It refers to the python’s way of slowly squeezing its victims to death.
And it tallies with the surrounding of cities, cutting off water and electricity supplies and relentlessly bombarding them from without.
But it’s not going to plan, as the young Russian soldiers in this so-called ‘special military operation’ have been subject to the mushroom syndrome from the start.
That’s to say they were kept in the dark and covered in sh .. you know what.
They’d no idea they were in for a full-scale invasion. Nor, when that realisation dawned, were they welcomed as liberators by grateful, flag-waving citizens.
Instead, cold, hungry and fed up, they found themselves on the receiving end of ferocious, well-armed and far better organised resistance.
Little wonder the whole thing’s gone so abjectly awry.
Of course in time their superior manpower and weaponry can be expected to achieve its objective. But, Putin’s at last coming to realise, it may simply not be worth it.
Sanctions are tearing huge chunks out of the Russian economy already. And a sudden lack of lovely goodies from the west is annoying Moscow’s movers and shakers.
Also, cracks are appearing in the Kremlin. Well-sourced claims have emerged, from members of his secret service, that no one’s dared tell truth to power.
Step forward Colonel-General Sergei Beseda. Or, rather, in his case, step inside. This man, who heads Russia’s equivalent of MI6, is now under house arrest.
Ostensibly, this is because he stands accused of hanging on to money he’s supposed to spend in the service of the state.
Much more likely, analysts believe, it’s because he’s the one who told Putin Ukraine would be a pushover. And someone had to take the blame.
Helping yourself to a bit of the boodle is after all, apparently, normal practice. Just ask the boss.
Bill Browder, an Anglo-American financier who’s close to the action, told a US Senate hearing in 2017 he believed Putin’s got two hundred billion dollars stashed away.
That would make him the richest man in the world. Not that that’ll be much comfort if he eventually gets banged up, as President Biden fervently hopes, for war crimes.
There’s no question holes are starting to gape in Putin’s proto-fascist apparatus.
Quite apart from military chiefs being at daggers drawn with top spies and praetorian guardsmen, his propaganda arm is also looking a bit fractured.
The three Russian cosmonauts turning up at the International Space Station wearing the colours of the Ukrainian flag neatly gave the Kremlin the bird.
And Marina Ovsyannikova, the extraordinarily brave state TV journalist who dared tell viewers of Moscow’s main ‘news’ programme they were being lied to, was not alone.
Hours after she walked into the on-air TV studio holding up a placard that said ‘no war, Russians against war’ it emerged three others had also bowed out.
And there are rumours of mass resignations at another station.
Still, Ms Ovsyannikova was the most courageous. So far she’s got away with a fine, but other potential charges could yet get her locked up for fifteen years.
Not that Putin’s horizons are exactly unclouded either, after his swift decapitation of the Ukrainian leadership and installation of a puppet regime failed to materialise.
Even with the bulk of his formidable mind-control machinery still operational, he’s got some explaining to do. And NATO recognises he’ll need to save face.
Hence the wiggle room being tentatively talked about. To allay Russian security fears, there’s the promise Ukraine won’t be allowed to join the western security alliance.
That much Boris Johnson has already spelt out, in terms. Not that anyone seriously disputed it anyway.
Instead, Ukraine could commit to neutrality, same as Austria did in 1955, thus convincing the Soviet Union to end its decade-long occupation after World War Two.
There’s also the question of EU membership, which Moscow is dead against. Here again, a fudge is just possible, in the form of loosely affiliate status, like Norway and Iceland.
It’s a long and windy road, but with Russia’s advance all over the place, er, all over the place, Ukraine’s President is said to be increasingly hopeful it might lead somewhere.
And there’s an echo in this, a few days back, from a British government source: ‘Thoughts are turning to the endgame. The losses Russia is suffering are unsustainable.
‘If there is a settlement, there needs to be a discussion about how that settlement can be guaranteed.’
Since then, Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, has sounded more downbeat, talking of the negotiations as no more than a ‘smokescreen’.
That’ll be the fog of war, then. At any given moment no one’s really quite sure what’s going on.
Not that there’s any denying the obstacles to peace are formidable. If a settlement involved any western nation acting as a guarantor of a deal the Russians won’t like it.
For its part, Ukraine is refusing to recognise the annexation of Crimea and the independence of the eastern bits of its country Moscow’s after.
Still, as long as the talks stutter on, they could yet be inching towards a deal.
Controversially, meanwhile, the respected American political scientist John Mearsheimer believes NATO countries are largely to blame for the current catastrophe.
He argues that egging a country like Ukraine, on Russia’s flank, to develop ever tighter links with the West was always going to alarm the Kremlin.
Of course many others maintain its current incumbent is a half-crazed megalomaniac who wants to turn back the pages of history and, ahem, Make Russia Great Again.
But it’s worth considering the backstory behind what is without question the week’s one truly heartwarming tale.
The release, after years of captivity, of British-Iranian nationals Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, came after UK finally coughed up for an unpaid debt.
We owed Tehran some four hundred million pounds for defence equipment that they’d already paid for but never got delivered.
Understandably, perhaps, we didn’t feel like trading fairly with the Islamic revolutionaries who, in 1979, had just toppled the Shah.
Then again, he only got his hands on power because the Americans, and the Brits, sorted a coup to get rid of Iran’s then, democratically elected, Prime Minister.
That’s because we didn’t like the cut of his jib either. So the CIA hired some of the city’s most feared gangsters to get the people rioting.
And, after the success of what was named ‘Operation Boot’, the Shah obligingly banged up the ex-PM, and had a fair few of his supporters executed.
None of this in any way justifies Putin’s grotesque actions, but it does serve as a reminder he’s not the only one capable of playing dirty.
Still, anyone not reduced to tears at the images of Nazanin’s little daughter Gabriella rushing up to hug her long-lost mother really has got something wrong with them.
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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