We’re watching World War Two. In miniature, but in real time. Massacre of the innocents, women and children fleeing in their millions. And the rest of us standing helplessly by. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, Boris Johnson spoke for all western leaders when he described his refusal to defend Ukraine with fighter jets as ‘agonising’.
It’s hideously simple. If we start shooting down Russian planes we’re declaring war, on the nation with the world’s biggest nuclear arsenal.
And Mutually Assured Destruction – MAD for short – would finish us all off. End of.
That’s not to say we aren’t helping Ukrainians doing the job for us, supplying anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles.
But while we’re stressing these weapons are defensive, not offensive, the notion of mission creep does creep in.
All sides are talking about red lines. The deployment of murderous machinery that simply can’t be tolerated.
The Russian use of so-called thermobaric weapons in Ukraine nudges closer. Thermo-barbaric might be a better term, as the blast wave can actually vaporise human bodies.
In tandem with all this comes the information war. Putin’s creaking but ubiquitous mind-control apparatus is doing its utmost to keep ordinary Russians in the dark.
Which is why a recent poll by the state-run VTsIOM centre showed that seven out of ten of them supported the war. Ahem, ‘special military operation’. Yerright.
Shutting off outside media outlets, and threatening critics with fifteen years in jail are, between them, powerful tools.
And manipulating public opinion with populist claptrap is, apparently, easier than it seems.
Witness the hardcore of Americans, with access to news of every stripe, who seriously believe only Donald Trump can save them from a lethal cabal of paedophile Satanists.
That said, cracks are starting to appear even in Russia’s tightly controlled media.
One day last week its top TV station broadcast calls from respected pundits to halt the hostilities, likening the invasion to the military disaster in Afghanistan.
An ouch moment for Putin, surely, given that historians widely attribute the collapse of the Soviet Union to domestic disillusionment with that conflict.
There’s no question Vlad the Vicious has impaled himself on his own delusional world view.
Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich has become just the latest and highest profile filthy rich Russian to get financially shackled by the British government.
But many money experts predict that, as western sanctions continue to bite, the entire Russian economy will collapse within months.
Never mind the more cosmopolitan middle-class Muscovites, that won’t play too well with the ordinary folk either.
Likewise, in the meantime, the small matter of Russian casualties at the front.
All very well for Putin to maintain hardly any of ‘our boys’ are getting hurt. Large numbers of mums are starting to notice their sons have gone rather quiet.
Many may have been duped over the years into sharing their President’s distorted political perspectives. But the maternal instinct is as unyielding as it is universal.
There’s little doubt Putin has broken the first law of politics. The one about never believing your own propaganda. And now he’s running short of wriggle room.
For now, however, he’s still, clearly, fixated on his idea that Ukraine must be rubbed out, because it isn’t a real country. Only became so because the Bolsheviks gave it away.
According to the historian and acclaimed Russian history expert Orlando Figes, Putin’s been banging on about this for the best part of twenty years.
As far back as 2005 he said the Soviet Union’s collapse was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century. And he’s been trying to rebuild it ever since.
More recently his views have become closely aligned, according to Professor Figes, with those of Carl Schmitt. A German philosopher and, btw, Nazi supporter.
Seems Putin now rather likes the idea of Russia becoming a superstate, along with China, geared up to run Eurasia.
A chilling invocation there of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, in which Eurasia is in perpetual conflict with other global empires, known as Oceania and Eastasia.
The book, which bigs up Big Brother and Stalin and Hitler’s thought police, came out just as Churchill was campaigning for the west to to pre-emptively nuke Moscow.
Horrifying though this universally rejected notion was, the behaviour of the Kremlin’s current heir-to-Stalin does bring it into sharp relief.
Another form of relief, the kind that might at least help ease the plight of those caught up in the biggest migrant crisis since 1945, is slowly grinding into gear, here in UK.
After an appalling start, in which the Home Office smeared itself in ignominy, the government is finally finessing a scheme to offer Ukrainian refugees safe haven.
Community groups, including charities, local councils and churches, will be able to sponsor these traumatised women and children.
The idea is to match escapees from the conflict with British householders offering to give them shelter until it’s safe for them to return to their menfolk.
Of course there are loads of details to hammer out. Such as checks on the people offering sanctuary and what state benefits the newcomers should receive.
Then there’s the awkward question of whether helping out Ukrainians might be seen as unfair on the large numbers of Afghan refugees still awaiting proper support.
Much food for thought there. Still, it’s clear many British people really are very keen to do their bit, and the government is doing its best to get its act together.
After, at the start, making it ridiculously difficult for Ukrainians to get to Britain, Home Secretary Priti Patel has manifestly not been having a good war.
Boris Johnson, by contrast, hasn’t done so badly. A poll early last week suggested his approval rating had recovered to its pre-partygate level.
And certainly the idea he broke Covid laws that aren’t even laws any more do pale into insignificance next to Putin’s grotesque transgressions.
But British altruism, displayed over the refugee response, may be stretched a bit further as the conflict inflicts damage on all our finances.
Reducing Russian energy imports means increasing the amount we all pay to run our cars and heat our homes.
In a week or so’s time the Chancellor will unveil his mini-budget. That was scheduled anyway, how far it might have to go was not.
Pressure’s building up on the Treasury to offer more help to people already facing a cost of living crisis. Rishi Sunak is trying to sound hawkish, but it ain’t easy.
Pretty tricky too for eleven-year-old Hassan to make it to safety on his tod from the town of Zaporizhzhia in eastern Ukraine to Slovakia, more than seven hundred miles away.
As the Russians were shelling a nearby power station, his mum was terrified for his safety, but couldn’t risk leaving her elderly mother.
Instead, she felt she had no choice but to just put the boy on a train and hope for the best.
But when he made it to the border, with nothing more than a plastic bag, a little red backpack and his passport, he won over everyone with his smile.
Volunteers gave him food and shelter, border officials got in touch with his relatives in the capital, and Slovak police posted a video of the boy’s mother’s heartfelt thanks.
They all agreed little Hassan is a hero. He’s also a survivor. Comforting to know that even in this woeful saga there are some happy endings.
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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