Ukraine’s woes may foretell our own

Can another would-be tyrant pronounce a free election unfair just because he lost? Then foment a riot? Then pretend it didn’t happen, while his minions skew the laws so it’s harder to vote against him next time?

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After Ukrainian forces said they had repulsed a Russian attack on their capital on February 26, President Volodymyr Zelensky shot a selfie-style video to vow to stay and fight on. “I am here. We will not lay down any weapons. We will defend our state, because our weapons are our truth,” he declared

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Nobody cries like a bully.

One moment they’re standing over some sprawled victim, fists doubled, hurling abuse. The next they’re waving a hand in the air, weeping over the boo-boo on their knuckle.

It’s a disgusting display, seen the world round. The truth — you’re beating up the weaker kid, because you can, and because doing so makes you feel good — can’t be recognized. So a pretext must be found.

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At times there is almost a ritual aspect to it. Haters and despots clutch at their chests and pretend their aggression has a reason, that they are the victims.

This curious ceremony was seen again in the days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A flutter of official indignation as the Russian army massed around its neighbor.

“Stop this hysteria about the intentions of Russia in the region,” Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin demanded.

If there was any push for war, he said, it comes from the Ukrainians, or the Americans.

“I believe in diplomacy,” Vershinin said.

A view of the square outside the damaged local city hall of Kharkiv on March 1, 2022, destroyed as a result of Russian troop shelling.

The city hall and surrounding central square of Kharkiv, Ukraine is shown on Tuesday after it was damaged by shelling from Russian troops. Kharkiv, a largely Russian-speaking city near the Russian border, has a population of around 1.4 million.

Sergey Bobok/AFP via Getty Images

He could have been sincere. Shelling cities might be considered an extension of diplomacy, in a Clausewitzian sense (“War,” the Prussian general once wrote, “is merely the continuation of policy by other means.”)

At least the people invading their neighbor have a reason to lie. What excuse does the Red State hallelujah chorus have? Beyond craven envy of a leader unconstrained by law or conscience.

Me, I saw the invasion and gave thanks for Donald Trump’s first impeachment.

What? Forgotten already? Let me remind you. The House of Representatives impeached Trump in December 2019.

Remember why? Good thing I’m here then. Trump, looking for dirt to smear Joe Biden with, tried to pressure Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky into announcing a sham investigation into Biden. But Zelensky refused — Putin isn’t the first bully he’s defied. Which could have meant no weapons for Ukraine. But there was a whistleblower, and the blackmail came to light, at least for those who can see. Trump had to let Ukraine buy $39 million in anti-tank weapons. Which he is now taking credit for, as if it were his idea, at the same time he pivoted from attacking NATO to being its savior, which is accepted as true in the fact-free, consequence-free world he seems to inhabit.

Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is sworn in to testify before the House Intelligence Committee in November 2019 as part of the impeachment of President Donald Trump. Vindman recounted Trump’s efforts to withhold U.S. aid to Ukraine unless the Ukrainian president announced investigations of Trump’s political opponents.

Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is sworn in to testify before the House Intelligence Committee in 2019 as part of the impeachment of President Donald Trump. Vindman recounted Trump’s efforts to withhold U.S. aid to Ukraine unless the Ukrainian president announced investigations of Trump’s political opponents.

Associated Press

Though the actual world is not fact-free. Shells and missiles are facts that are harder to ignore. I don’t want to use the war in Ukraine merely to point out the chronic dishonesty and moral vacancy of the Republicans. At this point, that is either all too clear to you, or never will be.

Rather, this should be a lesson in the stark choice that has been staring our own country in the face for a long time now.

“At the heart of the matter is the question of whether power can break the law,” Olaf Scholz, chancellor of Germany, said Sunday, telling his country’s parliament that their nation must ramp up its military spending to fend off Russia. Because bullies are never satisfied, trying to fill the bottomless hole within. There’s always a new victim.

Can one despot take over his neighbor just because ... why, exactly? To prove he matters.

Can another would-be tyrant pronounce a free election was unfair simply because he lost? Then foment a riot? Then pretend it didn’t happen, while his minions skew the laws so the people who want to vote against him in a supposed democracy will have a harder time doing so?

We’ll find out. Assuming we haven’t found out already.

A protest of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine outside the Russian embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus on Tuesday, March 1, 2022.

A protest of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine outside the Russian embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus on Tuesday.

Associated Press

Do you have any idea why Putin invaded Ukraine? Not because he is so strong, but because he is so weak. Put it this way: When was the last time you saw a product made in Russia? I’m not talking cars or computers. I mean a toaster. Or a fork. Hell, Russia doesn’t even lead the world in exporting vodka. That’s Sweden. Followed by France.

Putin is an insecure leader of a failed state desperately trying to seem significant. He can’t invade to the West, because of NATO, the alliance that he and Trump undercut. So he attacks former members of the Soviet bloc, like an out-of-work peasant beating his own children. Because he thinks he can.

The column’s over and I haven’t even mentioned Tuesday night’s State of the Union address. My initial thought will have to do: “What union?”

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