Ukraine Is Not Weak, As Putin Is Finding

Sometimes you watch or read something, think nothing of it at the time, and then suddenly due to some random event it becomes significant in an odd way. This clip from Seinfeld has become strangely relevant, prophetic, even.

For those who are not Seinfeld fans, this clip is the culmination of a heated game of Risk between characters Kramer and Newman, which is abruptly ended by a Ukrainian man who overhears Kramer say “Ukraine is weak” while they are playing in the subway. Not a great idea to play a board game on a subway, of course. Now, I am dumb as anyone about war strategy and the region (although I’ve learned some about the people simply by knowing some Russians and Ukrainians via my job), but this is an interesting metaphor for Russia and Putin’s attack on Ukraine.

The news since this began, for the most part, doesn’t strike me as being great for Putin. Despite the significant suffering Putin is inflicting, unprovoked, on the Ukrainian people, their strategy does not seem to be going well. The dreams of a swift victory in several days where Volodymyr Zelensky is forced in disgrace to read a prepared statement before being offed just did not occur. I think claiming to know what will happen next is truly a fool’s errand with this entire mess.

What is actually worrisome is while it is good to see the Ukrainians fighting back, it could also make the entire situation much worse. Putin is more a mafioso than a legitimate leader, and such creatures do not like to be embarrassed. Putin is instituting a crackdown on both protestors and journalists in his home country to try to do some brutal damage control, but word will still make it to Russian people. At the same time, an embarrassed dictator will become even more brutal, so the civilian deaths are sadly just beginning. Those civilian deaths could also include his own people, if they already haven’t given the news footage of protestors being carted off in handcuffs.

Of course, the nuclear option is still on the table, the literal one. One might think this would cause a revisit to the idea that nuclear weapons are deterrents, because given Russia’s military performance so far, it would be hard to imagine this Russian military being a major threat to move into NATO countries without the nuclear threat. It’s also hard to see how Russia could manage taking territories, given they have the GDP of roughly Italy and were having economic problems even before the sanctions.

But we don’t know where all this goes. And that’s fine! We would have a better country if we didn’t equate uncertainty with incompetence and not being smart. Often, the most competent and smartest thing to say is that something is impossible to know.

One more thing on Russia and Putin, the Democrats need to hammer the hell out of the GOP for their Putin-is-our-dream-boy stance that they held right up to the invasion. And are not seeming that interested in fully letting go of. We also should point out that Republican views on protests are rather close to Putin’s view on protests.

Whether Democrats will, hard to say. That’s as unpredictable as what happens next in Ukraine.

The last word goes to the Ukrainian music outfit DakhaBrakha, performing their unique brand of music on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert.