Was Putin's aggression unpredictable? Hardly

By Markon Malaj

We are living in strange times. Unpredictable times. As I embarked on this writing adventure, the words of an old song came to my mind. Tina Cousins’ “Mysterious Times” was a favorite when I had just graduated from University. The words of that beautiful song sound as they did 24 years ago, when Sash first released it. These are mysterious times indeed. A mystery is something too difficult or impossible to understand or explain.

As I am writing these lines, a great crisis is unfolding in Ukraine, a friendly and a peace-loving nation. For many politicians and heads of state around the world, it is still a baffling mystery why a seasoned politician like Vladimir Putin would unleash a ferocious attack against Ukraine.

The leaders of NATO, the EU and the civilized world seem to have been caught off-guard by Putin’s actions. Others, on the other hand, are trying to rationalize or even justify his actions. What I find even more disturbing is the fact that some political analysts when referring to Putin’s mental state are suggesting that he has changed, and that this man in the Kremlin is different from the Putin of the past. How preposterous to even think something like that! Was the Putin of the past a peace-loving, self-controlled and rational leader? Do these political analysts suffer from some form of amnesia? Have they forgotten what Putin has been doing in Ukraine for the last 20 years and what he is capable of? Sneaky and ruthless, Putin has attacked Ukraine with a brazen assurance that nobody will to stop him. He is smart and calculating. Do we really have a mystery on our hands? Was the full-scale attack on Ukraine that unpredictable?

Putin’s rhetoric and his lame justification for his attack on Ukraine shouldn’t surprise anyone. This is the typical behavior of a despot. This is how a dictator or a would-be dictator usually speaks.

Shortly before the Russian onslaught on Ukraine, Putin claimed that Ukraine needed to be de-Nazified and for its Nazi leaders to be brought to justice. Does Putin’s language sound familiar? Do Putin’s words ring a bell? Indeed they do. Prior to Putin’s statements, these words were first articulated by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during recent freedom protests against vaccine mandates in Ottawa and other cities across Canada. He called the protesters Nazis, right-wing extremists and criminals. These statements have been taken from the same playbook and are similar to Putin’s statements.

Is this just a coincidence? Let’s see. What happened in Canada shortly after these statements? A state of emergency was declared and Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time in Canadian history, as if Canada had been attacked by foreign armies or had suffered a great catastrophe. Trudeau declared war on peaceful protesters and sent heavily armed special police units against them. For the very first time in Canadian history, Canada’s jails are full of political prisoners waiting to go on trial. They are being accused of being Nazis, extremists and insurrectionists. What happened in Ukraine after Putin’s statements comparing Ukrainians to Nazis? Putin began a relentless genocide against a peaceful people.

Going back to Putin’s actions in Ukraine, let’s analyze his “unpredictable” behavior. Was it really that unpredictable? Or was there a behavioral escalation? In other words, did his actions and responses increase in severity or intensity? Were there any worrying signs that would make one think he was going to take some drastic action?

Taking a walk down memory lane, we notice there were many signs that were ignored. Let’s look at some of them. Putin tried to have former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko killed. Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin, but fortunately, or dare I say miraculously, he survived. Then Russia annexed Crimea, in 2014. However, Putin was not satisfied because he wanted to grab more Ukrainian land. For this reason, he triggered a war in Eastern Ukraine, and it was the civilian population that bore the brunt of that conflict, in which 14,000 lives were lost resulting in Ukraine losing control of some parts of the Donetsk region. Putin wasn’t done yet, but he couldn’t immediately start another war after the bloody invasion in the east. He needed to wait for a couple of years because the EU leadership suffers from occasional historical amnesia that stems mainly from the purchase of real estate worth billions of euros by Putin’s cronies.

It is most likely that in the 2016 presidential election, Putin wanted Hillary Clinton to win so that he could finally put his invasion plans into motion. It didn’t happen. To his shock and to the shock of many Western leaders, Donald Trump won against all odds. Trump’s victory must have been a huge blow to Putin’s plans. Putin, having been raised by the KGB, is well-trained and unmatched when it comes to understanding his opponents’ character and determination. He knows his political rivals extremely well.

After meeting Trump, Putin must have realized that he couldn’t go on with his war plans. Contrary to what some politicians want you to think, Trump would have hit Putin hard if he had attacked Ukraine during his presidency. Why? Trump is smart and unflinching. What’s more, Trump is also unpredictable, and Putin knew that, too. And the Russian president doesn’t like unpredictability.

Although I don’t personally have great admiration for Trump, results show that he did a good job as president and made the world a safer place. He has, however, two major flaws. First, he lacks humility, so even when he does something really good for his country and others, he can’t help himself from bragging. And second, he is not a good listener, and listening skills are crucial when you are part of a team and have to make important decisions that will impact not only the lives of 350 million Americans, but world stability. Choosing Mike Pence as a running mate, was a stroke of genius. Mike Pence is a man of faith and integrity, and he was a great vice president. With these two men in the White House, Putin didn’t stand a chance, and attacking Ukraine was out of question. He had to be patient. Everything changed after the 2020 elections, and Putin realized that it was time to play his cards. In light of what’s happening, though, he may have overplayed his hand.

A question people keep asking and I’d like to address is what triggered Putin to attack Ukraine. Ordinary people, politicians and political analysts have different takes on this. Some politicians on both sides of the political spectrum think that the expansion of NATO and EU might be to blame. What expansion are we talking about? The EU is certainly not expanding, and NATO is not getting stronger. On the contrary, NATO has never been more powerless. Therefore, I don’t think the imaginary EU or NATO expansion is to blame. The only person to blame is Putin.

As a former KGB agent, Putin still has dreams of a great Soviet Union, which includes Ukraine with or without its population. He has run Russia for almost 22 years, causing untold misery. With a corruption-ridden administration and flagging economy, which will certainly worsen due to sanctions, Putin has turned Russia and the whole region into a tinderbox. We might never know why Putin decided to unleash his bandits on Ukraine. It might be that he just cannot tolerate the presence of a strong and free nation like Ukraine on Russia’s borders.

A way out of this crisis might be to enter Ukraine and establish a no-fly zone under the U.N. flag. NATO and the U.N. need to understand that Ukraine is not Russian territory and should not be considered part of Putin’s fiefdom where Putin can act as he wishes. The free world should not back down and allow Putin to unleash his murderous minions against a free people. Since the U.N. voted almost unanimously to condemn the Russian invasion, a wide coalition of U.N. troops could be sent to Ukraine like they were sent to Korea and Kuwait. If NATO and the U.N. abandon the Ukrainian nation and allow a despot to kill and destroy with impunity, then these two organizations have lost all credibility.

If Putin is not stopped, but is allowed to destroy Ukraine and force out millions of people, this crime will set a very dangerous precedent for how other future armed conflicts are dealt with. He might attack Moldova and then Finland, and other countries in Europe that are not part of NATO, but are close to NATOs borders. And Secretary of State Antony Blinken just gave Putin a strange message telling him that NATO will be ready if he trespasses into NATO territory. Putin will interpret Blinken’s message as a carte blanche to act with impunity as long as his men do not trespass into NATO territory.

We all know that finding a solution to the crisis in Ukraine is not going to be easy, and time is of the essence. The Russian army is bombing Ukrainian cities into submission killing innocent people every day. We have a ruthless Putin facing a weak NATO and U.N., and in the background a nation facing extermination by Putin’s forces. The only leader in the Western world right now that can stand up to Putin is Boris Johnson, but he can’t do it alone. Despite the bravery of the British in the Second World War, I doubt the British Isles would have survived a long war against Nazi Germany had the U.S. not joined the fight.

It’s a very dangerous situation, and there are many who think the smallest confrontation between NATO and Russia could cause a nuclear winter. In light of that possibility, what’s the most viable solution?

Markon Malaj was born in Albania, a country that was under one of the most vicious communist dictatorships known to man, from 1944 to 1992. He lived under that dictatorship for almost 18 years.

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