As an undergraduate at Yale many years ago, I read a lot of Russian literature: Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Bulgakov, Solzhenitsyn. I wanted to understand the mentality of a nation that under Putin still romanticizes the tyranny of the Czars and the totalitarianism of the Soviets – a nation that may soon inflict unspeakable horrors – again! - on my people – the people of Ukraine.
As a practicing Christian, I struggled with one of Jesus's most challenging commandments: to "love thine enemies", to forgive those that trespass against us. So, I learned to savor the lyricism of Russia's poets – Pushkin, Akhmatova, Yesenin. I tried to appreciate the better angels of Russian nature – the composers that captured the kinder furies of the Russian soul, producing ravishing pieces of music, like Rachmaninoff's rhapsodies and Vespers, Stravinsky's Firebird and Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings.
Like my Jewish friends who loved German music, I kept asking myself: how could the same people that produced and revelled in the elegance of Mozart and the lush romanticism of Brahms allow themselves to be deluded by a monster like Hitler? How could the same Russians who enjoyed watching the delicacy of the Kirov Ballet performing Swan Lake feel comfortable with the barbarism of Stalin – starving millions of Ukrainians to death in a forced famine?
These are the questions that the son of Ukrainian war refugees asks himself as he watches Vladimir Putin bring 200,000 troops to the brink of invasion against a nation that has never threatened its neighbors and has been a model global citizen during thirty years of independence.
In 1991, Ukrainians voted for independence by an overwhelming majority of 92.3%. Since then, Ukraine has bent over backwards to promote peaceful, healthy relations with its neighbors. It has made peace with its historic enemies. Poland and Turkey have become strong allies. Ukrainian Christians and Islamic Crimean Tatars have achieved solidarity and reconciliation that would have seemed unimaginable 400 years ago. As much as Putin projects his own aggression on his vulnerable neighbor, accusing Ukraine of "provoking" his military buildup, the most provocative action taken by Ukraine so far was the dismantling of its entire nuclear arsenal – the third largest in the world. By what twisted stretch of logic does this constitute "provocation"?
In Putin's mind, anything short of complete capitulation is unacceptable. Ukraine's very existence as a free and democratic society poses a threat to Putin's hubris – his brand of autocracy. This is a man who craves respect from the rest of the world yet believes that international norms are meant to be broken - that brutality is something worthy of emulation. And now, his treachery is praised as "genius" by Trump, Pompeo and others. Putin believes that murdering journalists and from the "little man" syndrome. Even in an era of little blue pills and plastic surgical enhancements, Putin's insecurity and wounded sense of masculinity can only be satisfied when he is inflicting pain on others. In Putin's sadistic mind, Ukraine might as well be the abused wife of an alcoholic husband. After three centuries of a brutal marriage marked by cultural and physical genocide, Ukraine finalized her divorce in 1991, but Putin still wishes to abuse her. He just can't bring himself to accept that Ukraine is finally free of his control. So, Putin is trying to convince his people that as punishment for her independence, Ukraine deserves to die - it has no right to its own existence.
For all his flowery dogma about Ukraine and Russia being "one people", Putin betrayed his truer, cruder instincts last month when he voiced his necrophiliac fantasy comparing Ukraine to "Sleeping Beauty in a coffin" – a nation he feels entitled to rape once it is good and dead.
There is still a shred of hope that a broader Russian invasion can be avoided. Last month, a group of 2,000 Russian intellectuals found the courage to defy Putin, signing a petition that declared:
"Russia does not need a war with Ukraine and the West. Nobody is threatening us, nobody is attacking us. The policy based on promoting the idea of such a war is immoral, irresponsible, and criminal, and cannot be implemented on behalf of Russia's peoples."
This statement is worthy of the noblest traditions of Russian dissidents.
As much as Putin seems eager to launch an all-out war against Ukraine, mimicking the brutality of his ruthless role model – Joseph Stalin, should it come to all-out war, we can only hope that he will suffer the same fate as Stalin who was humiliated after invading Finland in 1939. The Finns fought off their invaders with a tenacity that Ukrainians are ready to replicate. Though Ukraine may be outmanned and outgunned, the Finns proved that passion for one's homeland can be what the late Colin Powell called a "force multiplier". For 30 years, Ukrainians have tasted freedom, and they are not about to surrender that freedom to Putin's overconfident Goliath. poisoning opponents with dioxin and polonium is fair game.
He apparently believes that attacks on kindergartens are just a necessary part of bringing Ukraine to its knees.
Like Napoleon and Hitler before him, Putin suffers