In frozen Saigon, the mercury’s falling. I just tramped home from Mano’s Bar, via Lviv Croissant, in the freezing and aching cold. Every footstep in the icy snow is an exercise in risking breaking your neck. Nevertheless I am pleased I am reconciled with Mano’s Bar, who now treat me with the most exceptional courtesy, and they are good people and everything is just fine. Someone called R——— has been spreading dirty messages about Mano’s Bar, and I don’t suppose he is welcome there anymore. In fact he’s not welcome anywhere. In hope you understand what I mean, and the strength of determination I have to fight and block the bad elements in the international community. I want again to re-emphasise that these people are very much the minority; but I somehow seem to have become the global policeman for all these silly people, who come to Ukraine with bad intentions, and I am pleased to serve in that role.
Today I moved into a new apartment, just for a week or so before I leave Lviv for the Christmas holidays. The wonderful lady who governs this apartment met me this morning with a broad smile and stilted English and I greeted her in stilted Ukrainian. The apartment is beautiful, in the old style I appreciate, with wooden furnishings and gilded mirrors and I feel thoroughly at home here. It involves a somewhat precarious ascension up some knackered old wooden steps in the style of a building appropriate to the Second Polish Republic, and then an ice rink of an exposed balcony from the staircase to the front door. But it is wonderfully heated and this is a major attraction when the weather is so bitter in frozen Saigon just outside. Moreover there are two Churches right opposite my door, in the baroque and ornate style, and both these Churches, full of friends and cousins, warm my heart in knowing that in Lviv I will always be safe and sound.
This evening I went to the Opera. The performance was Puccini’s La Bohème at the Lviv Opera House and frankly it was ghastly. The orchestra stumbled into the pit like a group of incoherent zombies. They played the Ukrainian National Anthem with a dreary solemnity that less inspired and more made the audience think of suicide. The potentially beautiful music of La Bohème was played in practice like a ritual exercise in the flaying of the skin of a set of cats, something like a mixture between Shostakovich and Janacek but slightly more depressing. I saw members of the orchestra yawning blindly and staring out at the audience like ghosts or ghouls, wondering what they were doing there. The operatic performers screeched like pained wildebeest, wondering what on earth they were doing there. Their costumes, just off the rack from the last time they performed La Bohème perhaps a year or so ago, were entertainingly preposterous. A gaggle of opera buffs around me, on the front and second row of the Stalls, yelped in hysterical laughter as they saw this nonsensical spectacle unfold.
In fairness the orchestra and the performers were exhausted. They had been doing something else the night before, and the night before that, and so on and so forth, and this morning they had been called in to play the music and learn the lines of La Bohème for the first and only time in ages. The conductor stared down at the Soviet-era encrusted, curled, browning musical score and he went through the routines but that was all. I left after the end of Act II. It was worth the trivially small amount of money in the purchase of the ticket just to observe so obtuse a ceremony; but I was not going to punish myself wilfully and unnecessarily in a cold, dank, dark, humid, gloomy and half-empty concert hall by forcing myself to sit through to the end of this hideous spectacle.
It’s winter in Ukraine. We all need to get into the mood of being thoroughly glum and depressed. I enjoy this miserablist presumption. It appeals to my character. After the show I went off to various bars and probably I drank too much. The Ukrainian winter encourages such negative inclinations. I met with what is now a good friend, and he told me shocking stories about the front line again. The Russian Armed Forces are motivated, he said, because they don’t want to die and they are paid well if they don’t die. That sounds like a pretty good motivation to me. Their equipment is atrocious but they are battle-hardened whereas the Ukrainian Armed Forces are sending in novices with two weeks’ training with an assault rifle because they are running out of men. What on earth is going on, such that these horrors are being perpetuated and that the Russian Armed Forces are enjoying a surge in morale? What this means is that we westerners are not doing enough. The fatuous debates about funding in the US Congress are debilitating the morale of the valiant Ukrainian Armed Forces, and reinforcing the morale of the hitherto ragtag Russian Armed Forces.
We need to change this now. The West needs to glue its ass to its elbow. When are we going to get serious? When are we going to live up to the commitments that are required to protect western values and principles and liberty and democracy and all the other things that we respect in the West? Why are the Russians getting the moral upper hand here? It’s because our politicians are all procrastinating like a herd of cats and dogs that cannot be effectively corralled.
This is a war, and it needs to be fought with military discipline to beat our opponents and to do this comprehensively. We cannot let totalitarianism and dictatorship overwhelm the democratic urges of western society that forge the consensus underlying Euro-Atlantic institutions. We have to keep on fighting and we must continue to show the utmost resolve. We must keep in tune and in harmony, unlike the Lviv Opera House orchestra tonight. They were tired and exhausted and knackered and sick of it all and I saw it in their eyes. Much can be said of the soldiers on the front line and of the politicians in the West who are fighting this war and supporting it in every way they can at the risk of their political careers and reputations. Nevertheless war is a gruelling business and nothing is certain and the only satisfactory resolution of a war is not a negotiated nonsense that will cause the Russians to push west again in another ten years’ time but a decisive win, executed here, and now, and promptly and without hesitation.
There is nothing that will stop the Russians in their criminal plans for the occupation of Ukraine and the subsequent divisive partition of eastern Europe but decisive victory on the battlefield. We need NATO troops, spearheaded by the United States, on the front line in Ukraine - and we need them now. Every endeavour must be made, and will be made, by the Allies to achieve this result and so to vanquish the Russian Federation. We owe this to our children and to their children, and we are bound to act with the utmost expedition. And in all my heart, I believe that after much wrangling and talking and this and that sort of thing, that we in the West will live up to the ideals that have served us all so well.