It turned out my soldier companion in my train to Kherson spoke very good English, and he’s a famous pop star and entertainer to the troops in Mykolaïv. The guards recognised him and came in and asked him whether it was really him. Of course I had no idea who he is but if you’re Ukrainian you probably will know him. Anyway he and I had quite a good chat and we agree that it’s fairly safe to go to Kherson now compared to before but it’s all a bit destroyed. Better to have the body armour and not to use it than not have it and suddenly think you need it, we both agreed.
We also agreed that this war stops the day US-led NATO troops arrive in Kherson, because there is no way the Russians will fire on American troops. They will understand everything and that will be that. He told me, “this crazy guy Putin, he will just come on the television one day and say the war is over, that is that, thank you for everything, now everyone goes home” and this is how the war will end and he is probably right. This is just the sort of insane thing that can happen in Russian politics and then there will be no political price to pay for Putin or anyone else because Putin has murdered all his political opponents and therefore the war has served its purpose for him. And then occupied Ukraine will end up in some sort of stasis or limbo in which nobody recognises that it is part of Russia but the Russians will maintain some sort of lingering presence in occupied Ukraine indefinitely, rather like a giant version of South Ossetia or Abkhazia in the Caucasus. This is the way the war will end but the most important thing is that NATO is present in Ukraine, along the front line as it currently exists, to prevent the Russians from changing their minds once again and slicing off another piece of Ukrainian territory - or Finland, or Lithuania, or some part of Poland, or whatever they fancy taking next.
Unfortunately this is the Russian mentality and we have to understand it comprehensively and we have to take strong and fearless political action to stop them. The policy currently underway, when the politicians and analysts waffle on about the dangers of escalation, are another way of describing the policy of appeasement of Hitler in Europe in the 1930’s. Hitler kept taking new bits of European territory and then saying that this would be the last thing he would take; and then he went and took some more. Now the Russians are more rational than Hitler; Hitler was an ideologue and he genuinely believed in the superiority of what he called the Aryan race (i.e. Germans) and he thought that Germany could beat any combination of countries in the world in war and in that he was comprehensively proven wrong. Therefore an all-out global war ending in the total destruction of the Third Reich was necessary in the 1940’s in order to stop this sort of ideological mania.
By contrast the contemporary Russian mentality is not ideological in this fanatical sort of way; rather it is darkly realistic and insanely crazy all in its own way. Russia understands that she does not by any means have an invincible army and she isn’t motivated by ideology. Vladimir Putin is not an ideologue; he is a ruthless opportunist who ticks all the boxes of relentless realism in international relations and this means that ideologies are worth nothing except as instruments of suppression of the people; lives are worth nothing except as canon fodder; civilised values are worth nothing except as ways of calming the agitated intellectual classes in the ruthless exercise of power. This means that Vladimir Putin has the extraordinary capacity, which most world leaders do not have, of executing the abrupt U-turn. He can stop this war in an instant, and he will do, without any political repercussions for him whatsoever. Russian people will just breathe a sigh of relief and return to their lives without so much misery and death in their families. This will only happen when Mr Putin is faced with a force on his doorstep that he understands - because he is very rational, perhaps too rational in a psychopathic sort of way - that he is faced with overwhelming force. And that force is the US military spearheading NATO. So that is how all this will end and it is the only way it can end.
After much arguing and shouting by military and railway officials, I’m now in the train heading off for the last hour or so to Kherson. I’ve been shifted to a different carriage for some inexplicable reason as the train obviously isn’t full and everyone agrees that near the front line the online ticket reservation system doesn’t quite work perfectly but that’s to be expected in a war zone. The man sitting opposite me has had a piece of shell or a grenade or something blow up in his face and he bears the hallmarks of this with a huge hole in his chin. He looks thin. In Ukraine, having a bit of weight on your body is a mark of wealth and from his emaciated fingers and cheap mobile ‘phone I can tell he doesn’t have any money. Apparently he couldn’t afford the body armour.
I found myself another cup of coffee; in this class of carriage it’s apparently half the price it was in “de luxe” class. Whether or not I was just being taken for a ride, I’ll never know; it’s all small change in the grand scheme of things. If only we could get proper funding, we could buy body armour for civilians and military personnel alike and all the other things that people need to reduce the risk of serious injury when living on a frontline city like Kherson. There are many others. The necessary funding just isn’t getting through, which is horrendous and depressing. I know why not: it’s because government aid and development agencies fear to tread in these front line communities and indeed they are afraid of going anywhere in Ukraine. This whole attitude has to change. We must stop being afraid. We must face this massive land war and we must learn courage and bravery and greater generosity because we are facing an existential menace to Europe’s peaceful order just as we were in the 1930’s; yet we have the opportunity to stop it straightforwardly.