In Ukraine, Putin is bound to lose

Putin is a failed student of recent war history.

Russian President Vladimir Putin enters a hall before a meeting with members of the Security Council via a video link in Moscow, Russia February 25, 2022. Sputnik/Alexey Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Russian President Vladimir Putin enters a hall before a meeting with members of the Security Council via a video link in Moscow on February 25, 2022 [Alexey Nikolsky/Kremlin via Reuters]

If it was not plain before, Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine and Ukrainians has revealed these self-evident truths.

Columnists who, like me, flit, like butterflies, from one “crisis” to the next, one “outrage” to the next, one “scandal” to the next, do not matter.

Analysts and ex-generals appearing on cable news networks to speculate without knowing do not matter.

The usual lineup of “think-tank” strategists and “experts” appearing on cable news networks to blabber on and speculate without knowing do not matter.

Rich, vacuous television personalities who know nothing about loss or sacrifice in the midst of war do not matter.

The keyboard cavalry of smug, perpetually wrong hypocrites who once loved “regime change” and invading sovereign nations before hating “regime change” and the invasion of another sovereign nation populated, this time, by white Christians, do not matter.

Pedestrian, duplicitous politicians and diplomats who spout banalities about “geniuses”, “freedom”, and the sanctity of “territorial integrity” and “international law” do not matter.

All of the above who stampede to Twitter every other moment to share their trite, hyperbolic musings and “insight” about Putin, war and Ukraine may think they matter, but they do not.

Here is who and what matters.

People matter. Ukrainians matter and, oh, how they matter.

The countless victims of Putin’s war – dead, injured, homeless and traumatised Ukrainians – matter.

Still, Ukrainians have shown, by their fine example, how courage and defiance matter.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has, by his honourable example, confirmed that true leadership and sacrifice matter.

Zelenskyy has, by his honourable example, confirmed, as well, that simple words and acts of refusal matter.

Enlightened Russians who defy thugs and intimidation to oppose war matter.

Kind, generous people who comfort and help frightened strangers fleeing war matter.

All refugees escaping the war, including African children, women and men who, shamefully, have had, again, to withstand racism even at this dire moment, matter.

Intrepid (not racist) reporters risking their lives to tell the truth about what is happening in Ukraine and beyond, matter.

Angry people who have come together in the streets across the globe – even in placid, “neutral” Switzerland – to denounce and reject war and, instead, call, as one, for peace, matter.

For the little it may be worth, I do not know what will happen in Ukraine in the days ahead.

I do not know what will happen in Russia in the days ahead.

I do not know what Putin may or may not do in the days ahead.

I do not know whether or not Putin’s mad plans for Ukraine have gone awry.

I do not know what may or may not be in store for a troubled world in the days, weeks, months and years ahead because of Putin’s war on Ukraine.

But I do know this: Putin will not prevail. Time and people of good and determined will shall not let him prevail.

History tells us that fear and force, as governing tools, inevitably lose their potency. History also tells us that understanding the value and necessity of patience is key to beating the purveyors of fear and force.

I remember when, not too long ago, the columnists, the experts, the analysts, the strategists, the generals and the politicians were flummoxed to the point of shocked, and welcomed, silence when the Berlin Wall came down – bit by bit, brick by brick, slab by slab.

People who had crossed the fear barrier into wild celebration of the destruction of all that the Berlin Wall stood for did what was considered, until then, impossible.

It was people – lots of them – who achieved the impossible. They overwhelmed an inhumane regime built on fear and force that the columnists, analysts, strategists, generals, and politicians insisted would last for much longer than it did.

That fear and force were dispatched in Berlin so quickly was proof that when fear and force are challenged by enough people seized with will and hope, change comes.

And, sometimes, it arrives fast and unexpectedly.

Ukrainians, in and out of uniforms, have seized on and demonstrated this will and hope with a stirring and humbling conviction.

They have rallied to their leader’s call to confront fear and force with will, hope and, yes, weapons.

They have confronted fear and force with every means that a righteous resistance permits.

Ukrainians are not “hanging on”. They are standing fast. They are testament, once more, that fear and force will always lose out.

Nazar Cherniha is one of the countless Ukrainians who are standing firm. After watching a Russian missile slam into an apartment in Kyiv, Cherniha told the Washington Post: “After tonight I am not scared anymore. Fear disappeared.” His mother, Nataliya, is just as defiant. “The people have really come together, and such a unity can’t possibly be defeated.”

She is, of course, right.

Putin may have calculated that Ukrainians would cower and capitulate and that the rank, Soviet-style rhetoric meant to smear a freely elected government as a “junta” filled with “criminals” and “drug traffickers” would work. If he did, he has miscalculated – badly.

This so-called “student” of history has forgotten the sharp lessons of recent history.

It is easy to succumb to distorting hubris and the irresistible impulse to invade and impose your evangelical designs on another people and their homeland, but it is much more difficult to enforce those designs without sinking, eventually, into quagmire, retreat and defeat.

That is why, I think, Putin and his surrogates have been reduced to shouting clichés and revisionist nonsense and making apocalyptic threats that suggest that Russia’s leader-for-life has slipped into a dangerous and disconcerting hysteria.

Time, will and hope will change that, too. We are watching it stir in Moscow and other Russian cities. Principled Russians continue to risk their freedom or worse despite Putin’s fear-and-force-fuelled edicts that they remain quiet and at home.

Undeterred, they are on the street. We owe these brave Russians our support and gratitude for their fidelity to hope over fear, to humanity over inhumanity, to peace over war.

Meanwhile, one marquee and habitually wrong American columnist who once championed fear, force and “regime change” in the Middle East and Afghanistan and now opposes it when a European nation is the target, recently wrote that the world-wide-web may turn out to be Ukraine’s salvation.

Wrong again.

The worldwide web is a tool. It is how people of goodwill and purpose – inside and outside Ukraine – use it to battle fear and force that may play a part in writing the country’s fate.

Ukrainians, I suspect, do not need Twitter, Facebook, TikTok or Instagram to fight for their dignity, freedom and independence.

It is apparent to me, at least, that the will to meet an occupying army head-on is engrained in Ukrainians’ minds, hearts, and souls.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.