Putin proves there are no statesmen left, just thugs

By raising the possibility of nuclear annihilation, the Russian president has buried the honorific into deep irrelevance.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during a joint news conference with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko
Like most of the other prime ministers and presidents with a state-sanctioned license to kill, Putin is a bland, pedestrian figure who, by virtue of circumstance, a dose of luck and Machiavellian-like connivance, became a 'leader', writes Mitrovica [Sputnik/Sergey Guneev/Kremlin via Reuters]

The word “statesman” needs to be retired.

Long before Vladimir Putin’s murderous invasion of Ukraine, the honorific had lost its meaning. Putin has buried it deep into irrelevance – perhaps permanently.

Recent history brims with the names of other mediocre thugs in tailored suits in the West and Middle East who, stripped of the kinder baubles more generous pundits and historians are prone to use, have left an egregious legacy of human suffering and loss.

I have written about them a lot.

In any event, you know, as well as I do, who these prime ministers and presidents turned killers are and the shocking scale of suffering and loss that their abiding hubris, narcissism and stupidity have caused to so many innocents, in so many places.

Like Putin, they have, of course, ordered others to do the evicting, bombing, maiming and killing while they take temporary refuge in the certainty of their diseased aims and rationalisations for all the suffering and loss that they are responsible for and that, despite inept efforts to re-write history, will always be their epitaph.

Like most of the other prime ministers and presidents with a state-sanctioned licence to kill, Putin is a bland, pedestrian figure who, by virtue of circumstance, a dose of luck and Machiavellian-like connivance, became a “leader”.

Putin is not, by any true measure, a learned or accomplished man. Remember, before entering into politics, this Tsarist-wannabe only had a piddling career as an unremarkable, bottom-drawer KGB officer. Still, this pathetic resumé was, apparently, enough to launch, over time, a dreary, but ambitious, apparatchik into a presidency that, like any banal autocrat, Putin believes he owns for life.

The giddy trappings of power – the title, the palatial homes, the “honour” guard, the money, the influence, and the required, ego-stroking deference and respect – will not alter the fact that Putin is just another killer who is convinced that his life and destiny are more important than the lives and destinies of the millions of mostly anonymous people he has damaged and continues to damage, often beyond repair.

The irony that will, no doubt, escape Putin’s notice is that every life he has harmed – in such a deliberate and sinister fashion – inside and outside Ukraine is much more valuable and worthier of remembering than his.

The children, women and men fleeing Putin’s terror and the victims of it have A) not declared a gratuitous war on others and B) likely made quiet, as well as simple and profound contributions to humankind that Russia’s Borg-like president will never be capable of.

By weathering and defying Putin with such resolve and conviction, besieged Ukrainians have indeed confirmed that their lives and destinies matter more and should be celebrated as examples of the power of humanity over indiscriminate might.

For his extraordinary part, it strikes me that Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has been too busy leading his country’s largely noble stand against Putin’s imperial designs to be bothered with the gooey praise of sentimental columnists. And, at this urgent moment, Zelenskyy may prefer to be described as a “resistance leader” rather than a statesman.

Meanwhile, Putin – small and alone – welcomes a string of friendly and no-longer-so-friendly emissaries at the far end of an ornate, white table at the Kremlin, as he stews in his lie-laced hysteria and, by now, blatant inadequacies.

Not content with trying to pulverise a nation into submission and absent a conscience, Putin and his equally thuggish surrogates masquerading as well-mannered diplomats at the United Nations and in Moscow, have upped the apocalyptic ante.

At various times before, during and after their invasion of Ukraine, Putin and rash company have suggested that Russia might drop the bomb – nuclear, that is – somewhere at some time in a calculated gambit to win a war that is fast turning into an exhausting and costly quagmire or to teach the West a crazed, mushroom-cloud, geopolitical lesson.

Now, I have read on Al Jazeera’s opinion page and elsewhere that we should not call Putin and his gang “lunatics” and that these Dr Strangelove-like threats are being amplified by irresponsible journalists and politicians more interested in fomenting fear that World War III is in the offing, rather than urging calm and a sensible appreciation of Russia’s legitimate national security interests.

As a somewhat concerned citizen of the world and the proud father of two young, thriving daughters who, unlike Putin, plan to help people in need and want, here is my, I suppose, unsophisticated reply: anyone, who, at any time, and for any reason suggests – either implicitly or explicitly – that nuclear annihilation might be the strategic way to go, is the definition of a lunatic.

I am not going to entertain or take seriously any “argument,” from any quarter, that fails to accept or acknowledge this plain truth.

What I do take seriously, however, are the chilling musings of a poisonous demagogue and his enablers who consider the use of nuclear-tipped missiles a plausible means to achieve their hegemonic goals in Ukraine or any other spot on the planet.

I am also aware that, lately, the only thugs in tailored suits talking publicly about firing nuclear weapons speak Russian and work in the Kremlin.

As a necessary corollary to this, if anyone is liable to make a grievous miscalculation that may lead to the tipping of the proverbial dominos into a wider war that could quickly engulf the globe, it is Putin.

A staged rally of unity and solidarity in a sports arena cannot conceal or diminish Putin’s already long list of disastrous blunders that have exacted a horrific toll in Ukraine, and Russia, too.

Chief among them: Putin was probably confident that his “special military operation” would be over in a week or less, that Ukrainians would wilt and eventually capitulate in the face of overwhelming Russian force. Wrong.

Turns out, Putin’s “special military operation” is neither “special” nor an “operation.” Instead, it has become an ugly, grinding and disastrous slog.

Given this, a desperate thug could be inclined to do desperate things to assuage his singed pride and to secure a “heroic” place in history.

That worries me. It should worry you.

I want my children and yours to live full, long and, if possible, happy lives.

Putin’s grandiose delusions about who and what he is should not permit him even to flirt with the idea that their lives can be sacrificed at the altar of his insane nuclear whims.

My children and yours will decide their fates and futures, not a preening little hoodlum with a big army named Vladimir Putin.

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