Opinion: Shaming Putin in the eyes of his people a special psychological task for Ukraine

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Sam Bingham is an Asheville native, retired journalist and former journalist-in-residence at Mars Hill University with extensive experience in Russia and Eastern Europe.
Sam Bingham is an Asheville native, retired journalist and former journalist-in-residence at Mars Hill University with extensive experience in Russia and Eastern Europe.

A quick end to the special military operation in Ukraine will occur, and can, in fact, only occur if the Russian public turns on Vladimir Putin and effectively apologizes for having allowed him to mistreat brother Slavs.

Sending arms to Ukraine while the two armies valiantly duke it out to the point of exhaustion beats brokering some appeasement or watching Ukraine surrender, so let’s not stint on heavy weapons, but Putin started this, pretty much single-handedly.  He, uniquely among all the players involved, can pull the plug with one hand, and he will absolutely have to on the day his Cossacks wink and refuse to fight their brother Cossacks across the river.  Even Putin knows that Cossacks have ever sold their allegiance at a high price and have every reason to cut their losses now.  If we can’t help them see that, we deserve to lose this round of history.

Our pundits, policymakers, and professional hand-wringers continually bewail the duping of the Russian public by ubiquitous, suffocating state propaganda; however, dare we suppose we can’t smother that at least as easily as taking out a missile cruiser or 1,000 tanks with smart rockets.  Shucks, didn’t Elon Musk save Kyiv by giving the Ukrainian army secure, encrypted, satellite communications.  Surely someone in Silicon Valley knows how to beam down radio and TV programming ubiquitous enough to overwhelm censorship, jamming, and judicial suppression.

What should the message be?  Peace and family.  No macho pride, threats or gloating.  Humiliating Russia in unrestricted military warfare is a dangerous winner-take-all delusion.  Shaming Putin in the eyes of his people is a special psychological operation.  He likes to cite the many defining events of Russian history that actually happened in Ukraine to argue that Ukrainian statehood only exists in people’s heads, but, that’s where Russian statehood exists, too, since the same history defines both.

The long list of invaders – Vikings, Mongols, Lithuanians, Teutonic Knights, Tartars, Turks, Poles, Swedes, and Nazis, may have inflicted unequal damage, but they all spilt blood and left their mark from the Vistula River all the way to the Ural Mountains and beyond, as did other tidal flows of history – Orthodox religion, Imperialism both Tsarist and Soviet, from Ivan the Terrible to Stalin, and Glasnost to name a few.

The kaleidoscopic culture forged out of all that shared trauma has surely laid down a foundation of kinship and respect deeper than the slogans of the latest ambitious tsar.  The attacks of Genghis Kahn and Stalin were merely barbaric.  For Putin to call out his minions to slaughter their next-of-kin in Ukraine on pretext of protecting Slavic Civilization from Nazi rule under a Jewish comedian is shameful.

A Ukrainian friend, who emigrated to Asheville before all this mess began, boasts that someone can walk 800 miles from Krakow in Poland to Kursk in Russia through the heart of Ukraine and never pass from one village that does not speak the same language, although they would start out hearing Polish and end up hearing Russian.  “Ukrainian” stands for all of what’s in between.

Interstate 70 from Denver to St. Louis takes you about the same distance through a similar landscape that coastal Americans often dismiss as “Flyover Country,” but it, too, is a heartland.  Among other things, our world depends on their wheat as much of the rest of the world depends on Ukraine’s.  We need them, they are kin, and we want them to prosper whether they vote Red or Blue or kowtow to Trump or Liz Cheney or Hilary Clinton.  What shame would be ours, if we shed blood over that?

Two hundred years ago, the philosopher-general Carl von Clausewitz famously wrote “War is merely politics by other means,” by which he meant that war always has a political genesis and aim which must figure in any resolution.  Forgotten are the other 900 pages Clausewitz wrote to explain how often this aim is distorted or obscure because war politics requires riling people enough to kill and die, and the generals treat war as a blood sport, focusing narrowly on weapons and tactics.

What is a worthy political aim for Ukraine?  I would suggest formalizing a relationship with Russia similar to ours with Canada.  If they could sell that idea to the Cossacks serving the Russian artillery in the Donbas, the war would end.

Sam Bingham is an Asheville native, retired journalist and former journalist-in-residence at Mars Hill University with extensive experience in Russia and Eastern Europe.

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Shaming Putin in the eyes of his people a special operation - Opinion