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Despots of the World are watching...
Michael O'Casey
Michael O'Casey's View from the Riverbank

Recently the Russian invasion of Ukraine has taken a back seat in world news.  The death of Queen Elizabeth and the pomp and circumstance surrounding her funeral as well as King Charles’ ascension to the throne was welcome relief from daily reports of death and destruction as Russia struggles to consume their smaller Ukrainian neighbor and heroic Ukrainians fight for freedom.  It is a desperate fight to the death between totalitarianism and democracy which has implications for nations around the world as wannabe despots watch with mixed emotions of envy and fear. If Ukraine falls, totalitarians around the globe will be encouraged; if Russia fails, dictatorial tyrants will pause and weigh the benefits verses hazards of invading weaker neighbors. 

As his military forces continue to underperform, there is increasing fear around the world that Russian President Vladimir Putin will resort to mass destruction weapons such as tactical nuclear bombs to terrify the Ukrainians and the free world to save face and win.  It is a possibility, and the West must make it clear that any such action would result in immediate and unlimited support of Ukraine; and it must not be a red line that becomes invisible when crunch time arrives. Again, despots around the world are watching.

Many military and political analysts are saying now is the time for democracies of the west to provide Ukraine with everything necessary to finish the job.   First of all, it would be in-his-face evidence that Putin’s bellicose threats are not working, and secondly it will encourage the thousands of Russian citizens who oppose the war to take the agonizing steps necessary to end the Putin Presidency.  From outside looking in, the tipping point may be closer than we realize.  Thousands of protestors have been arrested while the estimated numbers of Russian soldiers killed in the war varies from 6,000, which Russian sources are admitting, to 14,400, which Ukrainian sources are claiming.  The average of the two estimates is 10,200, and that is lots of Russian mothers and fathers who are mourning unnecessarily for sons or daughters. Thus Putin’s call for 300,000 additional troops (some fear he may call up to 1 million) to finish his war of aggression is not well received when news from the battlefields report Russian failure on almost every front.

This is the time when Russian police or troops traditionally move in to disperse or capture protestors who could expect anything from a few weeks of physical and mental corrective measures to an extensive stay in Siberian rehabilitation-work camps where a high graduation rate is not the Russian goal. That model was successfully utilized by Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. 

But this time may be different.  Nowadays protestors can’t just disappear with only a few family or friends wondering what happened to them.  Instant worldwide communication makes concealing the truth more difficult.  The Russian people are suffering from food and material shortages as a result of Western Europe and United States economic sanctions that are holding up in spite of energy shortages in Europe which will become more intense this winter. Western nations remain firm largely due to daily videos of murderous attacks on innocent Ukrainian women and children by Russian troops.  Additionally protests are growing in numbers and violence inside Russia. 

Russia has faced this state of affairs three times in the last 125 years.  The current situation is oddly reminiscent of the 1905 Revolution which was triggered by the humiliating loss in the Russo-Japanese War.  That uprising forced Czar Nicholas II to sign the October Manifesto which became the origin of the Russian Parliament (Duma). Additionally, the deadly struggle in Ukraine is producing similar reactions to the gruesome slaughter of Russian soldiers on the Eastern Front in WW I while much of the Russian proletariat at home faced starvation.  Those conditions triggered the February 1917 Revolution that overthrew the Czar. The Bolshevik Revolt of October 2017 led to the Russian Civil War and eventually produced the current communist regime.

Perhaps the most telling evidence is the number of potential Russian soldiers that are currently voting against the Ukrainian War with their feet. Thousands are fleeing into neighboring nations to avoid fighting in a war they do not support. If a foreign power invaded Russia, most of these people would  be standing in line to enlist.

Mr. Putin’s military adventurism has created an embarrassing international “hot mess” and a severe economic hardship for Russian citizens. It’s an opportunity for the United States and NATO to help beleaguered Russians rid themselves of a murderous regime. The despots are watching.