Isoroku Yamamoto, a Japanese Admiral and Chief-of-Staff of the Combined Fleet during the early part of WWII had deep misgivings about the attack on Pearl Harbor. His words: “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” His warning echos today.
Vladimir Putin has lost. Yes Vladimir Putin has lost his war. Russia’s attitude hangs in the balance. What will Russia do is the question.
Germany, once West and East Germany, is just one of near history’s lessons. Satellite television breached the Wall that East Germany built and then the Wall came down. Putin was there. Today’s communication networks are orders of magnitude more powerful. Governments no longer control the microphones or keyboards. A Ukrainian called himself a “keyboard warrior.”
North Korea is called the Hermit Kingdom because its Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un understands the power of words and images careening around the Globe. Propagandists only maintain control in a filtered light they can manipulate.
Today’s images include Putin sitting in a well-adorned room at the head of an impossibly long conference table with two compliant military officials sitting at the other end. Isolation, isolation in cosmetic splendor is out there; editors cannot delete it.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, by contrast, is on the street. He is wearing the barest of military garb (olive pants and sweatshirt); he is not dressed for the May Day parade. Of course the more telling images are of bloodied faces, children held close by their mothers in underground subway stations and Ukrainians facing down armored vehicles.
The images in the world’s capitals and beyond speak of unity. Latvians, Czechs, Germans, well it seems all of free Europe crowding the squares and streets with the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag. And beyond: Japan, South Korea, Taiwan—the Taiwanese in particular understand the stakes. Yes, even in Russia people have taken to the streets.
Putin has done freedom-loving nations a favor. He has done Taiwan a favor. He has awakened freedom-loving people’s sensibilities. His actions have recalled Hitler’s Germany. He elevated Zelenskyy; he gave freedom a hero. Politicians rule; hero’s inspire; they have the real power.
As I read, military analyst’s all cite Russian military superiority. Many project escalating brutality. Escalating brutality’s images will be even more horrific and if they persist Putin’s war will turn into Russia’s. Sanctions that can be short-term will persist. Russia is already being overtaken by the law of holes: “if you find yourself in a hole stop digging.”
Predictions are rightly fragile. Russians have, broadly speaking, two options. They can choose freedom from Putin’s illness and over time gain the opportunity to become part of Europe’s future or yield to another tragic chapter in Russian history. Russia’s next strategic move will not be at the negotiating table in Belarus; it will be in its corridors of power or, if necessary, in the Street.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.