If Vladimir Putin has a “battle plan” in mind, it goes by the title “All Or Nothing”. Was Putin merely sabre rattling when he put nukes on the table? Or was he being brutally honest: if this doesn’t end the way he wants, he’s perfectly happy to take the whole world with him? Considering Putin’s giant miscalculation about how easy taking Ukraine would be – considering the isolation Putin’s built for himself because of COVID fears – considering how that isolation plus twenty years of being in power because he keeps changing the rules to keep him there – does Putin pose a real threat to blow up the world? Having grown up in the 1960’s, I did “duck and cover” drills when I was in elementary school – as if ducking and covering at the first sign of a nearby nuke going off would save us from anything. Dying instantly in the blast would be preferable to dying in agony from the radiation – and if you’re close enough to duck and cover from a blast, you’re close enough to glow in the dark because of it.
Hey, I’m old enough in fact to remember when most of us were dead certain Putin would never invade Ukraine because it’d be insane.
President Biden and other top officials have quietly told us that as part of its normal back-and-forth dialogue with Russia’s military (something that normally goes on so that we’re constantly reassuring each other we’re not bonkers enough to launch nukes at each other), we have reached out with an extra measure of “helpfulness”, assurance and genuine concern for Russia’s well-being. We need to know that as awkward as Putin’s behavior is for the rest of humanity right now, it’s just as awkward for most thinking, feeling Russians especially those responsible for running its military.
That’s the very good news. We already have good, viable back channels to Russia. Can they do what we want them to do? Hard to say. But we have them there – and that’s what’s most important. Strange thing is, the idea of “back channels to Russia” has a strange smell to it…
Maybe that’s because Team Trump also had its “back channels to Russia”. In fact, on May 16, 2017, the Washington Post reported, “Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.” Now, why, I wonder, would Trump’s TRANSITION TEAM need a “SECRET AND SECURE” back channel to anything – least of all a foreign country who we knew wanted to harm us and who the Republican Party knew was paying Trump?
Let’s be real, please. Plenty of back channel communications occurred between Trump before he was POTUS and especially while he was POTUS. Note: pictures like this don’t do “back channels” a lick of good.
I have a pet theory that the reason Melania is still “Mrs. Trump” has zero to do with her affection for Donald and everything to do with her affection for Putin. In all the years she was First Lady, I don’t recall Ms. “I Really Don’t Care Do U” smiling at anyone (least of all her husband) the way she smiled at Putin in this photo –
Why would a woman who’d been openly humiliated the way Melania was by even just the Stormy Daniels revelations (never mind all the rape accusations against Trump and all the rest of the cheating he bragged about!) stand by a man she so openly despised?
Geez – the woman can’t even bear the man’s touch. Her body language is screaming out to us: I hate this man with every fiber of my being! Her presence at his side betrays her. That’s not loyalty to Trump (to whom she owes none). That’s not loyalty to America – to whom she has none. To whom was/is Melania Trump being loyal in NOT telling us the stone cold truth about WHY she’s still “Mrs. Trump”? You know she could blackmail his ass into oblivion, right?
I think that smile Melania flashed Vlad tells us that Melania was one of Trump’s handlers – tasked with staying in place no matter what and managing this most mercurial, unpredictable and unreliable of intelligence assets. I believe “I really don’t care, do u?” wasn’t in any way an innocent statement of defiance between a dysfunctional husband and wife.
I believe that was Russian spy Melania telling Russian intelligence asset Trump – her “Joe” (in John LeCarre parlance) – that if he wanted to blow up the whole spy plot, she was perfectly happy because she was even sicker of it than he was – and she had a much softer landing in store.
Back channels to the Kremlin, ya know?
Right now, we need those back channels to do more than just reassure us that, should Putin go “there” and order a nuclear strike of any kind whatsoever, that they will refuse to follow the order. We need to stop the order from ever tumbling from Putin’s cruel, thin-lipped mouth to begin with.
We know those around Putin fear Putin. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Putin fears them just as much. He’s terrified of any of them banding together and plotting against him like the Roman Senate against Caesar. Or – and this is what’s surely in Putin’s mind – like Von Stauffenberg and those in the German High Command who nearly assassinated Hitler. Had Von Stauffenberg succeeded, the war in Europe would have ended that much sooner. “But for a table leg”, thinks Putin.
I would be willing to bet that our intelligence community – on the offensive now after years of being cut up and fed to the wolves by Trump – is actively engaged in taking the Great Game back to Russia and playing it hard. We’re in the immediate backlash of Russian public reaction to the sanctions settling in around them. Putin’s popularity just shot up overnight – because Russians – forever fearing encirclement – feel encircled (as they’re meant to!) The whole point of the economic sanctions is to lay siege to it the exact same way Russian tanks now are laying siege to Ukrainian cities. The Russians will begin to feel as desperate in their way – and open to compromise – as Putin wants the Ukrainians under his thumb to feel. But the Ukrainians under Putin’s thumb are fighting for something real: their country.
The Russians under Putin are fighting for something phony: Putin’s posturing.
Ah, but… does an arrogant man who really thinks “If I die, everyone should die!” ever merely posture? If Hitler had had access to a nuke – and had a big red button in front of him as he faced oblivion – would he have pushed it? We all know the answer’s yes.
That’s why we need a back channel to Russia. To someone – a bunch of someone’s – who love their children as much as we love ours. Who love their children more than they love Vlad Putin.