The President of Russia, Mr. Vladimir Putin, must be one of the most cynical human beings ever placed at the head of a great nation.
If you don’t agree, just look at what he’s done: he invited – or at any rate agreed to meet the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Mr. António Guterres, at Putin’s office in Moscow.
Now, it cannot be fun to meet Putin in his office. For he places one at the far end of a longish table, as if one was an orifice of poisons trying their best to get out and kill those nearby.
Nevertheless, Mr. Guterres went there. Only one message was on his mind: “Mr. Putin, please stop the war against Ukraine.”
Guterres would have argued that the peoples of the world hated to see so many innocent civilians killed; so many homes burnt to ashes; and so many men, women, children and babies, having been driven by bombs and missiles to try and find safety in cold and dark makeshift underground bunkers.
The world has been watching in horror as Ukrainian hospitals have been bombed; as missiles have turned schools and kindergartens to rubble; and as roads have been rendered impassable by craters formed by artillery shells.
Putin probably listened to Mr. Guterres with feigned interest. He didn’t really care about what the United Nations top man was saying. But he would, out of “politeness” – no, out of obedience to his “public relations” technique – sit the meeting out.
When it ends, he bids Guterres a warm goodbye. Probably even drinks a toast with him – a toast of the best vodka Russia can provide.
Guterres may have been encouraged by the meeting. Or he may have chalked it down to one of those nasty nightmares to which those placed in high positions are exposed every now and then.
Whatever he thought of the meeting, Guterres would have been shocked out of his mind when, on going to Ukraine to talk to its President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, too about what might persuade Mr. Putin to stop the war, or at least create a humanitarian corridor through which some of those hiding in bunkers in Ukraine, Guterres heard that Putin had rained bombs on an area a few kilometres from where Guterres and Zelenskyy were meeting.
Was Putin real? What message did he expect to convey to the world by bombing Kyiv, when Guterres – representing the entire world – was actually in the Ukrainian capital?
I am afraid anyone who thinks Putin is out of his mind is himself/herself suffering from delusion.
Putin had just simply decided that he, like a leopard, cannot change its spots forever! He was tired of pretending; pretending that he cared two hoots about what the world thought of him.
But in selecting Guterres for such a public humiliation, Putin has placed himself in the same category as the leaders of the West, as far as those of us in developing countries are concerned.
For let it not be forgotten that when another UN Secretary-General, Mr. Dag Hammarskjöld, was killed in an air crash near Lusaka, Zambia, on September 18, 1961, it was widely suspected that the Western Powers – especially, the USA, Britain, and Belgium – “knew something” about the nefarious assassination.
Hammarskjöld was in the process of negotiating a political settlement in the Congo that might put the country on the way to weaning itself from Western control of the Congo’s enormous mineral resources.
But despite clear evidence that the West was at least in a position to help the UN’s investigatory organs to clear up the mystery surrounding the crash, the West has, for a good sixty years, refused to provide any information to UN commissions specially set up to find out the truth. So, in snubbing Guterres, Putin may think he is “equalising” the ground, as far as observance of international law is concerned.
But he is wrong. The world has changed tremendously since the assassination of Hammarskjöld.
That 1961 murder was perpetrated in darkness – the darkness of the night; in a remote area; within the ambit of very nasty intelligence agencies – as well as the South African and the (then) Southern Rhodesian air forces.
Today, however, the bombing of Ukraine is on colour television sets 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whatever anyone says, the pictures cannot lie. Putin-bombs-Putin-bombs-Putin-bombs goes the refrain that emanates from TV stations around the globe.
Does Mr. Putin care that he is turning Russia – the nation he says he loves madly – into a barbaric murderer equipped with modern weapons of death? Does he care that he may provoke the West to overstep the mark and plunge the world into thermonuclear war?
When Leonid Brezhnev of the Soviet Union met Richard Nixon of the United States in Moscow in May 1972, and moved on from there to sign the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT), followed by summits at which peaceful measures were buttressed in treaties and statements, the world heaved a sigh of relief.
It was hoped, then, that no longer would the world’s resources be wasted on armaments, and that nation would speak peace unto nation.
This situation of “détente”, it was hoped, would spare the developing nations of the world the pain of making unsavoury choices about which Great Power’s policies to support, and whose friendship they should cultivate.
Alas, all that has turned to burnt ash – like much of Ukraine’s infrastructure. All the good work done by Brezhinev/Nixon/Gorbachev/Reagan and their successors has been nullified by Vladimir Putin.
He may be pleased with himself. But the world will inevitably consign him to the ranks of those rulers who spoke peace but meant war.
BY Cameron Duodu