By Biola Sobowale
“Let them hate me, just as long as they fear me.” Lucius Accius, 170-86 BC
Ordinary power is the ability to make other people behave in ways they ordinarily would not – whether they like it or not. Great power is the ability to make significant impacts on other peoples’ behaviour far beyond the person’s immediate environment. Absolute power, which corrupts absolutely, is the ability to alter the course of human history and relationships among peoples in far-flung areas for ever. Irrespective of what one might think of what he had done; or one’s judgment on the matter, February 22, 2022 and the invasion of Ukraine have immortalised Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, for ever. Henceforth, historians will mention his name in the same breath as those of, Alexander the Great(356-322BC), Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) and Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) – men who sought to play god after their nation acquired vast military power and they were eager to use it. For leaders like these, might is right. The powerful do what they like; and the weak suffer what they must. Such individuals invariably don’t care what other people think about them. They have ambition; and their mission in life – to become the most powerful person on Earth – is what matters. They are fanatical about that.
PANDEMIC AND POWER
“I am making you an offer you cannot refuse.”
Mafia Boss to Store Owner in Brooklyn, New York, 1967.
A Nigeria friend was working for a successful corner Supermarket, in Brooklyn, N.Y, owned by a Chinese gentleman when one day, the local Mafia kingpin entered with six armed hoodlums. He had a contract to buy the supermarket at a particular price; which he wanted the owner to sign immediately. The Chinese looked at the amount offered; it was about half the value. He started to refuse it. One of the hoodlums jabbed a gun in his side. The kingpin hissed at the victim. “I am making you an offer you cannot refuse.” To make sure the store owner got the message; one of the hoodlums pumped bullets into a shelf of expensive wines. Very meekly, the man signed. The shop immediately changed ownership. Putin was making Ukraine an offer the small neighbouring country could not refuse without serious consequences.
Power-mongers, like Putin, affect us like a pandemic because, once they strike, the impact if felt world-wide in one form or another. For instance, the world is just crawling out of the economic depression resulting from COVID-19 and Omicron. Supply chains are gradually being re-established and factories are humming again with activities.
Then the war in Ukraine started. It will reverse a lot of the post-COVID gains; this time with hyper-inflation as a certainty in most countries. Prices of crude oil and gas are climbing faster than any time since 1973. Most oil producing nations will benefit; but, most countries in the world will suffer. Nigeria will be among the worst hit. Whereas, most Nigerians think higher crude oil prices will be favourable to us, economists know that we are heading for a major economic distress if crude oil price keeps rising. Here is why.
Our production level is low and cannot be increased because rig count is at its lowest. We export crude oil and import, not only petrol, but finished products resulting from refining. They cost several times more per litre than crude oil. Right now, Nigeria is at the risk of paying more for fuel imports than we earn from crude exports. That calamity will constitute our own collateral damage on account of Putin’s War. Every single Nigerian will feel the impact. And in case you think this is a false alarm then read this.
“Nigeria can’t celebrate $103/barrel oil price due to low production – FG”
Mr Timipre Sylva, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources explained the economic paradox to Nigerians this way.
“So for us who are the net importers it is also not very good for us…if you are now producing less and then you still have to make sure that the Nigerian market is supplied fully with petroleum products, then you will see that there will be a shortfall [in net oil revenue].”
Let me explain that in plain language. The higher the price of crude climbs the more the Nigerian economy will suffer. Blame it all on Putin; but he doesn’t care.
PERSONAL ATTRIBUTES OF POWER-MONGERS
“Power and money, of course, drive people crazy. So, why shouldn’t people also gain power and wealth through being crazy?”
Saul Bellow, 1918-2005, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ p 195.
If you think hard enough about the powerful and wealthy people you know, you might be surprised to realise how many of them are “abnormal”. They do and say things which other well-adjusted people shrink from virtually all the time.
Short man Devil was a human species known before Christ and Mohamed trod this planet. It will exist as long as there is homo sapiens on Earth. Size apparently matters. All the four men mentioned above – Alexander, Napoleon, Stalin, Hitler — were on the average, short for their generation. Putin is no exception. Look at a picture of world leaders, with Putin among them. Compared to Biden, Turkey President Erdogan, Chinese Xi and our President Buhari, Putin is almost a midget. But, he is the most feared President in the world; because he can do (and does) what no other President would think of doing. And, he dares the victim(s) to retaliate. In fact, as Sir Tagore,1861-1941, had said “Power takes as ingratitude the writhing of its victims.” So, as far as Putin is concerned, the rest of us wretched human beings are ungrateful for not appreciating his genius and greatness. He will be remembered by history; his exploits will be studied in universities and military academies until the end of time. We are supposed to applaud this performance, to thank God to be alive to witness this great atrocity — instead of grumbling about it. It is almost certain that if Hitler were to re-incarnate he will perfect his act and create a bigger Holocaust; kill more people before going down again. Incidentally, the only global leader who recognised Putin’s “genius” was US Ex-President Donald Trump – another screw-ball.
Powerful individuals like him don’t regard their citizen as human beings; only tools to be used to satisfy their, quite frequently, unhidden ambitions. Whether there are 100 million or 1.5 billion; they represent so many assets to be sacrificed for one man’s ambition, or place in history. That is why the first thing they do is to enslave their own people. Everything they do, every step they take is approved unanimously by zombies.
“An ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for his country.”
Sir Henry Wotton, 1568-1639.
Foreign Ministers still go round the world lying just as they did more than 400 years ago. But, in this case, it is doubtful if the Russian Foreign Minister was ever honest. Dictators don’t want honest men around them. They select people like Hitler’s Joseph Goebbels, 1897-1945 – for whom no falsehood is too much.
Thus, once Putin made up his mind to wipe out Ukraine, all the lies and pretensions by his Foreign Affairs Minister, and Putin himself were designed to buy time for Russia to finish its plans for the invasion. The Foreign Minister went about assuring the world that there was no plan to attack. A lot of deluded people believed him – including Ukranians. By January this year, I was telling anybody and everybody that Russia would invade. Simple-minded individuals argued with me and were convinced that the issue could still be negotiated. My Personal Assistant, Korede, has a friend in Kyiv who was in touch almost daily. During a call, three days to the start of war, I asked Korede to tell her and other Nigerians to leave as fast as they could. She replied that Kyiv was calm and no war was expected. Now, they are all trapped. Yet, Putin does not give a damn if Nigerians, South Africans or Norwegians die by the thousand as a result of his war. They are all expendable. It is his ambition that counts. Now, several Nigerian families are now in distress. The kids they joyfully sent to Ukraine might return home; a lot of money lost and kids education suffer as a result.
WHAT TO EXPECT NEXT
“Brute force without wisdom falls by its own weight.” Horace, 65-8BC, VBQ 63.
This article started two days after Russia invadedUkraine as I expected. The first part is being ended a week after the war started in earnest. Fighting is still going on. But, the drama is not going as Putin has scripted it. Within four days of fighting, the Ukranians have demonstrated more guts and grits than the war-monger expected. Their resistance must have reminded Putin of Russia’a own defiance of Nazi Germany’s overwhelming power during the Second World War, WWII. In the Battle of Stalingrad, August 1942-February 1943, the Russians faced the worst barrage of any nation in St Petersburg, later called Stalingrad, but, they eventually overcame the stronger Germans in the end. Between Hitler’s and Stalin’s forces, close to 8 million Europeans died during WWII. They didn’t care.
Not surprising, the over-confident Putin seen on television screens globally has given way to a confused and more desperate one. He cannot lose this war. But, absolute victory is now appearing out of reach. So, he made the first attempt to re-organise. He suggested negotiation with the Ukrainian leader in Belarus. It was a crude attempt to achieve easy victory. The offer was refused because once the Ukrainian President landed in Belarus, he would have been arrested and forced to surrender, and, at best, would have been allowed to go into exile. Most likely, he would have been executed as a “war criminal” and a puppet government would have been installed in Ukraine. Prolonged war became inevitable; which is exactly what Putin does not want.
The global response to the invasion was also more overwhelming than Putin expected; and the economic sanctions are hurting Russians than he anticipated. Like a kidnapper cornered, he has raised the risks to the entire world.
“There are no desperate situations; only desperate men.” (Goebbels).
Since the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, to bring WWII to a quick end, every country in possession of nuclear weapons, has deliberately avoided talking about using them irrespective of how tough the situation had been for them militarily. The US lost the Viet Nam war; and, lately, the one in Afghanistan without ever mentioning nuclear arsenal. But, that is because the US has never had a leader like Putin. His order for Russian nuclear defences to be placed on high alert was nothing less than a signal to the world that nothing is forbidden in this war. He would rather take millions of people worldwide down with him than go down in defeat alone. Again, that is not surprising.
The reason for his new threat is easy to understand. Even an absolute dictator recognises that he is not God. Among his closest and trusted aides are people envious of his power, infuriated by some of his policies and who are aware of how much his personal security costs the country. They want to take him out – if they can. But, with his iron-grip on power, they need a divine opportunity such as the Ukraine adventure. Putin has taken a gamble which is hurting every Russian very badly; and, it cannot be covered up. So, he must succeed or be in trouble at home. He must continue fighting, even escalating the conflict into a global confrontation, as a prelude to a negotiated settlement which will provide him with the excuse to retrace his steps without much loss of face or clout.
In that connection, he would need the reluctant help of the European and American governments. They should now be preparing a set of proposals which might be interpreted as a win-win settlement to help Putin save face. He is, at any rate, now a globally despised man. NATO and neutral nations in Europe, which became scared of the Russians, after WWII, should acknowledge, the legitimate concerns of Russia, despite Putin’s personal characteristics. The United States, in particular, should remember the response of late US President John Kennedy, 1917-1963, to the presence of Russian missiles stationed in Cuba in the 1960s. America declared it unacceptable and was prepared to go to war – if need be with nuclear weapons. President Biden should be honest enough to admit that America would not allow any powerful nation, acting under any alliance to place weapons within 40 kilometres of its territory. Why should they expect Russia to act differently?
Putin’s major faults in all these include his impatience with diplomacy; and his bully’s instinct. For people like Putin, “there is no dispute which a punch in the nose cannot resolves.”
To be continues….