Imagine Silvio Berlusconi, the flamboyant ex-prime minister of Italy, waking up one morning when he ruled his country from the Chigi Palace in Rome and thinking: “Hey, didn’t we once rule a vast empire from this city? Let’s go out and take it back.”
If he even had a fraction of the vast nuclear arsenal commanded by Vladimir Putin, then all of us living south of Hadrian’s Wall might have begun to feel a little anxious. Of course, Berlusconi would never ever have contemplated such action (m’lud) but Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is every bit as preposterous as resurrecting the Roman Empire. Putin’s apparent aim of re-establishing the empire built centuries ago by Catherine the Great may be the most deranged premise for waging war in history.
For the people of Ukraine, every minute of every day is worse than a waking nightmare. Here in the UK we remain insulated from the death, rubble and flames that are the nightly horror show on TV, so we shouldn’t complain if the fallout for us is limited to higher fuel costs and maybe cyber-attacks further down the line.
As a news junkie I have been obsessively following the invasion, and when Putin rattled his nuclear sabre I went online to read assessments of his mental health. What I found was terrifying. So-called Putinologists have tried to determine what makes this man with his finger on the nuclear button tick, and the scariest diagnosis I read was that he is a paranoid psychopath. Not only does he have an unrelenting mistrust of everyone, he is incapable of an emotional response to the consequences of his actions, including killing people.
He certainly meets the criteria of a typical Bond villain. Think Karl Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me or Hugo Drax in Moonraker. But sadly I doubt there’s going to be a “we’ve been expecting you, Mr Bond” moment. Putin is holed up in a seemingly impenetrable lair, the 700-room Kremlin, behind
60ft walls that are 21ft thick in places, and guarded by his own personal security squad, the ruthless SBP.
Analysts believe the only way out for Russia, and the world, is for a palace coup, which unfortunately they consider next to impossible in the short term given the protective shield that paranoid Putin has put in place. The faint hope we’re left with is that all those billionaire oligarchs will want back their super-yachts and lavish lifestyles so badly that they’ll buy off the Russian generals and send Putin into exile.
Meanwhile the tide of refugees has become a deluge, but it was entirely predictable that the Johnson government’s response would be so shamefully shambolic. Add to the list of what Brexit means the words “Don’t try coming to the UK if you’re fleeing for your lives”.
Of the 2.5 million refugees the United Nations estimated to have fled by the end of last week – the number was rising by a six-figure sum every day – the Home Office said it has granted visas to just 1,000 of them. Country after country in the EU and elsewhere around the world have been so shocked by TV pictures of this human tide that they have waived the need for visas. We, however, have as good as turned our backs on the greatest displacement of people in Europe since the last war. This can’t go on.
Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe
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