I keep thinking back to something I heard on Russian state TV three years ago.
At the time Russians were being urged to support changes to the constitution that would enable Vladimir Putin to stay in power for another 16 years.
To persuade the public, the news anchor portrayed President Putin as a sea captain steering the good ship Russia through stormy waters of global unrest.
“Russia is an oasis of stability, a safe harbour,” he continued. “If it wasn’t for Putin what would have become of us?”
So much for an oasis of stability and safe harbour. On 24 February 2022, the Kremlin captain set sail in a storm of his own making. And headed straight for the iceberg.
Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has brought death and destruction to Russia’s neighbour. It has resulted in huge military casualties for his own country: some estimates put the number of dead Russian soldiers in the tens of thousands.
Hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens have been drafted into the army and Russian prisoners (including convicted killers) have been recruited to fight in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the war has impacted energy and food prices around the world and continues to threaten European and global security.
All problems of Titanic proportions.
So why did Russia’s president set a course for war and territorial conquest?
“On the horizon were the Russian presidential elections of 2024,” points out political scientist Ekaterina Schulmann.
“Two years before that vote [the Kremlin] wanted some victorious event. In 2022 they would achieve their objectives. In 2023 they would instil in the minds of Russians how fortunate they were to have such a captain steering the ship, not just through troubled waters, but bringing them to new and richer shores. Then in 2024 people would vote. Bingo. What could go wrong?”