Ukraine Today, Where Tomorrow?

The threat of a cataclysmic clash on European soil – Again!

By David E. Kaplan

I remember as a kid in the early sixties laughing my head off in a “bioscope” (cinema) in Cape Town, South Africa to the all-star American comedy “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”.

Chasing the Buck. The poster to the hilarious blockbuster on the sixties starring Spencer Tracy with an all-star cast of comedians.

Years later as a senior,  I sit riveted to a small screen in Israel and still “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” but I’m not laughing. There is nothing comedic in the news’ coverage of a Europe teetering at the edge of an abyss; of again heading headlong to war – an insane unnecessary war that the Washington Post predicts could lead to 50,000 civilian casualties and would trigger, according to Amnesty International, a humanitarian refugee crisis.

There is a cartoon doing the rounds that says it all.

Putin arrives as a casual tourist at passport control on entering an unnamed European country and is asked by the immigration official:


Bucharest” replies Putin

Occupation?” asks the  official.

Of course” replies Putin.

As this real-life Game of Thrones plays out with possible dire and deadly consequences, the world watches, waits and wonders if this is a new pivotal moment in history from which a new world order may emerge. Commentators and historians have been drawing comparisons to the First World War when bombs and blunders thunderously reset the political landscape far beyond the borders of Europe, the consequences of which are still reverberating today.

Whether Putin is playing a skillful game of chess or  a risky game of poker – note that while an invasion looks imminent the Russian media reports of forces leaving the border area designed to obfuscate –  President Biden had it right when he said in his address from the White House that should Putin invade his neighbour that the “needless death and destruction” that he will inflict will be the result of “A WAR OF CHOICE”.

The most significant words here are “he” and “CHOICE”. This “march of folly” is being pursued not by a people but a person – Putin –  and it is his “choice” alone.

Russia faces no existential threats, most certainly not from Ukraine.  On the contrary, it is the Ukraine, Europe and the world  who are facing Russian greed and gangsterism.

The Road to Kyiv? Russian armoured vehicles on route to Ukraine border. What is their final destination?

However Putin may have bitten more than he can chew. He may well have underestimated Biden’s resolve and ability to unify a shaky Europe to stand firm against the Russian bear, reminiscent of  President Bush in the first Gulf War orchestrating an array of nations to join the USA’s lead in a coalition, forming the largest military alliance since World War II. It may be that the current Coalition of the Willing that is prepared to engage in an economic war  with Russia may not have been what its appetitive president expected.

So what is Putin hoping to achieve with his cat and mouse machinations?

My personal view, is that Putin – long set on reclaiming all of Ukraine and boldened by his success of occupying and annexing the Crimea in early 2014 – the gambler in the Kremlin believed he would get away with it, particularly if Trump was still in the White House. 

Contrary to arguments put forward that Putin would not be doing what he is doing if Trump was still in the White House, I believe  the opposite; that Putin had a belief – not unreasonable –  that the former US president, who admires “strong men” autocrats and saw eastern Europe as the Russian’s sphere of influence would turn a blind eye to Russian ambitious shenanigans. In support of this reasoning, Trump did all in his power to undermine and belittle NATO, unsettle the European alliances amplified by his support of Brexit – offering Brittan “good deals”. The Russian bear smacked its lips,  salivating in anticipation of future land grabs!

Possibly, the most disappointed with a Biden presidential victory was Putin, his premier vodka remaining on ice until now – maybe!!!

Biden to Putin. Step back from the brink of war with Ukraine says US President Joe Biden in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on the 15 February, 2022. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Hopefully it will remain on ice and the Russian forces will leave the borders of the Ukraine and “needless death and destruction” will be averted.

Europe does not need to build on its unenviable reputation as a mass graveyard to the outsized ambitions of autocratic leadership.

Jews on this issue are particularly sensitive. The Holocaust in Ukraine represented the first phase of the Shoah in which an estimated 1.5 million Jews were shot to death at close range in ravines, open fields, and forests. One in every four Jewish victims of the Holocaust was murdered in Ukraine.

With 75,000 Jews thought to be living in Ukraine, we don’t need to add to that  harrowing tally. That Israel is taking the matter seriously was evident in The Jerusalem Post’s Wednesday headline:

Israel prepares to move embassy from Kyiv to Lviv

The article also  reveals plans for providing security to the Jewish community as well preparations for a possible emergency evacuation.

From Frogs to Bears. A portent of things to come?

Recalling another movie  from the writer’s past, this time as a law student was the 1972  horror flick FROGS that had in bold on its poster:

 “Today The Pond! Tomorrow – The World!”

One could paraphrase the movie as BEARS and reword the poster as:

Today Ukraine, Tomorrow the Baltic

We are warned.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

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