Of all Putin’s errors, misreading Ukrainians is the worst
The President’s triumph in Crimea led to a fatal miscalculation about the national pride of many Ukrainians.
It should never have been like this, not in Vladimir Putin’s mind at least. When he launched his war against Ukraine, Russia’s president expected his soldiers to stroll to victory and to be greeted like heroes and saviours. Instead, they have been received as pariahs, a hated occupying force.
The victory celebration – like the one he enjoyed in 2014 after Crimea’s annexation from Ukraine, with its cheering, adoring crowds, flag-waving, brass bands, and air force flyover – will forever be a fantasy.
Of all the miscalculations that Putin has made over his Ukraine adventure – and there have been many regarding the fight that Ukrainian forces would put up, the quality of the Russian army and the hardcore sanctions that the West threw at Russia – a lack of support from Russian-speaking locals appears to have been his biggest, and his most baffling.
Anastasia is a 24-year-old IT specialist who lives in Kyiv. Her first language is Russian, although, as is common, she also speaks Ukrainian.
“Honestly, I don’t understand why Putin decided to ‘protect’ us,” she says.
“No one needs this ‘Russian world’ because people here feel Ukrainian and Ukraine is a sovereign state that will figure it out on its own.”
Analysts have said that the seeds of this miscalculation may actually have been sown in the 2014 Crimea victory parade.
The grinning Russian President clearly enjoyed himself at the parade.
The 69-year-old also enjoyed the taste of a victory won, a conquest gained, and he wanted this all again. The people of Crimea also welcomed Russia’s annexation. It had been relatively straightforward.
A few months later, Russian forces helped rebels in the south-east of Ukraine to carve out fiefdoms separate from Kyiv.
But then, after these quick victories, Russian clarity and insight into Ukraine appear to have floundered.
Analysts said that resources were diverted elsewhere and links with Kyiv and the rest of the country weakened.
This lack of intelligence and understanding blindsided Putin, who wasn’t warned, and didn’t understand, that eight years after his Crimea success attitudes across the rest of Ukraine were so different. Videos from inside the country have captured this.
In one, an old Ukrainian woman upbraided a Russian soldier for capturing her village.
“Carry these sunflower seeds in your pockets,” she says. “When you die here, they will flower.”
Several other videos show Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the east, where Putin expected to be lauded, shouting at Russian soldiers to leave. “Putin is a d---head,” was a popular chant at one demonstration.
And then there is the video of the bullish, thick-set man haranguing three Russian soldiers in a speech full of expletives. “I am also Russian, but why are you here? You have your state to live in and I have mine,” he barks at them.
Prominent Russian-speaking Ukrainians have also made desperate appeals to Russians to stop the war.
Dr Evgeny Komarovsky, a paediatrician from Kharkiv, whose books have been best-sellers in Russia and other Russian-speaking countries, recorded a video in what appeared to be a bomb shelter.
“Tigers are on fire in Kharkiv. Do you know what a Tiger is?
“It’s a type of a Russian armoured vehicle,” he says. “Our ‘liberators’, those bastards, rode on them. A real war is here.”