Zoya Sheftalovich Profile picture
Feb 26 25 tweets 5 min read
Watching Putin's attack on Ukraine play out, I am struck by the thought that Putin learned the lesson from the wrong Afghanistan war. And he has also vastly misunderstood post-Zelenskiy Ukraine. 1/?
I don't have any particular insight into Putin - though I have read a lot of things much smarter people than I am have written about him. But I do know Russians, and I know Ukrainians, and I know Ukrainian Jews. 2/?
Putin, I think, lives in a pre-1991/92 world. A world in which the USSR was one whole, if dysfunctional package, of which Ukraine was a part. But here's the thing. Putin has lost touch - hello, bunker mentality. 3/?
He has lost touch with ordinary Russians - though he is able to mold them (particularly those who watch state-run TV or read state-run newspapers) every which way he wants, the younger generation is accessing media he doesn't control. And Putin is famously tech averse... 4/?
But even more so, he has lost touch with Ukrainians. Ukrainians who _do_ have access to dissenting media, and who, since 1991, have developed a sense of statehood. 5/?
When you surround yourself only with sycophants, suck-ups and people who are afraid of you, you never hear dissent, you lose that finger on the pulse. So Putin in 2022 is looking at Ukraine from a Soviet/1992 perspective. But today's Russia is not the Soviet union. 6/?
Ukrainians living in the USSR at least had an ideology, broken though it was, to believe in. The USSR was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It was not Russia. Sure, Russia was the big boy, sure the USSR was ruled out of Moscow. But the USSR ≠ Russia. 7/?
Now, when you were (as I was) a Ukrainian living in the USSR, you saw yourself as fighting for socialism, for equality. Sure, that wasn't the reality, but at least you could tell yourself that there was something bigger than you that you were suffering for. 8/?
Soviets are intimately acquainted with suffering for the greater good. But here's the thing: there's a difference between suffering for a cause, and suffering for what everyone in RU and in UKR knows is a corrupt oligarchy that exists to enrich one man and his entourage. 9/?
Back to Afghanistan. Putin, I think, saw 2021 Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, and that galvanized him to invade Ukraine. I reckon he thought he'd roll into Kyiv the way the Taliban rolled into Kabul. Thought ordinary Ukrainians wouldn't resist. No bloodshed. Clean. Quick. 10/?
He saw himself in the role of the Taliban. Banished by those pesky Americans, sitting, waiting, building, ready to pounce. He saw what the US did to Afghanistan, the impotence of Europe on that front, and thought: Aha, I'm going to go "liberate" Ukraine. 11/?
On Monday, in his frankly unhinged speech, he told Ukrainians to lay down their arms and return to their families, and they would not be harmed. This, I think, was his expectation. He thought many, if not most, Ukrainians would do so. 12/?
He thought they wouldn't care who was installed in Kyiv to govern them. And you know what: If he had done this while Yanukovych or even Poroshenko was in power, if he had done this while he had career-politicians and/or his buddies in Kyiv, he might have been right. 13/?
But Zelenskiy is a clean-skin. He's a satirist funnyman who until v. recently made dick jokes for a living. His ascent to the presidency, unlike Putin's, was driven by desire to make things better, to get rid of graft and corruption. Don't get me wrong, he's not perfect. 14/?
But suddenly, Ukraine had a president it could believe in. A president who wasn't a cynical appointee of some other country, who wasn't someone seeking the presidency to enrich themselves. (@herszenhorn has an excellent profile of him here: politico.eu/article/ukrain…) 15/?
And when Putin attacked Ukraine, Zelenskiy, a 44-year-old Colbert-type — he didn't get on the first plane out of Kyiv, a la Ashraf Ghani and co. He stayed. He is still in Kyiv. When Putin talked about decapitating Ukraine's government, he is not talking metaphorically. 16/?
Putin literally wants to take out Zelenskiy, because he can't control him. He has no baggage. And instead of fleeing and running a government in exile from somewhere safe, Zelenskiy stayed, knowing what fate awaited him. His prime minister - stayed. His cabinet - stayed. 17/?
That's what this video is about:

Zelenskiy is saying: Look, we are all here. We aren't running, we're fighting. And so, Ukrainians, ordinary Ukrainians, they have something to fight for too. They have someone to believe in. 18/?
So, Putin, expected Afghanistan 2021. But he got Afghanistan 1979. Ukrainians aren't rolling over or welcoming back an old friend. They are digging in for war. And that's an ugly scenario indeed.19/?
To be clear, here is what I think (again, this is not reported fact, this is my personal read): Putin expected Ukrainians to lay down their arms, Zelenskiy to flee. He could then install a Putinist puppet in Kyiv, take Donbas and Crimea and probably a chunk more ... 20/?
He could take out Ukraine's military capabilities (his "demilitarization"), have a friendly mate he could control next door, and then roll back to Russia. Declare his "peacekeeping" mission over after a few days. Few casualties. West may grumble, but not enough to hurt. 21/?
What Putin got instead: Zelenskiy stayed and mobilized Ukrainians. The army fought much much harder than he thought they would. People did not lay down their arms. For the most part, they didn't run away from the war. And now it gets messy. What's Putin to do? 22/?
Russians, doped up as they are on RT and TASS and Rossiya 24, well, they're starting to see their favourite singers and actors speak up about what is a FULL SCALE WAR! They're seeing photos of bombed kindergartens, dead kids. They're seeing this isn't going to be a walkover. 23/?
And oh, this is going to hurt. It'll hurt Putin. It'll hurt his entourage. In the words of a now sadly deleted tweet from the account of @JosepBorrellF, no more Gucci lifestyle (though, actually, they can still get Gucci). All those oligarchs _must_ be getting nervous now. 24/?

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More from @zoyashef

Feb 28
Dispatch from Kharkiv, from Professor Marina Petrushko, Dr Vladimir Pinyaev and Dr Taisiya Yurchuk, who are sheltering at a doctor's clinic in the second-largest city in Ukraine. They write:

"On the fourth day we live in HELL" 1/4
"Our lives have narrowed to the limits of basements. Our Drt Clinic, where life was born, has become a shelter for patients with young children of employees. Thank God - the house has thick walls and a solid basement." 2/4
"The Russians are destroying everything: residential neighborhoods, kindergartens, hospitals, even a blood transfusion station," these three doctors write. "Our guys from the ARMED FORCES of UKRAINE have been defending our lives for the fourth day." 3/4
Read 4 tweets
Feb 27
Глядя на Путинские атаки на Украину снова и снова, меня поразила мысль, что он извлёк неправильный урок из ошибок Афганской войны. И что он совершенно неправильно понимает современную Украину, Украину президента Зеленского. 1/
У меня не сложилось какое-то конкретное мнение о Путине, несмотря на то, что я прочитала много написанного о нем. Написанного людьми намного умнее меня. Но я знаю современных русских, украинцев и украинских евреев. 2/
И я думаю, что Путин до сих пор живёт в мире до 1991-92 года. В мире если и нефункционального, но целостного СССР, частью которого была Украина. Вот в чём дело! Он потерял связь с действительностью. Привет, бункерный менталитет! 3/
Read 43 tweets
Feb 27
Zelenskiy drops two more videos this morning. I will translate key bits of the first. It is in Russian, and he speaks directly to Belarusians who are voting today in a "referendum" on allowing Russia to host nuclear weapons on their land. 1/?foreignpolicy.com/2022/02/26/bel…
"My words are addressed to the citizens of Belarus. You've been called today to the ballot box to vote in a referendum. This could've looked like a normal political process, but now clearly there's nothing normal. Now, decisions are being taken on a very different level." 2/?
"The past night in Ukraine was cruel. Again, shootings, again bombing of civilian areas, civilian infrastructure ... [invading forces] are fighting against everyone. They are fighting against everything living. Against kindergartens. Against homes. Even against ambulances" 3/?
Read 16 tweets
Feb 27
Where is Putin? Could he be in his golden palace, which @navalny revealed photos of? Is he sleeping in this bed? #ГдеПутин Image
Where is Putin? Is he watching women dance for him in this room, while sending conscripts to war in Ukraine? #ГдеПутин Image
Where is Putin? Is he taking a bath in this tub, while his forces bomb Ukrainian civilian areas? #ГдеПутин Image
Read 7 tweets
Feb 26
So, Putin expected a cake walk but there's no cake to be seen. What's he to do? Try to kill Zelenskiy? He'll die a martyr. How do you control a country of 44 million Ukrainians who suddenly have something to believe in? 25/?
This isn't a quick, clean, hit. There are mass civilian casualties, missiles raining down on a country on the European continent. A country that's next door to NATO and EU members - Baltics which have been warning about this for years, and now they know ... 26/?
Read 17 tweets
Feb 25
Thread of latest Zelenskiy Telegram video, posted midnight Kyiv time. He looks exhausted, but maintains composure. Speaks only in Ukrainian this time. 1/14
"Today was a difficult but brave day," Zelenskiy says, wearing the same khaki shirt and sweater as in his other videos from today. "We are fighting for our state absolutely on all fronts In the south-east, the north, in many cities of our beautiful Ukraine around the clock." 2/14
Gives update of world leaders he has spoken to - Macron, Scholz, Biden, etc, who have "agreed on new help, new support. Significant help for our country. I thank all the leaders separately," Zelenskiy says. 3/14
Read 14 tweets

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