Emperor of Lies (with Zarina Zabrisky and Moscow Never Sleeps)
Putin has no one to blame but himself.
In his speech on February 24, at the beginning of the invasion, Vladimir Putin claimed the United States and its Western allies were an “Empire of Lies” hellbent on the destruction of Russia:
[A]fter the disintegration of the USSR, given the entire unprecedented openness of the new, modern Russia, its readiness to work honestly with the United States and other Western partners, and its practically unilateral disarmament, they immediately tried to put the final squeeze on us, finish us off, and utterly destroy us. This is how it was in the 1990s and the early 2000s, when the so-called collective West was actively supporting separatism and gangs of mercenaries in southern Russia. . . .
[T]hey sought to destroy our traditional values and force on us their false values that would erode us, our people from within, the attitudes they have been aggressively imposing on their countries, attitudes that are directly leading to degradation and degeneration, because they are contrary to human nature. This is not going to happen. No one has ever succeeded in doing this, nor will they succeed now.
The invasion of Ukraine was not a war of aggression, Putin told the world on February 24, but rather was a defensive operation intended “to protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kyiv regime.” After uncorking that whopper with a straight face (perhaps aided by ample Botox), he continued to spin fantastical falsehoods: “To this end, we will seek to demilitarize and de-Nazify Ukraine, as well as bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation.”
As it turns out, the Russian “traditional values” Putin waxed so nostalgic about three weeks ago were state sadism, widespread oppression, wholesale butchery, and utter disregard for human life—Russian or otherwise. In short order, his vaunted army was humiliated on the field of battle by Ukrainian special forces, grandmothers with sunflower seeds and Molotov cocktails, and farmers towing abandoned tanks with tractors. He’s killing children now, intentionally and on purpose. He’s blowing up hospitals, schools, churches, theaters. He’s doing this because escalating the carnage—to convince the world he’s nihilistic enough to launch nukes, perhaps—is the only move he has left.
“There’s also on-the-ground atrocities,” Zarina Zabrisky tells me on today’s PREVAIL podcast, “where the soldiers are shooting the civilian population. They’re shooting children, they’re shooting women. There are several intercepted phone calls—I listened to them—where Russian soldiers discuss with their mothers and wives the orders they have received to shoot at children.” She’s seen footage of this horror: for example, a Russian tank blowing up an elderly Ukrainian man, a civilian, for the crime of walking down the street.
Certainly the tone of Putin’s public remarks has changed in the interim. The somber address of three weeks ago has given way to Wednesday’s foaming-at-the-mouth diatribe against his own people, whom he blames for his historic humiliation. Because, like, it couldn’t possibly be his fault.
“The collective West is attempting to splinter our society, speculating on military losses, on socioeconomic effects of sanctions, in order to provoke a people’s rebellion in Russia,” he whined. (This particular assessment, incidentally, is dead-on-balls accurate—the only non-lie in that whole speech.)
“But any people, the Russian people especially, are able to distinguish true patriots from bastards1 and traitors and will spit them out,” he spat. “I am certain that this necessary and natural self-cleansing of society will only strengthen our country, our solidarity, togetherness, and our readiness to answer any calls to action.”
What he fails to point out is that he, Vladimir Putin, is the ultimate bastard, the seminal traitor, to the Russian people. It is Putin who has oppressed them, Putin who has lied to them, Putin who has stolen from them. It is that egregious thievery, larceny on an unprecedentedly grand scale, that is the cause of his present situation. His kleptomania has come back to bite him in the ass, bigly.
“Everything [in Putin’s Russia] has been mobbed up, everything has been criminalized,” Moscow Never Sleeps tells me on today’s PREVAIL podcast. “They don’t have their equipment, because the money was stolen. They don’t have their contract, professional soldiery, because the money was stolen. They don’t have their reliable fifth column, inside spies and turncoats inside Ukraine. . . because the money ran out. And the money ran out for one very simple reason: they all stole it.”
There are rumors now of a coup attempt brewing in Russia. Putin and his family have reportedly retreated to a fancy Siberian redoubt that is supposedly—but probably not, because who trusts the engineering?—impervious to nuclear weapons. If true, he is already in the Hitler-in-the-bunker phase of the war.
That is of little solace to the two million residents of Kyiv who have fled the Ukrainian capital, or the pregnant women in the maternity ward forced to give birth in a bomb shelter, or the besieged people in Mariupol who have no power, no heat, no food, and no water, or the parents of the two-year-old killed by Russian soldiers in Novye Petrovtsy yesterday.
Every day that Putin remains in power, more Ukrainians die needlessly. Whether it’s the Russian people, some pissed off oligarchs, Parkinson’s or Patrushev who takes him out, and whether he winds up in The Hague or hell, the Emperor of Lies must be deposed.
Season Three of the PREVAIL podcast begins with a special double episode. First, Greg Olear talks to his friend Zarina Zabrisky, who has been covering Putin for years and the invasion of Ukraine since it started, about the situation on the ground, Putin’s madness, and the history of the two countries. Then, he brings on his friend and PREVAIL contributor Moscow Never Sleeps to discuss what the war means for Russia and the Russian people. Plus: a new support group.
Zaria’s work at Byline Times:
Follow Moscow Never Sleeps:
Original “bullshit bag” photo by Doug Beckers.
The Russian phrase was “от подонков и предателей.” The word podonok, per Moscow Never Sleeps, is properly translated as either scumbag or bastard. I’ve seen it rendered both ways in the press, or as just “scum.” He says scumbag is closer to the real meaning, but I stuck with bastard because I’m a sucker for parallel construction.