The human instinct to support the underdog
As Ukraine faces its darkest hour, the world watches in horror from the sidelines hoping for a quick resolution. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, barely three years in the job, has proved to be more than able to manage, and above all, lead his country through this Russian invasion.
As of writing this article, against all the odds and at great human cost, it looks like the Ukrainian military – and its courageous people – have prevailed, as Russian troops pull back from the north and the west of the country to concentrate on the ‘special operation’ in the south east. Vladimir Putin has vastly underestimated the resolve of his smaller neighbour and its allies, despite the EU and NATO being disunited, and deeply naive about potential geopolitical threats in recent years.
This lack of unity has partly come about because for the past 10 years or more, Russia has waged a relentless disinformation war, with US social media companies and useful idiots acting as accomplices. Whether stirring up anti- immigration in Britain or mobilizing Q Anon for Trump, Putin has (to quote a British sporting cliché) pulled a blinder. By cynically exploiting existing divisions within countries that tolerate free speech and freedom of expression, his assumption was that with Europe and the US weakened and distracted by infighting, Ukraine would be a shoe-in.
What he didn’t bank on was the west’s instinct to stand up to bullies. The terrible events in Europe have brought an urgent focus to an otherwise complacent western Europe and a confused US. In the shadows, Putin was able to digitally poke the wasp nests of culture wars, Brexit, the refugee crisis and right wing America. But with the Ukraine invasion, he has shown his full intentions and there is now less digital camouflage to hide behind. NATO has become emboldened with the human instinct to defend a peaceful democratic country from being bullied by a violent autocratic one. This was hard to do before February 2022. Prior to the Russian invasion, quaint notions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ had been wilfully buried beneath the fog of social media confusion. The hope is that Putin will be shown up for the cowardly spiv that he is; the kid who anonymously leaves the stink bomb in the class, and waits to see if it garners approval with his peers before revealing who did it; the man who makes an offensive remark and then meekly retracts it as ‘just a joke’ – otherwise known as a Schrödinger’s Douchebag.
But there is a new hope. The depressing years of fake news and carefully curated division may be behind us. Zelenskiy has shown himself to be a master of media communication during this war. The image of a simple man in a green t-shirt has wrong-footed Putin’s inappropriately suited one, not to mention the optics of his negotiating team looking like a bunch of Russian Goombahs on their way to a strip club in Vladivostok. Zelenskiy’s public addresses, aimed at the global community, just as much as the political one, have been peerless in their straightforward down to earth, clear tone; this is not only the struggle for a nation or even democracy, this could be the last stand of truth itself; fight with us, protect your families as I have mine.
Unfortunately, the bullies are on the rise. Orban, Modi, Trump, Balsonaro and Jinping. Even Le Pen is having a comeback moment. However, with social media companies becoming regulated at last, more people will become wise to their tricks. So, thanks Vlad. Now we know where all of you live. There is nowhere to hide. The rebels are coming for you.