Russian President Vladimir Putin is a butcher and he’s destroying his people. I’m shouting this out because I believe it and I want to blow off some steam, but I am a private citizen and what I say doesn’t matter. This is not the case when such extreme descriptions come from public officials and especially powerful heads of states. As a rule, heads of state choose their words carefully when speaking publicly, and even when they’re talking off the record, because they know that what they say will be interpreted as an intention to act accordingly.
Public insults against the Russians do not help the Ukrainians, will not bring about Putin’s fall and will not make the war end any sooner.
The insults heard recently by US President Joe Biden and other American officials against Putin are alarming and should raise questions about what exactly they are trying to accomplish. In particular, it is hard to see how such disparaging remarks – no matter how apt they may be – can help the Ukrainians in their unequal battle. It is likely that they have the opposite effect by rallying Russians who already support the Kremlin – and not just them.
Any challenge to the suitability and legitimacy of the Russian leadership from the head of a rival power is bound to strike a sensitive nerve among those who do not want to see foreign forces interfering in their domestic matters. America’s verbal assaults are simply fodder for Russian propaganda, which is casting a criminal fiasco as a patriotic war and their country as the victim in the entire affair.
Furthermore, threats of dragging Russia to the international courts carry little sway when they come from people who will have to sit down at the same table at some point in the future. It is one thing to level such threats against people like Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic or some tin-pot dictator in a small African country and quite another when you’re addressing the leadership of a country that occupies one-eighth of Earth’s inhabitable landmass, has the capacity to blackmail the country with nuclear war and has support from China, among others. Regardless of who governs it, Russia is one of the biggest players on the world stage, and sooner or later, the West will have to swallow its anger and sit down at the big table with it.
The United States’ stance, as projected by the international media, also makes a compromise between the warring sides that much harder to achieve and raises the stakes for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. It is also unhelpful in the event that the Russians are looking for a way out of the war, in response to the unexpected resistance from the Ukrainians and the almost worldwide outcry.
In contrast to the very effective economic sanctions, public insults are not helping the Ukrainians, will not help bring down Putin from within and will not shorten the war. Following the failures of Iraq and Afghanistan, it is natural that the Americans should be pleased that it is now Russia’s turn. What’s more, Putin did them a favor by rallying Europe again under the US and NATO umbrellas. They should be happy with these gains and not ask for more.