It’s Saturday, March 12, 2022. Tell me that you did not. Tell me that you did not, on a Saturday, use your precious leisure time, scrolling through your Apple or Google or Facebook or Twitter news feeds to search out the latest news from the Ukraine.
Because of course you did.
I picked up my print copy of the Globe & Mail off the doorstep and went straight to a compelling essay/memoir written by Molly McCarron that covered her three-decade (what else could it be called?) love affair with Russia. In the last week, I listened to Ezra Klein’s podcast with Fareed Zakaria and Fiona Hill, and an entertaining NYTimes Daily podcast about the improbable rise of Zelenskyy. (Most interesting was The Oligarchs. The Coles Notes version is this: in 2014, young, educated, freedom-loving Ukranians took to the streets to cast out a corrupt old bastard who unfortunately looted the treasury on his way out). Zelenskyy is the right man for a nation that has so often been betrayed by its politicans and business elite.
Yesterday, I had a rambling conversation with my good friend Mister Ball, who, unlike most of my “media friends”, comes at world affairs from the lens of a businessman — having travelled to London, Santiago, Johannesburg and Mongolia in his position as accommodations manager for Vancouver-based Weatherhaven, a legendary Canadian company that manufactures temporary camps in some pretty interesting places. A month ago, while Russian troops were massing along the Ukraine border, we’d had a conversation where he disabused me of any notion that Canada, er, Trudeau, could have any influence on the world stage.
A month later, however, he’d changed his tune, and drew an intriguing line between the *end* of COVID and Putin’s War in the Ukraine. “People are mad as hell right now,” he said. “The vast majority of us have been leading law abiding lives, guided by public health officials using scientific data. But the persistance of anti-vaxxers and the media coverage of the Convoy–stuff like that–has put people on edge. COVID has not gone gently into the good night. And then, when we saw people fleeing Kiev and considered the sheer audacity of Putin’s invasion, well, people got really, really mad and they REALLY want NATO to do something.”
I tend to agree but I think there’s more to it than that. Unlike the shop-worn, threadbare East Germans flocking into Wessi following the demolition of the Berlin Wall in their oil-belching Ladas and Trabis, these Ukranian refugees are us. They drive Mercedes and Audis and wear North Face jackets and Nike sneakers. They could live in Brooklyn or East Van. Right now, most of those refugees are massing along the borders with Poland, the one country that probably hates Russia even more than Ukranians do. (In a show of solidarity, the Poles and Ukranians actually co-hosted the 2012 Euro football tournament).
Mister Ball and I both agreed that “war footing,” an ominous term if there ever was one, has pushed “pandemic” and “climate change” so far down the news feed that your thumb will develop a blister trying to find it. As in: (see below).
Which is really too bad, because there was yet another Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that hardly received any publicity at all, even though it reported that further “delay means death” if our fossil fuel dependence does not decrease dramatically by mid-century.
To me, however, there’s something else happening; the Ukranians are showing Westerners the value of constitutional freedoms and parliamentary democracy. U.S. president Joe Biden is showing that there are still adults in the roon when he said that he would be willing to enter World War III to protect the NATO alliance, while Donald Trump bloviated about “how he’d use American planes with Chinese markings to start a war with Russia.” Weirdly, Fox News has lined up with wall-to-wall coverage of the invasion and it would be totally awesome to see Tucker Carlson cancelled once and for all.
It’s still early days and I think that there’s a bit of misplaced euphoria for the early stalemate that the Ukranians have upheld. As Zakaria tells Klein: “If dictator is willing to be truly brutal and use all the mechanisms at his means, they can last. Any strategy that is based on the idea that you’re going to get regime change in Moscow strikes me as a very wishful thinking.”