RIMMER: The end of history redux?

RIMMER: The end of history redux?
Putin was always viewed as evil but rational. No longer.
By Julian Rimmer in London March 2, 2022

Ok, so Putin did test positive for stupid. How, though, were so many experienced observers of things Russian, your humble correspondent among them, so mistaken in their reading of Putin’s intentions? 

Had enough of experts?

The explanation is straightforward. Everyone knows Putin’s default position: mendacity. Everyone is familiar with his modus operandi: congenital malefaction. However long and well-established his turpitude has been, though, he was always viewed as rational. Evil but rational. No longer. This is where Kremlinologists, expert and amateur, went wrong. It would appear two decades of dictatorship, surrounded by lickspittle lackeys and mollycoddled in a slavish cult, disabled some of the safety features which might have held tyrannical impulses in check.

I said ‘Pass the salt’

The reason why cliches exist is because they contain immutable truths and Putin is the physical embodiment of the adage ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’. Expecting him not to succumb to an all-too-human vulnerability was the miscalculation of which most analysts, opining the threat to Ukraine was a bluff, were guilty.

Nyet means da

Where those analysts were 100% correct was in citing the conga-line of disincentives which might stay the small hand of Putin and discourage him from taking the high road to perdition via Kyiv. All this came to pass; namely, pariah status internationally, swingeing economic penalties, stiff Ukrainian resistance bolstered by money and materiel from sympathetic Nato partners, a partisan insurgency, a lack of belligerence from Russians domestically, operational difficulties of a ‘military-technical’ nature (to use the Kremlin’s own chilling words), body bags, a financial crisis and ultimately, the most effective recruiting sergeant for Nato imaginable. 

The prognosis required no special insight, and the most troubling aspect is that it would appear Putin was cognisant of these risks too. How else to explain an army furnished with mobile crematoria to reduce dead cargo shipments back to Moscow? Since many of the casualties taken by the Russian army have been immolated in their tanks, they’ve proved superfluous. 

Putin then, foresaw the prohibitive cost of the war — I mean special military operation — but while the rational mind balks, his unbridled ego, contemptuous of human life, marched on regardless. He knew but he did not care. This is what startles. What we cannot compute. As Primo Levi wrote in ‘If This Is A Man’, “Perhaps one cannot, what is more one must not, understand what happened, because to understand [the Holocaust] is almost to justify.”

Greater love for himself hath no man than this: that he should lay down the lives of others for his own glory. The hamartia is hubris.

This is the crux of the matter: in a democracy, there are advisers, civil servants, military leaders, elected officials, independent institutions, electorates and civic bodies acting as checks and balances on the executive. Consensus precludes extremes. In the Kremlin, everything hinges on the whim of a thymotic, short-arsed KGB officer with a thing for Stalin and a grudge against the West for invalidating his existence up until the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Fukuyama was right all along

The history he famously claimed had ended has been neither kind nor fair to Francis Fukuyama. His argument, propounded at the end of the Cold War, was that Western liberal democracy represented ‘the endpoint of man’s ideological evolution’ and had prevailed over other more primitive forms of rule, chiefly communism. It captured the zeitgeist of the 90s.

In the last three decades, though, his premise was repeatedly challenged by the resurgence of theocracy in its many guises, various crises within liberal democracy itself (I’m thinking Trump and Brexit), some comically experimental stratocracies and far-flung outposts of communism but most formidably, though, by the rise of authoritarianism as practised by Russia and China, by the simulacra of democracy mastered by Putin and Xi. 

What Fukuyama failed to foresee — and I don’t speak de haut en bas here; in 1992 I didn’t foresee much beyond lunch — was that having won the 20th-century argument, democracy would have to win the argument over and over again in the new millennium. At times democracy looked weak and cumbersome but it’s easy to be outplayed in short-term, geopolitical chess if your opponent ignores the laws of the game. 

Authoritarianism has brought us the invasion of Ukraine and the looming hecatomb in Kyiv, in a way liberal democracies never could. The Democratic Peace Theory generally applies. In the West, wars begin where the EU stops and that’s why Eastern European countries are so desperate to join it and apply for Nato membership. Nato’s eastward expansion is a mischaracterisation. After a benighted twentieth century, chafing under the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (a euphemism of four words, four letters and four lies to denote what was a Russian Empire) Eastern Europe wants to move west.

Another win like that and we’re f***ed

Just one week after he launched his invasion, the only victory available to Putin is Pyrrhic. If the number of 4,500 is true, Russia’s death toll in five days is worse than the first five years occupying Afghanistan. The difficulties his army has encountered thus far will persuade him to escalate the ferocity of his attacks, target civilians and fight savagely. It may solve a military problem, but it will deepen his political and economic crises to the point at which he suddenly becomes vulnerable to a coup from Kremlin insiders. There is no suffering through which he will not put his people. Or others.

It may come at the cost of a charnel house in eastern Ukraine, but this reverse Barbarossa will prove the eventual catalyst for Putin’s downfall. Godwin’s Law states that the longer any argument continues, the probability of a Hitler analogy approaches one. This is that moment. 

The defeat of authoritarian rule will galvanise the broad Western alliance (temporarily at least), revindicate Fukuyama (even if it fails to introduce liberal democracy to Russia) and serve as warning to China that the planned assault/stealth annexation of Taiwan may need to be rethought. Democracies will defeat the capo dei capi but his own kind will deliver the coup de grace.

Victory parade A

Perhaps Putin hopes to trek bare-chested and triumphant along the boulevards of Kyiv on his favourite Shetland pony? Maybe he prefers his little legs dangling either side of a motorcycle with a cavalcade of hairy Nightwolves outriders flanking him?

Victory parade B?

There must be a chance, though, his arrival will be on the back of a flatbed truck, hands bound, head bowed, on his way to the Hague and the tribunal his war crimes warrant.

Slava Ukraini.


  • ‘The End of History and The Last Man’. Francis Fukuyama, 1992