OFFLINE: Ukraine as Russia’s Vietnam

Russia’s Vladimir Putin is making the gravest mistake of his presidency and us oldies who lived through the Vietnam War can’t help but compare his actions with the late US President Lyndon B. Johnson.

So why am I discussing something that has very little to do with the Filipino nation or the FilAm community?

Simple. Putin is endangering the entire world, especially with his threat to use nuclear weapons on Ukraine, if necessary.

Conventional wisdom says Putin is not that crazy to use nukes, as the retaliation from the US, NATO and Ukraine’s allies will be horrible beyond words.

But if some reports saying the Russian strongman is ill are true, then who knows what he is capable of?

For now, there is an exodus of Russians who fear being drafted to join Putin’s war. This weekend, some 8,000 Russians reportedly headed across the border to Finland, which also compares with the Americans who left for Canada in order to avoid the draft.

That number is being referred to as an exodus, but it could soon be a tsunami of Russian immigrants leaving their homeland to avoid a reckless leader who is willing to risk World War lll for reasons known only to him.

And just like LBJ’s war in Vietnam, it is not going well for Putin’s armed forces, who in recent weeks have been pushed back by the Ukrainians who are showing no fear of the supposed Russian war machine.

The Russian armed forces have shown themselves to be inferior to their Ukrainian counterparts for one overpowering reason. The Ukrainians are fighting for their homeland.

Like Ho Chi Minh who was a unifying force for the Vietnamese, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has earned the admiration of the world for his staring down Putin, and inspiring his armed forces to not only fight back against the Russian invaders, but to humiliate them to the hilt.

The Ukrainians have, with the help of the US, decimated the Russian forces on the ground, having neutralized – a nice word for killing – scores of senior Russian officers, resulting in a vacuum of leadership where they are most needed.

Recruiting 300,000 Russians that Putin is doing now is almost certain to fail. Those are men and possibly women who have no military experience, no desire to invade a peaceful neighbor, and may very likely either surrender or run away from the battlefield when the going gets tough.

Incidentally, there have also been reports that local government officials have been calling for the resignation of Putin. If their numbers grow into the hundreds, then it will lead to destabilization of the established government.

It will not be unlike the massive protests that took place all over the US when the majority of Americans realized that they were fighting a wrong war. The Vietnam War remains the only war that the US lost, despite the fact that the superior US forces faced a ragtag army from the north, as well as ill-equipped guerillas known as Vietcong.

This is what Russian forces are facing in Ukraine. The people will not willingly surrender their nation to the invaders, while the same invaders are asking themselves what they are doing there in the first place.

I do recall that as a high school kid, the Vietnam War was raging, and US forces frequently headed for the US bases in the Philippines to recoup, and for some rest and recreation. Yes, I saw some of them in the tourist belt of the City of Manila. I should say the red light district, not just in the capital, but moreso in the fun city of Olongapo.

The Americans were only a little older than me, and they gave the impression that they were not fully supportive of their country’s war effort in the Far East.

Fast forward a few decades later and I found myself working in Dubai, which was the R&R place for the Americans and their allies who were about to kick Saddam Hussein’s butt. I did get to meet a few of them, and there was a world of a difference between them and their peers of the Vietnam War era.

The American armed forces were happy knowing they had massive global support, and were a more disciplined bunch than their fathers or grandfathers of the earlier era.

Putin’s soldiers are more akin to Vietnam era kids not happy with their lot, which is why victory has always eluded them. As for the reputation of Russia being the second most powerful armed forces in the world, this has been disproven yet again.

Recall that like the US, Russia tried to occupy Afghanistan. It did not go well for them. That sad experiment should have taught them a lesson, that invading any foreign country can never go well for them.

It is difficult to guess what happens next for Putin. He could follow in the footsteps of LBJ, and eventually leave office in shame with his forces still occupying parts of Ukraine, and hoping his successor will find an honorable way out.

He will, therefore, need his own version of Richard Nixon.

He may have been a horrible president, but at least Nixon found a way to get US forces out of Vietnam via the Paris Peace Talks. He also led the US when the moon landing took place, so he could claim some credit for that historic event.

Under a worst case scenario, however, Putin will end up as the Russian Adolf Hitler, a megalomaniac who invaded his neighbors and terrified the world, only to meet a fate that he deserved. He lost his war, and either killed himself in a bunker, or headed to South America – Argentina was it? – to live out the remainder of his days in seclusion.

Is there a best case scenario for Putin?

Since he never declared war on Ukraine, he can always say that his military exercise has achieved its purpose, so his soldiers can come home.

He can even declare some kind of moral victory, and remain as president for life if the Russian people let him. But I doubt that his presidency will have a happy ending.