By now, I probably don’t have to tell you about the Ukrainian soldiers on Snake Island, who, confronted with a Russian navy ship which demanded their surrender, told the ship to “go fuck yourself” and then died when the ship retaliated. But it is worth noting how the incident is a microcosm of how Russia — and specifically Vladimir Putin — appears to have deeply misread how the Russian invasion of Ukraine was going to proceed. It seems likely (and this is me boiling down the thoughts of people much more familiar with the area than me, I assure you I did not suddenly become an expert on Eastern Europe overnight) Putin thought he was invading a soft target, into which he could quickly install a Russia-friendly government and then withdraw, taking the bits of Ukraine he wanted for Russia as he went.
Instead he looks to be getting a quagmire, in which the leader of Ukraine, assumed to be a callow former comedian who would run at the first chance, is rallying the nation by staying put and encouraging solidarity. The Ukrainians themselves are putting up a fight, and a better one than expected, and the rest of Europe, save a few client states, is now perfectly aware that Russia is in fact back to being an absolute threat, run by an unreasonable person who has removed from his sight anyone who might have told him this invasion was a bad idea. Putin may in fact get what it wants out of Ukraine — Russia probably has the military capability for that — but it’s not going to be clean or easy, and when all of it is done, the only friends Putin and Russia are likely to have are Belarus and the conservative parties of the United States and the United Kingdom.
That may not be enough. The world heard thirteen Ukrainian soldiers tell a Russian warship to go fuck itself; it’s seen the whole of Ukraine, its president down to old ladies in the street, tell the much larger, much more belligerent Russia the same thing. “Go Fuck Yourself” may not have the same ring as “Remember the Alamo,” but it certainly has a bluntness that fits the 21st century, an era that is clearly over decorum. And it makes the point: We see through your bullshit and we know why you’re here and why you’re doing it. And for that, you can go fuck yourself.
The invasion of Ukraine feels like an inflection point, one where we choose who we want to be for the next few years at least. Watch the people, and the organizations, who are defending Russia, Putin and their goals right now. They are the people who have decided that other people don’t matter, and that might, in fact, makes right, and that ends justifies the means, and that as long as you can spin it, then it’s really not so bad. They’ve know what Putin has planned for Ukraine. In it, they see the blueprint for their own plans, in other places, against other people. Not always on the same scale, or with tanks and guns. But always the same dynamic and the same goal: domination.
You may, if you like, choose be on that side of things.
Or you can choose to tell those people to go fuck themselves.
I have a pretty strong feeling most of us have already made our choices on this by this point. But if you haven’t, well. It may be time to think about it.
Update, 2/28: The soldiers apparently not dead, were taken prisoner by the Russians. A better state of affairs, and doesn’t change the defiance of their response.