There is nothing irresistible about him. He threatens us, brandishes his nuclear arsenal and claims to see “declarations of war” in our economic sanctions and upcoming arms shipments to Ukraine, but let’s observe him for a moment.
When one is confident, one does not bark so much. When one feels strong, one doesn’t belch like a man possessed, and if Mr Putin manages so poorly little to keep his cool, it is because nothing at all is likely to reassure him. Ukraine’s resistance continues to affirm itself mobilising an ever-increasing proportion of its population to take up arms in an astonishing national upsurge. The European and American sanctions are so massive and are going to get so heavy that the Russian economy will soon run out of steam. The fear of Russia’s bankruptcy is growing in business circles and the government is so afraid that the rejection of this adventure will deepen among Russians themselves that it has banned the use of the word “war” under the penalty of unbelievable prison sentences.
And then there is the public opinion – European, American, and global – which is more and more horrified by these bombings, because everyone can see that their only explanation is the imperial fury of a man who is obviously out of control.
This man has lost. Politically speaking, he has already lost because he has not been able to break Ukraine in two days by the sole virtue of a troop movement, but can he still be prevented from claiming a military victory that he will not fear to pay for with unspeakable bloodshed?
The answer is yes: Mr Putin is not irresistible. He is resistible, but on two conditions.
The first is that we stop fearing this Third World War that he promises us morning, noon and night. It is not certain that this Ubu is still in his right mind, but he still has enough left not to trigger a nuclear apocalypse that his chain of command would not support.
Even the use of a tactical bomb is highly unlikely and the alternative we face is thus clear.
Either we sit tight for the long weeks it would take Putin to crush Ukraine and the Democracies lose all credibility. The Chinese regime would then feel free to dictate to the whole of Asia, starting with Taiwan. There would be nothing to stop the jihadist movements from dashing forward again against the Arab world, Europe and the United States, and Mr Putin, triumphant, would of course go on to reconquer Moldova, Georgia and the entire lost empire.
Because of our fear of war, we would end up having to fight at least three wars at once and under much more difficult conditions, whereas we have another option: to simply say “no” loud and clear.
Nothing prevents us from truly and massively arming Ukraine, not only to equip it with an air force as the United States seems to have opted to do, but to provide it with the most sophisticated of our armaments and eventually to go so far as to have it supported by international contingents of seasoned soldiers who have nothing to be ashamed of in comparison to the mercenaries with whom Mr Putin floods Africa.
This would allow us to impose a balance of power on the basis of which a negotiation around a green felt table would become necessary: a negotiation aiming to define the confidence and stability measures that would keep the shadow of war away from the European sky forever.
It is not by panicking but by raising the gauntlet that we will avoid the greatest dangers, but firmness will not be enough.
We also need an ally, and that ally is China, which would have no interest in letting the world sink into military chaos when its economic power and political stability depend entirely on international trade.
This is so obvious that China is now refraining from applauding Mr Putin. It is lending him a hand in the diplomatic arena but is in fact wavering between a hollow but obvious anxiety and satisfaction that the United States is being forced back into the European theatre and leaving Asia behind. As long as the crisis remains contained, China is indulging in an evil glee, but as soon as it sees us stop hiding and face up to it, it will understand the danger it is in and will distance itself enough from Mr Putin for his loneliness to bring him back to more sobriety.
Against the Russian Ubu, we will need the Chinese tyrant. It will not be pleasant or cost-free, but the democracies were certainly not wrong to ally themselves with Stalin to defeat Hitler.