Don’t worry, Putin – the Russian Comical Ali is here to spare your blushes

Being a propagandist for Putin can’t be easy. Especially not after a weekend in which Russia suffered its worst reversal since the invasion of Ukraine began, with its forces beating a hasty retreat from several vital strategic strongholds in the northeast. Russian soldiers were seen abandoning their tanks, weapons and even clothes, and literally running from the scene. “They fled,” said one Ukrainian commander, “like Olympic sprinters.”

And yet, despite this humiliation, a spokesman for the Russian army insisted that it was all part of the plan.

According to a statement by Lieutenant-General Igor Konashenkov, Putin’s troops had been withdrawn from these areas deliberately, in order to “further the aims of the operation to liberate Donbas” – an area in the east, much of which was already under Russian control.

What a magnificent attempt at face-saving. It may well be the finest display of military spin since the heyday of Comical Ali. I only wish he’d said more.

“Yes, our soldiers may have been running – but only to ensure that they reached Donbas all the more quickly. And yes, they may have left behind their weapons – but that was only to prevent these heavy, cumbersome objects from weighing our soldiers down, and thus hindering their swift redeployment. And yes, they may have left behind their clothes – but that was simply a gracious act of charity by our big-hearted soldiers, to help ordinary, non-Nazi Ukrainians keep warm through the coming winter months.”

I suppose there must be some risk that Russian forces will have to beat a hasty retreat from other parts of Ukraine, too. In that case, though, Konashenkov can always announce that, in the expert judgment of Russian soldiers, those particular parts had been fully de-Nazified, as per the official terms of their mission, so they naturally concluded that there was no need for them to remain there a moment longer.

And even if Russia ends up being forced to withdraw from Ukraine altogether, I’m sure he’ll come up with something. Perhaps he could claim that Russia never actually entered Ukraine in the first place.

“In reality, Ukrainian troops simply disguised themselves as Russians, and then invaded their own cities, in a breathtakingly cynical attempt to provoke the West into declaring war on our innocent, blameless, peace-loving Russia. I am delighted to see that this sickening ruse has failed.”

Why the anti-monarchists failed

Anti-monarchists have always claimed that having a king or queen is undemocratic. In reality, of course, the opposite is true. It’s perfectly democratic, for the simple reason that it’s what a majority – indeed, a vast majority – of British people want. A poll published by YouGov in June showed that only 22 per cent of the public would prefer an elected head of state.

For anti-monarchists, this represents an embarrassing failure. During the 70 years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, British society as a whole became significantly less deferential, less class-bound, more egalitarian (greater sexual equality, racial equality, gay marriage). Ideal conditions, anti-monarchists must have assumed, for their movement to gain traction. 

Yet, despite all the other major social changes that took place during that time, their demands remained resolutely unpopular. And the main reason for this, I suspect, was the late Queen herself.

Put it like this. Say we had let the anti-monarchists have their way, and agreed to replace the monarch with an elected head of state. What sort of person would the British voting public have wanted to fill this important new role?

Well, they’d have wanted someone impeccably dignified, dedicated and diplomatic. Someone non-political, non-controversial, who could be relied upon not to cause offence or become embroiled in scandal. Someone who was not only popular here but also admired throughout the world. Someone who could successfully represent Britain on the global stage, promote British interests, embody British values and virtues.

If you’d asked the voting public, they would have replied that only one person effortlessly met all those requirements. And it was, of course, Queen Elizabeth II. Abolishing the monarchy, therefore, would have meant ousting her one day, only to reinstate her the next.

Thankfully, the British people could see what an absurd waste of time this would be – and so, in this country, republicanism never took off.

No doubt anti-monarchists imagine that her death means their moment has finally arrived. The acclaim for King Charles III’s address to the nation on Friday, however, suggests that they are once again out of luck.

‘Way of the World’ is a twice-weekly satirical look at the headlines while aiming to mock the absurdities of the modern world. It is published at 7am every Tuesday and Saturday

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