IF Vladimir Putin thought his army would breeze through Ukraine to Kyiv and beyond to be received as liberators, he must have been disabused by now. Instead, his name will go down in infamy alongside Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin as one of history’s barbarians. The extent of world revulsion, even from perennially self-interested sportspeople, has been impressive; but fear not, Putin still has friends ‒ not least here in South Africa.

The Soviet Union looms large in ANC mythology. As can be seen from what passes as its economic policy, significant parts of the ANC are trapped in archaic thinking from fifty years ago. So possibly it may not have been noticed that the USSR is long gone, replaced by a hyper-nationalist, right-wing bandit state called Russia. It specialises in cyberattacks, poisoning (Salisbury), shooting down civilian aircraft (Malaysian Airlines) and flattening cities with heavy artillery (Grozny and Aleppo). Yet, on the very day of the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Minister of Defence (and former MK cadre and political commissar) Thandi Modise attended a party at the Russian embassy in Pretoria. When the Democratic Alliance decided to illuminate the Western Cape parliament in blue and yellow, they were attacked as hypocrites. No doubt Thabo Makgoba, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, who made a point of emphasising the provisions of the United Nations charter in his Ash Wednesday sermon before leading a demonstration in support of Ukraine will no doubt be tarred with the same brush.

The price of Ukrainian resistance is a war of terror on the civilian population. But as the conflict develops, what is striking is the extent to which South Africa mirrors certain characteristics of the Russian state. One commentator points out that Russia is a parody of a nation, more akin to a collective of mafia enterprises. After the state capture of the Zupta era, much the same applies to South Africa. Both countries have long traditions of strongman leaders, whether Russian czars and commissars or African chiefs. Democracy is an essentially alien concept to both countries.

Statements from the Kremlin since 24 February have largely been deranged. But among them has been a claim to the land of Ukraine as historically Russian, part of the nation’s soul. South Africans too have a supposedly spiritual attachment to land. If the Pretoria government were committed to reform, it would survey all land under traditional authority and issue individual title deeds; the first truly liberatory (and revolutionary) development in history for the African population. Instead, it deliberately maintains the status quo and manipulates it as a source of grievance and distraction when expedient.

Putin has declared that the free world and liberal democracy are in terminal decline, so his ambitions are unlikely to halt at the Ukrainian border. If there are attacks on Poland or the Baltic states, we shall have an unthinkable Third World War. And looking back, the invasion of Ukraine might be seen as the Spanish Civil War of our times (preceded by the occupation of the Rhineland aka Crimea), the testing ground for the resolve of the free world for which Putin’s Russia shows such utter contempt. So do many South Africans: the rule of law, the supremacy of the Constitution and an independent judiciary all apparently stand in the way of ‘people’s power’; or more precisely the ambitions of South Africa’s very own rapacious oligarchs.

Apparently, NATO has provoked Russia into this action. Indeed, it seems that history according to Putin sees the very existence of Ukraine as a provocation courtesy of the betrayals of the Bolsheviks and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. We hear that word ‘provoke’ increasingly in South Africa. When extreme African nationalists run out of arguments (usually very quickly) they accuse their opponents of provoking them. The very existence of certain people or ideas is provocative; and sometimes a pretext for violence. Putin is a man consumed by grievance. So too are many South Africans: so much easier to have an ongoing pretext for animosity rather than the hard work of building a democracy; or, indeed, anything.

The craven foreign policy of South Africa is now deeply embedded and simply sank a couple more notches with abstention from the UN General Assembly resolution of Wednesday 2 March. This is a country that screams blue murder about Western colonialism; yet condones the attempted creation of a bantustan-type state in Ukraine by Russia imperialists using illegal vacuum bombs and cluster munitions ‒ liberation by cruise missiles through people’s kitchen windows. War crimes are being committed by the hour, a fact already registered by the International Criminal Court.

South Africa implicitly backs Putin’s latest achievement: hundreds of thousands of displaced little girls in bobble hats clutching their teddy bears as they trudge into a future as refugees. They may never see their homes or fathers again. What cowardly action; what cowardly nations.