When Cypress Hill released their seminal hit “Insane in the Brain”, I’m sure the last thing on their tormented minds was the state of geopolitics in Eastern Europe, let alone the megalomaniacal man who would come to wholly embody that song and its lyrics. In those halcyon days back in 1993, Putin was just a lowly head of Committee for External Relations of the Mayor’s Office of Saint Petersburg and Cypress Hill were living it up at the top of the rap game, going to Hollywood parties and appearing on Simpsons. Now the roles are very much reversed, only I don’t think Putin is welcome in Hollywood at the moment, and even less welcome on The Simpsons. Yes, we are living, dear reader, in a time of war. And finally, now the dust has settled, it is time for me to wade in and dissect it for you. I would have done it last week but I had already finished an unprovoked attack on Gandhi for that week’s article.
I’m sure you’ve all heard about the war in Ukraine, even if you haven’t kept up with the news, heard about from friends or seen the “memes” satirising the belligerents and refugees on social media. But if you haven’t then I’m sure you’ll have noticed that Co-op and Morrison’s are no longer stocking Russian vodka, you will then have proceeded to drop all your shopping, sprint home, run over to the computer and frantically google what is going on, which is what led you to this article. So let me give you the background, Russia has invaded Ukraine because NATO is levelling up in Eastern Europe, Russia feels threatened, wants bigger buffer between Moscow and NATO etc. etc. The concept (still pretty abstract) of a predominantly white country being in a full-scale war has sent shivers down the spines of many, these are Europeans, just like us, who are being torn from their homes and having their lives threatened. That could be us! I mean, obviously it couldn’t because they speak a different language and wear different clothes to us, but it’s much closer to being us than Iraq and South Sudan are.
At the time of writing this, I believe Kharkiv, the former capital of Ukraine, has pretty much fallen/is falling to the Russian forces, taking its industry and important train lines and roads with it (can’t get road anywhere else). Kiev is still standing strong against siege, with redoubled efforts expected to come its way. There have been images, as reported by my friend who was watching the news yesterday, of soldiers digging trenches getting ready for the tanks to roll up. Apparently, the BBC news reporter, with incredible insight, said that “This could be an image from World War 1 or 2”, deftly noticing that one war looks like other wars. The only difference is the Ukrainian digging the trench was wearing airpods, in what one can only assume is a learned behaviour from watching film and music stars in America to block out the paparazzi as he goes about his business. While this does bring into focus just how surreal it is that we are seeing images from war in Europe in which someone is wearing a Supreme hoodie rather than a tweed jacket while preparing to stop heavy artillery, any reasonable person watching it cannot help but allow their mind to wander, thinking about what he might be listening on those airpods to while putting the physical labour in that will hopefully save his and his family’s life. I would like to hope that it is a bit of Drake’s “Started From The Bottom” or Red, Taylor’s Version, but in reality it’s probably some indistinct Ukrainian rap or metal, blasted as loud as possible to drown out any instructions from his commanding officer. It’s easy to claim you didn’t hear “Once you’re done vith that, dig another trench and pull that tree down” when you have the plausible excuse of music too loud and reporters filming you blocking your peripheral vision. I like to imagine him, on Saturday, as the tanks roll in to Kiev, nodding his head along to his music with heavy gunfire and mass chaos ensuing behind him while he just carries on digging his trench in the wrong place, happy in the knowledge that he’s doing his bit.
It is a curious question how this particular conflict might end. It might, like the Crimean occupation in 2014, just keep being a thing for many years that the news in the English-speaking world will tire of it and move on. Russia might, in redoubling their efforts, take Kiev in a relatively short amount of time, then after some coverage of the Ukrainians opposing their new authoritarian regime, the news in the English-speaking world will tire of it and move on. Or, least likely of all, the newly deified heroes, Zelensky and the Ukrainian army, will turf the bad guys out with aplomb, receive rapturous congratulations for the right side winning, then launch a counter-offensive and kill every Russian national this side of the Ural mountains, riding the wave of Western support, with their economy boosted from all the new vodka deals and Disney+ subscriptions they have been granted during these Russian sanctions.
I may not know how it all will end, whose name and trademark celebration history will carve into its great tapestry, all I can say is that when there is conflict like this, anywhere in the world, there are no real winners. Only soldiers, civilians, and families ravaged by the whims and arbitrary goals of dictators and their financiers, with no rational reason. I guess it’s true what Cypress Hill said, way back in the early 90s, it is, well and truly, insane in the Ukraine.