French President Emmanuel Macron held a 90 minute phone call instigated by President Vladimir Putin Thursday in which any hopes to call off the war were quickly extinguished.
After hanging up, Macron–one of the few world leaders still taking the Russian leader’s calls—felt simply, “the worst is yet to come.”
The call came as a cavalcade of increasingly crazy stories emerged from Moscow which signaled Putin was becoming ever more isolated and willing to lash out at Ukraine and his own people.
In the Kremlin readout of the call, Putin promised the “special military operation will be fulfilled in any case,” referring to the invasion in less than accurate terms. “Attempts to gain time by dragging negotiations will only lead to additional requirements for Kyiv in our negotiating position,” Putin said. Macron, for his part, tried to convince Putin that his plans to “denazify Ukraine,” using vintage Soviet terminology, is “a lie” and “an insult to the history of Russia and Ukraine, to the memory of our elders who fought side by side against Nazism.”
Putin, who denied shelling Ukrainian cities even as they were being bombarded during the call, was clearly unmoved by the argument.
Afterward, an aide to Macron told reporters: “The expectation of the president is that the worst is to come, given what President Putin told him... There was nothing in what President Putin told us that should reassure us. He showed great determination to continue the operation.”
The war, now one week old, has killed thousands of Ukrainian citizens and reportedly many more Russian soldiers, but the bombing continues as Russian troops—some not even military school graduates—continue to close in on the capital Kyiv.
But as blood continues to flow on the battlefield, new information about Putin’s crazy world is truly terrifying. The Times of London reported that Putin was so secretive about his plans for invading Ukraine that not even his cabinet knew what he was cooking up after being told he only planned to recognize the two separatist areas. “This is fucked up. They are out of their fucking minds!” someone in the government told the Agentstvo news outlet. And those officials who threatened to resign over the invasion were met with a worse threat: treason charges punishable by hard labor. “Resignation will lead only to a prison camp,” one official reportedly said.
Other reports from the battlefield suggest Russia had pointed its own multi-rocket launching systems toward the border town of Popovka in what was likely a “false flag” operation site ready to go off at any moment so Russia can justify its brutal onslaught. Bloomberg reported that if resistance by Ukrainians continues, he may introduce public executions in captured cities.
Meanwhile, inside Russia, things are not much better as growing dissenters—including young school children—are being rounded up, beaten, and jailed. Media outlets are being stifled and it is illegal to publish the truth about the war or protest against it. And new legislation introduced in Russia on Thursday added an extra punishment: anyone arrested for protesting will be forced to fight in the invasion themselves. As one Russian expert put it, “What the fuck is happening to Russia? This is absolute madness.”
Meanwhile, the list of businesses fleeing Russian territory grows by the day with Ikea and Volkswagen the latest to pull out.
Still, gallows humor continues to lessen the weight of the fog of war. On Thursday, investigative group Bellingcat had the last word. After a Russian court fined the organization a half million rubles for not branding itself a “foreign agent” last July, the group now says that the ruble has crashed under the weight of sanctions, they will pay up, tweeting: “We will wait one week and then gladly pay the 10 cents.”