The Daily Telegraph

Way of theworld Michael Deacon


Being a propagandi­st for Putin can’t be easy. Over the weekend, Russia suffered its worst setback since the invasion of Ukraine began. Its soldiers were forced to beat a hasty retreat from several vital strategic stronghold­s in the northeast. They 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According to Lt Gen Igor Konashenko­v, Putin’s troops had been withdrawn from these areas deliberate­ly in order to “further the aims of the operation to liberate Donbas” – an area in the east, much of which was already under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 soldiers will be forced to beat a hasty retreat from other parts of Ukraine, too. In that case, though, Konashenko­v can always announce that, in the judgment of Russian soldiers, those particular parts had been fully de-nazified, as per the official terms of their mission, so they naturally concluded 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, peacelovin­g Russia. I am delighted to see that this sickening ruse has 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 the late Queen’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 given the anti-monarchist­s what they wanted, and agreed to replace the monarch with an elected head of state. What sort of person would the voting British 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, 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.

follow Michael Deacon on Twitter @Michaelpde­acon read More at opinion

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