PETER HITCHENS: Sacking of Kiev’s top General reveals more than any interview with Putin ever will

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A huge event of international importance took place on Thursday night. Ukraine‘s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, sacked the commander-in-chief of his armed forces, Valerii Zaluzhnyi. 

The general’s crime was to have said openly that the terrible war ripping his country apart was now a stalemate. This is of course true. He is also in danger of becoming more popular than his political boss. This too is dangerous.

From this under-reported event we learned much more about the reality of this bottomlessly stupid, needless and cruel war than from most of the gushing reporting of it. God grant that it ends soon.

As the sound of slamming doors, fists thumping on desks and angry shouts no doubt echoed round the seat of power in Kiev, the world’s gaze turned instead to Washington DC and Moscow.


In the American capital a tragedy which has long been apparent reached a new and heartbreaking stage. 

President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) shaking hands with Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valerii Zaluzhnyi

President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) shaking hands with Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valerii Zaluzhnyi

President Joe Biden was humiliatingly let off being prosecuted for mishandling official documents, because he is too old and confused. He is, said a prosecutor, ‘a well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory’.



The President of the United States ceaselessly reveals this, mixing up world leaders, countries and who knows what else.

I have always found Mr Biden a likeable person, though I do not think much of his politics. I find it painful to watch his public decline, dangerous as it is to the world. 

It angers me that his Democratic Party managers cynically seek to keep him on the ballot for November’s Presidential election. 

How pathetic it is that one of the world’s oldest and richest political movements has nobody else to field against the almost equally alarming Donald Trump.


In Moscow, still magnificent amid the snow, the creepy despot Vladimir Putin submitted himself to an interview by the bright but erratic broadcaster Tucker Carlson.

Putin is ageing greatly, growing to resemble a pink sausage as we old people do, his face puffy and his hair scant. But he still has his wits about him. 

In my view, interviewing a politician in power, on the record, is the most useless form of journalism known to man. 

Either the reporter colludes with the politician, who by pre-arrangement exudes a ‘story’ which can then be put on the front page or the head of the TV bulletin. Or there is some useless sparring, in which nothing is given away.



In Putin’s case he has the embarrassing habit of actually answering questions at great length (most Western politicians evade answering them at all). 

This sort of thing is like being trapped in a prison cell with an unpopular and dogged history teacher, (‘…and then, in 1386…’). You can’t go. He wants to tell you everything – the mark of a bore – and will not stop.

Poor Mr Carlson was fighting the urge to yawn so hard, and was so overawed, that he looked at times as if his brain was about to explode. 

Two deep slit-trenches appeared in the skin above the bridge of his nose as his eyes slid in and out of focus. I expect he still has the headache.


A woman holds a photograph of former Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Valerii Zaluzhnyi during a rally supporting him at Independence Square in Kyiv

A woman holds a photograph of former Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Valerii Zaluzhnyi during a rally supporting him at Independence Square in Kyiv

I knew how he felt. It brought to mind an appalling interview of the future Sir Anthony Blair, which I was granted while he was Shadow Home Secretary. It came close to being physically painful.

When, many years later, I finally underwent root canal dentistry, I recalled this encounter. 


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The dentistry was far more enjoyable and passed more quickly. In a long, slow hour he grudgingly told me one previously unknown thing – that his student rock band had been called Ugly Rumours – my only tiny scoop.

But I still cannot see what was wrong with Mr Carlson trying to get something. Various idiots suggested that Putin is like Hitler and to interview him is treason. 

What bilge this is. The whole point about the Ukraine war is that Britain and America are scared stiff of joining in directly. 

We still have embassies in Moscow. Their staffs are not traitors. Nor is the BBC’s superb reporter Steve Rosenberg, who lives in Moscow, speaks excellent Russian and would no doubt be pleased to win an interview with Mr Putin. But I doubt whether even he would get anywhere.


7mph sign on the approach road to the Oxford Academy in Littlemor. Photo credit: Peter Hitchens

7mph sign on the approach road to the Oxford Academy in Littlemor. Photo credit: Peter Hitchens

Here is the oddest speed limit sign I have ever seen – mandating a maximum of 7mph. 

According to the Oxford Academy, a secondary school in my home town, it works, by making drivers think. 

I’d add it is also quite close to the actual speed of traffic in that city, since the recent introduction of a new highway scheme. Well, it suits cyclists like me. 

I shall not be watching Masters Of The Air, the new TV series about the American bombing of Germany in World War Two. 

I admire immensely the young men who undertook these terrifying missions. But I hate the glamorisation of bombing, which was astonishingly ineffective, as well as often very hard on innocent civilians and hugely wasteful of aircrew.

Surveys afterwards showed that bombing German cities cost less than three per cent of German economic strength. 

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The whole bombing offensive, British and American, cost only 17 per cent of German economic potential by 1944. 

But politicians, being ignorant and easily seduced by TV and movies, still think bombing is a magic weapon and are surprised when it fails – as it is now doing against the Houthis.

Callum Turner and Austin Butler in 'Masters of the Air'

Callum Turner and Austin Butler in ‘Masters of the Air’

Tories missed a trick with Maggie’s miners

Just before Christmas 1984, at the height of the bitter and violent miners’ strike, Margaret Thatcher invited a group of working miners to dinner, though they might not have come if they’d known she’d be there.

The pitmen had been bravely resisting the intimidation of Arthur Scargill’s striking supporters. Each received a mysterious phone call. 

A voice said: ‘Be at this address at this time on this day’. When one of them, Roland Taylor, replied he wasn’t coming, he was told with even more firmness to be there. ‘No, you will be there,’ it declared. Then the caller hung up.

He checked with his fellow-resisters and they’d all had the same call, so they went together, coming down to London from Nottinghamshire on the train and taking taxis to the address. 

This turned out to be the grand home of the former Labour MP Sir Woodrow Wyatt (father of the journalist Petronella). As they sat chatting, the door suddenly opened and in walked Mrs Thatcher and her husband Denis.

Roland, who is fiercely unpolitical, says no politics were discussed. As she shook his hand, Roland recalls: ‘She looked like a china doll, but she gave off an aura of power that was very strong and warned anyone, ‘Don’t mess with me.’

Mrs Thatcher chatted with ease to the miners whose courage would lead to Scargill’s defeat. One of them addressed her as ‘Maggie’ and then became embarrassed, but she insisted that they all called her that.

Roland speaks briefly of this event in the recent Channel 4 series. 

To me there is something tragic about it. If I’d been the Tory Party, I would have rewarded the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire miners who stood up against Scargill. Their pits should still be open.

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