In an ideal world, drunken women, scantily clad and alone, could teeter around the streets of a city and come to no harm. No woman risks this, though, because the real world has rapists in it.

In an ideal world, an independent sovereign state such as Ukraine could join NATO or any other club it wishes to without worrying about consequences. But since its neighbour Russia, a great power, has declared from the rooftops that it will not countenance such a move, whether you agree with the reasons or not, what country in Ukraine’s situation would be foolhardy enough to risk it?

Reality cannot be wished away. India would probably love to trumpet the cause of the Dalai Lama in every capital of the world – can there be a more noble cause and a more satisfying way of taunting China? – but better sense prevails because why bait China when China could inflict such a crushing blow to India?

It’s the real world that has to be managed, not the fantasy world of idealistic imaginings, an axiom that seems lost on Volodymyr Zelensky.

Leaders are expected to protect their people against harm and loss of life. If Narendra Modi was abused during India’s second wave, it was because he was expected to have been better prepared, to have made better calculations and decisions by stocking up on oxygen, medicines, vaccines and beds to protect Indians.

As news comes in every day of appalling Russian atrocities, the questions about Zelensky choosing to play with fire, knowing his determination to join Nato could wreak horrific pain on his people, become even more urgent.

No one doubted that Vladimir Putin would crush Ukraine and wreck it rather than let it join Nato. He has been repeating this ad nauseam for years. Of course, the invasion is illegal, vile and cruel. Russia is the aggressor. To continue the rape analogy, even if a victim was drunk, wearing revealing clothes and took chances, her behaviour in no way serves as an extenuating circumstance for the rapist, just as Zelensky’s bewildering calculations in no way mitigate Russia’s outrageous violation of Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty.

As for the Western media, they have been replaying the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ saga of Iraq all over again. Emotive coverage, tinged with moral hysteria. Good versus evil. For us or against us.

Europe is perfectly entitled to take Ukraine’s side. All countries act in their own self-interest. The only difference is that West always dresses up its national interest as an absolute and universal moral truth.

For the West, there is no truth but its truth. Barring some exceptions such as the columnist Peter Hitchens in the Daily Mail, few contrary opinions have been allowed to make it to the media coverage. It’s been moral grandstanding all the way. Anyone who fails to line up dutifully alongside the West to proclaim the same truth, anyone who takes a neutral or nuanced stand (nobody in their mind would actually support Putin’s savage aggression) is morally lacking.

This amour-propre that divides the world into sheep and goats is embarrassingly self-serving. The Western media gives the world its truth. Anything else is propaganda. On the moral high ground where Europe and the United States have permanently squatted, there is no space for anyone else.

In reality, the moral posturing is selective. Saudi Arabia, at the helm of a Western coalition, has been bombing Yemen for years. The UN just days ago warned that it was on the brink of the world’s worst humanitarian disaster with famine looming but no one wants to censure or sanction Saudi Arabia which has been bombing it because it does want the Houthis, who are Shias, to be in power.

China has reneged on its promise to let Hong Kong retain its democracy but Europe lets China get away with it.

More recently, where did Europe’s morality go when it came to sharing some of its vaccines with millions of people in Africa?

This time, the self righteousness has been accompanied by a petty and mean campaign. Russians living in the West who are not agents of the state or politicians have been treated vindictively as part of the vain virtue signalling.

The Munich Philharmonic sacked Russian conductor Valery Gergiev for refusing to denounce Putin and his homeland. Russian musicians and performers were expected to denounce Putin at the risk of losing their jobs, being arrested and jailed for many years, along with their families, while Europeans are unable to tolerate one night without central heating run on Russian gas.

Madrid’s Opera House cancelled the Bolshoi’s performances. The works of Russian composers have been taken off the repertoire of Western orchestras. In the Netherlands, the Hermitage Amsterdam, which is a branch of the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, cut ties with the Russian institution.

Nor is it enough for the United States and Europe to punish Russia with sanctions. Other countries must be bullied into making sure these sanctions – their sanctions, their war – are effective by not buying the gas or oil that Russia will be desperate to sell at discounted prices.

Those who refused to spare a vaccine or two for Africa expect distant bystanders with no vested interest in the war to harm their own self-interest for the sake of Western goals. Hmm.

Cover photo Getty