Vladimir Putin, Unmasked at Last
We confess that, though we have been predicting it for years now, it has happened sooner and more spectacularly than any of us dared dream.
Vladimir Putin has been unmasked and stands naked before the world. The $1 billion aid package for Georgia that the U.S. government has just announced is unmistakable proof that the world now clearly sees Putin for what he is: evil incarnate.
There was a time, it must be admitted, when even Putin’s actual physical nudity was part of his mask. Few Russia watchers will forget first seeing those photographs of a shirtless Putin frolicking at the side of a river, flexing his muscles for all the world to see. And, having not seen Putin’s breathtaking barbarism in Georgia, many in the world were beguiled by the spectacle, reluctant to concede its obvious meaning, that Putin is quite insane in the classic Stalinist manner.
But having seen that bloodthirsty violence, who in the world — even the most slackjawed of the Russians themselves — can see as anything but tragic farce the Russian media reports earlier this week about Putin saving TV crew from a tiger? Does the Kremlin really believe there is anyone, even in Russia, itself, who will not see it as being just a little bit too convenient that Putin performs this act of he-man heroism so soon after seeing the Georgia invasion turn into an international fiasco in which Russian has been condemned for aggression by every nation on the planet? Does the Kremlin really believe such silly Soviet-style propaganda will make the world forget Putin’s crazed — indeed, hysterical — public statements blaming the U.S. government for the Georgia crisis, claiming it was all part of a plot to elect John McCain?
Speaking of those crazed remarks, those who would rationalize neo-Soviet Russia are fond of asking those who accuse the Kremlin of complicity in political murders — like that of hero journalist Anna Politkovskaya and KGB defector Alexander Litvinenkon — to produce “evidence” before making the charges. But what “evidence” did Putin produce of his alleged U.S.-sponsored conspiracy? None whatssoever. And where were those who demand “evidence” when Putin uttered his crazed statements? They were nowhere to be found.
More and more each day, reading news reports on the Russian government’s reaction to its hamhanded mishandling of the Georgia issue is becoming a through-the-looking-glass experience. On Tuesday, for instance, Russia was praising the European Union for declining to impose sanctions or freeze diplomatic relations and claiming Russia would not be isolated because of Georgia and at the very same time condemning the EU for imposing sanctions, in the form of frozen talks over Russian participation in the EU. It was also condeming Australia, even as Putin claimed Russia was “not isolated,” for announcing it was reconsideration its decision to sell Russia vital yellowake uranium Russia needs for its nuclear reactors.
It was, in short, as if the Kremlin were genuinely not in touch with reality, just as in Soviet times deluded into the crazy notion that it could, with superior Russian intelligence, pull the wool over the eyes of the entire outside world. To be sure, Russian leaders can be forgiven for thinking this might be possible given the callow, pathetic response to such actions they receive from the people of Russia themselves. But even judged under this standard, Russia’s actions in recent days have been quite literally insane.
Another wonderful, horrible example is reported by Paul Goble, who says that Russians are now saying they are 1-1 in the cold war. Sergei Karaganov, the head of Moscow’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, says that there was one “cold war” against Bolshevik Russia between its seizure of power and World War II, and since the Bolsheviks survived World War II they “won” the first cold war, only to be defeated in the second that followed the end of the military conflict. By that twisted logic, the USSR won the cold war each day of its existence, and lost only once, on the day it was extinguished, and therefore leads the cold war scorecard by hundreds to one. Karaganov then argues that Russia has “certain advantages” in the new cold war, and apparently high hopes of raising the score to 2-1 in its favor.
But the best evidence of all is the behavior of Putin’s hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev. Just hours after the world’s newswires were burning with the news of yet another anti-Kremlin journalist being murdered to silence him, Medvedev declared that the freely-elected president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, was not recognized by Russia and was a “political corpse.” Only a true barbarian could make so vulgar and ill-timed a remark, could fail to understand how the world would view him. Putin has been soundly defeated by Saakashvili, has adventure in Georgia has blown up in his face. And so, like the mafia thug he is, Putin can think of only one response: physical liquidation, the same technique that was used to deal with Anna Politkovskaya.
That is the same “solution” they tried in the USSR, and it’s not surprising that a proud KGB spy like Putin would fall back upon it. But it didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. The only thing Putin achieves is to convince the world that Russia is a barbaric state to be excluded from the confidences of civilized nations — exactly the opposite of what the Russian people want. They crave respect and admiration in the outside world, yet their leaders generate only scorn and contempt.