Putin: Racist, Aggressive, Deluded, Scary

Writing on USA Today‘s blog Ralph Peters of the newspaper’s Board of Contributors argues that we should be scared by the racist evil that is Vladimir Putin:

Why Putin should scare us

He’s an ethnic nationalist with a mystical sense of Russian destiny.
Cold and pragmatic, he won’t play by the world’s rules.

Possessing a clear vision of where he wants to go and the ruthlessness to get there, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is the world’s most effective national leader in power. He also might be the most misunderstood.

Grasping what Putin’s about means recognizing what he isn’t about: Despite his KGB past and his remark that the Soviet Union’s dissolution was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century, Putin isn’t nostalgic for communism. By the time he joined the KGB in the mid-1970s, the organization was purely about preserving the power structure — not upholding abstract philosophies.

Far from being a Marxist, Putin belongs to a long tradition of aggressive Russian nationalists. A complex man, he’s cold-bloodedly pragmatic when planning — as both his rise to power and his preparations for the recent invasion of Georgia demonstrated — yet he’s imbued with a mystical sense of Russia’s destiny. The ambitious son of a doctrinaire communist father and a devout Orthodox mother, Putin’s straight from the novels of Feodor Dostoevski (another son of St. Petersburg)

Putin’s combination of merciless calculation and sense of mission echoes an otherwise different figure, Osama bin Laden. In both cases, Western analysts struggle to simplify confounding personalities and end up underestimating them. These aren’t madmen but brilliant, driven leaders who flout our rules.

Nonetheless, Putin did carry over specific skills from his KGB career: As a former intelligence officer myself, I’m awed by his ability to analyze opponents and anticipate their reactions to his gambits (Russia is, of course, a nation of chess masters). Preparing for the dismemberment of Georgia, the prime minister accurately calculated the behavior of that country’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, of President Bush, of the European Union and of the Russian people. He knew he could get away with it.

Putin has a quality found in elite intelligence personnel: the ability to discard all preconceptions when scrutinizing a target. And when he decides to strike, he doesn’t look back. This is not good news for his opponents, foreign or domestic.

Among the many reasons we misjudge Putin is our insistence on seeing him as “like us.” He’s not. His stage-management of the Georgia invasion was a perfect example: Western intelligence agencies had been monitoring Russian activities in the Caucasus for years and fully expected a confrontation. Even so, our analysts assumed that Russia wouldn’t act during this summer’s Olympics, traditionally an interval of peace.

Putin had been conditioned to read the strategic cards differently: The world’s attention would be focused on the Games, and key world leaders would be in Beijing, far from their crisis-management staffs. Europe’s bureaucrats and senior NATO officials would be on their August vacations. The circumstances were ideal.

It has also become a truism that Putin’s foolish for relying on oil, gas and mineral revenue while failing to diversify his economy. But Russia’s strongman knows what he’s doing: He prefers a wealthy government to a wealthy society. Putin can control a handful of oligarchs whose fortunes flow from a narrow range of sources (once Russia’s richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky sits in prison for crossing the Kremlin), but a diversified economy would decentralize power.

Putin’s obsession with control — another national tradition — serves an overarching purpose: restoring Russia’s greatness. He realizes he can’t restore a Soviet Union that sprawled deep into Europe. What he hopes is to reconstruct the empire of the czars, from eastern Poland through Ukraine and the Caucasus to Central Asia. Putin’s expansionist model comes from Peter the Great, but his methods resemble those of Ivan the Terrible, not least when it comes to silencing dissent. The main thing the prime minister has salvaged from the Soviet era is the cult of personality. He knows what Russians want — a strong czar — and his approval ratings have exceeded 80%.

Does this ruthless, focused leader have a weakness? Yes: his temper. Despite his icy demeanor, Putin’s combustible. He takes rebuffs personally and can act impulsively — and destructively. Instead of lulling Europeans into an ever-greater dependence on Russian gas, he angrily ordered winter shut-offs to Ukraine and Georgia, alarming Western customers. Rather than concealing the Kremlin’s cyber-attack capabilities, he unleashed them on tiny Estonia during a tiff over relocating a Soviet-era memorial — alerting NATO.

Putin’s invasion of Georgia was also personal. In addition to exposing the West’s impotence in the region, he meant to punish Georgia’s defiant president. The lengths to which Putin was prepared to go in a personal vendetta should worry us all.

Such outbursts of temper suggest that Putin’s campaign to restore Russia’s greatness could end very badly. We needn’t take his dispatch of a naval squadron to Venezuela or bomber flights over U.S. Navy carriers seriously — they’re staged for his domestic audience and militarily absurd. But Putin’s willingness to use naked force against regional democracies suggests that, like so many strongmen before him, he’ll ultimately overreach.

Meanwhile, our next president will have to cope with this brilliant, dangerous man. That’s going to require the experience and skills to exploit every element of our national power; to convince Europe that appeasement will only enlarge Putin’s appetite; and to draw clear lines while avoiding drawn guns. Above all, our president will have to take Putin’s measure accurately and not indulge in wishful thinking. Managing Putin’s Russia could emerge as our No. 1 security challenge.

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6 responses to “Putin: Racist, Aggressive, Deluded, Scary

  1. At last ….

    Mr. Peters this is the most concise estimate of the Putin regime to date.
    Without question Vlady sees himself in the role of Peter the great willing to sacrafice current society for the potential future grandisement.
    Someone please send this blog to Cond Rice asap

  2. Putin is far worse than Peter who was born a Tsar and even worse than Hitler who was a politician legally voted for in the open election. Putin was hand-picked by a narrow circle and nominated PM; immediately two mysterious explosions took the lives of some 250 Moscovites; this enabled him starting the destruction of Chechnya with 200 000 dead, etc. Behind him an attentive researcher will find a long trail of mysterious deaths from heart attacks (like his boss Sobchak), poisonings (Litvinenko’s was only the most terrible), and plane shootings (reporter Politkovskaya and MP Yushenkov). Read of this in the Vanity Fair October 2008 issue article by Masha Gessen to refresh your memory. One thing can be added: two days ago a retired Russian Space Command general, 56, who was the second man in the opposition ex-PM Kasyanov party died suddenly of a heart attack.

  3. “We needn’t take his dispatch of a naval squadron to Venezuela or bomber flights over U.S. Navy carriers seriously”

    I disagree. Russia has recently been courting Cuba trying to rekindle old relationships, Nicaragua has officially recognized South Ossetia and Venezuela is welcoming Russians with open arms. Russia could be allowed to establish military bases in any or all of these countries creating untold problems in America’s back yard such as threatening access to Gulf of Mexico and Panama Canal.
    Russians have a saying “To break is not to build”. It is fairly easy for Russians to give weapons to communist regimes and to incite revolutions in Latin countries not for ideological reasons but to create a diversion and distraction for America which will find it very difficult to put out the fires.

  4. “And we will cut the heads off the mercilessly. We will crush sedition, eradicate the treason… A kingdom cannot be ruled without an iron hand… I stand alone. I can trust no one.”
    Ivan The Terrible (Part One 1944)

    Somethings never change. It amazes me that the Russians have ingrained in their Russian souls that they must be lead by an Iron Hand. Ivan’s, Peter’s, Elizabeth’s, Stalin’s, now Putin’s regimes have enslaved and killed millions or Russians. The Iron Hand has not brought prosperity. It has not brought happiness or an idea of a “Russian Dream”. How much more blood needs to be shed before the Russians will reject this Iron Hand theory?

  5. Kolchak, speaks words of wisdom. If you include the drop in oil prices, Russias allies in the western hemisphere are worth a grand total of 73 cents(opinion). Out of a scale of 100 dollars.

    I’m not BS’ing either, Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega(of Sandanista fame)was forced to admit that he was a christian before he was elected.

    Fidel Castro is forced to extend his life(artificially)in order to retain his power.

    and finally, (I started this sentence with a contraction intentionally), Hugo Chavez is clinging to relevence. With falling oil prices, and demand, he may not last the next season. I say that because he lives in the southern hemisphere.(Insert crude joke here)

  6. Columbia has their eyes on Hugo, not because the clutzes in FARC are unable to do anything, but because El Presidente has been financing incursions accross their border.

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