Category Archives: Vladimir Putin

Breaking through the Media Clutter

Ukraine is experiencing two simultaneous tragedies: a political challenge to its governing authority and a humanitarian crisis as artillery shells rain down on innocent civilians.

The international press tells us about the first tragedy, Putin’s violation of Ukraine’s borders and his determination to redraw the map of Eastern Europe by force. The brazen land grab of Crimea – which no one mentions anymore – and the installation of thugs who have seized the levers of power in eastern Ukraine comes at the cost of the global system established since World War II. It weakens the United Nations and slaps our European allies in the face as they repeatedly try to negotiate a ceasefire.

The invasion has created a chill in international relations if not a resumption of the Cold War. No reasonable person wants to go back to the days of MAD (mutual assured destruction) with a sword of Damocles hanging over the entire world and the “hard rain” (nuclear fallout) predicted in a Bob Dylan song.

But as this vicious conflict grinds on with no end in sight, the press has largely failed to cover the humanitarian disaster it is leaving in its wake.

Up to five million people in eastern Ukraine desperately need humanitarian assistance including 1.7 million children according to UNICEF. More than 1,000,000 refugees struggle for survival in Ukraine’s bitter winter, and relief agencies are stretched to the breaking point as the situation worsens every week. The more than 5,000 dead do not affect the calculus of relief but leave behind grieving family members who are losing the will to live.

Russia sends convoys of “humanitarian aid,” one would think through a guilty conscience, but the trucks carry weapons and only token supplies of food. The citizens of eastern Ukraine cry out in distress while the press provides blanket coverage of the latest ceasefire.

SUN knows the generosity of the American people will meet the challenge of this humanitarian disaster. But it hasn’t happened yet because the people don’t know about it. Unless the voices of suffering and the tales of woe break through the media clutter, Ukrainians will get sick, and many of them will die. Meanwhile, we will only learn about the latest city under siege instead of the latest children to lose their parents.

Boxing Putin into a Corner

The dramatic decline in oil prices, combined with modest sanctions by the U.S. and the European community, appear to have boxed Vladimir Putin into a corner. The ruble has fallen nearly 50 percent in the last six months, and the rickety Russian economy is headed into a double-digit recession at least through 2016. Western observers wonder whether these circumstances will change the behavior of the Russian leader.

The quick answer is, probably not.

Putin’s approval rating remains indisputably high, somewhere in the 80s, even as the Russian economy is in freefall.

Flying in the face of such universally depressing data causes Western leaders and pundits to brand Putin as “living in another world,” calling his behavior “erratic and unpredictable.” It is, if you measure him against Western norms; but understood on his own terms and within the context of Russian history, Vladimir Putin is remarkably consistent.

Vladimir Putin is a Russian nationalist through and through. He believes Russia has the right, indeed the obligation, to rule all Slavic peoples, despite their desires. His view of history sees Ukraine as malorussiya, “Little Russia,” a subset of the great Russian people.

Thus, the modern Ukrainian state can be nothing other than a temporary aberration. Hence, Putin calls the fall of the Soviet Union the “greatest tragedy of the 20th century” — not the World Wars with nearly 100 million deaths globally, nor the Holocaust with the murder of six million Jews, nor even the demise of a totalitarian state responsible for killing 20 million of its own people.

Perhaps most critically, Vladimir Putin is KGB. It is said of the former KGB, “Once and agent, always an agent.” Typically, we think of work as something people do rather than who they are. But working for the KGB requires a certain mentality, a way of being. Putin never left the KGB; he just got promoted. Without understanding this, you can’t understand Putin.

So, will the implosion of the Russian economy or other setbacks change Vladimir Putin’s behavior?