How to think about Vladimir Putin by Christopher Caldwell

Journal/Website: 
Imprimis.Hillsdale.edu
Article Type: 
Speech
Published Date: 
Monday, March 27, 2017

The following is adapted from a speech delivered on February 15, 2017, at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar in Phoenix, Arizona.

Vladimir Putin is a powerful ideological symbol and a highly effective ideological litmus test. He is a hero to populist conservatives around the world and anathema to progressives. I don’t want to compare him to our own president, but if you know enough about what a given American thinks of Putin, you can probably tell what he thinks of Donald Trump.

Let me stress at the outset that this is not going to be a talk about what to think about Putin, which is something you are all capable of making up your minds on, but rather how to think about him. And on this, there is one basic truth to remember, although it is often forgotten. Our Vladimir Putin, Russian presidentglobalist leaders may have deprecated sovereignty since the end of the Cold War, but that does not mean it has ceased for an instant to be the primary subject of politics.

Vladimir Vladimirovich is not the president of a feminist NGO. He is not a transgender-rights activist. He is not an ombudsman appointed by the United Nations to make and deliver slide shows about green energy. He is the elected leader of Russia—a rugged, relatively poor, militarily powerful country that in recent years has been frequently humiliated, robbed, and misled. His job has been to protect his country’s prerogatives and its sovereignty in an international system that seeks to erode sovereignty in general and views Russia’s sovereignty in particular as a threat.

By American standards, Putin’s respect for the democratic process has been fitful at best. He has cracked down on peaceful demonstrations. Political opponents have been arrested and jailed throughout his rule. Some have even been murdered—Anna Politkovskaya, the crusading Chechnya correspondent shot in her apartment building in Moscow in 2006; Alexander Litvinenko, the spy poisoned with polonium-210 in London months later; the activist Boris Nemtsov, shot on a bridge in Moscow in early 2015. While the evidence connecting Putin’s own circle to the killings is circumstantial, it merits scrutiny.

Yet if we were to use traditional measures for understanding leaders, which involve the defense of borders and national flourishing, Putin would count as the pre-eminent statesman of our time. On the world stage, who can vie with him? Only perhaps Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey.

When Putin took power in the winter of 1999-2000, his country was defenseless. It was bankrupt. It was being carved up by its new kleptocratic elites, in collusion with its old imperial rivals, the Americans. Putin changed that. In the first decade of this century, he did what Kemal Atatürk had done in Turkey in the 1920s. Out of a crumbling empire, he rescued a nation-state, and gave it coherence and purpose. He disciplined his country’s plutocrats. He restored its military strength. And he refused, with ever blunter rhetoric, to accept for Russia a subservient role in an American-run world system drawn up by foreign politicians and business leaders. His voters credit him with having saved his country.

***

Why are American intellectuals such ideologues when they talk about the “international system”? Probably because American intellectuals devised that system, and because they assume there can never be legitimate historic reasons why a politician would arise in opposition to it. They denied such reasons for the rise of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. They do the same with Donald Trump. And they have done it with Putin. They assume he rose out of the KGB with the sole purpose of embodying an evil for our righteous leaders to stamp out.Boris Yeltsin

Putin did not come out of nowhere. Russian people not only tolerate him, they revere him. You can get a better idea of why he has ruled for 17 years if you remember that, within a few years of Communism’s fall, average life expectancy in Russia had fallen below that of Bangladesh. That is an ignominy that falls on Boris Yeltsin (photo, right). Yeltsin’s reckless opportunism made him an indispensable foe of Communism in the late 1980s. But it made him an inadequate founding father for a modern state. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose writings about Communism give him some claim to be considered the greatest man of the twentieth century, believed the post-Communist leaders had made the country even worse. In the year 2000 Solzhenitsyn wrote: “As a result of the Yeltsin era, all the fundamental sectors of our political, economic, cultural, and moral life have been destroyed or looted. Will we continue looting and destroying Russia until nothing is left?” That was the year Putin came to power. He was the answer to Solzhenitsyn’s question.

There are two things Putin did that cemented the loyalty of Solzhenitsyn and other Russians—he restrained the billionaires who were looting the country, and he restored Russia’s standing abroad. Let us take them in turn.

Russia retains elements of a kleptocracy based on oligarchic control of natural resources. But we must remember that Putin inherited that kleptocracy. He did not found it. The transfer of Russia’s natural resources into the hands of KGB-connected Communists, who called themselves businessmen, was a tragic moment for Russia. It was also a shameful one for the West. Western political scientists provided the theft with ideological cover, presenting it as a “transition to capitalism.” Western corporations, including banks, provided the financing.

Let me stress the point. The oligarchs who turned Russia into an armed plutocracy within half a decade of the downfall in 1991 of Communism called themselves capitalists. But they were mostly men who had been groomed as the next generation of Communist nomenklatura­—people like Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky. They were the people who understood the scope and nature of state assets, and they controlled the privatization programs. They had access to Western financing and they were willing to use violence and intimidation. So they took power just as they had planned to back when they were in Communist cadre school—but now as owners, not as bureaucrats. Since the state had owned everything under Communism, this was quite a payout. Yeltsin’s reign was built on these billionaires’ fortunes, and vice-versa.

Mikhail KhodorkovskyKhodorkovsky (photo, left) has recently become a symbol of Putin’s misrule, because Putin jailed him for ten years. Khodorkovsky’s trial certainly didn’t meet Western standards. But Khodorkovsky’s was among the most obscene privatizations of all. In his recent biography of Putin, Steven Lee Myers, the former Moscow correspondent for the New York Times, calculates that Khodorkovsky and fellow investors paid $150 million in the 1990s for the main production unit of the oil company Yukos, which came to be valued at about $20 billion by 2004. In other words, they acquired a share of the essential commodity of Russia—its oil—for less than one percent of its value. Putin came to call these people “state-appointed billionaires.” He saw them as a conduit for looting Russia, and sought to restore to the country what had been stolen from it. He also saw that Russia needed to reclaim control of its vast reserves of oil and gas, on which much of Europe depended, because that was the only geopolitical lever it had left.

The other thing Putin did was restore the country’s position abroad. He arrived in power a decade after his country had suffered a Vietnam-like defeat in Afghanistan. Following that defeat, it had failed to halt a bloody Islamist uprising in Chechnya. And worst of all, it had been humiliated by the United States and NATO in the Serbian war of 1999, when the Clinton administration backed a nationalist and Islamist independence movement in Kosovo. This was the last war in which the United States would fight on the same side as Osama Bin Laden, and the U.S. used the opportunity to show Russia its lowly place in the international order, treating it as a nuisance and an afterthought. Putin became president a half a year after Yeltsin was maneuvered into allowing the dismemberment of Russia’s ally, Serbia, and as he entered office Putin said: “We will not tolerate any humiliation to the national pride of Russians, or any threat to the integrity of the country.”

The degradation of Russia’s position represented by the Serbian War is what Putin was alluding to when he famously described the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” This statement is often misunderstood or mischaracterized: he did not mean by it any desire to return to Communism. But when Putin said he’d restore Russia’s strength, he meant it. He beat back the military advance of Islamist armies in Chechnya and Dagestan, and he took a hard line on terrorism—including a decision not to negotiate with hostage-takers, even in secret.

***

One theme runs through Russian foreign policy, and has for much of its history. There is no country, with the exception of Israel, that has a more dangerous frontier with the Islamic world. You would think that this would be the primary lens through which to view Russian conduct—a good place for the West to begin in trying to explain Russian behavior that, at first glance, does not have an obvious rationale. Yet agitation against Putin in the West has not focused on that at all. It has not focused on Russia’s intervention against ISIS in the war in Syria, or even on Russia’s harboring Edward Snowden, the fugitive leaker of U.S. intelligence secrets.

The two episodes of concerted outrage about Putin among Western progressives have both involved issues trivial to the world, but vital to the world of progressivism. The first came in 2014, when the Winter Olympics, which were to be held in Sochi, presented an opportunity to damage Russia economically. Most world leaders attended the games happily, from Mark Rutte (Netherlands) and Enrico Letta (Italy) to Xi Jinping (China) and Shinzo Abe (Japan). But three leaders—David Cameron of Britain, François Hollande of France, and Barack Obama of the United States—sent progressives in their respective countries into a frenzy over a short list of domestic causes. First, there was the jailed oil tycoon, Khodorkovsky; Putin released him before the Pussy Riot disrupting church serviceOlympics began. Second, there were the young women who called themselves Pussy Riot, performance artists who were jailed for violating Russia’s blasphemy laws when they disrupted a religious service (photo, right) with obscene chants about God (translations were almost never shown on Western television); Putin also released them prior to the Olympics. Third, there was Russia’s Article 6.21, which was oddly described in the American press as a law against “so-called gay propaganda.” A more accurate translation of what the law forbids is promoting “non-traditional sexual relations to children.” Now, some Americans might wish that Russia took religion or homosexuality less seriously and still be struck by the fact that these are very local issues. There is something unbalanced about turning them into diplomatic incidents and issuing all kinds of threats because of them.

The second campaign against Putin has been the attempt by the outgoing Obama administration to cast doubt on the legitimacy of last November’s presidential election by implying that the Russian government somehow “hacked” it. This is an extraordinary episode in the history of manufacturing opinion. I certainly will not claim any independent expertise in cyber-espionage. But anyone who has read the public documentation on which the claims rest will find only speculation, arguments from authority, and attempts to make repetition do the work of logic.

In mid-December, the New York Times ran an article entitled “How Moscow Aimed a Perfect Weapon at the U.S. Election.” Most of the assertions in the piece came from unnamed administration sources and employees of CrowdStrike, the cybersecurity firm hired by the Democrats to investigate a hacked computer at the Democratic National Committee. They quote those who served on the DNC’s secret anti-hacking committee, including the party chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and the party lawyer, Michael Sussmann. Then a National Intelligence Council report that the government released in January showed the heart of the case: more than half of the report was devoted to complaints about the bias of RT, the Russian government’s international television network.

Again, we do not know what the intelligence agencies know. But there is no publicly available evidence to justify Arizona Senator John McCain’s calling what the Russians did “an act of war.” If there were, the discussion of the evidence would have continued into the Trump administration, rather than simply evaporating once it ceased to be useful as a political tool.

There were two other imaginary Putin scandals that proved to be nothing. In November, the Washington Post ran a blacklist of news organizations that had published “fake news” in the service of Putin, but the list turned out to have been compiled largely by a fly-by-night political activist group called PropOrNot, which had placed certain outlets on the list only because their views coincided with those of RT on given issues. Then in December, the Obama administration claimed to have found Russian computer code it melodramatically called “Grizzly Steppe” in the Vermont electrical grid. This made front-page headlines. But it was a mistake. The so-called Russian code could be bought commercially, and it was found, according to one journalist, “in a single laptop that was not connected to the electric grid.”

***

Democrats have gone to extraordinary lengths to discredit Putin. Why? There really is such a thing as a Zeitgeist or spirit of the times. A given issue will become a passion for all mankind, and certain men will stand as symbols of it. Half a century ago, for instance, the Zeitgeist was about colonial liberation. Think of Martin Luther King, traveling to Norway to collect his Nobel Peace Prize, stopping on the way in London to give a talk about South African apartheid. What did that have to do with him? Practically: Nothing. Symbolically: Everything. It was an opportunity to talk about the moral question of the day.

We have a different Zeitgeist today. Today it is sovereignty and self-determination that are driving passions in the West. The reason for this has a great deal to do with the way the Cold War conflict between the United States and Russia ended. In the 1980s, the two countries were great powers, yes; but at the same time they were constrained. The alliances they led were fractious. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, their fates diverged. The United States was offered the chance to lay out the rules of the world system, and accepted the offer with a vengeance. Russia was offered the role of submitting to that system.

Just how irreconcilable those roles are is seen in Russia’s conflict with Ukraine two years ago. According to the official United States account, Russia invaded its neighbor after a glorious revolution threw out a plutocracy. Russia then annexed Ukrainian naval bases in the Crimea. According to the Russian view, Ukraine’s democratically elected government was overthrown by an armed uprising backed by the United States. To prevent a hostile NATO from establishing its own naval base in the Black Sea, by this account, Russia had to take Crimea, which in any case is historically Russian territory. Both of these accounts are perfectly correct. It is just that one word can mean something different to Americans than it does to Russians. For instance, we say the Russians don’t believe in democracy. But as the great journalist and historian Walter Laqueur put it, “Most Russians have come to believe that democracy is what happened in their country between 1990 and 2000, and they do not want any more of it.”

The point with which I would like to conclude is this: we will get nowhere if we assume that Putin sees the world as we do. One of the more independent thinkers about Russia in Washington, D.C., is the Reaganite California congressman Dana Rohrabacher. I recall seeing him scolded at a dinner in Washington a few years ago. A fellow guest told him he should be ashamed, because Reagan would have idealistically stood up to Putin on human rights. Rohrabacher disagreed. Reagan’s gift  as a foreign policy thinker, he said, was not his idealism. It was his ability to set priorities, to see what constituted the biggest threat. Today’s biggest threat to the U.S. isn’t Vladimir Putin.

So why are people thinking about Putin as much as they do? Because he has become a symbol of national self-determination. ...Putin’s conduct is bound to win sympathy even from some of Russia’s enemies, the ones who feel the international system is not delivering for them. Generally, if you like that system, you will consider Vladimir Putin a menace. If you don’t like it, you will have some sympathy for him. Putin has become a symbol of national sovereignty in its battle with globalism. That turns out to be the big battle of our times. As our last election shows, that’s true even here.

Written by Christopher Caldwell

Christopher Caldwell is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard. A graduate of Harvard College, his essays, columns, and reviews appear in the Claremont Review of Books, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times Book Review, the Spectator (London), Financial Times, and numerous other publications. He is the author of Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West, and is at work on a book about post-1960s America.

This article was originally published in Imprimis, March 2017, Volume 46, Number 3. It is reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.

The photos and links used in this article did not appear in  Imprimis, but were added here for the enjoyment of our readers at HaciendaPublishing.com.

Copyright ©2017 Hillsdale College

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Comments on this post

In defense of the Putin-Trump alliance!

Dr. Faria, both essays were brilliant and capture the essence of Putin’s governance. I’m not convinced, though, that past events are pertinent in the world that has been changing throughout the time periods cited.

This is a far different world today. Everything is changing radically. Colonialism and nation-building are unworkable and passe. There are no longer world power struggles nor traditional world powers maintaining a shaky balance; in that regard, with the EU disintegrating, the Islamic overwhelming migrations, and the diminution of nation’s military— including those of the USA— conflagrations like WWs I & II will never happen again. And what would it serve and how could major invasions be done? Furthermore what advantage would it be to any country to wage nuclear war against another and be wiped out itself? Today’s weaponry “force multipliers” obviate large forces— but to what avail?

No other nation is— or can be— the USA.  Thus, why not let indigenous nationalism— including Russia’s— re-evolve on its own? Like the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, let the countries go back to their inherent nationalist statehoods instead of trying to unify a wonderfully disparate world into an impossible singular mezclado?

Trump and Putin should not be enemies (as media claim), but all leaders, including China, should come to the conclusion that aggressiveness is for naught and that individualism benefits all. Personally, I doubt there will ever be another world-wide conflagration, especially when all countries exist cooperatively. Too bad I won't live long enough to witness that.

Don Horacio, aka Col. Chenoweth, Sr., USMCR Ret. Col. Avery Chenoweth Sr. has an A.B. in Art History from Princeton and a MFA from the University of Florida. He has been an advertising executive, author, and cinematographer. With the rank of Colonel, Chenoweth served in the U.S. military, attended the Naval War College, fought in Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War, and was awarded the Legion of Merit.
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Dr. Faria,
I personally agree with both Caldwell and Stolinsky in their analysis. The globalists have the same problem the "World Federalists” had at an earlier time. That is,"Who will watch the Watchers"? Do we really want to trust the caviar gulping jet set from Davos? That seems even more dangerous than going along with the arrogant centrists at the EU. Both Putin and Trump are the antidote to rule by the distant elite from their magic kingdoms.

Stolinsky smells a rat and so do I. We backed Yeltsin's election very heavily and that didn't lead to war. The Obama excuse is very carefully worded indeed. I agree with Trump that Russia is a good partner for eradicating ISIS. I also
believe that, if need be, Trump will defend the eastern NATO nations more effectively than Hillary could possibly do.

Wallace Schwam, MD is a retired internist with interests in geriatrics and pharmacology who trained at Duke University. He rated expert in marksmanship in the Army and continues to enjoy hunting and tactical training with handgun, rifle and shotgun. 

Putin in his own words and actions!

To my question of whether Putin is our enemy? I intimated that he was certainly an enemy of the globalists. But is he an enemy of Western Civilization and the United States?

My friend Greg Williams of Macon has sent the the following note followed by a video everyone should watch. Who else has the guts to tell the truth with such conviction?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlaHubJ-fKk&app=desktop

Doc, Nothing to add here except gut, instinct and speculation. I don't see Putin or Russia as a military enemy at this point, but rather an ally for certain shared interest such as quelling the radical Moslem uprising. Personally, I've always had respect for the Russians, but never completely trusted them because they don't have a since of humor...lol

I happened to have the opportunity to work with a Russian computer programmer from NY. in the early 90's who defected from the Russian Air Force, so he said. He was stereo typically dry. Imagine what it sounds like when a Russian pronounces 'pull sheet'. I know we can't believe everything we hear, but I thought I'd share this in the event you had not seen or heard. Later Greg Williams.
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Dr. Faria: I apologize for not yet stating my views, but I will, as soon as I get the chance. I've been swamped completing other projects. All the comments have been excellent with an excellent panoramic view of informed opinions.

Regardless of what we as Americans think of Vladimir Putin, his popularity in Russia exceeds 80%; and his actions in the Crimea, which the Russians believe belonged to them, and not the Ukraine (I disagree on this), is equated only in exultation and national pride with Russia's victory over the Nazis in "The Great Patriotic War" (World War II, Eastern front). And here we had Obama for 8 years! In the US today, only Donald Trump has a chance to achieve as much for the U.S. as Vladimir Putin has done for Russia. Thanks to all for the comments!--- MAF

Hot spots 'round the world!

Debka 074 (March 23, 2017)— The MSM (except for the BBC) continues the celebrity blather and biased attacks on Trump, but have not reported serious news around the world, particularly in Syria. Consider the incident of the four Israeli F-15s jets lightning air strike, destroying a convoy of trucks from Iran loaded with “high-tech electronic and radar equipment that would have improved the accuracy of Hizbollah’s ballistic batteries near Palmyra in northeastern Syria.”

Incidentally, Palmyra, which has been greatly damaged, if not destroyed, by ISIS vandalism and savagery was  a great ancient Roman client kingdom ruled by the legendary Queen Xenobia who led a rebellion against her Roman masters.  The Romans had been protectors and allies of the Palmyrenes against the Sassanian Persians. (Echoes of today?) After Zenobia’s rebellion was crushed,  the Queen was captured and taken to Rome as a prize for the Triumph of the great Roman Emperor Aurelian, the man who ended the (Third) Century of Crisis, the “Restorer of the Empire.”

But be that as it may, the ISIS terrorists have caused terrible damage, if not near complete destruction of numerous ancient sites such as Palmyra in Syria and Timbuktu in the trans-Sahara caravan route in Mali, a UNESCO world Heritage Site — not to mention several other sites, some that have been partially reconstructed in Iraq (from ancient Mesopotamia). Where is the liberal outrage? Reaction has been sedate by the MSM and academia, compared to the expressed outrage attributed to Western countries and the United States in particular, supposedly via carbon emission and global warming!

The Israeli jets also evaded Russian electronic surveillance and destroyed with an Arrow 3 anti-missile the SA-22 anti-Air missile launched by the Shiite Syrians by orders of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, supreme commander of Iranian forces in Iraq, Syria and the Lebanese-Israeli and Yemeni. This Soleimani may be the hand-picked (by Supreme Iranian Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) next president of Iran.

Another hot incident, the ISIS tunnel offensive in Damascus — what an embarrassment for Bashar Assad. Only the Russians keep that Syria dictator in place; otherwise he would have long been toppled, like the Saddam’s statue in Iraq.--- MAF
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Again, still no acknowledgment that a “State of War” still exists between N. Korea and the U.S. and S. Korea— 64 years war so far. The U.S. supposedly has 90 nuclear subs with multiple nuke-tipped war heads on station in the north Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and Indian Ocean. Plus other nukes for Russian or Iranian counter attacks.

The “Force Multipliers” in weaponry now— i.e., the Electromagnetic Rail guns now being outfitted on Navy ships to augment the Tomahawk missiles, drones, and other force multipliers at present are more than any enemy could contend with. All of the Chinese-held South China Sea islands and strong points could be obliterated in one fell swoop from distant ships, planes, drones, and cyber weaponry.

Furthermore, a single incident— unlike Sarajevo in 1914— would not necessarily start a war. It would be negotiated and defused before it could expand. It is beyond me why the Navy at Norfolk did not sent flights of F-14s or F-18s to do close-in flyovers of the Russian Intelligence gathering ship off the East Cost as the Ruskies did to ours over the Baltic * and Black seas. (Note: it is inaccurate to call this a “Spy Ship.” Spying is covert; this sort of intelligence is overt). Or, why the president did not invite the Ruskie ship to come to a port and be the Nation’s guest? That would have startled the world, since we are not at war with Russia. For what they are worth comments by Col. Avery Chenoweth, USMCR Ret.

* Navy Times, March 8, 2017: The Navy’s 5 Most dangerous at-sea deployments.

The pair of Russian fighters were coming in fast and very, very close. They were not the first Russian Sukhoi SU-24 Fencer aircraft that sailors aboard the destroyer Donald Cook had ever seen -- but they were certainly the closest... A second, maybe two, before what might have been a collision, the Russian jets pulled up, screaming over the Donald Cook’s superstructure and fantail just 75 feet overhead. The dramatic moments were captured as part of the extended videos of the events released by the Navy.

The April 2016 incident that occurred in the Baltic Sea near the shore of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad drew condemnation from the U.S. Navy and the Pentagon, which called Russia’s actions “unsafe and unprofessional.” These kinds of actions, Navy officials said, could lead to a miscalculation and accidents.

It was one of numerous recent encounters with the Russians and other adversaries that underscore a new reality for the Navy and the sailors it deploys: This is not the peacetime Navy anymore. The rise is new dangers around the globe mean sailors are now operating under almost constant threat of attack...

Glaring errors in Caldwell's article

The article by Christopher Caldwell is well written but contains a series of flaws in analysis of events. The most glaring is his analysis (and Putin’s) that the “dark period” of post-Russian communism (1990—2000) was caused solely by the transfer of Russia’s natural resources into the hands of KGB- connected communists billionaires. I recall watching a documentary on the period in which several young small business persons were interview concerning the problems of starting a business in the “new Russia.”

They traveled with one such budding entrepreneur as he attempted to navigate the still existing bureaucracy along an endless, frustrating journey that never seemed to end. Watching the existing wheels of the bureaucracy operate was worse than watching paint dry. It was reminiscent of a study of why Latin American countries are so poor, which also found that the main impediment was state bureaucracies. Mountains of paperwork, endless delays and insurmountable fees and taxes destroyed any effort for economic growth in both situations.

Von Mises and F.A. Hayek spent their careers demonstrating that for the free market to be successful, it was necessary for the government to get out of the way. This system of bureaucratic interference has been compared to planned chaos. When the Soviet system collapsed, the country still maintained its massive bureaucratic machinery, which completely stifled the smaller businesses, which even in our country is the backbone of the free market system and its main employer. In essence, Russia was turned into a carbon copy of a Latin American economic hell.

Putin, having spent all his formative years as a communist KGB operative, had no idea how to create economic prosperity. I have always maintained that the powerful elitists money lords, purposefully saddled Russia with its communist state system to prevent it from challenging the Western elite structure. Russia at that time was just beginning to enter the industrial revolution and would have challenged the West economically in a short period. Instead, it remained stagnant for almost one hundred years— producing nothing but wars, terrorism and a massive police state.

Now that it has left its totalitarian past, it is still suffering from its infrastructure of statism— that is, a mixed (fascist) economy heavy on the side of statism. The world, since the early twentieth century, has slowly, but inexorably moved toward fascism (corporatism) and this now includes Russia and China. The problem with both Russia and China is that they have no idea how to operate a free market economy— they depend for their survival on international bankers and international financial organizations— which, ironically, detest true capitalism, but rather institute fascism. This continues to hold Russia down and prevent real competition from ever developing.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, for all his brilliance, never really understood the market system either. What he did understand is that no government can truly be a government of the people without a firm moral base, a rule of law and a constitution that is more than just an ignored piece of paper. Because the new Russia was still encased within its statist framework, a true market economy never took root. Instead, ex-KGB mobsters stole as much of the wealth as they could.

Putin, also thinking as a statist, viewed Russia’s natural resources as weapons to use against its old enemies, mainly Western Europe. The widespread use of fracking by Western Europe shattered his hold on the Europeans and he is now searching for another method of control— one he better understands— military capture of his neighbors. His moves into the Middle East has little to do with stemming the Islamic revolution, as it was the Soviet Union that trained most of these Islamic revolutionary elements in the first place. Putin wants the oil, which would hand him tremendous power in the world and return Russia’s “greatness.”

While I am sure Putin resents being dictated to by the international bodies (controlled by the elite of the West), it is more from envy than righteous anger— as he would love to head that movement for world conquest himself. As Koba says— Putin is our enemy and not our friend. While both Putin and Trump seek a return to nationhood, the difference between the two is as glaring as the difference between Hitler and Thomas Jefferson— both favored national sovereignty, but one was a totalitarian mass murder and the other a builder of a nation of free individuals.

Putin is Still Our Enemy

This article could be named “Think Outside the Sword and Shield” or “In Defense of Putin.” If the goal is to have readers consider Putin from the Russian people’s point of view, then fine. But make no mistake, there is no moral equivalency between the US and Russia, nor between President Trump and General Secretary Putin.

Putin has murdered many of his political critics and opposition from Moscow to London, whether using radiation or a bullet. Putin imprisons Russian millionaires and confiscates their money for the state.

While the West celebrated the collapse of “the evil empire,” Putin claimed it “was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” So he seeks to correct this. Thus far, he has taken Crimea and wages guerrilla warfare still in Ukraine. He buffers power with his ally Assad in Syria. Moreover, Putin’s rise to power came via Yeltsin’s backing and Putin’s likely staged Chechenia rebellion, hence giving him the excuse to gain the nationalist vote. He won 52 percent of the vote out of 11 candidates.

One must negotiate with enemies at times, as President Reagan did with the Russians on nuclear weapons. However, one does not pretend that we are not enemies. Putin has always been our enemy from his KGB/FSB days to now. He will do anything to retain power, just as his communist predecessors like Khrushchev and Stalin did including murder. He even had the constitution changed to allow him to retain his power for these 17 years.

Putin’s goals abroad are not hard to understand when you think like a cold warrior. It is only when one considers him a friend with whom our relations have been “reset” or when no action is taken after “red lines” are ignored that one is surprised. Putin respects strength and ignores countries he perceives as weak, whether due to military or political will to act.

That the left has finally recognized Putin as our enemy does not mean that we conservatives should defend Putin. Leftists have ignored USSR and Russia as our enemy since 1917. It took the alleged hacking of the DNC to make him their enemy, while we conservatives have long recognized our ideological war with socialism and communism. The war is not over, and Putin is no “symbol of self-determination.” He is our enemy.

From the left of center

It is first necessary to state that I am social liberal and fiscal conservative, and I lean more left of center in general. I too find Caldwell's comments on "how to think about Vladimir Putin" as a guide to think about Putin as a modern Russian citizen might, rather than an American raised in a representative Democracy. Make no mistake that modern Russia is NOTHING like our USA in its constitutionally based government. The US's government is based on some social, even socialist, ideas, but overall our Constitution, and thus our nation, is first and foremost based on the idea and ideology of individual freedom, where every citizen has an "inalienable" right to his/her freedom that comes from birth alone. Our Constitution gives us a strong "rule of law" that brings first the individuals rights, and attempts also to reconcile that with the majority while also attempting to protect the minority political views. It is a difficult system because it was designed to be that way, in counter to systems where an individual such as a King or tyrant can impose his/her will on the people without their consent.

It is much easier to be a countries "leader", when that leader's will and directions are all encompassing while not allowing challenge by the people. Countries like modern Russia and North Korea are such governments where the people are the last asked what the country's government should do or be like. Make no mistake that Putin's Russia is governed by a tyrant, who does as he will, and when opposition to his complete control rears up, then that opposition will be put down. That is counter to our American government and thus is in opposition to what our country's "soul" and basis for being is. Thus, Putin's points of view on how a country should be lead, and what a country is, is not in line nor in accord with our center of beliefs and acceptance.

In the US we value and demand open elections where all of the people are allowed to express their preferences, and those preferences and duly accepted as legal and binding, and the will of THE PEOPLE. That is not the case in Russia, and let us be very clear that that is not the case in Russia. So then, to declare that we should "think about" Putin in a different way than how an American should think about Putin is incongruous to that thought patterns of people raised on the ideologies of the American Constitution.

I am open to a "thought exercise" in "how to think about Vladimir Putin". As a social liberal, I welcome the challenge. However, in the final analysis I can easily see how and why Putin is not a friend of the US or our Constitution, nor is he a friend to any country that builds its government on and from its people. Putin may hold a very favorable view from Russia's citizenry, but that citizenry has been raised on the ideologies and beliefs that are contrary to government rule of the people and by the people. The USSR was NEVER a "communist" country. It claimed to be "socialist", but in actual action the government of the USSR was more a bureaucratic dictatorship than anything like being an actual "communism" or a real "socialism."Putin's Russia is a modern iteration of that government with an added twist of the countries leader as dictator.

The claimed high ratings of Putin among Russian citizens is also based on pushing an "image" to young Russians who see his dictatorial control as "powerful" and somehow meaningful in their lives. Again, that acceptance and approval is not based from knowing nor understanding the ideas of "self-determination" and "individual freedom". Even a caged bird sings is true. There was even a time in our American history when some slaves even believed that that is what they were born to be. Caldwell uses Vladimir’s popularity in Russia as something positive. I counter that, and instead view Putin's claimed popularity as indicative of the way we in the US view the will of the people, which is more in the way of how a suppressed and controlled people can come to love their treatment as long as they are not on the receiving end of stick that is directly beating them.

As for using the scourge of "Muslim extremist terrorists", that is a major problem for the whole world. However, let us not forget that Russia and the US are a MAJOR reason for the rise of these extremists. In addition, the reason for our two countries engaging those parts of the world was due to two major things, one being the acquisition of wealth and thus power through oil, or the projection of power through military actions, as both countries pursued a crazed buildup of weapons with the will to test each other in foreign lands. In this regard both the US and Russia, and former USSR, can blame themselves for creating the conditions that ignited the extremists into action.

That then comes to the Muslim refugee crisis, which again is a direct result of the actions of the USA and RUSSIA/USSR, along with European countries willingness to go along. I do have a problem with way too many refugees fleeing into European countries and then demanding to be treated like any other citizens of those countries. Refugees must be treated humanely, but they do not need to be welcomed as citizens in the countries to which they are "fleeing". IMO, which is somewhat contrary to many liberals, I still believe that refugees fleeing their Muslim majority countries and their religious and political wars should be housed in camps with proper food, cleanliness, and protection. In this way, these people can be returned to their native countries where they can begin to reconstruct their countries, their cultures, and their lives, rather than demanding to live as Syrians, Iraqis, or Kurds, etc. while living in countries that already have their own cultures such as France, Germany, or England. I digress. I bring this into my comments to explain how I view the Middle East Muslim refugee issue. In addition, I do not then conflate it and try to use it to defend Putin in an attempt to say that the enemy of my enemy makes one of them my friend.

I have believed, for decades, that the Russian people are not very different from the people in any European, American, Asian, or Middle Eastern country. It is the various governments that create the problems. In too many countries, the government is not within the people's control, or a government's elected officials act in contrary to what the people elected them to do.

In conclusion, I very much do not buy into Caldwell's attempt to salt my thinking into looking at Putin as something good and benevolent as if I am a Russian raised person who does not understand individual freedom and the right of the people to elect who represents them in their government. If Caldwell is ok with reprogramming his thinking such that he can accept something like a dictatorial Presidency in the USA, then he will and those like him will only find extreme opposition to allowing our American government to slide in that direction. I will NOT give nor sacrifice my freedom for some imagined security that a dictatorial American President tries to sell me. I'm not that far gone. I will continue to seek the fruition that our American Constitution has promised from its inception.

From the conservative Right

Both Dr. Blaylock and myself were originally very skeptical of the new Russia and Vladimir Putin, but in my case, over the years, I have come to respect the man. My articles on the topic of Russia and Putin reflect this evolution. It took many more years for Dr. Blaylock to move towards my way of thinking, and only after an exhaustive review of Putin’s words and actions over an intense period of several weeks.

But I disagree with our “left of center" DriveIt commenter on a number of points. Before I do, let me categorically state that Putin is no saint but a crafty politician, and as documented by Koba above, Putin has done some bad things that cannot be justified under any conditions. Nevertheless, Putin is a nationalist and stands for Russia, a Russian patriot first, the rest of the world is farther down the line. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for some of our recent presidents.

Three distinct articles reflect my evolution on Putin:

Review of the book Comrade J by Peter Early

Putin and the invasion of the Ukraine

Putin — The enigmatic Russian leader

Dr. Blaylock’s reevaluation came in rapid succession:

Vladimir Putin — A reinvigorated and dangerous Soviet Apparatchik?

Vladimir Putin — A threat to the Power Elite and the New World Order

A quick read of my last two articles would reveal my disagreements with DriveIt. Nevertheless, I will comment briefly.

With the First paragraph, I have not much to cavil with. Let’s say the socialism in our country came later, not with the Founders. In fact I've written an article on the subject — “A Brief History of Socialism in America,” which is posted here and searchable.

In the Second Paragraph, the comparison of Russian today with North Korea is complete hogwash. Opposition thought to be dangerous will be put down everywhere, including the U.S. — under both Democratic and moderate Republican administrations. Consider Waco under the regime of Janet Reno and Bill Clinton and Ruby Ridge under the regime of the ATF and FBI Hostage Rescue Team under George #41. Russia may be authoritarian but North Korea is totalitarian.

The Third Paragraph is only partially correct. The Russian people freely voted for Vladimir Putin and his Party. I also wrote a fairly comprehensive article on the 2012 Russian election that may be of interest. Why I disagree is obvious reading my article. It is also posted here and searchable.

In the Fourth paragraph, Putin is not a friend of any country that gets in the way of Russia’s interest. It has nothing to do with the assertion, "Putin is not a friend of the US or our Constitution, nor is he a friend to any country that builds its government on and from its people." The U.S. correctly opposed his bullying of Georgia and Ukraine, so temporarily we were opponents. But we, the U.S. and Russia, are working together in Syria against ISIS. Political wrangling and diplomacy have nothing to do with being mortal "enemies," such as at the time of the Soviet Union. The most incongruous and irrelevant statement is also made in this paragraph: “The USSR was NEVER a 'communist' country. It claimed to be 'socialist', but in actual action the government of the USSR was more a bureaucratic dictatorship than anything like being an actual 'communism' or a real 'socialism.' "

This is more nonsense in vogue with the Left, and the mantra is: “Communism has never been tried,” as if it needed another clean start! Nonsense. The Chinese, the Russians, and the Cubans did their best that could be done with collectivism to achieve communism. Che Guevara tried to do so in Cuba. Fidel Castro himself told Che that the "New Socialist Man” needed material incentives to get the little they could get with their brand of communism/socialism. Marx’s communism in which the State disappears is another nonsense, and Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and Mao, as well as Fidel knew it. It was about all total power — totalitarianism run by a Police State. They never intended to give power away and let it mystically evaporate. The Venezuelans are also trying their brand of communism, and they have all but destroyed one of the wealthier of Latin American countries, just as they did in Cuba. The North Koreans are still trying, the Stalinist purer variety. No civilized nation need to try communism anew. It is the most evil philosophy conceptualized by the envious and darkest side of human nature, passing as false altruism! If what DriveIt meant by communism is that the State that vanishes after the workers' paradise is established with the dictatorship of the proletariat, it is pure hogwash. Communism not having being tried is the biggest lie of all. It was never intended. It was all about power, just as in the USSR, China, Cambodia, Cuba, North Korea and now Venezuela!

In paragraph Five we find more nonsense. Left of center DriveIt needs to read my article on the Russian Election of 2012 cited above. Putin is genuinely popular, which irritates the American media and the internationalists, who abhor the man and treat him with less respect than they did Stalin (“Uncle Joe”), Krushchev, Brezhnev, or their darling Gorbachev.

Paragraph Six is a bag of worms that could be argued forever. Let’s just say that blaming “acquisition of wealth and oil” is another Leftist mantra. Ideology, national honor, territorial expansion, spheres of influence are also important causes for world conflict. Ditto for Paragraph Seven, which can be argued until hell freezes over.

Paragraph Eight is plagued by a major contradiction with Paragraph 4. This time the Russian people “are not very different from the people in Europe, America,” etc. Previously in Paragraph Four, with arrogant elitism, the Russian people were deemed to have a “favorable view of Putin” because “that citizenry has been raised on the ideologies and beliefs that are contrary to government rule of the people and by the people.” Which is it? we are left to wonder? Apparently the answer is that people are manipulated and molded and remolded by the government. The people are a pliable mass of dough that has been manipulated by Putin, and that is why they hold a favorable view of Putin! Frederick Bastiat has written an excellent rebuttal to this socialistic concept of the pliability of the people in his excellent little 1850 book, The Law.

In the last paragraph, though, I fully agree with left of center DriveIt that we should not sacrifice our freedom for security and that the U.S. Constitution is a document worth preserving. But it is the Republicans who revere the document and the concept of Original Intent in the spirit and intention of the founders; and it's the socialist Democrats who want to turn the document into a meaningless "living" constitution. The Democrats continuously try to subvert and bypass it. I hope, DriveIt, you keep on reading this website and learn; post your thoughts when so inspired. We can all learn by the exchange.



Diary of Dreams performs at the 2016 M’era Luna festival in Hildesheim, Germany. M’era Luna, “one of the biggest dark music events in Germany,” is held each year on the second weekend in August. Close to 25,000 people attend the festival annually to hear gothic, metal and industrial music performed on two large festival-style stages.