What if Vladimir Putin was a nice guy?

The fundamental fallacy which is committed by almost everyone is this: “A and B hate each other, therefore one is good and the other is bad.”
        ==Bertrand Russell

Keith Gessen, an analyst of Russian politics, says Vladimir Putin is definitely not a nice guy.  He also says that, even if he were, his goals and policies wouldn’t be that much different from what they are.

Russia will, one hopes, eventually change its leadership, but it is not going to be able to change its geographic location, or its historic associations, or its longstanding wish to keep the West—which hasn’t always crossed the border bearing flowers—at bay.  And that holds many lessons for the future.

Let me be clear: The actual Putin is not at all nice.  To take just a few examples:

140801173429-exp-gps-0803-take-00030629-horizontal-gallery1) between 1999 and 2002 he prosecuted a vicious war in Chechnya, complete with rape, torture, filtration camps and mass graves;

2) in 2003, he jailed his leading rival, the oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and, when the initial sentence was almost up, extended it;

3) in 2000-01, shortly after assuming the presidency, he oversaw a government takeover of the country’s main independent television channels, chasing their owners into exile;

4) over time he has enriched his friends to an astonishing degree, such that many of the leading billionaires in Russia owe their riches directly to their proximity to Putin;

5) it is becoming increasingly the consensus view that the September 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk [attributed to Chechen terrorists] were the work of the secret services, and it is hard to imagine that Putin, as the prime minister of Russia and, until just a month before, the head of the FSB, would not have known about them;

6) in his third term he has unleashed the worst aspects of Russian street politics, mobilizing anti-Western, anti-gay and anti-liberal resentment to shore up his domestic popularity; and

7) in 2004, supposedly as an anti-terror measure after the terrible seizure of a school in Beslan by Chechen fighters, he canceled elections for regional governors, replacing them with appointees.

via Keith Gessen – POLITICO magazine.

His indictment could also have included the murder of journalists, such as Anna Politkovskaya.

But, as Gessen pointed out, any Russian leader—and certainly any of Putin’s rivals—would have been a Russian nationalist who would have tried to restore Russia to the status of a superpower, who would have cracked down on internal opposition and who, given the experience of Russia and the USSR in the 20th century, would have resisted the expansion of Western military power to Russia’s borders.

Probably the worst thing Putin has done in the past year is to encourage and arm the separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine.  The rebel forces are made up of local miners, veterans and criminals, volunteer Cossacks and Caucasians, and Russian regulars.

Where have we seen some of these people before?  The answer is: Transnistria in 1992 and Abkhazia in 1992-93.  At the time, we heard the same denials of involvement from the Russian higher-ups (not one of whom was named Putin), followed by the same obvious proof of their complicity. 

Some of the volunteer heroes were even the same: Igor Strelkov, leader of the initial invasion of eastern Ukraine in April 2014, got his first taste of combat in Transnistria in 1992.  Shamil Basaev, later the military hero of the Chechen rebellion, got his first taste of combat in Abkhazia that year; his later war, the Chechen one, was started by Boris Yeltsin.

via Keith Gessen – POLITICO Magazine.

Gessen wrote that, with hindsight, he sees it was a mistake for the Clinton administration to attack Russia’s historic ally, Serbia, without consulting Russia.  Tsar Nicholas II declared war on Germany and Austria in 1914 in defense of Serbia.

It was also a mistake, he wrote, to propose bringing Ukraine into NATO without consulting Russia or considering Russia’s security interests.

And he didn’t even mention the State Department’s spending $5 billion over 12 years to influence Ukrainian politics, the violent coup that overthrew the Kiev government, the Ukrainian neo-Nazi militias and the plans by global corporations to buy up Ukrainian assets cheap.

worldaccordingtoputinVladimir Putin is sometimes compared with Adolf Hitler.   In 1938, Hitler’s Germany annexed Austria, as Putin’s Russia annexed Crimea, and then demanded Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland border region in order to protect ethnic Germans there, as Putin is trying to protect ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.

By analogy, the next step would be for Putin to attempt to conquer all of Ukraine and then to attack Poland.  But I don’t see any actual evidence that these are Putin’s intentions.

Putin’s stated goals are (1) to force the West to recognize Russia as a great power and take its interests into account, (2) to create an economic union of the principal former Soviet republics and (3) to block the expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders.  None of these things is a threat to world peace.

I don’t think Putin is a new Hitler.  I don’t think he is a new Stalin, either.   Putin is a cultural and religious conservative and a Russian nationalist.  I think his goal is to put Russia back on the path it was on prior to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

LINK

What If Putin Were Nice? by Keith Gessen for POLITICO.  (Hat tip to Rod Dreher)

How Vladimir Putin Rules by Stephen Kotkin for Foreign Affairs.

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