The late Stephen F. Cohen’s final book, War with Russia?: From Putin & Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate, is prophetic and more relevant than ever. If you have not read it, buy it asap and devour it.
I cringe at the ignorance being spewed by U.S. politicians and pundits about Vladimir Putin. He is characterized as a new Hitler and/or a new Stalin. Garbage. Those making such claims expose themselves as uneducated fools who apparently studied history by watching Hollywood movies. The demonization of Putin has been underway since 2004. Dr. Cohen’s analysis of this is salient:
“THE SPECTER OF AN EVIL-DOING VLADIMIR PUTIN HAS loomed over and undermined US thinking about Russia for at least a decade. Inescapably, it is therefore a theme that runs through this book. Henry Kissinger deserves credit for having warned, perhaps alone among prominent American political figures, against this badly distorted image of Russia’s leader since 2000: “The demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy. It is an alibi for not having one.”. . .
“the demonization of Putin has its own history. When he first appeared on the world scene as Boris Yeltsin’s anointed successor, in 1999–2000, Putin was welcomed by leading representatives of the US political-media establishment. The New York Times’ chief Moscow correspondent and other verifiers reported that Russia’s new leader had an “emotional commitment to building a strong democracy.” Two years later, President George W. Bush lauded his summit with Putin and “the beginning of a very constructive relationship.”9
But the Putin-friendly narrative soon gave away to unrelenting Putin-bashing. In 2004, Times columnist Nicholas Kristof inadvertently explained why, at least partially. Kristof complained bitterly of having been “suckered by Mr. Putin. He is not a sober version of Boris Yeltsin.” By 2006, a Wall Street Journal editor, expressing the establishment’s revised opinion, declared it “time we start thinking of Vladimir Putin’s Russia as an enemy of the United States.”10,11”
Cohen outlines succinctly the myths and realities of Vladimir Putin:
- “Putin is not the man who, after coming to power in 2000, “de-democratized” a Russian democracy established by President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s and restored a system akin to Soviet “totalitarianism.”
- “Nor did Putin then make himself a Tsar or Soviet-like “autocrat,” which means a despot with absolute power to turn his will into policy.”
- “Putin is not a Kremlin leader who “reveres Stalin” and whose “Russia is a gangster shadow of Stalin’s Soviet Union.”
- “Nor did Putin create post–Soviet Russia’s “kleptocratic economic system,” with its oligarchic and other widespread corruption. This too took shape under Yeltsin during the Kremlin’s shock-therapy “privatization” schemes of the 1990s, when the “swindlers and thieves” still denounced by today’s opposition actually emerged.”
- “Which brings us to the most sinister allegation against him: Putin, trained as “a KGB thug,” regularly orders the killing of inconvenient journalists and personal enemies, like a “mafia state boss.” This should be the easiest demonizing axiom to dismiss because there is no actual evidence, or barely any logic, to support it. And yet, it is ubiquitous. ”
I recently met an American who was living in Moscow since 1999 (he is the operations manager for a U.S. based law firm). He returned to Florida to care for his ailing mother and showed up at the local gun range to do some shooting. When I discovered where he had been living for the last 20 years I asked him, “Have you seen any changes in Russia?”
He responded by describing Russia in 2000 as a “shithole.” The kleptocrats had robbed the people and the natural wealth of Russia. But in the ensuing 22 years, there has been a dramatic turn around. New buildings, a world-class public transportation system, safe streets, first class infrastructure, and freedom.
America, along with many in Western Europe, helped loot Russia in the wake of the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Lobbyists in Washington, DC frantically signed up oligarch Russian clients starting in 1995. I know because one of those lobbyists hired me to work on the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
One of the reasons people in Washington are pissed at Putin is that he cracked down on the kleptocrats, which ended some lucrative retainers for power players on K Street in DC. “The Guardian reported in 2008 that “‘oligarchs’ from the era of former president Boris Yeltsin have been purged by the Kremlin”.
I believe another factor explaining the West’s loathing of Putin is that he is viewed as the emblem of Russia’s strong condemnation of homosexuality:
Nearly three-quarters of Russians believe that homosexually is morally unacceptable, more than disapprove of other hot-button issues such as extramarital affairs, gambling and abortion.
The numbers come from newly released data from the Pew Research Center, which surveyed Russians on their moral attitudes in spring 2013. Russian attitudes toward homosexuality have been at the forefront given the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Just eight months before the games, Russia’s governmental body, the Duma, passed a law making it illegal to distribute homosexual “propaganda” to minors, which includes staging gay pride events and advocating for gay rights.
I realize by writing this article I am immediately accused of being a tool of the Russians. I have one response, пошел на хуй. (Look it up.) Address the substance of my argument. The current trajectory of U.S. policy vis-a-vis Russia is perilous and foolish. Our ability to bully and coerce Russia has passed. We should follow the example of Ronald Reagan, who treated the Russians as equals while standing firm on American principles.