History tends to put things into perspective for me when I consider the events occurring in the Ukraine.
That’s because I think Vladmir Putin is an angry man who feels betrayed by his own country. A man who is bent on making things right. And by “right” I mean returning to Soviet-style communist rule and reassembly of the former Soviet republics.
Putin, 61, was a KGB officer – that’s the Russian equivalent of the CIA – for 16 years. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel before leaving the KGB to get into politics in 1991. He moved back to his hometown of Saint Petersburg.
Five years later he moved to Moscow to join President Boris Yeltsin’s administration. That’s where he shot up the political ladder, becoming acting president just three years later when Yeltsin resigned in 1999. Just a year later, Putin won his first presidential election.
He served as president from 2000 to 2008. The Russian constitution precludes a third consecutive term as president. Dmitry Medvedev won the 2008 precedential election. Then Medvedev appointed Putin as prime minister. In 2011, Putin changed the rules, lengthening the presidential term from four to six years.
Shortly after that, Putin announced he would seek a third, non-consecutive term as president. He was elected to a six-year term in March 2012.
It seems to me Putin was really not happy about the end of the Cold War.
I think he viewed the actions of Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev as counter to Russia’s best interest.
Especially Gorbachev, because he was the one who acquiesced when President Ronald Reagan admonished him to “tear down this wall” in reference to the Berlin Wall in June 1987.
The Berlin Wall was built by communists in August 1961 to keep Germans from escaping communist-dominated East Berlin into democratic West Berlin. The 12-foot concrete wall extended for a hundred miles, surrounding West Berlin.
The wall was a symbol of the Cold War between the U.S. and the USSR.
Gorbachev is remembered for his policies of openness and a willingness to restructure Russia’s strategic arms. He made big changes in the economy and party leadership – perestroika. He initiated a policy which allowed public access to information after decades of government censorship – glasnost.
He abandoned the war in Afghanistan and started withdrawing troops.
Gorbachev also moved to end the Cold War. In the late 1980s, he wouldn’t provide military support to the Soviet Union's former satellite states. Multiple communist regimes toppled.
He met with Reagan in a series of summit conferences and when the Berlin Wall finally came down, it was perceived as the end of the Cold War and a U.S. victory.
The Iron Curtain had fallen.
By December 1991, the USSR formally ceased to exist. A declaration from the Supreme Soviet acknowledged the independence of the 12 republics of the former Soviet Union, and created the Commonwealth of Independent States. His office extinct, Gorbachev resigned and handed over the Soviet nuclear missile launching codes to Yeltsin.
Yeltsin promised to transform Russia into a free-market economy. He instituted price liberation and privatization programs.
Of course, when he did that, a lot of the new privatized wealth fell into the hands of a few oligarchs. There was widespread corruption, inflation, lots of social problems and an economic collapse that the country is still recovering from today.
Lots of Yeltsin’s political allies turned against him, culminating in a constitutional crisis in 1993. Yeltsin ordered the dissolution of parliament, so the parliament tried to throw him out of office.
Yeltsin convinced the military to remain on his side and warded off his detractors by shelling the Russian White House. Some 187 people died. Then Yeltsin scrapped the existing constitution, banned political opposition and forged ahead with his economic plans.
He introduced a new constitution that gave him stronger powers. It was approved by referendum in December 1993.
(Much thanks to historyplaces.com for much of the above history lesson.)
Putin had a front seat to all of this.
My sense of the guy is that if he could wave a magic wand, he would return to the time when the USSR ruled all 12 republics with an iron fist.
Remember, he was a KGB guy. And he was on the sidelines while most of this was going on.
Virtually everything he has done since gaining power has been regressive. He is turning away from freedom and liberty and back toward authoritarianism.
I think that’s why he’s doing what he’s doing today.
I think he absolutely wants to turn the clock back. And it wouldn’t surprise me to see him attempt to gobble up those wayward former Soviet republics, one trumped-up political crisis at a time.
Now I know lots of folks are highly critical of President Obama with regard to Putin’s antics, but frankly, I don’t see how there’s much anyone can do about it at this point.
Now, whether weak foreign policy got us to this point in the first place is a completely different argument. But it’s also a futile argument. We’re here now. What do we do?
Some say we should get tough by tossing Russian out of the G8 Summit. OK, but Putin probably doesn’t want to be in the G8 in the first place. Do you think he cares if it turns into a G7 Summit?
Some people say we should impose sanctions.
Sure, but Putin will slow or halt the supply of oil to Europe, creating even more economic turmoil in a place where unemployment is rampant and economic growth is flailing.
And damage from sanctions cut both ways. It’s one thing to impose sanctions on a place like Iran – quite another on a place like Russia. Russia is a huge European trading partner. If European countries impose sanctions, it hurts their export and import balance and costs them jobs.
Besides, Russia already is threatening to freeze the assets of any foreign businesses doing business in Russia if their country of origin imposes sanctions.
Any one of those eventualities could create global economic havoc.
I saw a cartoon caricature of a shirtless Putin spinning the earth like a basketball on his middle finger.
I think that about sums it up.
And unfortunately, there’s little anybody can do about it.