Are the Russians the Real Aggressors?
Who is Vladimir Putin?
Putin was born in October of 1952. He is 62 years old. He was born to a Russian family that apparently knew the pain of World War II well. He had two brothers who were older than he, both dying before the second world war. One of the two, Victor, succumbed to Diphtheria during the siege of Leningrad, the other, Albert died a few months after birth . Both parents suffered mightily at the hands of the German dictator. Putin’s father, Vladimir Spiridonovich, was drafted as a submariner, which is about as tough on the nerves as military assignments can get(especially during those times when this technology was new.) He later served as a member of the internal police, demolitions squad and was severely wounded during the second world war at the front. His mother Maria Ivanova was a factory worker.
His grandparents have no notable history other than what is common for Russians who lived during the very difficult times of Stalin’s rule. However, his maternal grandfather, Spiridon Ivanovanich was a chef who cooked for Vladimir Lenin’s wife, and on a few occasions for Joseph Stalin. His maternal grandmother died at the hands of German occupiers during the war; his uncles disappeared at the Russian front, events which would not likely have left the boy Vladimir untouched emotionally by the personal tragedy of that terrible war.
Although he was brought up under the communist doctrine on religion, yet, by all accounts Vladimir Putin is a devout Christian, often professing a deep faith in the Russian Orthodox tradition, a religion which particularly emphasizes compassion as the cornerstone of faith. Though his father may have been a “dedicated” atheist who lived under the stern communist apprehension of mass religion, it seems his son Vladimir was perhaps influenced by his mother’s faith which, apparently, survived the Communists .
As a boy Putin was rowdy, and apparently often tried to emulate a popular screen characterization of an intelligence officer. Putin quickly learned Judo and other martial arts becoming strong and athletic in the process. This aggressive side of his persona is also quite often made visible by his public demeanor, and it seems the Russian voters are impressed since his popularity is quite high; he seems personally dedicated to law and order, and the Russian people seem to have the same desire-perhaps there they feel they can find individual justice -something elusive in their turbulent internal history. Putin strongly opposes the use of capital punishment though the majority of Russians still want it. (you can find much more about him at wikipedia)
Putin’s political history is extensive- about the only thing he has done in his life is to serve the public. Of importance is that he was a KGB agent fully aware of the international scope of Russia’s history. Whether he was a great KBG agent is disputed. There were times in his career where he seemed to be a menial stamp jockey for the service. Yet he was fully consumed by Russia’s dealings with the West, and especially on the commercial front.
It is notable that he himself seemed to have no confidence in the old Soviet Union, something which is quite evident in many of his speeches- Putin is no communist, and most probably the exact opposite. Yet he was a loyal public servant all of his life, and walked a very fine line at times between loyalist and traitor. We should note carefully that he resigned from the KGB when he had realized that they intended to overthrow Michael Gorbachev on the very next day. From this we must conclude that Putin was indeed prone to a democratic Russian state from a very early point in his career, and though deeply loyal to the KGB, he was still able to maintain a personal conscience and an obligation to what he thought was the greater good of the Russian state.
Even after the fall of the Soviet state, Putin maintained his intelligence activities but this time for the purpose of promoting free enterprise.
For a long time he was hired as a front man for the Mayor of St Petersburg seeking to entice western businesses with an appetite for expansion into the new Russian state. He had gone from an intelligence officer to an international marketing specialist of sorts. Having served in East Germany before its fall he had apparently acquired some skills in the language and customs of Western Europeans and used that experience to help promote closer business ties to the newly capitalist Russian Federation.
Boris Yeltsin’people saw in Putin a man with the right views at the time, and so assigned him to take a position in the lower level of the government. Placed in the Property Management division, he was charged with the task of transferring foreign property from the former Soviet Union to the new Russian Federation. Thus his knowledge of international affairs and systems was once again put to use; his connections to, and knowledge of western entities also probably increased. Later on he would become chief of the FSB under Yeltsin, which was the new incarnation of the old KGB.
It is quite possible that he never actually left the intelligence field altogether. Perhaps he was charged with more than just transferring property while working at the property office, since his assumption of head of the FSB was abrupt and had little precedence in his career path. He went from property manager to leader of the intelligence service, a long jump so it is possible he was doing a little more than stated for Boris Yeltsin, perhaps listening where ears were needed.
From 1997 on, he rose very quickly through the ranks. He assumed full power after the resignation of President Yeltsin while serving in the less powerful position of Russian prime minister in 1999. At the time Yeltsin was accused of corruption and once again Putin would have to decide between the lesser justice and the greater good. He quickly cleared Yeltsin from any possible prosecution.
Being that he was present, and probably working in a quasi-intelligence position of sorts at the time, he was able to see first-hand what was needed to bring the Russian system to a better purpose while serving under Yeltsin during the highly volatile period of Russia’s early formation, when corruption was rampant, and almost necessary since laws were not yet clearly established, or prosecuted in the courts.
In a state like Russia at that time, corruption is sometimes the only way to anything even remotely pragmatic, yet Putin seemed from the start inclined to those principles promoted by Gorbachev, Perestroika and Glasnost, openness and free markets, and kept a long eye on the prize of a free and well regulated democracy.
Much like Libertarian Ron Paul is in the United States, an idealist with good intentions, Putin too must have realized that ideals take time and effort to be put into practice, and as Ron Paul has to deal with a sometimes rowdy self serving congress not usually too idealistic, so too Putin had to deal with the Russian body politic which was hardly in a position to be idealistic, and oftentimes it was easier and less costly in the long run to make do with what was available than requiring immediate change, if even that was the ultimate objective. While Ron Paul’s ideas are targeted towards an advanced democracy, Putin’s ideas and practice was targeted to a nascent, still forming democracy. In some ways we can think of Putin as the Russian counterpart of an American Libertarian from what we can see. He seems to respect personal freedom for as long as it does not impinge upon the sanctity of the Laws which protect everyone’s freedom. Putin however, is dealing with a very young state, albeit a very old people, and so the problems of personal freedom versus the integrity of the state may be quite different than what a consummate Libertarian might face in the United States.
In a nascent state, that is in the early stages of consolidation, personal power, and reach, as well as immediate force is often the determining factor between success and failure of an implementation. Putin’s connections to the secret service with all its apparent powers must have lent effectiveness to his power of persuasion, especially if he really had been listening and noting all that was said while at the property management office. Inside knowledge always gets respect in every government, and there is little doubt that he had inside knowledge to leverage his opinions, and implement his strategies.
What is notable in Putin however, and should not be disputed by this time, is that he really seems to believe in the Free Market system, at least his history, actions and dialogue support this conclusion. But like many Libertarians he feels that this Free Market system-which seeks to be fair to everyone in the market, while giving no one a political advantage- is easily corrupted and that maintaining the Free Market system can only be accomplished by thorough diligence over a very long period of time.
We are not saying that Putin is a Libertarian, but that given time, in an advanced democracy like ours, his fundamental impulse could well evolve in that direction. It is easy to understand his defense of religion, for example, when you consider that under communism it was banned altogether. Putin does seem inclined, despite the bad press in the West, to allow expression, as long as it is not disruptive. He is a staunch conservative by all appearances, at least from our vantage point in the Western hemisphere.
The habit of personal discipline is a trait that takes time to build in any society and only by long insistence can these traits be expected to exist in the Free Market system-you have to train the performers well before they can appear in the circus where their true talents can become visible to all the world-for even freedom must have form, just as all good games, must have rules.
Battles against the Russian Oligarchy
Putin’s first major battles were to be with the powerful capitalists, the so called Russian “Oligarchy” which had laid claim to most of Russia’s wealth, and he was to somehow bring them into law and order however he could. Once again, his experience at the property management office could not have hurt his cause.
A long story short, he cleaned up the Russian Business Oligarchy(in most ways), bringing them under the control of the nation, but at the cost of leaving them with substantial power, money, and influence. The so called “grand bargain” between Putin and the “Oligarchy” left the capitalist elite still very powerful and rich, but managed to channel that power and wealth into the legal system of the nation. Perhaps we should say here that in all democracies there will be those few wealthy elite who direct large sums of money and resources to wherever they have to go, but making certain that ultimately the nation is enriched by these elite capitalist elements, and not undermined, is an absolute requirement for the stability and vitality of a nation. In the end everyone must serve the nation to some extent, even the elite, and if they fail to do so, they too are ultimately expendable-or they must be rehabilitated, which is what Putin managed to do.
The Russian Federation
Russia has suffered centuries of corruption on all levels, and it was no small task to bring the system into a centralized legal system. Putin’s main objectives here seem again to be the establishment of a working, honest market on the way to an ideal democratic state. However, being pragmatic, or so he seems, there are times when he will himself put into law whatever he feels is needed. For example he did not prosecute Yeltsin on corruption charges probably not so much as an act of loyalty to his former boss, but because it would have consumed too many resources at the time, and the Russian nation was already in deep despair.
At around that same time Putin minimized the power of the various states, making certain that the central government was the absolute political entity in the state, as was the wish of Abraham Lincoln for the United States. On assuming power, Putin very quickly canceled any prior agreements with the federated entities within the Russian state. Putin believed in the absolute authority of the Federal Government and intended to make certain that this power was not in any way usurped or minimized by any particular coalition of Russian states. In most ways he had little choice but to pull all states to a center authority, if he was to maintain the Russian state at all, remembering that this state was still in its formative period.
The Russian Federation consists of some eighty smaller states with differing populations and ethnic groups. Keeping a nation like this, with so large an area together, was not going to be easy under any system other than a strong centralized Union. Any attempts at a true federation would have probably resulted in disaster for Russia, fragmenting the nation into small unsustainable elements that would have quickly found themselves at war with one another-it would have sent Russia back to the stone age.
His actions in the West
In his dealings with the West Putin has been forthright but tough and pragmatic. If we remove the propaganda that we are daily bombarded with by private interests we see that Putin for the most part was as honest as he could have been.
When it came to Georgia, his partner Dimitri Medvedev chose to invade and occupy two rebellious Georgian states that had declared their independence from Georgia. But the real reason behind this military move, something not usually mentioned in the press, was that the Georgian president of the time, Mikheil Saakashvili, began to entertain the notion of making Georgia a part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization(NATO). The Russians have in the two world wars lost nearly fifty million lives. There is absolutely no question as to why they would not want a hostile nation on their border, especially since that whole region is unstable and prone to turn against Russia. Allowing Georgia to turn to NATO gives Armenia and Azerbaijan the same right and tendency, something that would get NATO all the way into the Caspian sea from NATO member Turkey. The Russians were not likely to let that happen as this might entail NATO ships touring the Caspian sea.
This was the strategic reality at the time, and all one would have to do is look to the history of Russia to see why it is that Joseph Stalin himself decided to occupy many of the Eastern European nations. It is well understood that after the German invasion the Russians wanted a buffer between them and their violent neighbors, the Europeans who have thrice invaded Russia with catastrophic consequences for the Russian people. These historic realities may be softly impressed on Western minds, but its not that way with the Russians, who had to endure those slaughters.
The same pretty much goes for the Ukraine. It is not that Russia wants the Ukraine so badly as it does not want the Ukraine to become a threat to Russia. The idea of Right wing extremists of the same mind as Adolph Hitler creating a nation hostile to its neighbor, and armed and supported by the power and might of the United States and Europe did not appeal to Putin. There is no mystery here. What’s more is that in both cases there was little strategic choice for Putin-either act to stop this before it gets out of hand, or explain to one hundred fifty million angry Russians why a troubled partner and sister nation, as the Ukraine is most often viewed by Russians, was allowed to turn into a hostile threat on the Western border. There was nothing presentable in having right wing extremists establish a threatening nation on the Russian border.
Too often free nations who have internal economic problems produce self serving political elements that get the idea that they can auction off their own nation to the highest military bidder, using their strategic geographical location as currency. It was a lucrative idea for Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia and the right wing extremists of the Ukraine to offer to move their respective nations to NATO with all military benefits, but this was seen as a direct threat by the Russians. It might have even been seen as a direct insult-in the latter case- considering the slaughter endured the last time an extreme right wing government invaded Russia.
The Russians could care less if either the Ukraine or Georgia were to develop economic ties with the West, in all probability they would actually welcome this, but this was not the problem. It was unlikely that the Russians would sit back and allow NATO military ties to develop as the underlying price for the western economic support, and this is exactly why Russia is involved in either of these nation’s internal divisions. It is true that in Ukraine there are ethnic Russians to be considered as well, and some Russian loyalists were also to be found in Georgia(not forgetting that Joseph Stalin himself was from Georgia.) But the true reason for the military actions on these nations is that the Russians considered them a military threat, and a nation that has lost so many lives in recent history would not be expected to tolerate any threats of this kind if they can negate them using careful military interventions. In both cases we can see that the Russians have tried to make minimal incursions with minimal collateral damage.
The truth here seems to be that the present leaders of the West do not know the history of Russia, or don’t respect it, but either way that does not seem to us to be a flaw of Putin’s. The West is plagued through and through with special interests. This is the price that all of us who live in the West pay for freedom. These special interests will often develop ideas and objectives that have little in stride with the common good and very often will easily sacrifice large portions of a free nation’s wealth and resources to achieve a special objective of interest.
Putin, to his credit, has stood against the unbridled licence given to special interests. He has spoken against it, and has opposed it openly at times. Though the leaders of many nations in the West profess their loyalty and love of the people they are supposed to be serving through representation you would not know this by their actions. Five wars later and the Obama administration is still fighting in the Middle East as if the United States and its people have endless resources to spare so that a few special interests can have their way.
Yet the United States is deeply in debt, its economy is buckling even as the Federal Reserve is spewing trillions of dollars into the economy, though credit is endless and nearly unregulated, and the cost of this, still not visible, is huge and will come to be called up to account in the coming years-you cant just turn the Federal Reserve loose and not have consequences or a price to pay for those actions. Yet we have no end to any of this in sight, rather, there are endless calls for escalation!
These acts of special interests are mostly not in the interest of the American nation as a whole, no more than they would be for the Russian nation if they were taking place there. Yet while Putin, descended from a people having long and terrible experience with the deleterious effects of allowing special interests unbounded free reign with a nation’s policies and economy has taken action both local and global to stop this, while our representatives are still being chosen by the very same lobbies that are time and again usurping the nation’s objectives, both national and international.
Our own nations in the West, seem to have some serious structural infirmities which all too often lead to uncontrollable urges to act, no matter how inappropriate these acts may be; and its these uncontrollable urges which may be most responsible for Putin’s demeanor towards the West rather than any impulse coming from him or his people.
In the end we cannot fully know what kind of character Putin is, we can only guess, but only advise that our leaders be attentive and cautious, as well as courteous to a man who has so much vested interest in the survival of humanity on Earth. This is common sense. The sad part is that our leaders have often acted as if they were dealing with some school boy in their district. Calls to arm the Ukrainian military are the most immature statements that any elected official can make considering what would happen if the Russian’s were to do the same for our “enemies”.
Putin from all accounts we can see is a technocrat, pro-business, pro-democracy, and pro-world community. However he has an aversion for discordant special interests . So much is nearly certain.
If we treat him with reason, he will probably respond with reason, assuming we are honest about it and self contained. Yes he was once a “snitch” and that is something to worry about. Giving him details about your past personal foibles might not be wise if you meet him.