Monday, December 19, 2016
Trust Putin at your own risk
I remember somewhere back during our recent presidential campaign when Donald Trump referred to Vladimir Putin as a "great leader", and his critics and political opponents went wild. "How could he call Putin, a certified gangster if there ever was one, a 'great leader'" they asked. How? Simple....because Putin IS a great leader.
When we think of a leader we think of someone good and virtuous and kind. Webster stops short of that. It defines "leader" as (1) : a person who directs a military force or unit (2) : a person who has commanding authority or influence. It doesn't say anything about being good or virtuous or kind.
Just like Adolf Hitler was obsessed with restoring Germany to its place at the pinnacle of the World Order (as he saw it at least) after WWI, Vladimir Putin is today obsessed with restoring Russia to the superpower status it enjoyed during the heyday of the Soviet Union. He famously once called the breakup of the Soviet Union "the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th Century."
Everything I've read about Putin suggests this is all he thinks about. If he makes a deal to sell oil or natural gas, for example, he sees it only as a means to an end, that being to return Russia to its glory days. He tolerates his oligarchs because he sees them as influential political allies. He can count on them to stamp out dissent, thereby keeping their fortunes intact, and keeping his dreams of national glory alive.
There is no appealing to Putin's "good side" because he doesn't have one. Dubya Bush said he looked into Putin's eyes and "saw his soul", and felt he was a man he could trust. Barack Obama had his "Russian reset" back in 2010 where he hoped to reestablish good relations with Russia. Both failed miserably. Putin can't be trusted, and he doesn't care about being liked.
Putin's modus operandi is to nibble away at his neighbors by annexing area where he can (like Crimea), just like Hitler annexed Czechoslovakia, and stirring up trouble in other areas like Ossetia (part of Georgia) and Transdniestria (part of Moldova). Many believe he has the Baltics in his sights again, too. He is slowly-but-surely trying to reassemble the old Soviet Union, and he's using his feared KGB persona to "command authority"....Webster's definition of a "leader".
My fear now is that President-elect Trump will try to make Vladimir Putin a partner, like he makes influential foreigners partners in his property deals. He'll expect his Sec of State Rex Tillerson to smooth talk Putin into a win-win "deal". I don't think that's a concept Vladimir Putin can grasp.
The smart money says we would be wise to NOT turn our back on him.