Since my blog #092 of 16 March 2014, entitled “Russia et al”, that gave some historical background and that argued, even though most of Russia is in Asia, its soul is in Europe where it originated, criticisms of Vladimir in the Western press continue to outweigh praise. Not so in the rest of the globe - and I am actually finding increasing numbers of Western books and articles heaping praise on him.
Is the time nigh when we can ask Peter the Great and Catherine the Great to allow Vladimir the Great into the club?
The old adage about casting the first stone behooves us to first look at ourselves:
There are many signs that some Western nations, or oligarchs within those nations, have joined others to revive, for personal gain and control, the “Great Game”, that started in 1838 to contain the Russian Bear and keep him from warm water ports. Is there any other reason for us being so rude and vindictive to Putin?
In sympathy for the losses of 9/11/2001 he presented the US with an impressive 100-foot-tall split structure, steel coated in bronze, embracing a 40-foot nickel tear drop, and containing the names of all those killed in 9/11/01 and in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Vladimir and Bill Clinton attended the 2006 unveiling of this caring gift but, instead of it being erected near ground zero, it was hidden 7 miles away in a Brooklyn naval terminal no longer in use where few New Yorkers ever see or hear about it.
At a G8 heads of state meeting Canada’s Stephen Harper greeted Putin with, “All I have to say to you is: Get out of Ukraine!”. Putin was too polite to tell Harper to get out of Quebec (Ukraine was a founding part of Russia while Quebec a founding part of Canada).
In 2013, when San Francisco invited a Putin delegation to attend ceremonies thanking the Russian Navy that happened to be there and which had lost 6 sailors in saving hundreds from the fire, 150 years ago, not one US state or federal official attended.
Obama and Merkel failed to attend the Sochi Olympics which were a success and a boost to Russian pride.
Western leaders boycotted the 09 May 2015 Russian WWII Victory Parade.
It must be galling for many world politicians to live with the fact that G8 citizens give the following favourable assessments to their leaders: Putin 87%, Merkel 67, Cameron 49, Obama 45, Abe 38, Renzi 36, Harper 32, Hollande 28. (as of 23 July 2015).
I understand Putin’s feelings when he states that the breakup of the USSR is a world catastrophe. I too feel a loss as the British Commonwealth and Empire drift apart. Belonging to such a vibrant, multi-cultural organization that did more good than harm for the world gave me a sense of pride. If circumstances offer Putin a peaceful opportunity to restore some of it, who can blame him if he does?
So, what has Putin actually accomplished to earn the world’s highest rating? Mikhail Gorbachev (President 1985-91) in agreeing to the breakup of the Soviet Empire got the promise from the US and the rest of NATO that they would not move one inch towards Russian borders. His successor Boris Yeltsin (1991-1999) did mess things up so that Russian oligarchs seized much of former Soviet enterprises for their own, rather than the people’s, benefit. When Putin succeeded Yeltsin in 1999, did he not follow the old advice of keeping your enemies near you when he appeared to embrace many of them. He has erased a few oligarchs by using corruption charges but far from enough while remaining one himself.
But, Putin came to power during mass discontent and drunkenness among a disillusioned populace and he gradually improved the economy, increasing the GDP from $754 billion in 2006 to $2,907 in 2014. He and president Dmitry Medvedev stood up to Georgian aggression against Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008. George W. Bush sent Condoleeza Rice there with aid for Georgia while the 2009 UN mission declared Georgia the aggressor.
Chechnya presents a real challenge for Putin. Fighting Russian expansion since 1800 it has suffered oppression and mass deportations with only Islamic terrorists supporting their cause. Putin’s crackdown on them brought US approval in its war against terrorism. How Putin handles this festering sore in the face of world indifference will influence his road to greatness.
Self-defeating Western sanctions against Putin’s inferred interference in Crimea and Ukraine continue to hurt Europe’s exports and its need for Russian oil and natural gas - and to force Putin to successfully embrace BRICS, a country association offering a huge challenge to US world dominance even with their scary world ratings for Corruption. With 100 = no corruption, they rank: Brazil 43, Russia 27, India 38, China 36, South Africa 44. This compares with: Denmark 92, Canada 81, UK 78, Germany 78, Japan 76, US 74, France 69, and Ukraine 26.
Our sacred promises not to move NATO one inch closer to Russia? All shamefully broken! Today NATO tanks and aircraft, including Canadian and USAF, hold exercises along Russian borders - something no Russian president should tolerate. Putin has had to divert funds needed elsewhere to increase his military budget in 2015 to $81 billion, still well below the US spending of $610 billion. China spends $216 billion, Saudi Arabia 81, France 62, UK 61, South Korea 59, Germany 47, Japan 46, and Brazil 32.
In 2014 there were 186,382 wealthy Russians move abroad, many choosing London, and taking $150 billion with them, a sizable loss to Russia.
The Russian population, declining for years, has stabilized under Putin jumping from 142 million in 2008 to 146 million in 2014.
An active sportsman, Putin has a black belt in Judo and is the honorary president of the European Judo Union. He enjoys skiing, hockey, white-river rafting, and horseback riding. He is noted for his solo jaunts on horseback into back country which he claims gives him a chance to rest. Meeting people like shepherds he is known to stop for brief visits to their homes. He champions wildlife, actively helping conservation groups for tigers, whales, leopards, and polar bears. He is a strong supporter of the Russian Geographical Society.
Is that not the sort of guy you would like to call friend? Why do so many westerners think otherwise?
In 1991, with the breakup of the USSR, the Ukraine chose independence with elected president ViktorYanukovych who desired good relations with both Europe and Russia. What followed is much too murky to adequately explain or understand. Soviet job security gave way to capitalist opportunists seeking instant wealth, so unrest grew. Political rivalries among Viktor Yushchenko, Yulia Tymoshenko, Petro Poroshenko (preferred by Obama), and Yanukovich did not help as rent-a-mobs infiltrated peaceful protests. Violence and much bloodshed added great misery. In 2014 Putin did send a huge convoy of humanitarian aid to Russian-oriented Eastern Ukraine and is accused of providing military assistance and some of this is likely true, especially the missile that shot down in July 2014 the Malaysian airliner with a large loss of Dutch lives. While Russian troops did mass for a while on the border, Putin showed remarkable restraint even though NATO was increasing its presence on Russia’s western borders. He ordered troops back from the border and, during the Crimean uprising to rejoin Russia, he had Russian troops, legally stationed there, remain in their barracks. But he did not need them to persuade Crimeans who were mostly Russian, to rejoin Russia.
The new, non-Soviet, Ukraine and Russia are only 24 years old. They both have immense problems. The loss of Soviet controls have allowed corruption to flourish in both countries. Forced bribes, that amounted to $30 billion in 2005 have jumped to $306 billion in 2010. They do not need Western interference, well meaning according to our media, but with ulterior motives. Europe also is not free of immense problems.
Confrontation is deadly to both. We have had heart-warming Russian co-operation in our space and other programs. Putin is not the ogre we paint him to be and we are not the saints we think we are. We do need to reassess our empathy and respect.
When the world has only one super power, peace, on its terms, can last hundreds of years but when the inevitable collapse occurs, chaos can be widespread and long lasting.
Humans are difficult to educate, manage, control, and keep free of Greed but the dangers our world now faces demand we try.