This topic may or may not be on your radar, but itâ€™s worth talking about. To understand Vladimir Putin, you have to understand Russiaâ€™s storied history dating back to the ninth century.
Ironically, one of Russiaâ€™s first rulers was Vladimir I, around 989 A.D. Vladimir established the Greek Orthodox Church for Russia because he wanted to align himself with Constantinople and the West.
Since those early days, it has been a recurring theme of east versus west. Geographically, Russia is east of Europe and Ukraine (a former Soviet state) has been the buffer zone between east and west. More on Ukraine later in this piece.
From its earliest days, Russia has had emperors and tsars (czars) such as the Romanovs, Peter the Great and Catherine the Great until the Revolution in 1917 which brought the Bolsheviks to power under another Vladimir â€“ Vladimir Lenin. Lenin and his followers established a workerâ€™s party, the soviets. These local political councils eventually became the former Soviet Union.
Lenin became a market reformer with his New Economic Policy that allowed for some market revitalization, while maintaining a tight grip over its people through the new Communist Party. The new Soviet Union, like other socialist states, believed in the Karl Marx philosophy that a state must first be completely successful with socialism before it can emerge into full communism.
It may have had a nice ring to it, but communism (socialism) has been an abject failure in terms of governing. All we have to do is look at the number of failed socialist states. Cuba remains a staunch supporter of socialism and based upon photos of billboards throughout Havana, Fidel Castroâ€™s motto “El sociolismo o la Muerteâ€ (Socialism or Death) still lives.
Following Leninâ€™s death in 1924, the Communist Party struggled to find a new leader until about 1930, when Josef Stalin came to power. The Russian people would soon regret this fateful decision. In terms of sheer brutality and repression, Stalin can only be compared with Hitler. Some history books state that during his infamous “purges,â€ Stalin may have murdered close to 20 million people.
Stalin severely crippled the Soviet economy with his frenzied race to industrialization and collectivization of farms, not to mention the “five-year plans.â€ These plans were nothing more than a guestimate of production of consumer, industrial and military goods. Absent market forces, the five-year plans grossly underestimated the true and real market demands, and the Soviet people suffered greatly as a result.
Fast forward to 1989. Just two years earlier, President Reagan had delivered his now-famous speech at The Brandenburg Gate (separating West and East Berlin during the Cold War). Although we didnâ€™t know it then, Mr. Reaganâ€™s speechwriters and advisors begged him to leave out one particular phrase in the speech. Itâ€™s hard to imagine what Mr. Reaganâ€™s speech to a world audience would have been without “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!â€
Following massive uprisings throughout former Soviet states, the Berlin Wall finally came down in 1989, which led to the demise of the Soviet Union in 1990. President Mikael Gorbachev, once known as a reformer with his perestroika and glasnost policies, was unable to stem the inevitable will of the people. He resigned on Christmas Day 1990 and the new Russian flag atop the Kremlin replaced the old Soviet Union flag on Dec. 31, 1990.
Since 1990, the new Russia has been a hodgepodge of what most of us considered [and hoped] would be a democracy. After a disastrous 10 years, Boris Yeltsin was viewed by his own citizens and the world community as a blundering leader [1991-1999].
Enter Vladimir Putin. Putin filled the unexpired term of Yeltsin for a few months between December 1999 and May 2000. Putin was duly elected prime minister and later president, but he wasnâ€™t gone from the political scene after Dmitry Mevdedev became president in 2008. Putin served under Medvedev as prime minister.
Putin was “re-electedâ€ in 2012, and his term expires in 2018.
Based upon his latest antics of taking over Crimea and holding a hastily called election for Crimeans to return their sovereignty to Russia, we donâ€™t know what to expect next from Putin.
Putin is a dangerous leader whose erratic and aggressive behavior cannot be discounted. He served as an intelligence officer for the KGB, the much-hated Soviet secret police from 1975 to 1989 in East Berlin. Putin has been quoted as saying that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the single worst tragedy that transpired in the 20th century.
If that quote is correct, we should really be concerned about his intentions in Ukraine. The Russian Army has taken over all the military bases in Crimea, and Ukraine could prove an easy target for Putin. Ukraine is strategically important to the west because the country has hinted strongly that it wants to be aligned with Europe instead of Russia. It would drive Putin over the edge if Ukraine becomes a NATO member.
Ukraine is a massive country with historic Kiev as its capital, and Putin would like nothing more than to snatch Ukraine from Europe. Ukraineâ€™s economy is in shambles, and Putin understands this vulnerability. Putinâ€™s thinking and mentality is that of nationalism; it is certainly not democracy.
The former Soviet Union thought nothing about invading Afghanistan in 1979, and history proved that not even the formidable Soviet Union could not control Afghanistan. The British in the 19th century failed. And when the U.S. leaves Afghanistan next year, it will be also be viewed as an utter failure as well.
The difference between Ukraine and Afghanistan is that Ukraine is reaching out to the West to become a democracy; on the other hand, Afghanistan is a mixture of tribal groups who prefer to live in the mountains and live as they always have. For the most part, Afghans do not want democracy, especially Western-style democracy.
Under Putin, Russia has bullied Chechnya and Georgia, the former Soviet state. Conquering Ukraine would be the ultimate prize for him.
The world is paying attention â€“ indeed â€“ very close attention. Putin has put the world on notice that he is willing to resort to the old style of politics made infamous by Stalin (and Hitler). The U.S. and our allies must be prepared to deal with potential dangers of a war we donâ€™t need or want with Russia, but if Putin continues to antagonize Ukraine, we should be ready to deal forcefully with Russia.
Itâ€™s pretty clear Putin wants to return to what he considers the good old Soviet days, but if it didnâ€™t work then, what makes him think it will work again. The world is fed up with the likes of Stalin, Mussolini, Castro, Kim Jong Un.
Ukraine must be protected as our safety net against a tyrannical Putin. If Putin decides in the next few weeks to put troops in Ukraine, rest assured, all bets are off, and the worldâ€™s gloves will come off.