The Man Who Would Be Stalin

Vladimir Putin has delusions of being Joseph Stalin. (Not Adolf Hitler; that’s wrong on several levels.)

Addressing the Duma Thursday, he blamed all Russia’s problems on the West. “Even if nothing were happening in Ukraine, …” But lots of things are happening in Ukraine, most of them instigated by him. (He’s correct on one point: last year’s coup in Ukraine was illegal. But then, all coups are illegal … until they win.)

His big problem is that he’s messed up the Russian economy. Of course, he must find scapegoats. On top of Western sanctions, the ruble has lost 40% of its value and the price of oil has declined 40%. Since his budget depends on energy exports, this is a triple hit.

A few people remember Stalin as our ally against Hitler in WW2, but he was also a brutal dictator in his own right: murdered nine to thirty million people inside the Soviet Union and maybe as many outside. He was also the one who abandoned Communism to make the Soviet Union into a Russian empire. That’s why Putin likes him.

“Death of one man is a tragedy, death of a million is a statistic,” is attributed to Stalin. A former KGB apparatchik, Putin understands.

The Politics of Tyrannies

What do Vladimir Putin, American “progressives” and the Tea Party have in common?

Tactics.

All seek to dissuade opposition by bullying. Shouting, ad hominem attacks and dirty tricks replace discourse and tolerance. People with a poor sense of history don’t know that before the Holocaust, Hitler honed his bullying tactics on his political opposition before turning on the Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies and the church.

They’re even trying to change the definition of “tolerance” into “you must support my position or you’re intolerant.” This is how liberal democracies—old and new—are turned into tyrannies.

Whatever happened to “Think and let think”?

“It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again”

I’m feeling like Yogi Berra.

In the 1930s Hitler dismembered and subjected the countries surrounding Germany starting with the ethnic German peoples in Czechoslovakia and Poland. Then he annexed or subjugated whole Germanic countries, like Austria, creating a Greater Germany. Now Putin uses the same approach to create a Greater Russia. (It ended badly for the world last time.)

Crimea was only added to Ukraine in 1954 by Nikita Khrushchev, a Ukrainian. The transfer was a “symbolic gesture” marking the 300th anniversary of Ukraine becoming a part of the Russian Empire. A quarter of the population are Muslims, so Russia may be making another Chechnya.

Interesting that Russia is so supportive of Muslim nations internationally but so repressive to Muslim people at home.

Teddy Roosevelt, famously advised, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Modern politicians do the opposite. The USA won’t go to the mat over Crimea, so we should temper our words to our intended actions, which seem to be . . . nothing.

1930s Redux

We’re watching a replay of Hitler’s absorption of central Europe in the 1930s. Obama, Biden, Kerry et al. are as ineffective containing Putin as Neville Chamberlain was with Hitler.

Obama isn’t singly to blame for the Ukraine mess (though Hagels’ Defense reductions are looking ill-timed); Bush did as poorly with Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008. We have learned nothing.

The price of oil, of course, bounced upward. That helps Putin. Russia’s economy is heavily dependent on energy revenue. That, not a military confrontation, is where they are most vulnerable and where we should counter-attack.

Threatening does no good; we should say what we are doing and do it. This whole thing was planned and executed by Putin. If we don’t do something–I mean really do something–he’ll only get worse.

Black Days on the Black Sea

“Will the Sochi Games puncture Putin’s delusions of Grandeur?” asked The Week headline. You know the answer.

Putin’s grand Olympic masterpiece (just like Hitler’s in 1936) reveals the cracks in his imperialist re-make of Russia, but megalomaniacs tend to ignore contrary data. (Did you notice that the jerseys of the Russian hockey team displayed the double-headed eagle emblem of the czars? Probably not accidental.) The $52 billion Russia spent on this Olympics exceeded than all previous Winter Olympics combined. The result has not quite been the publicity coup Putin desired.

We need to pay attention to what’s happening in Ukraine. Putin’s plan to reestablish the Russian Empire (AKA the Soviet Union) has hit a speed bump: the Ukraine people. The Olympics are a side show; what’s happening in Kiev is real . . . and important.