Soviet Union

Putin, Russia and War

Putin, Russia and War

                     Robert A. Levine March 22, 2022

When the Iron Curtain finally came down in 1991, it appeared that a new dawn had arisen for mankind, with autocracy trending downward and democracy on an upswing. Certainly, China was still on an autocratic path, but its economic interdependence with America and the West offered some possibility of liberalization in the future. And with the Soviet Union having disintegrated, Russia under Boris Yeltsin provided hope for the establishment of democratic change. And all the Soviet vassal states were now free, with most of them opting for a liberal democratic form of government.

However, those who saw the future ascension of liberal democracy in the world were grievously mistaken. Democracy in Russia was a mirage, with deep corruption as state assets were sold off to private businesses and individuals in converting to a capitalist-style country. Wealthy oligarchs became engrained in the system of government with the majority of the populace neglected. Yeltsin turned out to be an incompetent drunkard who was unable grasp the power inherent in his position and what he could do to stabilize and improve governing. One of his advisors was Vladimir Putin, an ex-KGB officer. Finally, in 2000, Yeltsin surrendered his position and handed the reins of government to Putin who was approved by the Duma (Russian Parliament).

From the moment Putin assumed the presidency of Russia, its flight from democracy accelerated with an autocratic, personalist ruler in change. Since Putin became Russia’s leader, he has tightened his rope around the neck of any dissenting forces, assassinating some opponents and imprisoning others. Freedom of speech and anti-government rhetoric has gradually been banned, with long prison terms for those who flout the law. With term limits in the Russian constitution, Putin allowed his associate Dimitri Medvedev to be president for one term in 2008, with Putin as prime minister. Putin was reelected president in 2012, being perceived as in charge of the Russian state for over two decades, for even while Medvedev was nominally president, Putin held the power. A referendum in 2021, allowed Russian presidents to remain in office for more than two consecutive terms, which means Putin will likely be Russia’s leader until he dies or is deposed, the latter very unlikely.

Putin sees himself as someone in a long line of strong Russian leaders going back to Czarist times and including Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Stalin and himself. He has said that the fall of the Soviet Union was the greatest geo-political disaster of the 20th century and he is trying to reverse its effects through military action. In 1994, Russian troops invaded Chechnya, a breakaway republic, to return it to Russian control. In 20 months of war, an estimated 100,000 Chechnyans were killed. Yeltsin was nominally in charge then and Putin’s role is unclear. However, the second Chechnyan War occurred under Putin from 1999 to 2009, with Islamists calling it a holy war. Grozny, the capital city of Chechnya was leveled and the war waxed and waned for a decade, with tens of thousands or more of Chechnyan civilians killed as well as numerous soldiers on both sides.

Georgia was next for Putin in 2008, with a short destructive war and seizure of the regions of Ossetia and Abkhazia, claiming Georgian genocide against the two republics. Disinformation from Russia was rampant with statements that the Russians were peacekeepers who had come to save Russian citizens. Putin also launched cyberattacks and blamed Georgia for starting the war.

In 2014, he grabbed Crimea from Ukraine and sent Russian troops into Donetask and Luhansk, to fight the Ukrainians, often disguising his military fighters as volunteers or local soldiers. Putin claimed he was protecting ethnic Russians and his troops were peacekeepers.

Then in 2015, after supplying the Syrian government with weapons since 2011, he had Russian forces enter the conflict on the side of the Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad. The Russian Air Force and missiles pounded the opponents of al Assad as well as civilian populations, hospitals and medical facilities. In addition, either the Russians or Syrian forces or both attacked civilians and opposing fighters with chemical weapons. Will Putin follow this formula in Ukraine?

The recent invasion of Ukraine which Putin calls a special military operation employed the same pattern of lies and destructive tactics he has used elsewhere. However, Putin did not expect to meet such fierce resistance from Ukrainian troops. Unable to capture any cities thus far except Kherson, Russian troops have targeted civilians, destroying residential buildings and non-military structures to try and break the will of the Ukrainian population. He talks of de-nazification of the country when a Jew is the president and seems not to care how many of his own troops and Ukrainian civilians are killed.

The question that must be asked is what will Putin do if his troops continue to be stalemated by the Ukrainians. Will he turn to chemical or biological weapons, or even consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield or against Ukrainian cities? Here is a man dedicated to restoring Russia’s empire, an imperialist who considers himself a great leader. Can he handle the thought of losing in Ukraine without resorting to even more horrific tactics? And how will he deal with nations in the West who support Ukraine with weapons and financial sanctions? It is hard to read the mind of a paranoid narcissist.

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Putin's Madness

Putin’s Madness

            Robert A. Levine 2-7-22

How does the world deal with a madman who controls one of the largest nuclear arsenals in the world and appears to be deranged and blatantly paranoid? Very carefully. But will that be enough. He has no compunctions at killing tens of thousands of people so why not millions? Obsessed with power, he wants to live in the past and reconstitute the Soviet Union and the Soviet Empire. He has said that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. Now it appears as if he is determined to change the course of history and return the world to where it was fifty years ago. And he won’t listen to reason from other world leaders and possibly to his own advisors. Putin says the Russians and Ukrainians are one nation, which means that he doesn’t care about killing his own people.

Does Putin believe any of the lies he is telling the Russian populace and world leaders about why he is invading Ukraine?  Putin claims that there is no war between Russia and Ukraine but a special military operation. The Russian government has forbidden all the media and the opposition to Putin to label the fighting in Ukraine as a war. He says the Ukrainian government and military are neo-Nazis and are a danger to Russia. Can he really believe that when Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, is a Jew? And how can Ukraine be a threat to Russia when the latter has nuclear weapons which Ukraine returned to Russia when the nukes were stationed on Ukrainian soil. Putin also claims that Ukraine has always been a part of Russia and not an independent nation. Russia has four times the population of Ukraine as well, a much larger and stronger military, with the latest weapons and a far superior air force and number of tanks.

Putin says the Russians are not targeting civilians in Ukraine, though they are bombing civilian apartment houses and residences in the large cities and shutting down sources of water and electricity. They’ve also attacked the largest nuclear plant in Europe which could be disastrous if it exploded, with radiation many times that of Chernobyl. Whether Ukraine survives as an independent state or as a Russian vassal, rebuilding the destroyed infrastructure of the country with ravaged buildings and residences will cost hundreds of billions, if not trillions of Euros.

The videos of Putin sitting at one end of a very long table, with advisors, or cabinet members, or visitors at the other end is another manifestation of his paranoia. It may have been valid when Covid 19 was rampant, but is now unnecessary and shows Putin as being isolated from other human contact. Was he afflicted with Covid and did that change his cognitive function and mental acuity? Was it just his prolonged isolation and listening to his own propaganda?  He has placed his nuclear weapons on a higher alert status, threatening their use if any nation interferes in his war with Ukraine. These are not the actions of a rational man.

But the only people who can stop Putin are the Russians themselves, though most of them seem to believe his propaganda regarding the war. The Russian people’s only access to news is through Russian state radio and television, though the young people get some information through the internet which is also inundated with government lies and propaganda. Some brave Russian souls have demonstrated against the war and thousands have been imprisoned because of their opposition.

The world’s economy is being hit hard by Putin’s misadventure. Not only are gas and oil supplies diminished, but important metals for technology like cobalt, titanium, nickel and lithium are all being squeezed. And even worse is the decrease in supplies of grain which usually come from Russia and Ukraine. Wheat, barley and corn are all in short supply with prices rising quickly. This will cause even worse inflation in the developed world and hunger and famine in Third World nations. Putin doesn’t care. He sees himself as returning Russia to its rightful place in the world’s power hierarchy and himself as one in a long line of strong Russian rulers. He wants to restore Russia’s empire and sphere of influence and abolish the rules based relationships between nations that became prevalent after World War II and atomic weapons. Putin may next go after other previous Soviet vassal states. How it will end is uncertain as it is difficult to read the mind of a madman.

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