Putin and the former Soviet Union

A well-connected Democratic political operative warns of the Russian leader’s intentions and calls for a new proactive American and European policy.

June 15, 2019 15:24
Putin and the former Soviet Union

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin chats with Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar during a ceremony unveiling a monument to heroes of resistance in concentration camps and ghettos during World War II, on June 4. (photo credit: SERGEI ILNITSKY / REUTERS)


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For a long time I have been saying that the Cold War was not over. Now it is evident. President George H.W. Bush (41), who was a good president, prematurely announced to Congress that we had won the Cold War. This idea was, indirectly, but unwisely, rubbed into the Russians’ faces. But this is not the root cause of the re-emergence of an active phase of the Cold War – a phase that is warming up.

President George W. Bush (43) prematurely said he had looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and could see that he was a good person. Of course, this was shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, when we needed all the help we could get. We felt very vulnerable. We were very vulnerable.

The top of the front cover of Douglas E. Schoen’s book shows Putin’s eyes. Senator John McCain said that what he saw in Putin was “KGB” – Putin’s background had been that of a KGB operative, and later head of the KGB.

Putin on the March: The Russian President’s Unchecked Global Advance by Schoen confirms McCain’s basic instincts. The author backs up his assertions with facts. Putin on the March is must reading for anyone interested in international relations, the future of freedom, the welfare of European countries, Russia, Russian Middle East Policy, American foreign policy, and anyone involved in American foreign policy.

What Russia has today is not meaningful free enterprise, but a system of government-sponsored and government-dependent oligarchs. It is even a long cry from Lenin’s New Economic Policy. Peace between the United States and Russia is a great dream. It was pursued by Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and other presidents. Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan started out as hawks, but became among the most effective peace makers with the Soviet Union.

Does Putin want a meaningful peace? Schoen effectively argues in the negative, citing some well-known facts that in the amalgam create a devastating impression. Some of these facts are out and out aggression. Some involve diplomatic maneuvering. Some are propagandistic. Others involve computer technology. They include:

(a) Russia’s emergence as a powerful ally of the newly powerful Iran.

(b) Russian participation in a devastating war in Syria, where Russian troops are present and where great atrocities have resulted in a great humanitarian crisis. President Barack Obama did not act when he drew a red line. That was a big mistake – the powerful Assad regime in Syria is a Russian client state. The Syrian refugee crisis has created semi-panic in Western Europe. Of the European leaders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has had the most humane policies toward the Syrian refugees. Pope Francis has expressed a humanitarian attitude toward Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees. Israeli medical people have treated many sick and wounded Syrians. But Israel’s great humanitarian policy is not well known.

(c) Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea.

(d) The Ukrainians are fighting a desperate losing war against Russia.

(e) Russia is consolidating its relationship with China.

(f) Putin is threating Russia’s neighbors.

(g) Cyber-hacking of European elections.

(h) Interference in the 2016 American presidential election, by, among other means, cyber-hacking.

(i) Attempts to gain the friendship of Egypt, which Schoen says is a good American friend. El-Sisi has been cooperating with Israel.

(j) Russian threats towards Belarus.

Although Putin regrets the demise of the powerful Soviet Union, he is not an ideological Communist like Lenin, Khrushchev and Gorbachev. Putin is similar to other strong Russian nationalists like Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, and Joseph Stalin. Schoen calls Putin a neo-Czarist.

Putin is notably different than Gorbachev, whose policies of perestroika and glasnost were aimed at creating a mixed economy, a new freedom, and were starting to be the basis of a new relationship with the United States.

Perestroika and glasnost were as significant as Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization. His initially secret speech to the Soviet Communist Party on February 25-26, 1956, enumerated many of Stalin’s great crimes and mistakes. In 1961, Khrushchev ordered the removal of statues and pictures of Stalin throughout the Soviet Union, and publicly stated that the 1930s purge trials in which leading Bolshevik revolutionaries confessed to treason were frame-ups. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, referring especially to “the Khrushchev thaw” in The Gulag Archipelago, said that unfortunately all these and other reforms offered hopes and changes which were eventually vanquished.

Schoen strongly disagrees with President Donald Trump’s policy towards Putin. Leading conservative columnist and commentator George Will believes that Trump has colluded with Russia. Obama had also been friendly toward Russia, and as Schoen pointed out, Obama gained sound bites against Mitt Romney during a 2012 presidential debate on the issue of whether Russia was the main threat to the United States.

Two of the remedies Schoen advocates are counter-cyber warfare by America and the Europeans, and information warfare by the Americans and Europeans working together. But Trump is not the biggest champion of European-American cooperation, and has not come under much criticism from Republicans in Congress for that. Conservative intellectuals like the late William F. Buckley and George Will were and are, respectively, free to give honest analyses of situations because they were not, and are not, concerned about pleasing a political base. Schoen has that same advantage, and is an erudite intellectual, whether one agrees with him or not. Schoen has researched his subject very well.

It is my belief that if salvation comes, it will come from the better soul of the Russian people. This soul was expressed by the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, who went out among Russian peasants to find his true religion and wrote The Kingdom of God is Within You, the Tolstoy who protested an early Ukraine famine in 1891; and who attacked the Czarist government-sponsored pogroms against the Jews and the Czarist press. This better soul of Russia was displayed by Solzhenitsyn when he spent years writing The Gulag Archipelago. This soul was evident in Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. It is the soul of the Kronstadt sailors who rebelled against the Bolsheviks in 1921, and were brutally crushed by Leon Trotsky. It is the soul of many people who experienced Stalin’s deportation, including many idealistic members of the Soviet youth movement who were deported in Stalin’s great national deportations. It is the soul of many of the more than 20 million Russians killed in the war against Nazi Germany. It is the soul of the Jewish poets executed on Stalin’s orders in August 1952.

It is the soul of the Russian, Ukrainian, and Jewish people who spontaneously gathered on the 20th anniversary near the site of the 1941 Babi Yar massacre, mainly of Jews. It is the soul of Yevgeny Yevtushenko, who wrote in his poem Babi Yar that even though he didn’t have a drop of Jewish blood, he felt like a Jew, and “that is what makes me Russian.”

This better soul of the Russian people finds expression at this time by, among other people, the women of Pussy Riot, a Russian punk band. But an internal Russian movement, which should also be a cultural movement, needs a strong movement of public support in America and other Western countries. Will it work? It did with Soviet Jewry. Also Polish labor leader Lech Walesa and his Solidarity labor movement affected the end of Communism in Poland without a shot being fired. ■

Among the humanitarian causes Raymond S. Solomon has been active in was protesting the genocide in Darfur.

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