With the world focused on the events in Ukraine – a country that most social-media commentators couldn’t locate on a map, let alone have a clue about its history – it’s imperative to pay attention to what Russian President Vladimir Putin is up to ideologically.
One way he’s been framing his military invasion is denazification of the former Soviet republic that in 1991 declared independence from the collapsing USSR. But this is no more than a propaganda tool to portray his aggression as a battle against evil.
This is not to say that Ukraine didn’t have its share of participants in the Holocaust or that the current population is void of antisemites. Still, Putin’s public statements prior to the so-called blitz that he launched reveal that hunger for hegemony, or at least for a return to Russia’s glory days as a global superpower contending with the United States, is at the root of his moves.
Meanwhile, as a signatory to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear pact with Iran and a proponent of the new version being cooked up in Vienna, he is among the leaders of the P5+1 countries actively enabling the Islamic Republic to proceed and enhance its nuclear, ballistic-missile and terrorist-proxy capabilities. He’s also abetting Tehran’s aim to destroy Israel, rule the Middle East and subjugate the West.
THIS BRINGS us to Syria, where Putin and his buddies in the Islamic Republic helped President Bashar Assad maintain his reign of terror. But Putin’s interest there is to be the Grand Poobah, not to let the mullahs’ military have actual clout.
Hence the Israeli government’s caution about taking a stand on the war in Ukraine. Since September 2015, when then-Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Putin in Moscow and the two reached an agreement on coordination and deconfliction mechanisms to prevent mishaps in Syrian airspace, the IDF has been conducting surgical strikes on Hezbollah and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps targets.
For the most part, this mutually beneficial arrangement has been successful. However, it was made necessary by then-US president Barack Obama’s ceding of American influence in the area. Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was thus forced to make more than one pilgrimage to the Kremlin to preserve the Syria understandings.
His successor, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, had a meeting with Putin in October. When they convened at the latter’s summer mansion in Sochi, they oozed warmth from every pore. In a joint press conference prior to their closed-door session, Putin said that despite certain problematic issues between Jerusalem and Moscow, “there are also points of contact and opportunities for cooperation, especially in relation to fighting terror.”
Bennett told reporters that he and his Russian counterpart would be talking about Syria and the “efforts to stop Iran’s military nuclear program.”
Noting Israel’s large Russian-speaking population, Bennett stressed the “deep connection between the two nations,” and called Putin’s Russia “a real friend of the Jewish people.” Then he highlighted the Red Army’s role in defeating the Nazis.
The irony is inescapable, in light of Putin’s use of this fact to justify his attack on Ukraine. But Israel’s ongoing need to strike Iranian bases in Syria presents a dilemma where condemning Russian aggression is concerned. The predicament is further complicated by the Bennett government’s belief that the Biden administration has its back.
In other words, Israel is caught between two powers begging Iran to accept a dangerous deal, with one of them championing the West’s weakness and the other counting on it. As well, Israel is wavering between a general public and mainstream media – with correspondents on the ground in Ukraine – unequivocally against Russia, geopolitical expediency be damned.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s newfound rock-star status, as a brave David standing up to a behemoth Goliath, makes Jerusalem’s balancing act even more precarious.
WHEN VIEWED from a broader perspective, Israel’s response warrants far less attention than Putin’s motives, which is much more than an assault on Ukraine. A speech that he delivered mere months ago sheds retroactive light on his campaign.
Addressing members of the Moscow-based think tank Valdai Discussion Club on October 22, the Russian president, who’s supposedly fixated on the denazification of the West, blasted its radical progressivism. Yes, with unmitigated gall, the former KGB operative, well-versed in spreading Soviet propaganda beyond U.S.S.R. borders, presented an in-depth argument against political correctness gone haywire.
Before articulating his position, he stated, “Of course, the social and cultural shocks that are taking place in the US and Western Europe are none of our business; we are keeping out of this.”
That he was able to utter those last words with a straight face is a tribute to his upbringing. His subsequent description of the ills in question, on the other hand, could have been written by a conservative pundit in New York, London or Tel Aviv - perhaps Putin even plagiarized them.
“Some people in the West believe that an aggressive elimination of entire pages from their own history, reverse discrimination against the majority in the interests of a minority and the demand to give up the traditional notions of mother, father, family and even gender… are the mileposts on the path towards social renewal,” he said. “The advocates of so-called social progress believe they are introducing humanity to some kind of a new and better consciousness, [but] their prescriptions are not new at all.”
In a head-spinning twist, he went on to remind the audience that “after the 1917 revolution, the Bolsheviks, relying on the dogmas of Marx and Engels, also said that they would change existing ways and customs, and not just political and economic ones, but the very notion of human morality and the foundations of a healthy society. The destruction of age-old values, religion and relations between people, up to and including the total rejection of family (we had that, too), encouragement to inform on loved ones – all this was proclaimed progress and… was widely supported around the world back then, and was quite fashionable; same as today. By the way, the Bolsheviks were absolutely intolerant of opinions other than theirs.”
NO KIDDING. He just forgot to mention his own part in Russia’s past and ongoing repression against oppositionists. Nevertheless, he had the nerve to express relief that “what we are witnessing now… in a number of Western countries… we have left, I hope, in the distant past.”
For example, he continued, “the fight for equality and against discrimination has turned into aggressive dogmatism bordering on absurdity, when the works of the great authors of the past – such as Shakespeare – are no longer taught at schools or universities, because their ideas are believed to be backward. The classics are declared backward and ignorant of the importance of gender or race. In Hollywood, memos are distributed about proper storytelling and how many characters of what color or gender should be in a movie. This is even worse than the agitprop department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.”
And he ought to know.
Reiterating his disgust with cancel culture and the obsessive emphasis on race, he invoked Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I have a dream” speech about skin color versus character. And then he turned to the Western zealots who ostracize anyone who “dares mention that men and women actually exist, which is a biological fact,” or who refer to fathers and mothers as “parent number one and parent number two,” while calling breast milk “human milk, because [not doing so] might upset the people who are unsure about their own gender.”
As for the “truly monstrous things [that] children are taught from an early age that a boy can easily become a girl and vice versa,” it “verges on a crime against humanity, and is being done in the name and under the banner of progress.”
AS IF his appropriation of traditional Western civilization weren’t cheeky enough, Putin stunningly invoked George Orwell’s anti-communist novel 1984 by saying that “in the 1920s, the so-called Soviet Kulturträgers also invented some newspeak [the fictional language of the totalitarian super-state Oceana], believing they were creating a new consciousness and changing values that way.”
Putin clearly didn’t expect the West, weakened by wokeness, to react to his Ukraine incursion with such rhetorical vigor, let alone by increasing defense spending and uniting to impose sanctions of all kinds on his regime and its oligarchs. But his miscalculation didn’t stem from stupidity.
In fact, given the great success of the very Soviet agitprop of which he spoke, there was a sad logic to his trying to strike while the iron was hot. He seems to have imagined that democratic societies in the throes of a moral and spiritual crisis would be ripe for the picking.
As a country in constant peril from Iran and its auxiliaries, Israel can’t afford to be the one proving him wrong. Whether the rest of the West is really receiving a wakeup call about its need to cherish and fight for genuine freedom, rather than distort the meaning of the concept and destroy itself from within, remains to be seen. Biden’s desperate push for a deal with Iran certainly doesn’t bode well.