Reuters: Kremlin says it wants apology from Fox News over Putin comments. Quoting,
Fox News host Bill O’Reilly described Putin as “a killer” in the interview with Trump as he tried to press the U.S. president to explain more fully why he respected his Russian counterpart. O’Reilly did not say who he thought Putin had killed.
O’Reilly’s comments are in line with (CNN) Mitch McConnnel’s, who called Putin a thug. This tragic emphasis on words of vilification is the result of our fear Trump will give away the store, acting as the perhaps unwitting collaborator with an adversary. A few years from now, this could be true, in fact, or opinion, or not at all. But we’re scared. We have a right to be.
After I had studied Vladimir Putin for a while, I realized that it is impossible to separate the man from the world in which he is embedded. It is an ethnocentric world of corrupt institutions and extrajudicial punishments, coexisting with a western yearning that willed the city of St. Petersburg into existence. In this milieu, there is a significant minority of completely modern people who have hybridized themselves with the west. They are just like us, a confusing veneer.
Russia is demarcated by the world’s longest borders on which hostilities are conceivable. It has a population density of only 8.4 people per square kilometer, but it is highly urbanized. Most of the country is vacant, and lacking transport for quick mobilization, which is why the new Russian main battle tank weighs little more than a Sherman. Russia is indefensible from attack by an external actor, state or non-state, that activates ethnic tensions.
This affects the character of Russia and her rulers, in ways that are obvious, while the underlying psychology of threat remains hidden. Russia is constantly in search of security with respect to the nations that surround her. The search includes aggression. Putin is Russia’s current voice, but the theme is historical.
What we know that is distinctly about Putin the individual, as opposed to “Russia/Putin”, is extremely limited. A telling example, because it was so closely studied, is the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko. The final words of High Court judge Robert Owen’s report were, (Washington Post) “The FSB operation to kill Mr. Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr. [Nikolai] Patrushev [then head of the FSB] and also by President Putin.” I consider it a significant possibility, with all the motives in place, but not a probability. Too many members of Russia’s elite and intelligence establishment wanted Litvinenko dead. Of course, Owen may have access to classified information that I do not.
That is the closest we’ve ever gotten to incriminating Vladimir Putin. Russia has seen many unfortunate killings of journalists and muck rakers, but it is a land of many gangs and turfs. More than rule, Putin presides. He seemed to regret the death of Boris Nemtsov, a truely respectable man. It resulted in a police action that extended into Chechnya, with a messy ending. The ultimate instigators, looping back to Russian nationalists, may have escaped punishment. In the Russia that Putin inhabits, that may be the best one can expect.
The Russians have the Second Chechen War, and our fathers have the Vietnam War. We are not our fathers, but we have to acknowledge that about 388,000 tons of napalm were dropped in Vietnam between 1963 and 1973. By various means, the Vietnam war claimed between 195,000–430,000 civilian casualties. The very highest estimate of civilian casualties in Chechnya is 250,000, but the Society for Threatened Peoples International estimates 80,000.
So with an approximation of Chechnya tactics in Syria, Russia today is roughly comparable to the U.S.A. of 60 years ago, during the presidency of Lyndon Johnson. Yet many of us remember Johnson as a kind, if domineering man. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
I hope the above does not end up as an “alternative fact.” But in the stress of the current presidency, we risk making ourselves stupid. There no point in labeling Putin-the-man, because, with respect to our needs and concerns, Putin and Russia are one and the same. We’ve dealt with the Russians when they were much more adversarial than they are now. Under Reagan, the slogan was “trust but verify.” Ironically, this is a Russian proverb.
On May 26, 1972, Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev signed the ABM Treaty and interim SALT agreement. On page 1254 of White House Years, Henry Kissinger writes,
For as far ahead as we can see, America’s task will be to re-create and maintain the two pillars of our policy toward the Soviet Union that we began to build in Moscow: a willingness to confront Soviet expansionism and a simultaneous readiness to mark out a cooperative future. A more peaceful world is prevented if we lean too far in either direction. When conciliation becomes an end in itself, a ruthless Soviet policy can turn it, as it occasionally has, into an instrument of blackmail and a cover for unilateral gains…”
Today, this resonates with strong analogy.