Fiona Hill, Putin’s Apology; Analysis Part 2

Before proceding further, it’s essential to create “Putin’s Apology.” Here “apology” refers not to Webster’s “1.a : an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret”, but

“2.a :  something that is said or written to defend something that other people criticize :…”

Plato’s The Apology of Socrates is the great example. Socrates’ self defense won history to his side, while condemning himself to drink the hemlock. Traces, but only traces, live on in our society in modern legal defense. While lawyers for both the defense and the prosecution are both “officers of the court”, and bound to uphold the rule of law, not conceal evidence, etc., the adversarial approach frequently trumps it, as in:

This kind of adversarial thinking, in law, politics, and sports, is not specific to us. The Russians have a bad case of it too, shown by the doping scandal.  It is a personal obstacle to writing a good apology for Putin, because it requires that we write to lose an argument.

In what follows, you can assume the personal pronoun “I”, as in Vladimir Putin. It’s omitted; I think it would just be too cute to include.

  1. Putin is personally incorruptible and modest. Since we’re just starting out, remember this is part of an apology. It does not take into account future revelations of kompromat. But importantly, you should not substitute some lesser grade of character simply because you don’t like him. If you feel  so inclined, write a separate piece with all the denigration you want, and work back and forth between the two.

Aside: If it seems improbable that Putin could find a virtuous  communist leader to pattern after, consider the following:

  • Stalin, who arguably was the greatest mass murderer in history, had a personally modest lifestyle.
  • Lavrentiy Beria may have had the aspirations of a reformer, who after Stalin’s demise may have wanted to do a deal with the West. He was a sexual predator, a serial rapist, who kidnapped and killed many young women.
  • Hitler, who competes with Stalin for the prize, was fatherly to his bunker staff, and actively promoted animal welfare.
  • The early Bolshevik crew, before Stalin, had, in addition to their blood lust, a certain degree of personal virtuousness.
  • Nikita Khrushchev, one of the implementors of Stalin’s purges, had a sense of institutional propriety, and towards the end of his public career, attempted to obliterate the institution of Stalinism. His son Sergei, who lives in the U.S., seems to have no difficulty in remembering his father’s works in a positive way.
  • Leonid Brezhnev had less blood on his hands than the aforementioned. He exhibited  the affectations of a wealthy individual, and was, at least by association, corrupt. LA Times, January 24, 1988|Associated Press: “Soviets Uncover Massive Corruption : Billions Lost in Uzbekistan Case Involving Brezhnev Kin.

What are the chances that Putin’s private life is the stuff of kompromat? Marvin Shanken’s “A Conversation With Fidel”  for the Cigar Aficionado is telling. On August 26, 1985, Cuba launched a health campaign against smoking. The absolute ruler of Cuba, whose revolution executed perhaps 10,000, explains why he didn’t try to sneak a smoke:

I said, look, in order to smoke, you need some accomplices. You need somebody to buy the cigars for you. You need somebody to hide the ashes that are left around. You need at least three, four, five accomplices who know that you are smoking cigars. They would know that you are doing something like that. They would know that you are smoking behind closed doors, and I wouldn’t want three, four or five people knowing that I was deceiving others. So I chose not to do that.

Even during Beria’s reign of terror, middle-rank Soviet bureaucrats knew of Beria’s depravities. So it is reasonable to include in Putin’s Apology the assertion that Putin’s character is blameless, for two reasons:

  • It would be impossible to perfectly conceal improprieties. The butler always knows.
  • There are plenty of prior examples among Russian rulers of personal virtuousness regardless of their manners of government.

Aside from that, Putin’s former wife complains that he has a dark, incomprehensible sense of humor. And he likes cats.  Let’s continue:

2. Putin is ruthless towards external adversaries, or rivals, of Russia, but it is his responsibility, so he thinks, his obligation, to the Russian people. Here the relativity of moral values is striking. In the U.S., as multicultural society, we refer frequently to shared values, and infrequently, to “American people.”  In Russia, an ethnocentric society, there is an historical continuation of the moral ethos of the Bolshevism, commonly stated as “The end justifies the means“, although the communists did not invent the phrase, nor were they the first to use it.

In the estimation of the man we deal with, much has been   obscured by the recent epithets.  No suggestion is implied that you should ditch your core values, but Putin’s Apology helps establish a relative framework, useful for analysis.

Before we continue, you may wish to download Putin’s Character and the Intersection With the Ethics of the Russian State from

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