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These words are my diary screaming out loud

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

From Politics to Foreign Policy, It Seems...

Vladimir Putin is a scary, scary dude.

I already thought he was shady, based on a paper that I wrote on him back in 2007. And I've been kind of fascinated with him since that time, and Russia for a little longer than that after a very interesting class I took in college about politics in the Former Soviet Union. Fast forward to the paper I wrote about Putin for the class I'm just finishing up, and holy crap. I learned a whole lot about that man, enough to have filled up at least another paper, if not two, and unfortunately, most of it wasn't really on topic for what I was writing, so I have to share it somewhere. Luckily for me, I have that outlet here :)

Even before I had decided on the topic for this paper, I had put a new book about Putin on my Kindle Wish List - The Man Without A Face, by Masha Gessen. Gessen is a Russian journalist who had been following / reporting on Putin since his early days as Prime Minister under Boris Yeltsin, and as things progressed over the years since then, did a TON of research into his past. Granted, this book is slightly biased, as she makes it clear from the start that she's no fan of Putin. But it turns out, not many people are.

Its pretty common knowledge that Putin started his career as a KGB agent. But what many don't realize is that he was nothing special in the KGB. His career was mostly a disappointment - he didn't get any prime jobs or postings, he didn't rise very high in the ranks, and he wasn't given any extraordinary awards or accolades. He says that before the attempted coup in 1991 he wrote a resignation letter to the KGB. He also says that the KGB lost it, so a year later he wrote another. But that begs the question, how does he know that they lost it? And why wouldn't he have written another one immediately upon finding out that the first had been lost, instead of waiting a whole year? Makes one wonder a little, for sure...

Gessen also makes several linkages between Putin and some very bad things that happened in Russia, to include some bombings of apartment buildings around Russia, the Beslan school shootings, and a whole bunch of meat being stolen from the city of St Petersburg during the early days after the fall of the Soviet Union. Additionally, she implied that Putin has had numerous of his detractors and political enemies killed, unfairly imprisoned, or forced into exile. One of those people in whose death she alleges Putin was involved was his own mentor, Anatoly Sobchak. Basically, she comes to the conclusion that Putin has built the new Russia to revolve around him, and will stop at nothing to ensure that things go his way.

And she's not the only one - it only takes a quick google search to come up with myriad articles that talk about scary things Putin has done - even just in the past few weeks, he's sent helicopters back to Syria and raised fines on protestors in Russia from $90 to $6000, seemingly because most of the protests lately have been against him and his party. Not exactly the actions of the leader of a nation moving closer to democracy, you may be thinking. Exactly.

So here's where I have a hard time. Mitt Romney makes a comment about Russia being a threat to us, and Colin Powell comes out and says that Mitt Romney should know better. Seriously, it seems to me that Colin Powell should know better - he was in the thick of dealing with this guy. We keep wanting to talk about Russia being a friend and strategic partner. But friends don't do things like request that the location of the G8 be changed and then, at the last minute, decide not to come for no good reason. Being partners implies a willingness to work together, yet Putin campaigned on anti-Americanism this time around. And oh by the way, was elected in what many, even his PM before Medvedev, say were corrupt elections in which his opponents were not given equal (or sometimes any) air time, and voters were pressured into voting for Putin. Nothing about this guy screams "friend" or "partner" - if anything, and I'm no real foreign policy expert, but it seems like this just makes sense, we should be keeping Russia close to keep an eye on them. Because Putin has stated, in no uncertain terms, publicly, over and over again, that a strong Russia is his number one priority. Combine that with an ego that does not like to be insulted, and this could be the recipe for a big old mess.

What I can't quite seem to figure out, though, is why we as a country are so insistent on trying to 'reset' relations with Russia and Putin, and so hesitant to say anything else. In my mind, I think it would be a great thing if President Obama had a Prime Minister David moment (If you haven't seen Love Actually, shame on you, but here's a video of the speech anyway, and no, I don't know what language the subtitles are in) and actually laid it out there. But I'm sure there are things that I don't know, and that I don't have need to know, that are keeping that from happening. I just hope they're good, solid reasons. I really do. Because I'm pretty sure that no matter what we may say, whether we call him our best friend or a scary dude we're watching closely, he will still act in whatever way he feels is going to provide the best outcome for himself and for his version of a strong Russia. He's surely not thinking about our feelings.

Next up, more than likely: that Atlantic article about women that's been lighting up the interwebs for the past week or so. Can you tell I've been thinking a lot lately?

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