A Unified Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok
Over the past month, a stunned world has received its first glimpse of the true reality of neo-Soviet Russia, something I’ve been warning about ever since 2006. It saw bloodthirsty aggression, and it saw ruthless repression. The big difference from Soviet times was the face Russia presented to the world: Not grim, shadowy, decrepit Politburo figures but a strutting, smirking, vigorous, brutish thug named Vladimir Putin. When I began sounding the clarion call about this Russian reality eight years ago, I was attacked as having my head in the past, unable to see the “new Russia” arising before me. Now, we see it was my critics who had their heads somewhere inappropriate.
One major criticism Putin would make of his Soviet ancestors would be of their paranoid fear of the trappings of democracy. Like them, Putin needs and wants to pretend that Russia is democratic, but unlike them Putin is not afraid to engage in what we might call “genuine pretense.”
Whereas the USSR “elections” had only one candidate, out of fear that any kind of rival might actually win, Putin realized that elections could be easily managed even with multiple candidates, as part of a systematic hoax.
And whereas the USSR the rulers kept their distance from the “voters,” Putin realized that he could host interactive versions of FDR’s fireside chats, managing questions and manipulating the broadcast to continue the systematic hoax and make it appear he was accountable. Putin admires FDR greatly, since he did exactly what Putin is trying to do, create the pretense of democracy while in fact ruling largely as a dictator for life. Unfortunately for Rusians, I’m not sure they’ll get the chance to change the law to prevent such malignant conduct before their country is once again destroyed by it.
Last week Putin carried out his latest chat with the voters, broadcast on national TV and lasting an impressive four hours. Seemingly intoxicated with his victorious war of conquest in Ukraine, the statements Putin made were truly terrifying.
I believe our aim today must be to create a unified Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok. If we choose a different course of action, if we divide Europe, European values and peoples, if we pursue separatism, then we will be marginal players and will not be able to exert any influence on world development or even our own development.
This statement shows Putin to be a man wholly disconnected from reality and hell-bent on global domination in precisely the same manner as were the rulers of the USSR. Instead of doing so in the name of Communism, however, Putin is motivated purely by Russian nationalism. Where the USSR spurned religion, Putin embraces the Russian Orthodox Church as a key element of his ideology.
Putin has been condemned by a ten-to-one margin on the floor of the UN General Assembly for his aggression in Ukraine, and he has been ejected from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe as a sanction. The notion that Putin wants to support European values is absurd; he clearly wants to obliterate them. Yet he is able to boldly claim the exact opposite on national TV and no Russian stands to challenge him. Meanwhile, his ominous reference to “Lisbon to Vladivostok” betrays his real goal in Europe: domination and destruction of competing values systems, just as was the case in Soviet times.
Putin poked his finger in America’s eye by taking a call-in question from Edward Snowden. Snowden asked: “Does Russia intercept, store, or analyze in any way, the communications of millions of individuals? Do you believe that simply increasing the effectiveness of intelligence or law enforcement investigations can justify placing societies rather than subjects under surveillance?” Putin responded:
Mr. Snowden, you are a former agent, a spy, I used to work for the intelligence service, we are going to talk one professional language. We don't have as much money as they have in the States and we don't have these technical devices that they have in the States. Our special services, thank God, are strictly controlled by society and the law and regulated by the law.
In Soviet times, leaders would have shied away from telling such sensational lies on live television, but Putin has realized that he rules a nation of sheep and he can get away with anything. His adventure in Crimea is having massive repercussions for the Russian economy, but his support in opinion polls remains unwavering. He has been engaging for years in a vicious assault on Internet freedom and unlike in the USA where there is only fear that technology will be used to crush dissent, in Russia Putin has ritualistically arrested and prosecute his political opponents and destroyed their means of communication.
For instance, just last week Russia began implementing a new law that requires any blogger with more than 3,000 daily visitors to register with the state and face the same regulation as the mass media outlets, outlets which can be shut down at a whim by the Kremlin any time the publish content viewed as “extremist.” In response, the Russian version of Google, Yandex, shut down its traffic monitoring services, to make it harder for the regime to identify target bloggers.
When asked about the Obama “reset” of relations with Russia, Putin responded: “You know, it’s not that it has ended now over Crimea. I think it ended even earlier, right after the events in Libya.” Previously, Putin’s position had been that Russia did not claim vital national interests beyond its border regions, and for that reason expected no interference in those regions from the U.S. But now Putin admits that in fact Russia has worldwide ambitions and intends to wage a full-blown cold war with the U.S. around the globe.
Indeed, Putin expressly placed 100% of the blame for the decline in U.S.-Russian relations on the United States: “You know the answer is simple. I agree with you that we have lost trust. But why did this happen? We believe it’s not our fault, because these double standards, as we call them, have always been disappointing.” Russia, in other words, does not need to change its behavior one single iota, according to Putin, it is the United States which must make all corrections.
When asked about Ukraine, Putin responded by using the chilling word “Novorossiya,” which is a Russian term similar to the American notion of “manifest destiny” (but that term was used in regard to territory that was mostly wide-open space, not containing civilizations developed over centuries). Poland is already panic stricken by Putin’s provocative use of this hot-button term. Stunningly, Putin also claimed that it was the West, not Russia, that was using military force rather than diplomacy to solve Ukraine’s problems. Combining Putin’s use of “Novorossiya” and his phrase “from Lisbon to Vladivostok,” it become clear Putin is a man on a mission that goes far beyond Ukraine.
Acting Ukraine Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk had his own sound bite in response: “Russia has a new commodity for export in addition to oil and gas – terrorism. It’s become clear our Russian neighbors have decided to build a new Berlin Wall and want a return to the Cold War.”
Putin cracked jokes and the audience roared and applauded when an old lady asked him whether Russia would be taking Alaska back from America. Just imagine, though, how Russians would react if German Chancellor Angela Merkel did the same at during a German broadcast when asked about taking back the former German enclave of Kaliningrad from Russia, and then you’ll get a sense of how horrifying the exchange with Putin really was.
Putin’s smug belief that neither his own citizens nor the American president will dare to challenge his brash neo-Soviet aggression may be well-founded. The protest movement that surged after the last, shamelessly rigged, parliamentary election has foundered and disappeared, and Obama’s response to Putin’s charge into Ukraine has been limp-wristed to say the least. Even the weakest football team can crush its rival if the opposition simply lies down on the field and takes a nap.
illustration by Ronny Gordon
Follow Kim Zigfeld on Twitter @larussophobe .