Comparisons of Vladimir Putin to Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin are exaggerations, but only because President Putin operates in an era of forced transparency. The world has changed so dramatically that today, if Stalin’s Gulag and Hitler’s concentration camps were to be exposed to billions on daily news programs, that could not but diminish the numbers of victims as well as the degree of atrocity. Certainly, this development does not make Vladimir Putin any less of a psychopath, only less lethal.
Putin has manifested that President Barack Obama’s and Secretary Hillary Clinton’s Russia reset policy announced some five years ago was delusional. Still, that reset was predicated on earlier policy which had failed to recognize that the U.S.S.R. was merely a variation of the Russian empire, and with the U.S.S.R.’s demise, the same aggressor had merely changed its name. Certainly, even prior to reset, Russia had done very little to show that anything substantive had changed, taking over all Soviet assets, acceding to the Soviet seat at the United Nations and other international fora, publicly bemoaning the U.S.S.R.’s demise, celebrating Soviet holidays and history.
In the post-World War II period U. S. foreign policy recognized the Soviet Union as a danger, but was delusional, ill informed and unjustifiably sympathetic to Russia and Russians. An internal note from the Department of State to the National Security Council in 1948 on the issue of Ukrainian independence aspirations concluded that “...we cannot be indifferent to the feelings of the Great Russians themselves... Any long term U.S. policy must be based on their acceptance and their cooperation. The Ukrainian territory is as much as part of their national heritage as the Middle West is of ours, and they are conscious of that fact. A solution which attempts to separate the Ukraine entirely from the rest of Russia is bound to incur their resentment and opposition, and can be maintained, in the last analysis, only by force.”
U.S. intelligence services worked actively during the “Cold War” to include the Russian emigre community within anti-Soviet coalitions aimed at taking down the U.S.S.R. However, in large measure, the other captive nations refused to accept the Russians within their fold despite U.S. efforts. The Russians themselves provided ample material for the other nations to be wary. In December 1952 the Russian-American monthly magazine carried an article by a Russian Orthodox priest, Peter G. Kohanik, in which the Russian cleric wrote:
“We must openly state that no American should participate in meddling in the internal affairs of other countries. Of course, we all dislike the abhorrent Bolshevism and its sinful work in Russia and all over the world, but this does not mean that we should also hate Russia and her people. In trying to destroy Bolshevism, we have no right whatever to undermine the former Great Russian Empire by striving, as the ‘Ukrainian’ Separatists do (assisted by good and honest but mislead Americans), to detach from her the ‘Little Russia’ (known at present as the “Ukraine).
Aside from its own wishful thinking, the U.S. delusions about Russia were supported by some quasi democratic developments particularly during the tenure of Russia’s first post Soviet president Boris Yeltsin. Still, even Yeltsin’s quasi democratic public persona was belied by his internal actions and statements. Two days after Ukraine declared its independence on August 24, 1991, Yeltsin stated that he would recognize Ukraine, but insisted that the issue of the border had to be revisited. Yeltsin was opposed to the U.S.S.R., but nonetheless a champion of the Russian empire. For that very reason, aware of his own personal frailties, he brought in KGB colonel Vladimir Putin as his chosen successor.
Putin has been firmly in control of Russia for more than a decade by maneuvering Russia’s constitutional norms and moving pawns in different roles. He has flexed his muscles, disregarded most international treaties, and continues to occupy parts of at least three neighboring sovereign states: Moldova, Georgia and now Ukraine. In the meantime, until very recently, the international community opened its doors to the G7, the G20, WTO and even entered into NATO cooperation. Even so, lines of diplomatic communication with Putin remain open. FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia remains very much on the agenda.
For the more discerning, however, the prevailing view is that Putin’s demise is necessary because he is the problem. Yet 80 percent of Russians support Putin. There is no doubt that Putin must go, but he is merely the immediate problem. Based on Russian history and culture, it is quite apparent that Russian society is more than likely to spawn another Putin as his successor. He could be a former KGB colonel like Putin, or a seminarian like Stalin or a priest like Kohanik.
The democratic and law-abiding world needs to reset its Russia policy for the long term. That policy must inevitably recognize Russia, not simply one man, as the ultimate aggressor.