My purpose in writing this piece is not to paint Vladimir Putin as a saint. He is not., like the rulers of other world powers are not.
But some seem content to describe him as the devil incarnate. He is not that either. I think he is an unabashed, enthusiastic, authoritarian nationalist with a Christian bent. For those of you who consider Putin an enemy I want to remind you of the wisdom of Sun Tzu:
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
The ignorance in America and Europe about the real Putin is staggering. The media, for example, continues to be filled with a false, cartoon description of Vladimir Putin. Some describe him as Hitler. Okay, show me his version of Mein Kampf? Show me the concentration camps he has set up to rid his country and surrounding areas of Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals? Does not exist.
Others decry Putin as a kleptocrat in league with the “oligarchs.”But the actual facts about Putin’s dealings with the oligarchs is much more nuanced.
Shortly after taking power in 2000, Putin gathered the 18 most powerful businessmen in Russia–aka the oligarchs–and put them on notice that their days of looting Russia was over. One of these men–Mikhail Khordadovsky–was arrested and imprisoned a few years later. Others, such as the Chernoy brothers sought refuge in Israel while Boris Beresovky found asylum in London.
Here is NPR’s take on Putin’s actions:
Putin lost no time cementing his grip on political power. He reformed the upper house of parliament, removing the powerful regional governors who sat there ex-officio and replacing them with Kremlin appointments. Tax police launched raids and prosecutors began probes into Russia’s biggest companies, some belonging to the country’s most influential businessmen, the so-called oligarchs. Putin’s message was clear: Show loyalty to the Kremlin or face an uncertain future. Most did and were left alone.
Vladimir Gusinsky was among those who didn’t show loyalty. Before Putin’s election, the banking and media tycoon had helped finance the Kremlin’s main opponents, powerful Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and his partner, former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. The president responded once he was in office. Gusinsky was jailed on fraud charges. His media holdings — some of the country’s top independent outlets, including NTV television, the Segodnya newspaper and Itogi magazine — came under pressure. All eventually fell under the control of Kremlin-friendly organizations.
Putin also attacked those who helped put him in office. Chief among them was oil and media tycoon Boris Berezovsky, the Kremlin’s top power broker. Berezovsky is believed to have helped choose Putin for prime minister, and he went on to promote the future president on Russia’s biggest national television network. But after Putin’s election, the two fell out over Berezovsky’s reported attempts to control Putin. Berezovsky fled into self-imposed exile in London. His oil and media assets ended up in pro-Kremlin hands.
Putin is an Orthodox Christian. Consider what he has said about “moral” values:
“Without the moral values that are rooted in Christianity and other world religions, without rules and moral values which have formed and been developed over millennia, people will inevitably lose their human dignity. And Russia thinks it is right and natural to defend and preserve these moral values.”
Nine years ago, Putin signed legislation in Russia that warmed the hearts of the religious right in the United States:
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a new bill into law that makes religious education mandatory for all schools in the country.
The Christian Post also reported:
Putin, an Orthodox Christian, has enjoyed a good relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church, the dominant religion in the country, and its head bishop Kirill I of Moscow. The bishop has often served as adviser to the president, although that has also sparked some dissatisfaction among Russians who insist that church and state should remain separate.
Putin’s beliefs about moral decay in the West reflect the views of Billy Graham rather than Joseph Stalin, who persecuted Christians in the Soviet Union. In his State of the Nation address in 2014 Putin said:
“Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values… Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan.”
During Putin’s reign Russia has adopted new laws that ban homosexual propaganda and criminalizes the insulting of religious sensibilities. That may be authoritarian but it certainly is not communist. It is fair to argue whether he is a “good” Christian, but he has professed publicly his belief and taken political actions consistent with those beliefs.
I take Putin at face value. He is a committed Russian First political leader. He has put the west on notice that he will no longer allow Russia to be bullied or blackmailed by the expansion of NATO and the arming of nations on his border. I would note that this sounds like a Russian version of the Monroe Doctrine to me. Do you think the American public would endorse Russia or China arming Mexico with nuclear weapons or advanced air defense systems?
I think Sun Tzu has it right–If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”