Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 7:21 AM
Yesterday virtually all major newspapers around the world featured one of two stories about Russia – both of which suggest that the recent restoration of Vladimir Putin as president marked the beginning of political repression at home and cold-war aggression abroad that are eerily reminiscent of Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror. In other words, where China has been keen to fight a Cold War II with the United States on economic terms, Russia seems itching to fight it on the conventional political and military terms that defined the first Cold War.
What is interesting, however, is that the vast majority of those papers featured the story about how the United States is throwing a hissy fit over Russia’s plan to sell attack helicopters to Syria. The United States is outraged because everybody knows that Syria’s pariah president, Bashir al-Assad, will use them to purge his country of pro-democracy protesters more effectively.
We have confronted the Russians about stopping their continued arms shipments to Syria. They have from time to time said that we shouldn’t worry … everything they’re shipping is unrelated to their actions internally. That’s patently untrue. And we are concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria, which will escalate the conflict quite dramatically.
(U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, BBC, June 12, 2012)
Of course, regular readers will recall that I presaged this story weeks ago, explaining why Putin considers it a categorical imperative to aid and abet Assad’s purge:
[I]n addition to protecting geostrategic interests, Putin is showing solidarity because Assad happens to be emulating the brute force Putin has used, and intends to continue using, to hold on to power in his own country.
(“Now Houla: Assad of Syria Continues to Massacre with Impunity,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 29, 2012)
Which brings me to the story that was featured in the other papers. It was about how Putin dispatched masked goons all over Moscow early yesterday morning to arrest his most vocal critics. He did this in a futile attempt to thwart pro-democracy protests planned for later in the day, which he knew would rival those that led to the downfall of dictators across the Arab world and is now threatening to bring down Assad.
Most reports focused on claims by defiant protesters that Putin seems intent on emulating Stalin. This is why they show foreboding contempt for his regime by calling it “Hello1937” – a reference to the worst year of Stalin’s infamous purges. (Estimates of the number of wholly innocent Russians he had killed range from 2 to 20 million.)
But here too regular readers will recall that I presaged this story years ago – even before Constitutional niceties forced Putin to have his puppet Dmitry Medvedev warm his presidential seat for a term, which gave rise to the restoration I referenced above.
Here are excerpts from just a few of the commentaries I wrote over the years warning about Putin’s intent to purge political dissent at home and wield political influence abroad in a manner that would make Stalin green with envy:
Putin is trying to reclaim Russia’s (superpower) sphere of influence in the world; inter alia, by warning Russia’s former satellite states against joining NATO (even though all of them — led by Poland — seem determined to defy him); trying to affect the make-up of East European governments (as he did, to no avail, in Georgia and Ukraine); and forming bilateral relationships with rogue states to counter America’s influence (like selling advanced military equipment to North Korea, Syria, Libya, Cuba and Venezuela).
(“Putin, a Soul Mate Scorned,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 3, 2005)
I coined the term ‘putinization’ to describe Putin’s neo-Stalinist tactics, which were (and are) clearly aimed at neutralizing all political dissent, quashing all civil liberties, and making him a latter-day Czar.
(“Hail Putin,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 3, 2007)
The only thing that explains Putin’s selection of Medvedev as president is Medvedev’s willingness to be even more deferential to Putin than Zubkov…
Medvedev went out of his way during his first televised address [as president] to assure the Russian people (and warn the world?) that Putin shall continue to be the most powerful man in Russia. [Here's a little of what he said]:
‘Russia has reclaimed its proper place in the world community. Russia has become a different country, stronger and more prosperous… In order to stay on this path, it is not enough to elect a new president who shares this ideology… That is why I find it extremely important for our country to keep Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin at the most important position in the executive power, at the post of the chairman of the government.’
(“Putin Taps His Protégé, Medvedev, as His Successor,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 12, 2007)
Instead of hammering through a self-interested constitutional amendment [to allow him to serve unlimited consecutive terms instead of just two], Putin seemed content to serve as president for life with four-year interregnums by his chosen lap dogs to preserve the patina of democratic legitimacy. Nevertheless, he prevailed upon the Russian parliament to extend presidential terms from four to six years, prospectively; i.e., so that it does not extend Medvedev’s current term by two years, but takes effect only in 2012 when he clearly expects to be re-elected. This will then give him a more comfortable twelve instead of eight years between interregnums.
(“Remembering Stalin Exposes ‘Tensions’ Between Putin and Medvedev,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 10, 2010)
So it behooves the United States to understand that threatening Russia with WTO and UN sanctions over Syria will have no impact whatsoever. Because Putin is clearly hell-bent not only on undermining and even challenging the super power the U.S. wields around the world, but also on recreating the Soviet Union that Stalin turned into a superpower at the beginning of Cold War I:
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has described the  collapse of the Soviet Union as ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe’ of the 20th century.
(The BBC, April 25, 2005)
May God help pro-democracy protesters in Russia and Syria who are now at the mercy of dictators who have nothing to fear but the survival of those protesters.