Vladimir Putin is a throwback to the Age of Dictators. Cunning is usually enough for him to have his way. Rigging elections, for instance, is standard procedure. He and Dmitri Medvedev between them exchanged the offices of president and prime minister with open contempt that was bound to leave voters thinking they had better do what they were told. This pair of slippery thugs will be in power for years, most likely till biology takes its course. In the dictator’s playbook, force serves the purpose of backing up cunning, and Putin gives exemplary demonstrations of it.
Cyber war against Estonia was a preliminary warning. When Georgia was making friendly overtures to the European Union, armored divisions rolled in, Soviet-style, to put an end to it. In the instances of Ossetia and Abkhazia, Putin has taken over the territory of another state, actually shifting boundaries unilaterally in favor of Russia, just as Stalin used to do. He’s also arming and protecting regimes in Iran and Syria with a success that marks the end of American influence in the Middle East — how Stalin would approve! Supposedly there was “a peace dividend” at the close of the Cold War, and if so, then it’s been well and truly spent.
A key to what is happening now in Ukraine is Robert Conquest’s Harvest of Sorrow. That authoritative book documents the terror-famine of the 1930s, in which Stalin sent 11 million Ukrainians to their death because they were peasants, kulaks as they were called. Nikita Khrushchev played the leading role in this genocidal procedure, and when he took over in the Kremlin he filled empty space in Ukraine with Russian immigrants and tried to buy the goodwill of Ukrainians by changing boundaries in their favor. Nobody could imagine a time when the Soviet Union would be no more, and an independent Ukraine would come into existence.
Every demonstrator in Kiev and Lviv and elsewhere is sure to have relations and friends victimized by the Communists, and will be throwing a home-made firebomb in their memory. In Putin’s view, these Ukrainians must understand that their nation and aspirations cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the Second Soviet Union. Russia wants a strong government, in the words of the creepy Dmitri Medvedev, “so that people don’t wipe their feet on the authorities like a doormat.”
Repression at home, proxy wars abroad, humiliation and whimpering on the part of the United States — the more things change, the more they stay the same.