Contrary to what many in Washington are suggesting, understanding the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was never difficult. Three U.S. administrations failed to do it not because of a lack of evidence of his criminality but rather because facing that reality did not fit into their plans.
Putin came to power as the result of an act of terror, the bombing of four Russian apartment buildings in 1999 that claimed 300 lives. It was this act that galvanized Russians behind a new war in Chechnya and turned a former head of the FSB who had never run for office into a national savior. A fifth bomb in the basement of a building in the city of Ryazan, however, was discovered and the persons who planted it were caught. They proved to be not Chechen terrorists but agents of the Federal Security Service (FSB).
American officials have had full access for many years to the overwhelming evidence that the 1999 apartment bombings were a false-flag attack intended to justify a new war in Chechnya and bring Putin to power. They not only ignored this evidence but devoted themselves to making Putin their “friend.” President Bush invited Putin to the Bush family home in Kennebunkport. Obama launched his “reset” policy not because the previous policy was unrealistic, but because U.S. gestures of goodwill had not gone far enough.
Putin is a product of the Communist system which reduced individuals to cogs in the machine of a supposedly infallible state. The result for millions was a complete loss of moral values and an infatuation with power — Putin embodies this.
They were in evidence in 2004 when Russian troops attacked the gymnasium of the school in Beslan with flame throwers and grenade launchers, killing 338 persons, including hundreds of children. The order for that attack, which would have been unthinkable for the government of any Western nation, could have come only from Putin. The attack came an hour after agreement had been reached for negotiations with the Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov that could have led to an end to the crisis.
The moral legacy of Communism is evident in the massive corruption of Russian leaders who siphon off their country’s wealth dooming it to backwardness and in their readiness to rally the population against an imaginary foreign threat in order to distract attention from their abuses.
A story in this morning’s New York Times about our failure to assess Putin accurately is entitled “Three Presidents and a Riddle Named Putin.”
In fact, there is no riddle. The article would more accurately have been entitled “There are None So Blind as Those Who Will Not See.”
— David Satter is a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute and an adviser to Radio Liberty. He was the first U.S. correspondent to be expelled from Russia since the Cold War.