The best way to understand what Vladimir Putin is doing, most recently in his speech to Russian diplomats, Aleksandr Golts says in a commentary in “Yezhednevny zhurnal” yesterday is to imagine a similar speech by Putin to the members of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
In such an imaginary situation, the Moscow commentator says, the president of the country would say: “’As is well known to all those present, the Earth rests on three wales, which in turn stand on a gigantic turtle…’” What would one expect after this? “Those present would hardly call for emergency psychiatric help.”
“On the contrary,” Golts says, in such a situation, “one honored academy would immediately propose deeper investigations into the right backside of the second elephant … and another no less distinguished academic would declare that the future of the country directly depends on the shell of the turtle.”
Then, “already in the evening federal television channels will already be savaging the national traitors who have the effrontery to assert in spite of the obvious andofnational pride that the Earth goes around the Sun. The next day, leading sociological services will say that 85 percent of the residents of the country demand that there be a globe of Russia in school classes.”
This may seem to some like an exaggeration, Golts acknowledges. But he continues, “the arguments which Vladimir Putin advanced have exactly the same relationship to reality as do the notions of ancient astronomers.” That becomes obvious if one considers what Putin told the diplomats about Russia’s “right” to seize Crimea and “defend” ethnic Russians abroad.
The absurdity of the Kremlin leader’s arguments about Crimea become obvious if one imagines that a Greek prime minister might at some point demand the “re-unification” of Crimea with his country because “in the course of many centuries the peninsula was a distant provinc of Athens” where “dozens of generations of Greeks” had labored.
And the wrong-headedness of Putin’s argument about the need to defend Russianness and compatriots abroad should be clear to anyone who remembers what happened when another government 70 plus years ago asserted its right to defend “compatriots abroad” up to and including by the use of military force.
Until the middle of the 20th century, many leaders measured “the power, wealth and security of the state” by its “size, access to the sea,” and other geographic characteristics. On the basis of that, the tsars divided up Poland in the 18th century, and Stalin occupied the three Baltic countries in the 20th.
But such assumptions “do not have any relationship to the current world order,” Golts continues. “Today, the security of the state is defined by its economic situation, the presence or absence of allies, and the military readiness of its armed forces.” Countries don’t become stronger by annexing the territory of others, as Crimea has shown.
Despite what Putin says, “NATO never intends to put its forces in Crimea. Not because it trusts Russi but simply because there is no sense in doing so: it can launch its rockets from the Black Sea or even the Mediterranean.” Thus, annexing Crimea “does not add anything to the security of Russia.” Instead, it hurts it by causing NATO to increase its activities.
Putin and his entourage are living in another world but one in which they have nuclear weapons. And increasingly, despite denials in the West, that world is in ideological opposition to the rest of the world. “How is the Putin demand to ‘recognize the right of one another to be different, the right of each country to build its own life according to its own ideas not an ideology?” Golts asks.
It certainly is an ideology, the Moscow commentator says, when it is in fact “a demand to recognize his right to live in an imagined world that does not exist in the real world” and more than that a call for the recognition of his right “to organize not only his own life but yours and mine according to Putin’s views.”