Many are expecting that the conclusion of the British judicial investigation into the murder of Aleksandr Litvinenko that Vladimir Putin was behind that crime will lead to a sea change in the reaction of the West to Putin and his regime. As much as one would like to believe that, the prospects do not appear to be good.
The reason is simple: Western leaders and indeed Western publics are like the proverbial frog who might have jumped out of a kettle of boiling water but quietly accepts their position if the water is simply warmed up, ultimately to boiling. Each rise in temperature is accepted as the new normal, and the overall trend toward the boiling point is ignored or at least discounted.
Putin began his rise by killing 300 of his own citizens to restart a vicious war in Chechnya, but most in the West refused to accept the findings of experts and the evidence from Ryazan on that and continued to look at him as the continuer of the market oriented policies that the West cared more about than democracy and freedom.
Putin arrested and in some cases had his opponents killed, and again Western leaders said just as they had in the 1930s about Hitler that the stories were overblown and that the Kremlin leader was someone the West had a compelling interest to cooperate with rather than contain and work to remove.
Putin laid out his plans for a revanchist policy in Munich, and these were dismissed in Washington and other capitals as playing to his domestic audience. Then he invaded Georgia and more recently he has invaded Ukraine. But instead of supporting those victims of Russian aggression, the West chose to negotiate with Putin about them without them.
In every case, the logic has been the same:
- First, some constantly try to blame the victims, suggesting that Putin had to act the way he did.
- Then, they insist that he couldn’t be as bad as his critics say.
- And then, such people argue that even if he is, he is still someone they have to talk to because of Russia’s power.
Because of such attitudes, there has always been a market for those who argue that they can establish rapport with Putin and his regime and achieve a breakthrough. Those who suggest they are deceiving themselves on that point and even being played are dismissed now just as consistently as were “the wild Churchill men” who opposed Hitler.
What is perhaps the most appalling and hypocritical aspect of this situation is that many Western governments do in fact take small steps indicating they understand the situation but do not refrain from saying how sorry they are to have to do even that or from dispatching their diplomats to Moscow to negotiate with Putin about his agenda.
The time has come to recognize that Putin, like Hitler and Stalin before him, will keep moving in increasingly horrific directions both at home and abroad unless the rest of the world clearly recognizes his evil and takes steps to block him for its sake and for the sake of Russians as well because despite Putin’s megalomania, Putin is not Russia and Russia is not Putin.
But as of yet and despite the Litvinenko case findings in London, there tragically does not seem to be much of a willingness to recognize the reality we find ourselves in: the water that the frog finds itself in is getting hotter and hotter and unless something is done, the water will boil – and the frog as a result will die.