Raising the Standard.

Putin’s Appetite for Empire

Vladimir V. Putin. (Photo courtesy World Economic Forum)

Last Thursday, before Russia began the aggressive annexation of a Ukrainian peninsula, The Red & Black published a column I wrote about Vladimir Putin’s ambitions in the region. The column is reproduced in full below. Putin’s prospects have certainly improved since time of writing, but the column stands. It is a good explanation of the chilling ideology driving this war. On offense is a totalitarian Russian machine (Need more proof? The “democratic” Duma voted unanimously to authorize force in Ukraine). On defense is a vulnerable, pro-Western Ukraine. Who to support? The question answers itself. It is time for President Obama to stop hiding behind the skirt of the “international community” and demonstrate to Putin that the United States will not tolerate his aggression. He can start by following the advice of human rights activist Gary Kasparov and The Weekly Standard‘s Bill Kristol by freezing the assets of Russian leaders. Then he can consider a sizable loan to the strapped Ukrainian government, and other measures. Make it hurt, Mr. President.

“We will bury you,” Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev warned the West at the height of his nation’s influence in 1956. Half a century later, Russia has buried the United States in Sochi slush and the Olympic medal count, but in little else. President Vladimir Putin would dearly like that to change.

With the Olympic torch extinguished, cameras will pivot away from Russia to other areas, preferably where things are on fire. The coming lull in media attention will allow Putin to refocus on his main project: Forging the new, anti-democratic coalition he hopes will assume the position formerly occupied by the Soviet Union.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Russians have sought a way to unify their country and, regionally, get the band back together. In 2001, Russian political scientist Aleksandr Dugin made his pitch: A totalitarian ideology called Eurasianism, which blends the choicest aspects of Bolshevism and fascism.

As scholars have pointed out, Putin’s third term represents a triumph for Eurasianism. Its ideologues are well represented in the administration and its policies.

At home, the Putin administration promotes what it calls “traditional family values” and what everyone else calls a brutal human rights crackdown. By now, most have heard of Russia’s “gay propaganda” laws and the feminist group Pussy Riot, whose members were recently beaten by Russian militiamen for protesting in Sochi.

In a dramatic reversal from Khrushchev’s militantly atheist Russia, Putin’s Russia criticizes a morally “decadent” and “godless” West — though some might question the conviction of a former KGB agent steeped in the materialist brew of Communist Party doctrine.

More recognizable features of the old Soviet model include severely limited freedom of expression, enforced by a terrifying system of punishment. Charges of “hooliganism” for participating in “unapproved” protests are often leveled against the regime’s enemies. If these latter-day Denisovichs are lucky, they are put under house arrest. If they aren’t, they are spirited away to Pytochnye kolonii, or “torture colonies,” which were shut down under the presidency of Boris Yeltsin but have made a comeback under Putin. Of the colonies, one human rights activist said “the correct word for this is Gulag, even if it’s on a smaller scale. This is the reappearance of totalitarianism in the state.”

In economic policy, Russia has followed the example of the late Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela (now featuring fire, see above) by nationalizing energy production. It has done this by buying out the competition. In purchasing the private company TNK-British Petroleum in 2012, state-owned oil company Rosneft surpassed Exxon Mobil as the world’s largest oil producer, enthroning Putin as the “global shah of oil.”

The Shah has used his title as leverage in international negotiations about a proposed alternative to the European Union, the Eurasian Union. Given the ideology at work in Putin’s administration, the name is not a coincidence. The Eurasian Union would be to the European Union what the Warsaw Pact was to NATO — an antagonist in much more than trade deals.

If this sounds troubling, it is. Moreover, it supports the view that Russia is the same old bear, albeit with a new coat of fur. It will not be easily baited by “resets,” summits or anything short of credible force.

Before we declare a second Cold War and convert our bathrooms into bomb shelters, there is reason to believe things are not going well for Putin and the forces of the Eurasian Empire.

For one, their human rights abuses are televised, digitized and distributed throughout the world. While the Soviet Union was able to keep its (much larger) abuses mum, often by leaning on useful idiots in the Western press, the new Russia cannot. Vehement opposition to its syncretic ideology is all but unanimous on the American right and left. If a lonely Pat Buchanan wishes to relocate to Moscow, there are many willing to raise his airfare.

And, as others have noted, Putin’s project doesn’t have many takers, even in the East. This was demonstrated with ringing clarity in Ukraine, which had courted both the European and Eurasian Unions. In an effort to force Ukraine’s hand, Putin threatened to cut off the flow of natural gas to the country if it made the wrong choice. The protest that erupted was not only a rejection of the Yanukovych regime, but also of Putin’s advances.

As they tore down statues of a different Vladimir in Kiev, the protestors were siding with the West — with civil liberties, transparent government and capitalist abundance.

“Bury us?” The protestors seemed to ask as they marched on the Maidan. “No, Vladimir, we will bury you.”

M. Blake Seitz is Editor-in-Chief of THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE

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