By Tom Maertens, Mankato Free Press
A British government inquiry recently determined that Russian president Vladimir Putin likely gave the order to assassinate dissident Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London.
Litvinenko had revealed Putin’s long history of corruption and the criminal activities of Russia’s secret police, detailed by Karen Dawisha in Putin’s Kleptocracy. For example, the Spanish government reportedly tracked 37 secret trips Putin made as head of the FSB to visit Russian Mafiosi living in Spain; major media outlets, including the BBC, have labeled Russia “a mafia state.” Estimates of Putin’s personal wealth run from $40 billion to $200 billion.
Many Putin critics have met Litvinenko’s fate, including more than 300 journalists who disappeared or were murdered in Russia, according to the International Federation of Journalists; unsurprisingly, no one was ever successfully prosecuted.
Jerrold Post, professor of psychiatry and CIA psychological profiler, judges that the driving force behind Putin’s actions is extreme narcissism and a strong need for power and control.
Post labelled Putin “A brutally ruthless dictator … obsessed with masculinity, power, size and strength...” (possibly) the result of being bullied as a kid (he’s 5 feet 6 inches). Putin used to express outrage for being reprimanded and continues to react intensely to criticism: “any oligarch or journalist who criticizes or opposes him is likely to find themselves in prison or dead.”
Putin presides over what is historically the greatest imperialist power ever, a constant threat to its neighbors.
According to Henry Kissinger (World Order, p. 53.) from 1552 to 1917, Russia expanded its territory an average of 100,000 square kilometers annually, an area larger than the entire territory of some European states.
Stalin continued Russian acquisitiveness in the 20th century, conducting a joint attack with Hitler that started WWII in Europe: Germany invaded Poland Sept. 1; Russia invaded 16 days later. Stalin then took Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, and, a few months later, he invaded Finland and annexed Karelia — while simultaneously condemning the “imperialist” West.
“Even today,” … historian Max Hastings has written, “Russia clings to … its war booty, embracing eastern Poland, eastern Finland, and parts of East Prussia and Romania, along with Stalin’s Pacific coast conquests.”
Putin has termed the breakup of the Soviet Union the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century" and is now trying to turn back the clock: since 2008 Russia has snatched Crimea from Ukraine; supported a military uprising in eastern Ukraine; and sent troops to occupy Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Georgia), as well as Transnistria (Moldova).
Putin has said he was prepared to put his nuclear forces on alert prior to annexing Crimea, prompting a top Russian TV anchor to threaten turning the U.S. into “radioactive ash,” and another state television host to call on air for Moscow to nuke Washington.
Russian officials reportedly told a NATO meeting in Germany recently that any attempt to return Crimea to Ukraine would be met “forcefully including through the use of nuclear force.” They added, ominously, that the same conditions that justified Russian intervention in Ukraine applied to three NATO members: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
As Newsweek reported “The Kremlin has made a number of nuclear threats against the Baltic states, Finland, Great Britain, Norway, Poland and Sweden — all while undertaking a long-term massive conventional and nuclear buildup that shows no sign of stopping.”
The U.S. says this buildup involves violating the INF Treaty by testing new long-range cruise missiles and violates a second agreement by constructing new long-range bombers.
Russia also threatened to nuke Danish ships because of Copenhagen’s support of a U.S.-backed missile defense in Europe.
The Wall Street Journal characterized Putin’s “open nuclear threats … with WMD largely unseen even in the days of the Cold War.”
In Putin’s mafia state, his friends get rich and his enemies, like Boris Nemtsov, get killed; he maintains domestic support by stoking up Russian nationalism with his land grabs and war-mongering.
As part of his strategy of sabre rattling and intimidation, Putin openly subsidizes some European political parties, including France’s second largest party, the National Front, which reciprocates by parroting Kremlin propaganda.
Most European countries are heavily dependent on Russian gas. They also have bitter memories of war, and, in the end, they expect the U.S. will defend them – and indeed Obama is asking for billions more to defend NATO.
These factors make many Euros reluctant to confront Russia; some even support a Russian sphere of influence as though Moscow had special rights in Ukraine that limited Ukraine’s independence.
Such craven weakness could lead Putin to make dangerous miscalculations.
Tom Maertens worked on Soviet and then Russian affairs for a dozen years, inside the State Department, at the U.S. Consulate General in Leningrad, and as Minister-Counselor for Science, Environment and Technology at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.