Facts about Putin

Why nothing will dent Vladimir Putin’s soaring popularity at home

Neither western sanctions nor claims of Russia’s involvement in flight MH17 influence its citizens, who live on a diet of state propaganda


10:23 PM EST [Edited]

It is like many old time corporations that don’t keep up with technology and all of sudden they become obsolete. When oil prices were high, Russia needed to keep investing and diversifying its economy. They have to do that even now, but it will be harder. That country has more natural resources within its borders than any other nation, it has smart people, they can and should be able to build a strong economy.
Another key for Russia would be expanding its population by having more babies, but to do that they need the people to be able to financially afford their children–which gets back to diversifying and building a strong economy. I don’t agree with the sanctions on Russia, they are counter productive, however Russia should consider everything a blessing and an opportunity.

10:23 PM EST [Edited]

The economic situation in Russia in getting so dire that the economy is now about the size of Spain’s economy after the World Bank ranked it as the eighth largest in the World in 2013. In 2014 due to the collapse of the Ruble and decline in oil prices Russia’s GDP must be recalculated daily to account for the economy’s plunge. It’s like Germany in the 1920′s when the price of a loaf of bread changed between the time when you left the house and arrived at the store.
The fact is Putin has lead Russia into one of the greatest calamities in its history. Spain does not deserve a sphere of influence that extends outside of its borders and with his incredible shrinking economy Putin will have a hard enough time controlling events inside Russia let alone in neighboring countries. There is no more need for the West to fear the toothless Russia bear than to fear the number 7 economy in the world in 2013, Brazil. Brazil has an air force smaller than a single American Carrier Battle Group which could quite handily take care of Brazil’s Air Force and Navy by itself. This is the true position of Russian power or rather the lack of it.


Vladimir Putin: the Tsar who won’t thaw

The ruler of Russia lives cocooned by security on a private estate, rarely visits the Kremlin and shows affection only to his dog. So what drives this modern emperor on?

Branded an international pariah in the West, Vladimir Putin does not feel guilt or remorse Photo: AFP/GETTY

By Tom Parfitt, in Moscow
7:53PM BST 25 Jul 2014

He rises late, breakfasts on curds and porridge and then heads for the swimming pool. His appears to be an ascetic life: no alcohol, no fatty foods and plenty of sport. He recently divorced from his wife of 30 years and vehemently denies rumours of trysts with a former gymnast. Work begins after lunch every day and continues until the early hours of the morning.

In a recent sketch of Vladimir Putin’s routine, the writer Ben Judah likened him to a modern-day emperor, surrounded by courtiers and friends from St Petersburg who call him “the Tsar”.

“His life has become ceremonial: an endless procession of gilded rooms,” wrote Mr Judah, who spent months interviewing the leader’s former staff. “His routine is parcelled up into thousands of units of 15 minutes and planned for months, if not years ahead.”

Mr Putin spends his days at Novo-Ogarevo, his capacious estate on Rublevka, the birch-lined highway that runs west out of Moscow past dachas of the corrupt and famous. Few have told of his otherwordly life, but details dribble out: he has a personal food-taster; his ministers approach him like meek schoolboys; he breaks off to play ice hockey with his bodyguards in the evenings.

The president takes his time: foreign leaders can wait for hours for an audience while he watches them via a video link writhe with boredom outside his office. Journalists spend whole evenings lolling in an ante-room with a billiards table. Putin disdains computers and reads intelligence reports from thick leather-bound folders.

Aides may be held at bay, but Koni, his cherished Labrador, is never far away, greeting Mr Putin as he emerges from the swimming pool, or begging a titbit from the breakfast table. The president – who adores animals – has a pet goat and a miniature horse called Vadik in the grounds of the sweeping estate, which is hidden behind six-metre high walls.

He rarely travels to the Kremlin, and if he does, it is in a high-speed cortege that barrels down Kutuzovsky Prospekt, where police block all surrounding streets to ease its passage, leaving hundreds of Muscovites fuming at the wheel.

To many, Mr Putin, 61, appears an isolated figure. Hubert Seipel, a German filmmaker who made a documentary about the president two years ago, found him trapped in a security bubble. During a break in an ice hockey game, the Russian leader looks lonely and exhausted, even old: a far cry from his macho image of a bare-chested fisherman, fighter pilot and horse-rider.

It is tempting to see Mr Putin as an eccentric singleton dictator, an odd mix of Miss Havisham and Emperor Haile Selassie, sequestered with sycophants in a desolate mansion, yet with the levers of power still at his fingertips. Some observers believe Mr Putin is now in the trickiest position since first assuming office 14 years ago. Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis have begun to bite, and more were pending yesterday in the wake of Flight MH17: the Malaysia Airlines jet that crashed in eastern Ukraine last week, allegedly shot down by pro-Russian separatists backed by the Kremlin.

In a report earlier this month, the International Monetary Fund said sanctions had already stoked capital outflows and caused a “chilling effect” on investment, nudging Moscow toward economic isolation. The Bank of Russia raised its main interest rate by half a point to 8 per cent yesterday, citing “geopolitical tension”. If the economy begins to tank, then wages could be eroded and social unrest could grow.

Senior Russian figures have pooh-poohed the restrictions. Vladimir Yakunin, head of Russian Railways and a frequent visitor to Novo-Ogarevo, is fond of saying American and EU sanctions are like mosquitoes in Siberia: “They’re a nuisance, but life goes on.” This week, Denis Manturov, Russia’s trade minister, called the sanctions “peanuts”. “If one market closes, another opens,” he said.

Andrei Kudrin, the liberal former finance minister, is less sanguine. On Tuesday he confessed he was taken aback by a “fundamental shift” in Russia’s political landscape caused, in part, by the conflict in Ukraine.

“There are forces in the country who have long wanted to create distance, who want isolation, one could say, a kind of self-sufficiency,” Mr Kudrin told a Russian news agency. “Today that has all fallen on fertile ground, and I am amazed at the scale of anti-Western rhetoric that has appeared. Business wants to invest, build factories, trade. And business is very concerned about the things they hear on the radio and on television.”
Mr Kudrin was ousted from the government three years ago, but still meets Mr Putin, a sign that the Russian leader has not completely purged the liberal clan of economists and lawyers from his entourage.

Yet the siloviki – serving and former security and military veterans in his circle – will point to his approval ratings as a sign of reward for his hardline stance. A poll by Gallup published shortly before MH17 was downed found Mr Putin’s personal approval rating had climbed 29 points in the last year to 83 per cent, “propelled by a groundswell of national pride” over Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Meanwhile, Alexei Navalny, the popular anti-corruption campaigner, is under house arrest and Sergei Udaltsov, a radical opposition leader, was jailed for four and half years on Thursday for “organising mass riots”. Dissent has fizzled out.

Georgy Bovt, a sharp observer of Russia’s political scene, says that Western sanctions against Russia will end up hitting “ordinary people” hardest, while the oligarchs around Mr Putin – like his judo partners Arkady and Boris Rotenburg – will receive some form of compensation for their lost investments abroad.

But even that will not dent the president’s shield. “Sanctions will not erode his rating,” said Mr Bovt. “On the contrary, the Russian people will consolidate around him, perceiving the country as a besieged fortress, as they have done many times throughout history.”

Dmitry Trenin, director of the Moscow Carnegie Centre, a think tank, believes it a mistake to see the Russian leader as out of touch. “It’s true that Putin is a tsar, and he makes his decisions on his own without relying on others: most of all he trusts the reports from his special services,” he says. “He treats his subordinates as a tsar does and of course it is difficult to get to him. But is wrong to see him as an isolated figure. As someone who controls the country through its bureaucracy, he is constantly on the move, travelling inside the country as well as outside, meeting many kinds of people. And he has a very good sense of the instincts of the majority, of the people who vote for him.”

And yet, the mustiness of Novo-Ogarevo – its ageing Soviet phones preserved in cabinets, its panelled rooms – speak of retreat and intransigence. Under Mr Putin, Russia is turning in on itself. The government recently imposed restrictions on hundreds of thousands of policemen, officials and soldiers travelling abroad. State media portrays the United States as a hypocritical tyrant, and EU states as willing lackeys. China and Cuba are better friends.

Branded an international pariah in the West, Mr Putin does not feel guilt or remorse as he contemplates the Ukrainian plane crash during his morning swim. He believes he had no other option but to back the separatists in the east of the country.

“Most of all, Putin feels insulted,” says Mr Bovt. “Insulted because he reached out to the West after September 11 and was rejected. Insulted because of Nato expansion, because the EU refuses a visa regime, because of double standards. Relations with the West will develop along a Cold War Two scenario. Neither side is willing to make a compromise. I get the impression everyone has lost their minds and the Malaysia Airlines crash is not enough to bring them to their senses. Putin is in a strong position. He will be leader for many years to come.”


Whether we like it or not, foreign policy choices increasingly have domestic consequences in the ­post-Soviet world. An alignment with Russia can bring Russian-style corruption and can inspire the rise of Russian-style xenophobia and homophobia, too. An alignment with Europe and NATO has different consequences. With Russian financial and political support, for example, Ukraine’s ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, was able to rob his country’s coffers and destroy its army and its bureaucracy. If the new Ukrainian government stays on its current path and makes a different set of alliances — with the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, even NATO — it will end up with different domestic economic policies, too.


A Ukrainian army MI-24 helicopter gunship patrols an area around Slaviansk while Ukrainian authorities plan a clampdown on pro-Moscow activists

…the Ukraine adventure is stoking a patriotic frenzy at home which distracts the public from his regime’s incompetence and thievery.

But the biggest benefit to the ­Russian president lies abroad. He makes no secret of his hatred for the West. He is contemptuous of, yet fears, our soft power. He resents the laws, liberty and prosperity that our citizens enjoy. They throw into bleak contrast the dismal life that his own ­corrupt and incompetent rule offers Russians.

He also despises our weakness. He sees a Europe and America that talk tough but have failed to ­provide a united response to the growing catastrophe. Yes, we talk a good game — Foreign Secretary William Hague has called for ‘a clear and united international response’ — but our deeds do not match our words, and Putin knows it.

In his bleak world view, only force and money count. He believes we in the West are too weak to defend ourselves when threatened. So far, his assessment looks right. Even Nato — the bulwark of our security since 1949 — is creaking under the strain of the Ukraine crisis.


US financial showdown with Russia is more dangerous than it looks, for both sides
The US Treasury faces a more formidable prey with Russia, the world’s biggest producer of energy with a $2 trillion economy, superb scientists and a first-strike nuclear arsenal

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
6:24PM BST 16 Apr 2014

The United States has constructed a financial neutron bomb. For the past 12 years an elite cell at the US Treasury has been sharpening the tools of economic warfare, designing ways to bring almost any country to its knees without firing a shot.

The strategy relies on hegemonic control over the global banking system, buttressed by a network of allies and the reluctant acquiescence of neutral states. Let us call this the Manhattan Project of the early 21st century.

“It is a new kind of war, like a creeping financial insurgency, intended to constrict our enemies’ financial lifeblood, unprecedented in its reach and effectiveness,” says Juan Zarate, the Treasury and White House official who helped spearhead policy after 9/11.

“The new geo-economic game may be more efficient and subtle than past geopolitical competitions, but it is no less ruthless and destructive,” he writes in his book Treasury’s War: the Unleashing of a New Era of Financial Warfare.

Bear this in mind as Washington tightens the noose on Vladimir Putin’s Russia, slowly shutting off market access for Russian banks, companies and state bodies with $714bn of dollar debt (Sberbank data).

The stealth weapon is a “scarlet letter”, devised under Section 311 of the US Patriot Act. Once a bank is tainted in this way – accused of money-laundering or underwriting terrorist activities, a suitably loose offence – it becomes radioactive, caught in the “boa constrictor’s lethal embrace”, as Mr Zarate puts it.

This can be a death sentence even if the lender has no operations in the US. European banks do not dare to defy US regulators. They sever all dealings with the victim.

So do the Chinese, as became clear in 2005 when the US hit Banco Delta Asia (BDA) in Macao for serving as a conduit for North Korean commercial piracy. China pulled the plug. BDA collapsed within two weeks. China also tipped off Washington when Mr Putin proposed a joint Sino-Russian attack on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds in 2008, aiming to precipitate a dollar crash.

Mr Zarate told me that the US can “go it alone” with sanctions if necessary. It therefore hardly matters whether or not the EU drags its feet over Ukraine, opting for the lowest common denominator to keep Bulgaria, Cyprus, Hungary and Luxembourg on board. Washington has the power to dictate the pace for them.

The new arsenal was first deployed against Ukraine – of all places – in December 2002. Its banks were accused of laundering funds from Russia’s organised crime rings. Kiev capitulated in short order.

Nairu, Burma, North Cyprus, Belarus and Latvia were felled one by one, all forced to comply with US demands. North Korea was then paralysed. The biggest prize yet has been Iran, finally brought to the table. “A hidden war is under way, on a very far-reaching global scale. This is a kind of war, though, which the enemy assumes it can defeat the Iranian nation,” said then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Iran’s Majlis. He meant it defiantly. Instead it was prescient.

The US Treasury faces a more formidable prey with Russia, the world’s biggest producer of energy with a $2 trillion economy, superb scientists and a first-strike nuclear arsenal. It is also tightly linked to the German and east European economies. The US risks endangering its own alliance system if it runs roughshod over friends. It is in much the same situation as Britain in the mid-19th century when it enforced naval supremacy, boarding alleged slave ships anywhere in the world, under any flag, ruffling everybody’s feathers.

President Putin knows exactly what the US can do with its financial weapons. Russia was brought into the loop when the two countries were for a while “allies” in the fight against Jihadi terrorism. Mr Putin appointed loyalist Viktor Zubkov – later prime minister – to handle dealings with the US Treasury.

Mr Zarate said the Obama White House has waited too long to strike in earnest, clinging to the hope that Putin would stop short of tearing up the global rule book. “They should take the gloves off. The longer the wait, the more maximalist they may have to be,” he said.

This would be a calibrated escalation, issuing the scarlet letter to Russian banks that help Syria’s regime.

He thinks it may already too late to stop Eastern Ukraine spinning out of control, but not too late to inflict a high cost. “If the US
Treasury says three Russian banks are “primary money-laundering concerns”, do you think that UBS, or Standard Chartered will have anything to do with them?”

This will graduate to sanctions on Russian defence firms, mineral exports and energy – trying not to hurt BP assets in Russia too much, he adds tactfully – culminating in a squeeze on Gazprom should all else fail. Whether you are for or against such action, be under no illusion as to what it means. We would be living in a different world, and Wall Street’s S&P 500 would not be trading anywhere near 1,850.

It is true that Russia is not the power it once was, as you can see from these Sberbank charts showing relative economic size against China and Europe.

This is not a repeat of the Cold War. There is no plausible equivalence between Russia and the West, and no ideological mystique.

It has $470bn of foreign reserves but these have already fallen by $35bn since the crisis began as the central bank fights capital flight and defends the rouble. Moscow cannot easily deploy the reserves in a slump without causing the money supply to shrink, deepening a recession that is almost certainly under way. Finance minister Anton Siluanov says growth may be zero this year. The World Bank fears -1.8pc, while Danske Banks says it could be -4pc.

Putin cannot count on global allies to carry him through. Only Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Belarus, North Korean, Syria, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Armenia lined up behind Mr Putin at the United Nations over Crimea, a roll-call of the irrelevant.

Yet as the old proverb goes: “Russia is never as strong as she looks; Russia is never as weak as she looks.”

Princeton professor Harold James sees echoes of events before the First World War when Britain and France imagined they could use financial warfare to check German power.

He says the world’s interlocking nexus means this cannot be contained. Sanctions risk setting off a chain-reaction to match the 2008 shock. “Lehman was a small institution compared with the Austrian, French and German banks that have become highly exposed to Russia’s financial system. A Russian asset freeze could be catastrophic for European – indeed, global – financial markets,” he wrote on Project Syndicate.

Chancellor George Osborne must have been let into the secret of US plans by now. Perhaps that is why he issued last week’s alert in Washington, warning City bankers to prepare for a sanctions fall-out. The City is precious, he said, “but that doesn’t mean its interests will come above the national security interests of our country”.

The greatest risk is surely an “asymmetric” riposte by the Kremlin. Russia’s cyber-warfare experts are among the best, and they had their own trial run on Estonia in 2007. A cyber shutdown of an Illinois water system was tracked to Russian sources in 2011. We don’t know whether US Homeland Security can counter a full-blown “denial-of-service” attack on electricity grids, water systems, air traffic control, or indeed the New York Stock Exchange, and nor does Washington.

“If we were in a cyberwar today, the US would lose. We’re simply the most dependent and most vulnerable,” said US spy chief Mike McConnell in 2010.

The US defence secretary Leon Panetta warned of a cyber-Pearl Harbour in 2012. “They could shut down the power grid across large parts of the country. They could derail passenger trains or, even more dangerous, derail passenger trains loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country,” he said. Slapstick exaggeration to extract more funds from Congress? We may find out.

Sanctions are as old as time. So are the salutary lessons. Pericles tried to cow the city state of Megara in 432 BC by cutting off trade access to markets of the Athenian Empire. He set off the Pelopennesian Wars, bringing Sparta’s hoplite infantry crashing down on Athens. Greece’s economic system was left in ruins, at the mercy of Persia. That was a taste of asymmetry.


Playing Hockey With Putin
APRIL 8, 2014

Thomas L.

Shortly before the Sochi Olympics, Russian President Vladimir Putin played in an exhibition hockey game there. In retrospect, he was clearly warming up for his takeover of Crimea. Putin doesn’t strike me as a chess player, in geopolitical terms. He prefers hockey, without a referee, so elbowing, tripping and cross-checking are all permitted. Never go to a hockey game with Putin and expect to play by the rules of touch football. The struggle over Ukraine is a hockey game, with no referee. If we’re going to play — we, the Europeans and the pro-Western Ukrainians need to be serious. If we’re not, we need to tell the Ukrainians now: Cut the best deal with Putin that you can.

Are we serious? It depends on the meaning of the word “serious.” It starts with recognizing what a huge lift it will be to help those Ukrainians who want to break free of Russia’s orbit. Are we and our allies ready — through the International Monetary Fund — to finance Ukraine’s massive rebuilding and fuel needs, roughly $14 billion for starters, knowing that this money is going to a Ukrainian government that, before the overthrow of the previous president, ranked 144 out of 177 on the Transparency International list of most corrupt countries in the world, equal with Nigeria?

Moreover, we can’t help Ukraine unless we and the European Union have a serious renewable energy and economic sanctions strategy — which requires us to sacrifice — to undermine Putin and Putinism, because Ukraine will never have self-determination as long as Putin and Putinism thrive. Putin’s foreign policy and domestic policy are inextricably linked: His domestic policy of looting Russia and keeping himself permanently in power with oil and gas revenue, despite a weakening economy, seems to require adventures like Ukraine that gin up nationalism and anti-Westernism to distract the Russian public. And are we ready to play dirty, too? Putin is busy using pro-Russian Ukrainian proxies to take over government buildings in Eastern Ukraine — to lay the predicate either for a Russian invasion there or de facto control there by Russia’s allies.

Finally, being serious about Russia means being serious about learning from our big mistake after the Berlin Wall fell. And that was thinking that we could expand NATO — when Russia was at its weakest and most democratic — and Russians wouldn’t care. It was thinking we could treat a democratic Russia like an enemy, as if the Cold War were still on, and expect Russia to cooperate with us as if the Cold War were over — and not produce an anti-Western backlash like Putinism.

As the historian Walter Russell Mead put it in a blog post: “The Big Blini that the West has never faced up to [is]: What is our Russia policy? Where does the West see Russia fitting into the international system? Ever since the decisions to expand NATO and the E.U. were taken in the Clinton administration, Western policy towards Russia … had two grand projects for the post-Soviet space: NATO and the E.U. would expand into the Warsaw Pact areas and into the former Soviet Union, but Russia itself was barred from both. … As many people pointed out in the 1990s, this strategy was asking for trouble.”

One of those pointing that out was George Kennan, the architect of containment and opponent of NATO expansion. I interviewed him about it in this column on May 2, 1998, right after the Senate ratified NATO expansion. Kennan was 94. He had been a U.S. ambassador in Moscow. He knew we were not being serious.

“I think it is the beginning of a new Cold War,” Kennan said to me of NATO expansion. “I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the founding fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a lighthearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs.”

“What bothers me is how superficial and ill informed the whole Senate debate was,” added Kennan. “I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe. Don’t people understand? Our differences in the Cold War were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime. And Russia’s democracy is as far advanced, if not farther, as any of these countries we’ve just signed up to defend from Russia. It shows so little understanding of Russian history and Soviet history. Of course, there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are — but this is just wrong.”

We need a strategy to help Ukraine and to undermine Putinism today — and to reintegrate Russia tomorrow. It’s a big, big lift. So let’s be honest with ourselves and with the Ukrainians. If Putin’s playing hockey and we’re not, Ukrainians need to know that now.



Putin, Hitler parallels are frightening

Monday March 24, 2014 6:19 AM

History seems to repeat itself. Many actions taken last century by Adolf Hitler are extremely similar to those taken in this century by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Both staged spectacular Olympic Games: Berlin 1936 and Sochi 2014. Both expanded their territories by annexations of sovereign lands.

Hitler first annexed the German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia before taking over the rest of what is now the Czech Republic. He also annexed Austria in 1938 (the Anschluss), rigged elections to claim a 99 percent approval rate and orchestrated big celebrations in Vienna, where I lived at the time. I have vivid memories of this event.
Putin acted in the same manner in Crimea.

Likewise, both individuals have no respect for human lives or tolerance for dissenters. While Hitler organized mass killings, Putin condones the mass killings of innocent Syrians by their leader, and supports this action by providing the weapons.
It is scary to speculate what will come next.




Xenophobic Chill Descends on Moscow

Boris Y. Nemtsov, a longtime political opposition leader and a former deputy prime minister under Boris N. Yeltsin, who also appeared on the banner, wrote on Facebook that the situation seemed worse than during the Cold War. “In my opinion, even the Soviet Union wasn’t like this,” Mr. Nemtsov wrote.

Some of the language on Russian television in recent days has been far more charged than anything heard during Soviet times. One of the country’s most prominent television hosts, Dmitry K. Kiselyov, declared during an evening newscast last month that Russia remains “the only country in the world capable of turning the U.S.A. into radioactive ash.”


Russia is remaking itself as the leader of the anti-Western world

By Masha Gessen, Published: March 30

Masha Gessen is a Russian American journalist and the author of “The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.”

“This is not another Cold War that we’re entering into,” President Obama said Wednesday in Brussels, presenting the post-Crimea world order as he sees it after consultations with other NATO leaders. “After all, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations, no global ideology.”

President Vladimir Putin would surely beg to differ. Over the past two years, a new ideology has taken shape at the Kremlin. Insistently pushed out over the airwaves of state-controlled television, it has taken hold as Russia’s national idea — and is the driving force behind its newly aggressive international posture. Russia is remaking itself as the leader of the anti-Western world.

During his annual state-of-the-federation address to parliament in December, Putin articulated this ideology. This in itself was novel: For his preceding 13 years at the helm, Putin had stuck to the pragmatic in his speeches. Now he was putting forth a vision for which many Russians had longed in the nearly quarter-century since the Soviet Union collapsed, leaving a giant hole where its citizens’ identities used to be.

In his December speech, Putin said that Russia had no superpower ambitions in the sense of “a claim to global or regional hegemony.” Yet, he said, “We will strive to be leaders.” In explaining Russia’s new identity with relationship to the West and its claim on leadership, he said:

“This is absolutely objective and understandable for a state like Russia, with its great history and culture, with many centuries of experience not of so-called tolerance, neutered and barren, but of the real organic life of different peoples existing together within the framework of a single state.” Putin was placing Russia’s very approach to life in opposition to the Western one. The “so-called tolerance” he mentioned as the key feature of Western civilization is, from this perspective, nothing but a slide into immorality. More likely than not, that includes homosexuality, which is why tolerance is described as “barren and neutered.”

“Today many nations are revising their moral values and ethical norms, eroding ethnic traditions and differences between peoples and cultures,” he continued. “Society is now required not only to recognize everyone’s right to the freedom of consciousness, political views and privacy, but also to accept without question the equality of good and evil, strange as it seems, concepts that are opposite in meaning.”

Finally, said Putin, it was time to resist this scourge of tolerance and diversity creeping in from the West. “We know that there are more and more people in the world who support our position on defending traditional values,” he asserted. Russia’s role is to “prevent movement backward and downward, into chaotic darkness and a return to a primitive state.”

In short, Putin intends to save the world from the West. He has started with Crimea. When he says he is protecting ethnic Russians in Ukraine, he means he is protecting them from the many terrible things that come from the West. A few days after the December address, Alexei Pushkov, head of the Duma committee on foreign relations, defined that threat on the floor of the chamber: “European Union advisers in practically every ministry of any significance, control over the flow of finances and over national programs, and a broadening of the sphere of gay culture, which has become the European Union’s official policy.”

Three months later, this is exactly how Russians see the events in Ukraine: The West is literally taking over, and only Russian troops can stand between the Slavic country’s unsuspecting citizens and the homosexuals marching in from Brussels.

Now, Russia is not leading a bloc of nations in this new anti-Western crusade — at least, not yet. But it is certainly not alone in its longing for “traditional values.” Russia has been assembling an informal “traditional values” bloc in the United Nations, where the Human Rights Council has passed a series of Russian-sponsored resolutions opposing gay rights over the past three years. Russia’s allies in passing these resolutions include not only its post-Soviet neighbors but also China, Ecuador, Malaysia and more than a dozen other states.

The anti-gay agenda may seem like a thin basis for forming a militant international alliance of state-actors, but it has great unifying potential when framed in terms of a broader anti-Western effort and, indeed, a civilizational mission.

That mission, rather than the mere desire to bite off a piece of a neighboring country, is the driving force behind Putin’s new war — and the reason the Russian public supports it so strongly. This war, they hope, will make Russia not only bigger but also make it great again.


3 Presidents and a Riddle Named Putin


WASHINGTON — Bill Clinton found him to be cold and worrisome, but predicted he would be a tough and able leader. George W. Bush wanted to make him a friend and partner in the war on terror, but grew disillusioned over time.

Barack Obama tried working around him by building up his protégé in the Kremlin, an approach that worked for a time but steadily deteriorated to the point that relations between Russia and the United States are now at their worst point since the end of the Cold War.

For 15 years, Vladimir V. Putin has confounded American presidents as they tried to figure him out, only to misjudge him time and again. He has defied their assumptions and rebuffed their efforts at friendship. He has argued with them, lectured them, misled them, accused them, kept them waiting, kept them guessing, betrayed them and felt betrayed by them.

Each of the three presidents tried in his own way to forge a historic if elusive new relationship with Russia, only to find their efforts torpedoed by the wiry martial arts master and former K.G.B. colonel. They imagined him to be something he was not or assumed they could manage a man who refuses to be managed. They saw him through their own lens, believing he viewed Russia’s interests as they thought he should. And they underestimated his deep sense of grievance.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in the Kremlin on Friday, where he signed legislation completing the annexation of Crimea. Credit Sergei Chirikov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

To the extent that there were any illusions left in Washington, and it is hard to imagine there were by this point, they were finally and irrevocably shattered by Mr. Putin’s takeover of Crimea and the exchange of sanctions that has followed. As Russian forces now mass on the Ukrainian border, the debate has now shifted from how to work with Mr. Putin to how to counter him.

“He’s declared himself,” said Tom Donilon, President Obama’s former national security adviser. “That’s who you have to deal with. Trying to wish it away is not a policy.”

Looking back now, aides to all three presidents offer roughly similar takes: Their man was hardly naïve about Mr. Putin and saw him for what he was, but felt there was little choice other than to try to establish a better relationship. It may be that some of their policies hurt the chances of that by fueling Mr. Putin’s discontent, whether it was NATO expansion, the Iraq war or the Libya war, but in the end, they said, they were dealing with a Russian leader fundamentally at odds with the West.

“I know there’s been some criticism on, was the reset ill advised?” said Mr. Donilon, using the Obama administration’s term for its policy. “No, the reset wasn’t ill advised. The reset resulted in direct accomplishments that were in the interests of the United States.”

Some specialists said Mr. Obama and his two predecessors saw what they wanted to see. “The West has focused on the notion that Putin is a pragmatic realist who will cooperate with us whenever there are sufficient common interests,” said James M. Goldgeier, dean of international studies at American University. “We let that belief overshadow his stated goal of revising a post-Cold War settlement in which Moscow lost control over significant territory and watched as the West expanded its domain.”

Presidents tend to think of autocrats like Mr. Putin as fellow statesmen, said Dennis Blair, Mr. Obama’s first director of national intelligence. “They should think of dictators like they think of domestic politicians of the other party,” he said, “opponents who smile on occasion when it suits their purposes, and cooperate when it is to their advantage, but who are at heart trying to push the U.S. out of power, will kneecap the United States if they get the chance and will only go along if the U.S. has more power than they.”

Eric S. Edelman, who was undersecretary of defense under Mr. Bush, said American leaders overestimated their ability to assuage Mr. Putin’s anger about the West. “There has been a persistent tendency on the part of U.S. presidents and Western leaders more broadly to see the sense of grievance as a background condition that could be modulated by consideration of Russian national interests,” he said. “In fact, those efforts have been invariably taken as weakness.”

After 15 years, no one in Washington still thinks of Mr. Putin as a partner. “He goes to bed at night thinking of Peter the Great and he wakes up thinking of Stalin,” Representative Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said on “Meet the Press” on NBC on Sunday. “We need to understand who he is and what he wants. It may not fit with what we believe of the 21st century.”

Bush’s Disillusionment

Mr. Clinton was the first president to encounter Mr. Putin, although they did not overlap for long. He had spent much of his presidency building a strong relationship with President Boris N. Yeltsin, Mr. Putin’s predecessor, and gave the benefit of the doubt to the handpicked successor who became Russia’s prime minister in 1999 and president on New Year’s Eve.

“I came away from the meeting believing Yeltsin had picked a successor who had the skills and capacity for hard work necessary to manage Russia’s turbulent political and economic life better than Yeltsin now could, given his health problems,” Mr. Clinton wrote in his memoir. When Mr. Putin’s selection was ratified in a March 2000 election, Mr. Clinton called to congratulate him and, as he later wrote, “hung up the phone thinking he was tough enough to hold Russia together.”

Mr. Clinton had his worries, though, particularly as Mr. Putin waged a brutal war in the separatist republic of Chechnya and cracked down on independent media. He privately urged Mr. Yeltsin to watch over his successor. Mr. Clinton also felt brushed off by Mr. Putin, who seemed uninterested in doing business with a departing American president.

But the prevailing attitude at the time was that Mr. Putin was a modernizer who could consolidate the raw form of democracy and capitalism that Mr. Yeltsin had introduced to Russia. He moved early to overhaul the country’s tax, land and judicial codes. As Strobe Talbott, Mr. Clinton’s deputy secretary of state, put it in his book on that period, George F. Kennan, the noted Kremlinologist, thought that Mr. Putin “was young enough, adroit enough and realistic enough to understand that Russia’s ongoing transition required that he not just co-opt the power structure, but to transform it.”

Mr. Bush came to office skeptical of Mr. Putin, privately calling him “one cold dude,” but bonded with him during their first meeting in Slovenia in June 2001, after which he made his now-famous comment about looking into the Russian’s soul. Mr. Putin had made a connection with the religious Mr. Bush by telling him a story about a cross that his mother had given him and how it was the only thing that survived a fire at his country house.

Not everyone was convinced. Mr. Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney, privately told people at the time that when he saw Mr. Putin, “I think K.G.B., K.G.B., K.G.B.” But Mr. Bush was determined to erase the historical divide and courted Mr. Putin during the Russian leader’s visits to Camp David and Mr. Bush’s Texas ranch.

Putin, in the Words of U.S. Officials

President Bill Clinton

“I called to congratulate him and hung up the phone thinking he was tough enough to hold Russia together and hoping he was wise enough to find an honorable way out of the Chechnya problem and committed enough to democracy to preserve it.”— Writing in “My Life” about Vladimir Putin’s election in March 2000

Vice President Dick Cheney

“I think K.G.B., K.G.B., K.G.B.”— On his impression of Mr. Putin, in private conversations in 2001

President George W. Bush

“I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul.”— After first meeting with Mr. Putin in June 2001?

“He’s not well-informed. It’s like arguing with an eighth-grader with his facts wrong.”— Mr. Bush, to the visiting prime minister of Denmark in June 2006.

Robert M. Gates

“I had looked into Putin’s eyes and, just as I expected, had seen a stone-cold killer.”— The defense secretary for Mr. Bush and President Obama, writing in “Duty” about his meeting with Mr. Putin in February 2007

President Obama

“I don’t have a bad personal relationship with Putin. When we have conversations, they’re candid, they’re blunt, oftentimes they’re constructive. I know the press likes to focus on body language and he’s got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom.”— In a news conference in August 2013

Not everyone was convinced. Mr. Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney, privately told people at the time that when he saw Mr. Putin, “I think K.G.B., K.G.B., K.G.B.” But Mr. Bush was determined to erase the historical divide and courted Mr. Putin during the Russian leader’s visits to Camp David and Mr. Bush’s Texas ranch.

Mr. Putin liked to brag that he was the first foreign leader to call Mr. Bush after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and he permitted American troops into Central Asia as a base of operations against Afghanistan.

But Mr. Putin never felt Mr. Bush delivered in return and the relationship strained over the Iraq War and the Kremlin’s accelerating crackdown on dissent at home. By Mr. Bush’s second term, the two were quarreling over Russian democracy, reaching a peak during a testy meeting in Slovakia in 2005.

“It was like junior high debating,” Mr. Bush complained later to Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair, according to notes of the conversation. Mr. Putin kept throwing Mr. Bush’s arguments back at him. “I sat there for an hour and 45 minutes and it went on and on,” Mr. Bush said. “At one point, the interpreter made me so mad that I nearly reached over the table and slapped the hell out of the guy. He had a mocking tone, making accusations about America.”

He was even more frustrated by Mr. Putin a year later. “He’s not well-informed,” Bush told the visiting prime minister of Denmark in 2006. “It’s like arguing with an eighth-grader with his facts wrong.”

He told another visiting leader a few weeks later that he was losing hope of bringing Mr. Putin around. “I think Putin is not a democrat anymore,” he said. “He’s a czar. I think we’ve lost him.”

‘A Stone-Cold Killer’

But Mr. Bush was reluctant to give up, even if those around him no longer saw the opportunity he saw. His new defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, came back from his first meeting with Mr. Putin and told colleagues that unlike Mr. Bush, he had “looked into Putin’s eyes and, just as I expected, had seen a stone-cold killer.”

In the spring of 2008, Mr. Bush put Ukraine and Georgia on the road to NATO membership, which divided the alliance and infuriated Mr. Putin. By August of that year, the two leaders were in Beijing for the Summer Olympics when word arrived that Russian troops were marching into Georgia.

Mr. Bush in his memoir recalled confronting Mr. Putin, scolding him for being provoked by Mikheil Saakashvili, then Georgia’s anti-Moscow president.

“I’ve been warning you Saakashvili is hot-blooded,” Mr. Bush told Mr. Putin.

“I’m hot-blooded too,” Mr. Putin said.

“No, Vladimir,” Mr. Bush responded. “You’re coldblooded.”

Mr. Bush responded to the Georgia war by sending humanitarian aid to Georgia, transporting its troops home from Iraq, sending an American warship to the region and shelving a civilian nuclear agreement with Russia.

Worried that Crimea might be next, Mr. Bush succeeded in stopping Russia from swallowing up Georgia altogether. But on the eve of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the global financial meltdown, he did not impose the sort of sanctions that Mr. Obama is now applying.

“We and the Europeans threw the relationship into the toilet at the end of 2008,” Stephen J. Hadley, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, recalled last week. “We wanted to send the message that strategically this was not acceptable. Now in retrospect, we probably should have done more like economic sanctions.”

If Mr. Bush did not take the strongest punitive actions possible, his successor soon made the point moot. Taking office just months later, Mr. Obama decided to end any isolation of Russia because of Georgia in favor of rebuilding relations. Unlike his predecessors, he would try to forge a relationship not by befriending Mr. Putin but by bypassing him.

Ostensibly complying with Russia’s two-term constitutional limit, Mr. Putin had stepped down as president and installed his aide, Dmitri A. Medvedev, in his place, while taking over as prime minister himself. So Mr. Obama decided to treat Mr. Medvedev as if he really were the leader.

A diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks later captured the strategy in summing up similar French priorities: “Cultivating relations with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, in the hope that he can become a leader independent of Vladimir Putin.”

Before his first trip to Moscow, Mr. Obama publicly dismissed Mr. Putin as having “one foot in the old ways of doing business” and pumped up Mr. Medvedev as a new-generation leader. Mr. Obama’s inaugural meeting with Mr. Putin a few days later featured a classic tirade by the Russian about all the ways that the United States had mistreated Moscow.

Among those skeptical of Mr. Obama’s strategy were Mr. Gates, who stayed on as defense secretary, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the new secretary of state. Like Mr. Gates, Mrs. Clinton was deeply suspicious of Mr. Putin. In private, she mockingly imitated his man’s-man, legs-spread-wide posture during their meetings. But even if they did not assign it much chance of success, she and Mr. Gates both agreed the policy was worth trying and she gamely presented her Russian counterpart with a “reset” button, remembered largely for its mistaken Russian translation.

Obama’s ‘Reset’ Gambit

For a time, Mr. Obama’s gamble on Mr. Medvedev seemed to be working. They revived Mr. Bush’s civilian nuclear agreement, signed a nuclear arms treaty, sealed an agreement allowing American troops to fly through Russian airspace en route to Afghanistan and collaborated on sanctions against Iran. But Mr. Putin was not to be ignored and by 2012 returned to the presidency, sidelining Mr. Medvedev and making clear that he would not let Mr. Obama roll over him.

Mr. Putin ignored Mr. Obama’s efforts to start new nuclear arms talks and gave asylum to Edward J. Snowden, the national security leaker. Mr. Obama canceled a trip to Moscow, making clear that he had no personal connection with Mr. Putin. The Russian leader has a “kind of slouch” that made him look “like that bored schoolboy in the back of the classroom,” Mr. Obama noted.

In the end, Mr. Obama did not see how the pro-Western revolution in Ukraine that toppled a Moscow ally last month would look through Mr. Putin’s eyes, said several Russia specialists. “With no meaningful rapport or trust between Obama and Putin, it’s nearly impossible to use high-level phone calls for actual problem solving,” said Andrew Weiss, a former Russia adviser to Mr. Clinton and now a vice president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Instead, it looks like we’re mostly posturing and talking past each other.”

As Mr. Obama has tried to figure out what to do to end the crisis over Ukraine, he has reached out to other leaders who still have a relationship with Mr. Putin, including Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. She privately told Mr. Obama that after speaking with Mr. Putin she thought he was “in another world.” Secretary of State John Kerry later said publicly that Mr. Putin’s speech on Crimea did not “jibe with reality.”

That has sparked a debate in Washington: Has Mr. Putin changed over the last 15 years and become unhinged in some way, or does he simply see the world in starkly different terms than the West does, terms that make it hard if not impossible to find common ground?

“He’s not delusional, but he’s inhabiting a Russia of the past — a version of the past that he has created,” said Fiona Hill, the top intelligence officer on Russia during Mr. Bush’s presidency and co-author of “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin.” “His present is defined by it and there is no coherent vision of the future. Where exactly does he go from here beyond reasserting and regaining influence over territories and people? Then what?”

That is the question this president, and likely the next one, will be asking for some time to come.


Can Europe wean itself from Russian natural gas?

BY STEVEN MUFSON March 28 at 11:32 am

The Dominion CovePoint LNG Terminal in Lusby, Md., in the Chesapeake Bay was designed to import several hundred tankers a year. (File Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

One of the companies most entwined in the natural gas business in Europe is the Italian oil giant ENI – and that has put it smack in the middle of the crisis between Russia and western nations.

ENI is the biggest seller of natural gas in Europe, providing 22 percent of the market. It is also the biggest customer of the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom, worth about 10 billion euros a year, and it might join with Gazprom to build a new pipeline under the Black Sea. It has a deal with Russia’s biggest oil company, Rosneft, to explore in the Barents Sea. It also has rights to look for shale gas in Ukraine and plans to propose reworking some old neglected oil and gas fields there to boost output. And it is the largest natural gas producer in Libya, a key source of natural gas for Europe. Altogether, ENI operates in about 90 countries.

On Thursday ENI’s chief executive, Paolo Scaroni, was in Washington to meet with Obama administration officials at the State Department and National Security Council to discuss natural gas, Russia and Ukraine.

Scaroni was visiting on the heels of hearings in Congress where lawmakers were calling on the administration to approve more liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals so that LNG from abundant domestic shale gas reserves could ease European dependence on Russia. But the committees didn’t get to hear from anyone with Scaroni’s background and distinctive points of view.

The CEO took an hour to talk with The Post. Here are some excerpts from the conversation.

On Europe’s need for Russian oil:

This Ukrainian crisis showed finally that the king is naked, that Europe is not independent — because if you’re not independent on energy you’re not independent. People say Russia needs Europe, as well. But we need energy every day, and they can skip a year. It’s a different level of urgency and dependency.

What is relevant is that this dependency is going to go up and not down because domestic European production [including North Africa] is going down. Norwegian production is not going up. Algerian production is going up, but Algerian domestic consumption is going up, too. And Libya is Libya. We are the persons in the world who know Libya best, and we know nothing. I was in Libya last Sunday. We have 3,000 people there and still we don’t know much.

Scaroni takes a dim view of American LNG as a means to liberate Europe from Russian gas, in part because he says that transporting LNG from the United States to Europe is expensive, Russian gas production costs are very low and Russia could always decide to undercut American LNG prices.

Everyone is asking the question: How can Europe live without Russian gas?
American LNG is a slogan. It will take five, six, seven years, not five months. Economically, who’s going to invest this money for exporting into Europe when American shale gas will land at $9 [per thousand cubic feet] at best. [European gas prices are currently about $11 per thousand cubic feet, he said.]

If you take an economic decision, you need to be sure that this $9 will not be uncompetitive because the Russian gas can be sold at $6. We’ve been producing gas in Siberia until a month ago. We sold our Arctic Russia operation for $3 billion, just in time. We had a field and we know the cost. We’ve done it. It is less than half a dollar. If you can export into Europe, and if Gazprom puts the cost at $6, what do you do with your liquifier?

For me the idea of exporting LNG from the U.S. is theoretically possible but…

It could be completely different if there is a sanctions regime …. If you say buying gas in Russia is illegal, that’s another thing. But are we there? I don’t have that impression. And even if we were there, are sanctions going to stay on forever? I hope not. But your investment [in LNG terminals] needs 20 years not 20 months.

Scaroni fears that European industries, such as the petrochemical industry, cannot compete with U.S. companies that have cheap natural gas at home. He predicts more European companies will move plants to the United States unless Europe starts to drill more aggressively for its own shale gas.

Scaroni fears that European industries, such as the petrochemical industry, cannot compete with U.S. companies that have cheap natural gas at home. He predicts more European companies will move plants to the United States unless Europe starts to drill more aggressively for its own shale gas.

I say embrace shale gas or embrace Russia. The Russian option is no longer an option, so we should pursue shale gas vigorously and then look at whether we should be shutting down nuclear plants in Germany.

But Scaroni said there’s no guarantee Europe has rich shale gas reserves. Like other major companies, ENI drilled in Poland and then abandoned it because the gas was deep and there wasn’t enough of it to make it commercial.

As a businessman, Scaroni also worried about the fate of the proposed South Stream gas pipeline that would go from Russia under the Black Sea to Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Austria. The pipeline, a joint venture between Gazprom and ENI, would circumvent Ukraine, currently one of Gazprom’s three main paths to Europe.

The project, from a commercial point of view, I love it. I don’t want to have the Ukraine problem for my clients. But from a political point of view, South Stream will perpetuate the dependence of Europe on Russian gas. That’s one reason I see clouds over the project now. Political clouds, not commercial clouds, because commercially it makes a lot of sense.

There is a lot of talk about the United States using its new oil and gas resources to engage in energy diplomacy. Scaroni was skeptical.

If it were not for the shale gas, the United States would be dependent on foreign gas. So it would be diplomacy for somebody else against the United States. So it is a positive to be freed from this.

ENI has political challenges elsewhere, too. It is the biggest oil company in Egypt, Scaroni says, and it has substantial operations in Venezuela, recently torn by riots and which many other oil companies have left after contract disputes with the leftist government.

What about the political situation in Venezuela? I don’t know, and we don’t care because at the end of the day people will need oil and gas. If I could find oil in Switzerland I would be in Switzerland. But since it’s in Venezuela, what can I do?


About Jerry Frey

Born 1953. Vietnam Veteran. Graduated Ohio State 1980. Have 5 published books. In the Woods Before Dawn; Grandpa's Gone; Longstreet's Assault; Pioneer of Salvation; Three Quarter Cadillac
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