4 Horrifying Things You Need To Know About Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin. You've probably heard his name a lot lately, and probably in association with Donald Trump. President Trump has nothing but praise for Putin. In fact, he seems to admire him as a man and a leader of a nation. But who is Vladimir Putin? He's something of an international boogeyman. He's disliked all over the world, yet a sizable chunk of Americans like him more than Barack Obama. That, to me, suggests there's an ignorance surrounding Putin and the kind of leader he's been to Russia since he became president. Either people genuinely don't know who he is or they have a skewed understanding of a guy widely considered to be an asshole, to put it mildly.
So I took it upon myself to enlighten those who don't have a full grasp of what Putin is all about by putting together this handy explainer -- which Putin would never allow to be published in Russia, because ...
He's Been Waging War Against A Free Press Since He Got Into Office
Putin believes there's no better way to silence your critics than snuffing them out and replacing their message with your own. When he came into power, he immediately seized control of nearly every Russian television network, newspaper, and radio station and put them under the direct control of the Kremlin after exiling or arresting the station's owners for reasons he pulled directly out of his frigid anus.
The airwaves have since been filled with conspiracy theories that put the United States at the center of nightmarish plots to destroy Russian culture and piss on the ruble. Confidence in the rest of the world is constantly questioned, while Putin is always portrayed as the underdog just trying to get his scrappy country back on its feet, but these big ol' meanies like NATO and the EU and America don't want Russians to want him to succeed. Truth is not the goal. A distrust of all sources other than his own is the endgame.
Don't think he's only spreading his propaganda on old media like an out-of-touch grandpa; Putin is totally hip and down with the kids! He's got his own army of internet trolls, who spread Kremlin-approved messages of hate and misinformation across the globe though their hundreds of social media accounts. Their sole purpose is to create the illusion that public opinion is firmly in Putin's favor. They've whipped up hatred and paranoia in the Baltic States that Putin wants to invade so badly he gets blue balls just thinking about it. They've been on a crusade to defame Germany's Angela Merkel, and during the 2016 presidential election here in America, they were all pro-Donald-Trump. In fact, the guy who wrote the massive New York Times expose about Russia's troll army noticed a lot of Russian troll accounts switching it up from pro-Russian to exclusively pro-Trump.
You know RT, that news network you see shared on Facebook and Twitter, the one all your cool anti-establishment friends who get their news from alternative sources are always sharing? It's 100 percent Russian propaganda. It's young, it's digital, its content is ready to go viral, and it's all Russian bullshit devised to trick you into thinking it's an independent news source. It exists to make citizens of nations out of Russia's reach think that Putin has all the answers, and that their own country has no idea how to run itself.
Putin knows how to spread his message so effectively and so loudly that it drowns out all conflicting voices. Which is surprisingly subtle, considering how he usually just kills people who disagree with him. To whit ...
He's Killed Journalists, Political Opponents, And His Own Citizens To Get His Way
It's the oldest trick in the tyrannical dictator's handbook: Someone stupid enough to disagree with the way things are run winds up dead under "mysterious circumstances." This kind of thing happens so often in Putin's Russia that I wouldn't be surprised if parents tell their kids folktales of The Poots, the bare-chested snow beast so insecure in his masculinity that he'll snatch you away if you don't say nice things about him.
Dozens of Putin's critics have been killed over the years. One such instance happened only a couple weeks before this column was published. It was an ex-KGB agent who was linked to the intelligence dossier which claimed that Trump was being blackmailed with a video of himself enjoying a golden shower performed by two Russian prostitutes. Only hours before I turned in this column, news broke that Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza experienced sudden organ failure after he ingested poison. That's the second time this has happened. Putin cares so little about everyone knowing he's a murderer that his poisonings should come with a seal of approval from the Kremlin guaranteeing authenticity.
Over 350 Russian journalists have been killed since the end of the USSR. Thirty-four since 2000, and all of those are suspected to have been ordered by military or government officials. On October 7, 2006, journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya was shot in the lobby of her apartment building in Moscow. Her reporting was often highly critical of Putin. She called him out on his suppression of civil liberties and his attempts to bring back a Soviet-style dictatorship. But hey, she could have been killed by anyone, right? Well, Putin has a pattern, and he is persistent. Two years before she was murdered, Politkovskaya fell ill and lost consciousness on a flight. The tea she had been drinking was laced with poison. As you've noticed by now, Russia loves poisoning people. Everybody is Joffrey Baratheon to them. It's their signature death sentence.
The most famous of their poisoning murders also happened in 2006. Alexander Litvinenko's death made global headlines. He was a former KGB agent who got a little too lippy. He publicly accused Putin of ordering the murder of Politkovskaya. He was to be prosecuted in a Russian court when he received political asylum from the UK. On November 1, 2006, he drank tea laced with polonium-210 and died of radiation poisoning three weeks later. The other audacious crime Litvinenko publicly accused Putin of perpetrating was the 1999 bombings of Moscow apartment buildings which killed 293 Russian citizens.
Putin rode the wave of that bombing's anger to victory when he was running for office. The whole thing was blamed on Chechen terrorists. The bombing was used as grounds for the Second Chechen War. Litvinenko wasn't the only one who felt this way. Authors who've deeply studied the ins and outs of the Russian intelligence communities think so, and American conservative think tanks think so as well. A lot of Russians themselves also believe that Putin and his former KGB buddies ordered the attack on Russian citizens so they could use its patriotic anger as a distraction from Russia's problems and score an easy win for a candidate who wanted to see Russia's glorious return to its Soviet days.
Beneath Putin's icy exterior is a softy who's nostalgic for the good ol' days. Back when things were simpler. Back when Russia had an iron grip on a bunch of nations it refused to release until the union collapsed and they all moved on with their lives. Everyone except for Putin, who to this day fantasizes that the former Soviet countries will give him and Russia another shot.
He Wants To Bring Back The Soviet Union, And He'll Do Whatever It Takes To Make It Happen
Putin is an old-school KGB guy whose identity was defined by the USSR and the Cold War. In today's world, he feels like a relic of a bygone era that refuses to die. Even James Bond has moved on from fighting the Soviets. And yet there goes Putin invading or threatening one former Soviet country after another in an attempt to reestablish a foothold in nations Mother Russia once claimed as its own.
According to polls, more than half of Russian citizens yearn for the glory days of the USSR, a time when they were living under a totalitarian regime and were unable to speak freely and had their friends and family arrested randomly by secret police and thrown in gulags. The weird part is, I get why they'd feel that way.
After the USSR fell, Russia tried to reshape itself into a democracy, and it failed spectacularly. The ruble went to shit, Russia's oligarchy had no interest in helping shape a market economy, and the people in power just couldn't manage to craft a functioning democracy. Putin was among those unhappy about suddenly having to give citizens freedom instead of an icy stare and a solemn promise from the bottom of his heart to help them go fuck themselves. Once he got elected and ensured he would be president until further notice, he made it his mission to let former Soviet nations know he was coming for them. It started when he stole Crimea from Ukraine. Since then, fear has spread throughout the rest of the nearby former Soviet nations. And it's all at least mostly because of NATO.
Every former Soviet country either is or wants to be a part of NATO, the global alliance that includes the U.S. and Great Britain that ensures that if any of its member nations are attacked by outsiders, every other member will help. Putin loathes NATO. They represent a coalition of liberal Western ideologies that Putin hates on principle (more on that later). To the former Soviet countries, NATO represents being a part of a global community of big brothers who can be called on to stop Russia from bullying them. Meanwhile, Putin is playing the role of the jealous ex-boyfriend who needs a restraining order slapped on him because he keeps showing up at his ex's house holding a knife.
Russian aggression is why people in Georgia feel like they're about to be invaded any second now. It's why Lithuania called in NATO troops to help secure their borders. It's why Latvia has been ramping up their military exercises to prepare their soldiers for the invasion they're certain is just around the corner. It's why one of NATO's top military commanders told Moldova to watch out, because after Ukraine, they're probably next. Putin has them all in his sights, and they all know it.
So excuse me for thinking the guy's full of shit when he says he doesn't want to reform the Soviet Union. In 2005, he gave a speech in which he lamented the fall of the USSR, calling it a "major political disaster of the century." He then followed that up by spending the next 10 years either invading or threatening to invade every former Soviet nation.
For Putin and Russia, it's not just about attaining power and land; it's about regaining the self-esteem that power and land brought with it. It's a confidence Russia lost when the Soviet Union fell. Putin is an international bully. And the reason Putin is such a miserable prick is that ...
He Cultivates A Hollow Image Of Machismo
If you're looking around your Twitter and Facebook feeds wondering why there are any Putin apologists at all, here's a passage from a recent article in The Atlantic about Vlad's brand of political and moral conservatism that'll explain everything:
He described the West as "infertile and genderless," while Russian propaganda derided Europe as "Gayropa." At the heart of Putin's case was an accusation of moral relativism. "We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization," he said at a conference in 2013. "They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious, and even sexual ... They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan." By succumbing to secularism, he noted on another occasion, the West was trending toward "chaotic darkness" and a "return to a primitive state."
Did you hear the news that Russia recently decriminalized domestic violence? Now it's a lot easier for Russian men to make themselves feel better about how pathetic and ineffectual they are by beating the shit out of their wives. Homosexuality?
Puty's not a fan. Being openly gay in Russia means you live in constant fear of being attacked or losing your job or being killed. In 2014, Russia passed a law that criminalized "gay propaganda." Somehow, this doesn't outlaw all of those pictures of a shirtless Putin riding horses and fishing and somehow stopping just short of actually marrying a man.
Whether he's fishing for compliments using his exposed man-tits or flipping dudes in a judo class ...
... or playing hockey against Russia's super-rich to show them who's boss ...
... or threatening to invade every country that looks at them funny, damn near everything Putin does is an attempt to prove he's a man. It's like if Tim Allen's caveman grunt was running a country.
Faux masculinity is at the center of it all. Russia's economy has been in shambles for years, and the only reason they're relevant is that they keep trying to destabilize the Western world with their ultraconservative horseshit. When you come out against something as intrinsic to human life as diversity, clearly the problem isn't the world. You're an angry, isolated loon.
I can make fun of Putin and his faux machismo all I want, but nothing I say will come close to being as good of a burn as when German Chancellor Angela Merkel once boiled Putin down to his sad base elements: "I understand why he has to do this - to prove he's a man ... He's afraid of his own weakness. Russia has nothing, no successful politics or economy. All they have is this."
That's all Vladimir Putin is: an ultraconservative man in his mid-60s who wishes things could be like they once were, back before everyone had autonomy. He's so terrified of a changing world that he doesn't understand that his only reaction is to lash out, punish it, and try to control it. Vladimir Putin is the world's miserable unemployed stepdad. He will not rest until you feel just as shitty about yourself as he does.
And the frightening thing is that people are actually buying into his bullshit.
Luis' next cup of tea will have a grenade in it. He'd like to thank his friend Romney Manassa for his help and expertise on the subject of Putin's fuckery. Read Romney's thoughts on global affairs over on his blog Sarvodaya. While he's still alive, follow Luis on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook.
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