My tribute to President Vladimir Putin, the Great Czar of Eurasia (2012)

The Great Czar of Eurasia

They loved Mikhail Gorbachev because he killed the Bear. They adored Boris Yeltsin because he allowed them to feed on the carcass of the Bear. But they now fear and hate Vladimir Putin because he resurrected the Bear!

Watching President Putin feels like watching history being made. Despite the relentless Western propaganda aimed against President Putin, his star continues to rise.
The man is a living legend. When the political history of the current age is finally recorded by future generations, Russia's Vladimir Putin will no doubt be recognized as one of the greatest leaders in world history. 

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is believed to have said that the natural wealth found in the vastness of the Russian Federation was too much for one country to possess. It is now obvious that the West would have loved to live off the bountiful carcass of the Soviet Union. They somewhat managed to do just that during the 1990s when the Kremlin had a Western-backed alcoholic at the helm and the Russian nation was literally on its knees. With Russia mired in chaos, Western-backed Jewish oligarchs rose to prominence in the country and they plundered Russia's immense national wealth as their kin had done a century earlier when they overthrew the Russian Czar. But grand theft was not enough for the oligarchs. Some of them actually joined forces with Western powers and began conspiring against the Russian state. Their ultimate intent was to either fragment the Russian Federation in several smaller nations (like Western-backed Bolsheviks had wanted to do century earlier before Joseph Stalin put a stop to it) or weaken it enough to make it politically and economically subservient to the political West. As a result, Russia was on the verge of being a failed state throughout the 1990s.
Then, quite unexpectedly, Vladimir Putin appeared at the helm in Moscow in 2000. Soon thereafter, the Kremlin was liberated. Russia was liberated. Within a few short years, President Vladimir Putin turned what was in essence was a failed state into a great world power once again. Western powers are now trying to figure out who is this Vladimir Putin and what went wrong with their grand plan to exploit the Eurasian continent at will. As such, unbeknownst to all, the world forever changed when Vladimir Putin took over power in 2000. Everything we see happening in the Western world today - from Donald Trump's rise to power to Brexit; from the mini-revolutions taking place on continental Europe to the Western defeat in Ukraine and Syria; from the rise of traditionalism and nationalism to the decline of liberalism and globalism - was directly and indirectly made possible by the rise of Russia. It is all a consequence of Vladimir Putin's rule in the Russian Federation.

In the late 1990s Russia was on the verge of becoming a failed state. Today, Russia is registering success-after-success around the world. The Kremlin has been outsmarting and outmaneuvering Western powers at every turn. What's more, by saving Novorossiyans and Syrians from annihilation at the hands of Western backed Neo-Nazis and Sunni extremists respectively, Russia today has also gained moral authority, and it is also beginning to look quite exceptional on the world stage.

The presence of President Putin's Russia on the global stage in recent years, since the summer of 2008 to be exact, has had a very positive if indirect psychological impact on the western society and a very negative impact on imperial/globalist designs of Western powers. President Putin's Russia showed westerners who have been drowning in liberalism, atheism, globalism and multiculturalism in recent times that there is another way. As we saw in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria, President Putin's Russia also managed to skillfully check the imperial ambitions of Western powers in strategic hotspots around the world. In my humble opinion, Europe's rekindling nationalism, Brexit and the very recent election of Donald Trump can be traced back to what was started by the FSB-led internal palace coup that put Vladimir Putin in power back in 2000. President Putin's Russia set the precedence to today's events some seventeen years ago, and Western powers have been suffering one setback after another ever since. It can be said that President Putin has single-handedly defeated the Anglo-American-Jewish global order.

In my opinion, President Putin was meant to be. In other words, a political character like Vladimir Putin was inevitable. Nature has a way of correcting itself of dangerous imbalances. It was therefore inevitable for a great figure to rise and put an end to a gross imbalance in human ecology brought upon by Western powers. While President Putin may have been directly put into power by earthly forces, I believe it was higher (supernatural) forces that preordained him to be who he is today. Whether he realizes it or not, on a spiritual level, President Putin has been led by higher powers. After nearly a century of anguish, the Russian people finally found their savior in President Putin. Armenians, as well as other peoples around the world, have also greatly benefited by the rise of President Putin's Russia.

I firmly believe that western/European civilization, Apostolic Christianity, the very concept of the nation-state, traditionalism and political sanity on earth will prove to have been preserved as a result of the sudden emergence of the Russian Federation as a superpower reasserting itself in global affairs. The sociopolitical mechanisms put into place by President Putin will one day prove to have saved humanity from another dark age. Under President Putin, the Russian Federation has become the only front against the Anglo-American-Zionist global order; the only front against Pan-Turkism; the only front against Islamic extremism; and the only front against the world's newest form of Bolshevism - Globalism.

I wish a great leader like Vladimir Putin appears in the United States as well. President Donald Trump, a self-engrossed businessman in service of right-wing Jews, does not yet seem to be that leader. Only a Putinesque leader can save the U.S. from its political decline,  financial decay and cultural degradation. Only a Putinesque leader can truly make America great again. A Putinesque leader however will most probably never rise in the U.S. because America's mighty oligarchs (i.e. its mega-corporations, Wall Street bankers, oil men, war profiteers and Jewish interests) tightly control the reigns of government in Washington, and the American people, severely dumbed-down and out-of-touch with reality after decades of social engineering are utterly powerless against them.

Nevertheless, I dare the reader, particularly my Armenian readers, to imagine what the political state of world would have been like today without the existence of the Russian Federation as a powerful geopolitical factor in global affairs since the year 2000. I dare my Armenian readers to imagine what Armenia's plight would have been like today had there not been a strong Russian factor in the south Caucasus today. In my opinion, President Putin's has been a God sent not only for Russia and Armenia but also for the world itself. President Putin's Russia is the antidote to Western toxcicity. What President Putin and his backers in the Kremlin managed to accomplish during the past decade was in my opinion one of history's most important political turning points. This point is beginning to be better understood even by westerners -
So the old question arises: Who owns the future?  In the new struggles of the new century, it is not impossible that Russia — as was America in the Cold War — may be on the winning side. Secessionist parties across Europe already look to Moscow rather than across the Atlantic. "Putin has become a symbol of national sovereignty in its battle with globalism," writes Caldwell. "That turns out to be the big battle of our times. As our last election shows, that’s true even here." - Patrick Buchanan
Russia today is leading a global crusade against globalism. Russia today is the embodiment of anti-Americanism. And people around the world are responding. As we can clearly see with the following Pew research, millions of people around the world are beginning to see Russia as the antidote to the toxicity known as globalism and westernization and American global hegemony -
Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe:
As the Western world slowly commits suicide via - genetically modified foods, sex tourism, low quality pop culture, psychiatric drugs, celebrity worship, proliferation junk foods, government sanctioned multiculturalism, overtaxation, underage drinking and drug abuse, proliferation of pharmaceuticals, institutionalized atheism, overregulation, dwindling natural resources, epidemic of suicides, over-entertainment, modern art, Holocaust worship, undereducation, radical feminism, worship of infanticide, Satan worship, abortion, low birth rates, culture of violence, glorification of war, consumerism, commercialism, selfishness and individualism, mass homicides, child prostitution, child pornography, interracialism, illegal immigration, third world immigration, sexual debauchery, breakdown of traditional family, governmental corruption, sexual degeneracy and the promotion of homosexuality - others in the world are slowly plotting course for a new period in human history. As the US and western Europe go into political, economic and cultural decline, the 21st century will be a Eurasian century.

As the United States and Western Europe go into political, economic and cultural decline, the 21st century is increasingly looking like a Eurasian century; and President Putin's Russia has had a hand in this outcome. President Putin turned me, an Armenian nationalist and an American libertarian - into an ardent Russophile.

May, 2012

(articles updated  2019)

Oliver Stone's Putin Interviews (part 1):
Oliver Stone's Putin Interviews (part 2):
Oliver Stone's Putin Interviews (part 3):
Oliver Stone's Putin Interviews (part 4):
President Vladimir Putin On Russian Election Interference (Full Exclusive) | Megyn Kelly | NBC News: 
Vladimir Putin's Presidential Inauguration Ceremony (full video):
Teary-eyed Putin addresses 110,000 crowd near Kremlin (2012):
Red Square Military Parade (full video):
US infected world with crisis - Putin (2008):
Putin Question and Answer: international agenda (2008):
TIME's Interview with Vladimir Putin (2007):,00.html
Archive footage of Vladimir Putin’s inauguration (2001):
The Rise of Putin and The Fall of The Russian-Jewish Oligarchs (1/2):
The Rise of Putin and The Fall of The Russian-Jewish Oligarchs (2/2):
The Unknown Putin. Part 1:


It’s Putin’s World

How the Russian president became the ideological hero of nationalists everywhere

n 2012, Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency after a four-year, constitutionally imposed hiatus. It wasn’t the smoothest of transitions. To his surprise, in the run-up to his inauguration, protesters filled the streets of Moscow and other major cities to denounce his comeback. Such opposition required dousing. But an opportunity abroad also beckoned—and the solution to Putin’s domestic crisis and the fulfillment of his international ambitions would roll into one.

After the global financial crisis of 2008, populist uprisings had sprouted across Europe. Putin and his strategists sensed the beginnings of a larger uprising that could upend the Continent and make life uncomfortable for his geostrategic competitors. A 2013 paper from the Center for Strategic Communications, a pro-Kremlin think tank, observed that large patches of the West despised feminism and the gay-rights movement and, more generally, the progressive direction in which elites had pushed their societies. With the traditionalist masses ripe for revolt, the Russian president had an opportunity. He could become, as the paper’s title blared, “The New World Leader of Conservatism.”

Putin had never spoken glowingly of the West, but grim pronouncements about its fate grew central to his rhetoric. He hurled splenetic attacks against the culturally decadent, spiritually desiccated “Euro-Atlantic.” He warned against the fetishization of tolerance and diversity. 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.”

Few analysts grasped the potency such rhetoric would have beyond Russia. But right-wing leaders around the world—from Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines to Nigel Farage in Britain to Donald Trump in the U.S.—now speak of Putin in heroic terms. Their fawning is often discounted, ascribed to under-the-table payments or other stealthy Russian efforts. These explanations don’t wholly account for Putin’s outsize stature, however. He has achieved this prominence because he anticipated the global populist revolt and helped give it ideological shape. With his apocalyptic critique of the West—which also plays on anxieties about Christendom’s supposedly limp response to Islamist terrorism—Putin has become a mascot of traditionalist resistance.

At first, most Western observers assumed that Putin wouldn’t win fans outside the furthest fringes of the right. In France, Russia’s hopes initially focused on Marine Le Pen, the fierce critic of immigration and globalization, whose National Front party has harbored Holocaust deniers and Vichy nostalgists. In 2014, a Russian bank loaned Le Pen’s cash-strapped party 9 million euros. Le Pen, in turn, has amplified Putin’s talking points, declaring Russia “a natural ally of Europe.”

If Europe’s far-right parties were Putin’s landing beach, he has made inroads, and hovers over the current French presidential election. During last year’s campaign for the nomination of France’s Republican Party—the newly rechristened home of the center-right—candidates tripped over themselves to pay obeisance. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy, vying to resurrect his career, sprinted away from his own history of slagging the Russian strongman. On a trip to St. Petersburg in June, he made a point of stopping for a photo op with Putin, pumping his hand and smiling broadly. Sarkozy’s pre-campaign book swooned, “I am not one of his intimates but I confess to appreciating his frankness, his calm, his authority. And then he is so Russian!” These were gaudy gestures, but hardly idiosyncratic. Sarkozy’s rival François Fillon behaved just as effusively, though his affection seemed less contrived—during his years as prime minister, from 2008 to 2012, he cultivated a tight relationship with the man he has called “my dear Vladimir.” In November, Alain Juppé, the Republican contender initially favored by oddsmakers, moaned, “This must be the first presidential election in which the Russian president chooses his candidate.” But deriding his opponents for “acute Russophilia” hardly helped him: Fillon is now the party’s nominee, having drubbed Juppé by more than 30 points.

The French embrace of Putin has roots in the country’s long history of Russophilia and anti-Americanism. But Putin’s vogue also stems from the substance of his jeremiads, which match the mood of France’s conservative base. As French book sales reveal, the public has an apparently bottomless appetite for polemics that depict the country plummeting to its doom. Much anxiety focuses on the notion of le grand remplacement, the fear that France will turn into a Muslim country, aided by native-born couples’ failure to reproduce. The gloom is xenophobic, but also self-loathing. Right-wing polemicists bellow that France will squander its revolutionary tradition and cultural heritage without lifting a finger to save itself. The defining screed is Éric Zemmour’s The French Suicide, an unabridged catalog of the forces sucking the vitality from his country—post-structuralist academics, unpatriotic businessmen, technocrats in the European Union.

Contrary to prevailing wisdom, the new populism cannot be wholly attributed to economic displacement. In a short period of time, the West has undergone a major cultural revolution—an influx of immigrants and a movement toward a new egalitarianism. Only a decade ago, an issue like gay marriage was so contentious that politicians like Barack Obama didn’t dare support the cause. The movement’s success seemed like one of the marvels of the age—an object lesson of what can happen when the internet helps tie people together and the entertainment industry preaches tolerance. It seemed that the culture wars had been extinguished, that the forces of progress had won an unmitigated victory.

Except they hadn’t. In search of a global explanation for the ongoing revolt, Pippa Norris of Harvard’s Kennedy School and Ronald Inglehart of the University of Michigan have sifted through polling data and social science. They’ve found that right-wing populists have largely fed off the alienation of older white voters, who are angry about the erosion of traditional values. These voters feel stigmatized as intolerant and bigoted for even entertaining such anger—and their rage grows. “These are the groups most likely to feel that they have become strangers from the predominant values in their own country, left behind by progressive tides of cultural change,” Norris and Inglehart write. Their alienation and fear of civilizational collapse have eroded their faith in democracy, and created a yearning for a strongman who can stave off catastrophe.

Gay marriage is a divisive issue in France, where Fillon has vowed to block adoption by same-sex couples. The battle against Islamism also remains a rallying cry; Fillon’s campaign manifesto is called Conquering Islamic Totalitarianism. When he genuflects before the Russian president, he knows that his base yearns for everything Putin embodies—manliness, thumbing one’s nose at political correctness, war with the godless cosmopolitans in Brussels, refusal to tolerate the real and growing threat of terrorism. As the Hudson Institute’s Benjamin Haddad told me, “Fillon may justify his embrace of Putin with international relations, but he is increasingly a symbol for domestic purposes.”

Putin has inverted the Cold War narrative. Back in Soviet times, the West was the enemy of godlessness. Today, it’s the Russian leader who seeks to snuff out that supposed threat. American conservatives are struggling with the irony. They seem to know that they should resist the pull of Putinism—many initially responded to his entreaties with a ritualistic wringing of hands—but they can’t help themselves.

In 2013, the columnist Pat Buchanan championed Putin as an enemy of secularism: “He is seeking to redefine the ‘Us vs. Them’ world conflict of the future as one in which conservatives, traditionalists, and nationalists of all continents and countries stand up against the cultural and ideological imperialism of what he sees as a decadent west.” This type of homage became a trope among conservative thinkers—including Rod Dreher and Matt Drudge—and in turn influenced their followers. In mid-2014, 51 percent of American Republicans viewed Putin very unfavorably. Two years later, 14 percent did. By January, 75 percent of Republicans said Trump had the “right approach” toward Russia. (When asked about this change, Putin replied, “It’s because people share our traditional sensibilities.”)

Donald Trump, who hardly seems distraught over the coarsening of American life, is in some ways a strange inductee into the cult of Putin. Indeed, of the raft of theories posited to explain Trump’s worshipful attitude toward the Russian leader, many focus less on ideology than on conspiracy. And yet, Trump’s analysis of the world does converge with Putin’s. Trump’s chief ideologist, Steve Bannon, clearly views Western civilization as feckless and inert. In 2014, Bannon spoke via Skype at a conference hosted by the Human Dignity Institute, a conservative Catholic think tank. Shortly after the election, BuzzFeed published a transcript of his talk, which was erudite, nuanced, and terrifying.

Bannon was clear-eyed about Putin’s kleptocratic tendencies and imperial ambitions. That skepticism, however, didn’t undermine his sympathy for Putin’s project. “We, the Judeo-Christian West, really have to look at what [Putin’s] talking about as far as traditionalism goes,” Bannon said. He shared Putin’s vision of a world disastrously skidding off the tracks—“a crisis both of our Church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism.” The word crisis is used so promiscuously that it can lose meaning, but not in this case. “We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict,” Bannon said, exhorting his audience to “fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.”

Of course, Kulturkampf is not merely a diagnosis of the world; it is a political strategy. Putin has demonstrated its efficacy. When protesters looked like a challenge to his rule, he turned the nation’s attention to gays and lesbians, whom he depicted as an existential threat to the Russian way of life. The journalist Masha Gessen described this fomented wave of homophobia as “a sweet potion for a country that had always drawn strength and unity from fearmongering.” The secularist scourge would later be used to smear those who opposed the invasion of Ukraine: Pro-European demonstrators in Kiev were portrayed as wanting same-sex marriage.

Traditionalism has allowed Putin to consolidate power while sucking the life from civil society. The specter of decline has haunted the West ever since its rise. But the recent spate of jeremiads is different. They have an unusually large constituency, and revisit some of the most dangerous strains of apocalyptic thinking from the last century—the fear of cultural degeneration, the anxiety that civilization has grown unmanly, the sense that liberal democracy has failed to safeguard civilization from its enemies. Trump doesn’t think as rigorously or as broadly as Putin, but his campaign was shot through with similar elements. If he carries this sort of talk into office, he will be joining a chorus of like-minded allies across the world.

There is little empirical basis for the charge of civilizational rot. It speaks to an emotional state, one we should do our best to understand and even empathize with. But we know from history that premonitions of imminent barbarism serve to justify extreme countermeasures. These are the anxieties from which dictators rise. Admiring strongmen from a distance is the window-shopping that can end in the purchase of authoritarianism.


Patrick Buchanan: Is Putin the ‘Preeminent Statesman’ of Our Times?

"If we were to use traditional measures for understanding leaders, which involve the defense of borders and national flourishing, Putin would count as the preeminent statesman of our time. "On the world stage, who could vie with him?" So asks Chris Caldwell of the Weekly Standard in a remarkable essay in Hillsdale College’s March issue of its magazine, Imprimis. What elevates Putin above all other 21st-century leaders?

"When Putin took power in the winter of 1999-2000, his country was defenseless. It was bankrupt. It was being carved up by its new kleptocratic elites, in collusion with its old imperial rivals, the Americans. Putin changed that.

"In the first decade of this century, he did what Kemal Ataturk had done in Turkey in the 1920s. Out of a crumbling empire, he resurrected a national-state, and gave it coherence and purpose. He disciplined his country’s plutocrats. He restored its military strength. And he refused, with ever blunter rhetoric, to accept for Russia a subservient role in an American-run world system drawn up by foreign politicians and business leaders. His voters credit him with having saved his country."

Putin’s approval rating, after 17 years in power, exceeds that of any rival Western leader. But while his impressive strides toward making Russia great again explain why he is revered at home and in the Russian diaspora, what explains Putin’s appeal in the West, despite a press that is every bit as savage as President Trump’s?

Answer: Putin stands against the Western progressive vision of what mankind’s future ought to be. Years ago, he aligned himself with traditionalists, nationalists and populists of the West, and against what they had come to despise in their own decadent civilization.

What they abhorred, Putin abhorred. He is a God-and-country Russian patriot. He rejects the New World Order established at the Cold War’s end by the United States. Putin puts Russia first. And in defying the Americans he speaks for those millions of Europeans who wish to restore their national identities and recapture their lost sovereignty from the supranational European Union. Putin also stands against the progressive moral relativism of a Western elite that has cut its Christian roots to embrace secularism and hedonism.

The U.S. establishment loathes Putin because, they say, he is an aggressor, a tyrant, a "killer." He invaded and occupies Ukraine. His old KGB comrades assassinate journalists, defectors and dissidents. Yet while politics under both czars and commissars has often been a blood sport in Russia, what has Putin done to his domestic enemies to rival what our Arab ally Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has done to the Muslim Brotherhood he overthrew in a military coup in Egypt?

What has Putin done to rival what our NATO ally President Erdogan has done in Turkey, jailing 40,000 people since last July’s coup — or our Philippine ally Rodrigo Duterte, who has presided over the extrajudicial killing of thousands of drug dealers? Does anyone think President Xi Jinping would have handled mass demonstrations against his regime in Tiananmen Square more gingerly than did President Putin this last week in Moscow?

Much of the hostility toward Putin stems from the fact that he not only defies the West, when standing up for Russia’s interests, he often succeeds in his defiance and goes unpunished and unrepentant. He not only remains popular in his own country, but has admirers in nations whose political establishments are implacably hostile to him. In December, one poll found 37 percent of all Republicans had a favorable view of the Russian leader, but only 17 percent were positive on President Barack Obama.

There is another reason Putin is viewed favorably. Millions of ethnonationalists who wish to see their nations secede from the EU see him as an ally. While Putin has openly welcomed many of these movements, America’s elite do not take even a neutral stance. Putin has read the new century better than his rivals. While the 20th century saw the world divided between a Communist East and a free and democratic West, new and different struggles define the 21st.

The new dividing lines are between social conservatism and self-indulgent secularism, between tribalism and transnationalism, between the nation-state and the New World Order. On the new dividing lines, Putin is on the side of the insurgents. Those who envision de Gaulle’s Europe of Nations replacing the vision of One Europe, toward which the EU is heading, see Putin as an ally.

So the old question arises: Who owns the future?

In the new struggles of the new century, it is not impossible that Russia — as was America in the Cold War — may be on the winning side. Secessionist parties across Europe already look to Moscow rather than across the Atlantic. "Putin has become a symbol of national sovereignty in its battle with globalism," writes Caldwell. "That turns out to be the big battle of our times. As our last election shows, that’s true even here."

A Tsar Is Born
No one is born with a stare like Vladimir Putin's. The Russian President's pale blue eyes are so cool, so devoid of emotion that the stare must have begun as an affect, the gesture of someone who understood that power might be achieved by the suppression of ordinary needs, like blinking. The affect is now seamless, which makes talking to the Russian President not just exhausting but often chilling. It's a gaze that says, I'm in charge. This may explain why there is so little visible security at Putin's dacha, Novo-Ogarevo, the grand Russian presidential retreat set inside a birch- and fir-forested compound west of Moscow. To get there from the capital requires a 25-minute drive through the soul of modern Russia, past decrepit Soviet-era apartment blocks, the mashed-up French Tudor-villa McMansions of the new oligarchs and a shopping mall that boasts not just the routine spoils of affluence like Prada and Gucci but Lamborghinis and Ferraris too.

When you arrive at the dacha's faux-neoclassical gate, you have to leave your car and hop into one of the Kremlin's vehicles that slowly wind their way through a silent forest of snow-tipped firs. Aides warn you not to stray, lest you tempt the snipers positioned in the shadows around the compound. This is where Putin, 55, works. (He lives with his wife and two twentysomething daughters in another mansion deeper in the woods.) The rooms feel vast, newly redone and mostly empty. As we prepare to enter his spacious but spartan office, out walk some of Russia's most powerful men: Putin's chief of staff, his ideologist, the speaker of parliament—all of them wearing expensive bespoke suits and carrying sleek black briefcases. Putin, who rarely meets with the foreign press, then gives us 3 1⁄2 hours of his time, first in a formal interview in his office and then upstairs over an elaborate dinner of lobster-and-shiitake-mushroom salad, "crab fingers with hot sauce" and impressive vintages of Puligny-Montrachet and a Chilean Cabernet.

Vladimir Putin gives a first impression of contained power: he is compact and moves stiffly but efficiently. He is fit, thanks to years spent honing his black-belt judo skills and, these days, early-morning swims of an hour or more. And while he is diminutive—5 ft. 6 in. (about 1.7 m) seems a reasonable guess—he projects steely confidence and strength. Putin is unmistakably Russian, with chiseled facial features and those penetrating eyes. Charm is not part of his presentation of self—he makes no effort to be ingratiating. One senses that he pays constant obeisance to a determined inner discipline. The successor to the boozy and ultimately tragic Boris Yeltsin, Putin is temperate, sipping his wine only when the protocol of toasts and greetings requires it; mostly he just twirls the Montrachet in his glass. He eats little, though he twitchily picks the crusts off the bread rolls on his plate.

Putin grudgingly reveals a few personal details between intermittent bites of food: He relaxes, he says, by listening to classical composers like Brahms, Mozart, Tchaikovsky. His favorite Beatles song is Yesterday. He has never sent an e-mail in his life. And while he grew up in an officially atheist country, he is a believer and often reads from a Bible that he keeps on his state plane. He is impatient to the point of rudeness with small talk, and he is in complete control of his own message. He is clear about Russia's role in the world. He is passionate in his belief that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a tragedy, particularly since overnight it stranded 25 million ethnic Russians in "foreign" lands. But he says he has no intention of trying to rebuild the U.S.S.R. or re-establish military or political blocs. And he praises his predecessors Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev for destroying a system that had lost the people's support. "I'm not sure I could have had the guts to do that myself," he tells us. Putin is, above all, a pragmatist, and has cobbled together a system—not unlike China's—that embraces the free market (albeit with a heavy dose of corruption) but relies on a strong state hand to keep order.

Like President George W. Bush, he sees terrorism as one of the most profound threats of the new century, but he is wary of labeling it Islamic. "Radicals," he says, "can be found in any environment." Putin reveals that Russian intelligence recently uncovered a "specific" terrorist threat against both Russia and the U.S. and that he spoke by phone with Bush about it. What gets Putin agitated—and he was frequently agitated during our talk—is his perception that Americans are out to interfere in Russia's affairs. He says he wants Russia and America to be partners but feels the U.S. treats Russia like the uninvited guest at a party. "We want to be a friend of America," he says. "Sometimes we get the impression that America does not need friends" but only "auxiliary subjects to command." Asked if he'd like to correct any American misconceptions about Russia, Putin leans forward and says, "I don't believe these are misconceptions. I think this is a purposeful attempt by some to create an image of Russia based on which one could influence our internal and foreign policies. This is the reason why everybody is made to believe...[Russians] are a little bit savage still or they just climbed down from the trees, you know, and probably need to have...the dirt washed out of their beards and hair." The veins on his forehead seem ready to pop.

Elected Emperor

Putin has said that next spring, at the end of his second term as President, he will assume the nominally lesser role of Prime Minister. In fact, having nominated his loyal former chief of staff (and current Deputy Prime Minister) Dmitri Medvedev to succeed him as President, Putin will surely remain the supreme leader, master of Russia's destiny, which will allow him to complete the job he started. In his eight years as President, he has guided his nation through a remarkable transformation. He has restored stability and a sense of pride among citizens who, after years of Soviet stagnation, rode the heartbreaking roller coaster of raised and dashed expectations when Gorbachev and then Yeltsin were in charge. A basket case in the 1990s, Russia's economy has grown an average of 7% a year for the past five years. The country has paid off a foreign debt that once neared $200 billion. Russia's rich have gotten richer, often obscenely so. But the poor are doing better too: workers' salaries have more than doubled since 2003. True, this is partly a result of oil at $90 a barrel, and oil is a commodity Russia has in large supply. But Putin has deftly managed the windfall and spread the wealth enough so that people feel hopeful.

Russia's revival is changing the course of the modern world. After decades of slumbering underachievement, the Bear is back. Its billionaires now play on the global stage, buying up property, sports franchises, places at élite schools. Moscow exerts international influence not just with arms but also with a new arsenal of weapons: oil, gas, timber. On global issues, it offers alternatives to America's waning influence, helping broker deals in North Korea, the Middle East, Iran. Russia just made its first shipment of nuclear fuel to Iran—a sign that Russia is taking the lead on that vexsome issue, particularly after the latest U.S. intelligence report suggested that the Bush Administration has been wrong about Iran's nuclear-weapons development. And Putin is far from done. The premiership is a perch that will allow him to become the longest-serving statesman among the great powers, long after such leaders as Bush and Tony Blair have faded from the scene.

But all this has a dark side. To achieve stability, Putin and his administration have dramatically curtailed freedoms. His government has shut down TV stations and newspapers, jailed businessmen whose wealth and influence challenged the Kremlin's hold on power, defanged opposition political parties and arrested those who confront his rule. Yet this grand bargain—of freedom for security—appeals to his Russian subjects, who had grown cynical over earlier regimes' promises of the magical fruits of Western-style democracy. Putin's popularity ratings are routinely around 70%. "He is emerging as an elected emperor, whom many people compare to Peter the Great," says Dimitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center and a well-connected expert on contemporary Russia.

Putin's global ambitions seem straightforward. He certainly wants a seat at the table on the big international issues. But more important, he wants free rein inside Russia, without foreign interference, to run the political system as he sees fit, to use whatever force he needs to quiet seething outlying republics, to exert influence over Russia's former Soviet neighbors. What he's given up is Yeltsin's calculation that Russia's future requires broad acceptance on the West's terms. That means that on big global issues, says Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution and former point man on Russia policy for the Clinton Administration, "sometimes Russia will be helpful to Western interests, and sometimes it will be the spoiler."

Up from the Ruins

How do Russians see Putin? For generations they have defined their leaders through political jokes. It's partly a coping mechanism, partly a glimpse into the Russian soul. In the oft told anecdotes, Leonid Brezhnev was always the dolt, Gorbachev the bumbling reformer, Yeltsin the drunk. Putin, in current punch lines, is the despot. Here's an example: Stalin's ghost appears to Putin in a dream, and Putin asks for him help running the country. Stalin says, "Round up and shoot all the democrats, and then paint the inside of the Kremlin blue." "Why blue?" Putin asks. "Ha!" says Stalin. "I knew you wouldn't ask me about the first part." Putin himself is sardonic but humorless. In our hours together, he didn't attempt a joke, and he misread several of our attempts at playfulness. As Henry Kissinger, who has met and interacted with Russian leaders since Brezhnev, puts it, "He does not rely on personal charm. It is a combination of aloofness, considerable intelligence, strategic grasp and Russian nationalism" (see Kissinger interview).

To fully understand Putin's accomplishments and his appeal, one has to step back into the tumult of the 1990s. At the end of 1991, just a few months after Yeltsin dramatically stood on a tank outside the parliament in Moscow to denounce—and deflate—a coup attempt by hard-liners, the Soviet Union simply ceased to exist. Yeltsin took the reins in Russia and, amid great hope and pledges of help from around the world, promised to launch an era of democracy and economic freedom. I arrived in Moscow a week later, beginning a three-year stint as a Russia correspondent. I retain three indelible images from that time. The first: the legions of Ivy League—and other Western-educated "experts" who roamed the halls of the Kremlin and the government, offering advice, all ultimately ineffective, on everything from conducting free elections to using "shock therapy" to juice the economy to privatizing state-owned assets. The second: the long lines of impoverished old women standing in the Moscow cold, selling whatever they could scrounge from their homes—a silver candleholder, perhaps, or just a pair of socks. The third, more familiar image: a discouraged and embattled Yeltsin in 1993 calling in Russian-army tanks to shell his own parliament to break a deadlock with the defiant legislature when everything he was trying to do was going wrong.

Yeltsin bombed his way out of the threat of civil war and managed to hang on to power, but Russia was left hobbled. Virtually every significant asset—oil, banks, the media—ended up in the hands of a few "oligarchs" close to the President. Corruption and crime were rampant; the cities became violent. Paychecks weren't issued; pensions were ignored. Russia in 1998 defaulted on its foreign debt. The ruble and the financial markets collapsed, and Yeltsin was a spent force. "The '90s sucked," says Stephen Sestanovich, a Columbia University professor who was the State Department's special adviser for the new Independent States of the former Soviet Union under President Bill Clinton. "Putin managed to play on the resentment that Russians everywere were feeling." Indeed, by the time Putin took over in late 1999, there was nowhere to fall but up.

Path to Power

That Russia needed fixing was acknowledged by all. But how was it that Putin got the call? What was it that lifted him to power, and to the dacha in Novo-Ogarevo? Putin's rise continues to perplex even devoted Kremlin observers. He was born into humble circumstances in St. Petersburg in 1952. His father had fought in World War II and later labored in a train-car factory. Putin's mother, a devout Orthodox Christian, had little education and took on a series of menial jobs. The family lived in a drab fifth-floor walk-up in St. Petersburg; Putin had to step over swarms of rats occupying the entranceway on his way to school. Putin's only ancestor of note was his paternal grandfather, who had served as a cook for both Lenin and Stalin, though there's no sign that this gave his family any special status or connections. Putin describes his younger self as a poor student and a "hooligan." Small for his age, he got roughed by his contemporaries. So he took up sambo—a Soviet-era blend of judo and wrestling—and later just judo. From all accounts, he devoted himself to the martial art, attracted by both its physical demands and its contemplative philosophical core. "It's respect for your elders and opponents," he says in First Person, his question-and-answer memoir published in 2000. "It's not for weaklings."


A Modernizing Czar

Vladimir Putin can take great satisfaction with the legacy he will leave his successor this spring. In 2007, he achieved the goal he set out for himself eight years ago in a document, "Russia at the Turn of the Millennium," just before he took the presidency from ailing Boris Yeltsin: To rebuild Russia at home so that it could regain its status as a great power abroad. Last year saw this Russia on full view, playing a more vocal, visible and at times troublesome role on issues of great importance to Europe and the United States, such as Iran, the Middle East, missile defense, and energy.

Many may find President Putin's methods unsavory and Russia's new face disturbing. But we should give him his due, for the odds against success were formidable. Consider the Russia he inherited. Under President Yeltsin, Russia suffered a socio-economic and political collapse unprecedented for a major power not defeated in a major war. Between 1990-1998, the economy plunged by 40%. The state was dysfunctional, with significant parts privatized by corrupt oligarchs and with regional barons asserting their independence. Russia was humiliated as its finances were run out of Washington by the International Monetary Fund, and outside powers shamelessly interfered in Russia's domestic affairs in support of Yeltsin. Many Russians thought their country was on the path to becoming a failed state; many Westerners were contemplating a world without Russia.

Eight years later, the difference is stark. Mr. Putin has restored Russian pride and enhanced Russia's power. The economy has not only recovered all the ground it lost in the 1990s, but has also developed a robust service sector that was practically non-existent in the Soviet period. Russia has accumulated the third largest monetary reserves in the world after China and Japan. Mr. Putin has rebuilt an authoritative state along traditional Russian lines, highly centralized and personalized, by taming the oligarchs and regional barons and undermining alternative centers of power such as the Duma and the media. Russia is stable; living standards are soaring. It is once again feared and respected abroad. No wonder Mr. Putin is wildly popular among Russians, who now look to the future with greater optimism and confidence than ever over the past two decades.

To be sure, President Putin has been lucky -- lucky that he succeeded a decrepit Yeltsin, lucky that oil prices rose sharply on his watch, lucky that political disarray in Europe and the United States made him shine all the brighter on the world stage. But other leaders have failed to capitalize on such luck. One need look no further than to Leonid Brezhnev, who squandered a similar opportunity in the 1970's and instead prepared the ground for the Soviet Union's collapse in the 1980's. And there were many opportunities for Mr. Putin to falter. Without remarkable macroeconomic discipline, for example, the flood of petrodollars into Russia could have unleashed a devastating inflationary spiral and not the solid growth we have seen.

The time of restoration has now passed, however, and 2008 brings a new, more formidable challenge -- modernization -- that will require new approaches, particularly with the West. Russia needs to make massive investments -- perhaps a trillion dollars over the next decade -- to modernize infrastructure largely inherited from the Soviet Union and starved of funds over the past 15 years. It needs to diversify its economy away from an overlarge dependence on natural resources, particularly into high-tech, if it wants to remain a major power. It needs to rebuild its public health and education systems to produce a competitive workforce. This is all the more imperative because its population will decline sharply over the next decade because of poor health conditions in the past.

Mr. Putin and his entourage have spoken openly about these challenges. The question is whether they are prepared to take the steps needed to address them effectively. Success is threatened by the traditional Russian blight of corruption. Critical to dealing with that threat is to open up the political system to encourage greater transparency and accountability by government officials. Relaxing the current supercentralization will help foster the flow of reliable information, flexibility and innovation that Russia needs to face the challenges and exploit the opportunities of the 21st century.

Success will also require Russia to repair its relations with the West -- to begin with by ratcheting down the vitriolic anti-Western rhetoric coming out of Moscow today. For Russia cannot modernize itself on its own, even if it must play the leading role. The money, know-how and technology it needs can only be found in the West. And Russia cannot guarantee its security at a time of great global upheaval without friends and allies. Only one country has the capability to work with Russia on the full range of its real security challenges, which do not lie in the West but to the South in the guise of a militant radical Islam, to the East in the guise of a rapidly changing geopolitical environment, and globally in the guise of nuclear proliferation and megaterrorism. That country is the United States.

So one big question for 2008 is whether Mr. Putin and his chosen successor, Dimitry Medvedev, can summon up the wisdom to meet the challenges of economic and political modernization and the courage and confidence to build a cooperative relationship with the West, for the sake of Russia's own future.


Hunting the Russian Bear Why they're after Putin

At times it seems as though we've gone back in a time machine to the darkest, sub-zero days of the Cold War era, when Americans were frantically digging bomb shelters in their back yards, Godless Communism was on the march, and the jackboots of the KGB were just inches away from our waiting necks. Tony Blair, lecturing the Russian leader at the G-8 meeting, opined that the Western world, on behalf of which he presumed to speak, is "becoming worried, fearful about what was happening in Russia today, the external policy." These remarks echoed xxxx Cheney's sally last year against Russia's alleged attempt to use oil and gas as "tools of intimidation or blackmail, either by supply manipulation or attempts to monopolize transportation." That was said in response to Russia's threat to raise the price of energy previously sold at subsidized Soviet-era rates to Ukraine – a capitalistic act that was a bit too radical for the supposedly pro-free-market Cheney.

The Brits' beef with Putin also has to do with oil and gas. The Russian seizure of British oil assets in Siberia is being cited by free-market types as evidence that Putin is moving toward "corporatism," but is this any more "corporatist" than legislation currently on the books in the U.S. that forbids foreign ownership of key industries such as airlines and telecommunications? The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

Who can forget the Dubai port-management brouhaha, when Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike demagogued the issue to score political points by conjuring the alleged threat posed by a Middle Eastern-based company having anything to do with maintaining our – rapidly decaying – "vital" infrastructure? The Dubai episode inaugurated a crackdown by U.S. regulators and inspired a host of economically disastrous yet politically popular measures in Congress that confirm "corporatism" is on the march in Washington at least as much as it is in Moscow.

Remember when Chinese investors sought to buy out the oil company Unocal? The uproar was deafening, and the deal was scotched. So it turns out that British Petroleum is no more badly treated in Russia than Chinese-owned CNOOC Ltd. is in the U.S. – which, come to think of it, is perhaps why the Brits are so irked.

According to the mainstream news media's pampered pet pundits, Russian President Vladimir Putin is the reincarnation of Josef Stalin, and Russia under his rule is rapidly "backsliding" into "authoritarianism." According to Andrei Illarionov, a former economic adviser to Putin and now a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, the resurgent Russian military is about to take out its neighbors and seal a reestablished Warsaw Pact in the blood of Georgian, Ukrainian, and possibly even Polish innocents. The British, in particular, have been hyping this "new Cold War" narrative for all it's worth – which, when it comes right down to it, isn't very much.

Is Russia embarked on a return to authoritarianism? The answer has to be an unequivocal no. After all, Putin has not closed down a single Russian "dissident" media outlet – instead, like their counterparts in the U.S., Russian media barons, at the head of vast corporate conglomerates, have bought up the major television networks and newspapers and imposed a Fox News-like unanimity on correspondents and pundits alike. While this may make for boring television and patently predictable punditry, it doesn't make Russia a fascist state, as all too many people who ought to know better are trying to imply.

I had to laugh when I heard the thrilling news that "hundreds of people" marched through the streets of St. Petersburg recently to protest Putin's supposedly repressive regime. This was one of a series of "dissidents' marches" being held by the "opposition" – a seriocomic coalition of chess champion Gary Kasparov and neo-fascist crackpot Eduard Limonov. Hundreds, eh? Hundreds of thousands of antiwar marchers over the years protesting America's policy in Iraq have failed to garner as much publicity as this little band did in record time – now isn't that odd?

Odder still is the nature of the "opposition" itself: Limonov is a punk-rock skinhead "idol" and sometime novelist whose crazed views are best summed up by his National Bolshevik Party's graphic incorporation of Soviet and Nazi symbols to create the single most repulsive party emblem in all of recorded history. Kasparov, aside from his well-known exploits in the game of chess, is a pawn of American neoconservatives: his real constituency isn't in Russia, where he remains an obscure political figure, but in Washington, D.C., where he stands amid such neocon luminaries as Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and James Woolsey as a member of the Center for Security Policy. The Center is a major neocon propaganda outfit headed by longtime neocon activist Frank Gaffney, whose name is virtually synonymous with the military-industrial complex. Kasparov served on the Center's National Security Advisory Council along with Woolsey.

The neocons, by the way, are deeply committed to the Chechen cause and have been in the vanguard of the movement to demonize Putin as a latter-day Stalin: the list of endorsers of the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya replicates the seating arrangements at the front table at an American Enterprise Institute awards dinner. It was Richard Perle, you'll recall, who averred that Russia ought to be expelled from the G-8 on account of Mikhail Khodorkovsky's arrest for crimes ranging from embezzlement to conspiracy to commit murder.

The neocons have allied themselves with the Russian oligarchs, who amassed fantastic wealth in post-communist Russia by means that might meet the approval of Tony Soprano, not the Better Business Bureau. These oligarchs seethe at their expulsion as they plot from abroad to return the country to their clutches. For years now, an unsavory popular front of Chechen terrorists, neoconservative hawks, and shady Russian oligarchs wearing Moss Lipow dark sunglasses and gobs of gold chains has massed at the gates of Moscow, demanding the ouster of the czar – and the clamor has now been taken up by Western governments.

"It would be funny if it wasn't so sad" was Putin's response to the U.S. insistence that Poland and Czechoslovakia put anti-missile technology in place in order to guard against the supposed "threat" from an attack… launched by Iran. The joke is that the Iranians don't have missiles that can reach either Warsaw or Prague. To pretend that these anti-missile systems are aimed at an "enemy" other than Russia is the measure of the West's disdain for Putin: like a schoolyard bully who "accidentally" shoves his victims on the playground, they don't even bother to convincingly conceal their belligerence.

Putin's counterproposal to help set up a missile-interception system in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan is a deft deflection of Western claims that Putin poses a renewed Russian threat to the security of Europe. If the U.S. and Britain are genuinely concerned about a possible Iranian strike at the former Eastern bloc, then they'll sign on to Putin's generous offer. Their hesitation, one has to conclude, speaks volumes about their real motives for putting up the missile shield in the first place. Just as the demonstrators in the streets of Russian cities are seemingly intent on provoking the Russian police into a violent response, so the Western powers – alarmed at the rise of Putin on the world stage as the Americans' chief antagonist and most eloquent critic – are engaged in a series of large-scale provocations, including but not limited to the Eastern European missile shield.

Another irritant to Russia's increasingly fractious relations with the West is the issue of Kosovo's independence. Again, the Western love of double standards comes into play here, with Kosovo's alleged "right" to nationhood being upheld by an American president while the corresponding "right" of Russian-speaking (or pro-Russian) areas of the former Soviet Union, such as Abkhazia and the Transdniester Republic, to independence goes unrecognized by the West.

The real evidence, however, of just how badly relations between Russia and the West have deteriorated is the strange case of Alexander Litvinenko and the mystery surrounding his death. Having covered this subject at length in previous columns, I won't elaborate on the arcane technical and other details of this downright weird episode, which seems like a story straight out of a Hollywood thriller, except to say that the "official" version of how Litvinenko came to be poisoned by a rare radioactive substance, polonium-210, stinks to high heaven.

This narrative, which holds that Litvinenko was targeted by the KGB because of his alleged status as a Russian "dissident" living in exile in London, doesn't hold up under even the most forgiving scrutiny. After all, why kill him with a rare and easily traced substance – and with such an overdose that the cost alone would seem to rule out this method – when a simple shot in the back of the head would suffice? The sheer amount of disinformation and propagandistic nonsense dished out by the British tabloids alone on the subject probably consumed enough paper to deforest half of South America. Nor is the British indictment of Andrei Lugovoi enough to paper over the huge holes in the "official" story. Lugovoi, at any rate, is fighting back, with revelations that the Brits and Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky tried to recruit him to root out the dirt on Putin.

In any case, the Litvinenko affair emanates the aura of a gigantic, somewhat sinister scam, perhaps involving the smuggling of polonium and the involvement of Islamic terrorist cells associated with the Chechens. What ought to worry us is that someone was possibly trying to assemble a "dirty bomb" of the type Jose Padilla was accused of masterminding – in the heart of London.

There seems little doubt the color-coded "revolutions," with Western material and moral support, targeted the former Soviet "near abroad" and aimed at reducing Russian influence and putting Putin on the defensive. The construction of a missile-defense system in Eastern Europe was the last straw. What had been primarily a propaganda campaign aimed at the Kremlin has now taken a decidedly military turn, one that bodes ill for the future and the cause of peace. There are those who never reconciled themselves to the end of the Cold War – that crucible in which the pestilential sect known as the neoconservatives was born and raised – and it seems a supreme effort is being made to revive it.

Today we hear endless stories about how the Russian leader and his country pose a threat to Western interests: Russia is "authoritarian," newly aggressive, "anti-Semitic," and, yes, even "homophobic." As the memory of 9/11 fades and the meaning of that historic disaster is increasingly disputed, the War Party needs fresh enemies whose alleged evil will thrill the popular imagination and satiate their hunger for villainy. Putin, flush with oil money and eager to regain Russia's place in the sun, fits the bill nicely.

The truth is more prosaic. Putin is no dictator, and Russia, far from backsliding into neo-communism, is in a better position than ever to create a middle-class-based liberal democracy with the rule of law roughly comparable to the system that prevails in the West. The general rise in the Russian standard of living, after a catastrophic post-communist decline, puts a brake on any backward-looking authoritarian movement (neo-communist or otherwise) making appreciable progress.

That this occurred under Putin is the reason for the Russian president's enormous popularity and accounts for the marginalization of his opponents. As much as Western liberals and neocons loathe Putin and the prospect of a resurgent Russia, it doesn't look like regime change is on the agenda in the former Soviet Union, in spite of millions being poured into the region by Western governments to aid the opposition. The endless provocations aimed at the Kremlin will only have the effect of irritating the Russian bear – and creating yet more anti-American and anti-Western sentiment. As if we don't have enough of that already…

Russia has come a long way from being the land of the gulags, and it is never going to go back to that – not unless the West succeeds in looting that country, once again, and creating a Russian version of the Weimar Republic. This is precisely why lunatics of Eduard Limonov's ilk have joined the opposition as its noisiest and most visible wing – because the rise of Putin, who created order out of mafia-inspired chaos, short-circuited the Weimar Russia scenario and diverted the Russians down a different path.


West Still Asking: Who is Mr. Putin?

It would be very difficult to name another international leader who has had more trash - potato peels and all - dumped on his doorstep than Vladimir Putin, the former two-term Russian president and present prime minister that "the West" loves to loathe. But perhaps in no other business than politics does one's accumulated amount of garbage speak volumes about the natural abilities of the politician in question. Indeed, it is only the retired, resigned or impeached who sit dejected on the porch of power, waiting for the postman to deliver the next batch of steaming hate mail. But like the judo expert he is, Putin is at his most effective when on the defensive, twisting the black press to his general advantage. The work of analysts, pundits and politicians, laboring to unravel the mystery of the Putin puzzle after almost a decade, has become an entire cottage industry unto itself. The unemployment rate in American academia alone would jump a full percentage point should Vladimir Putin ever opt out of the political game. And of course, the Russian leader's stint with the KGB back in the Soviet era only enhances the intrigue.

The perennial question, ‘Who is Mr. Putin?' has not taken a pause since that magnetic moment in 2001 when US President George W. Bush dared to gaze into Vladimir's steely poker blues, whereupon the Texas oilman - no easy pushover for partners, we must assume - declared to the world: "I looked him in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy... I was able to get a sense of his soul." You could almost hear the collective shriek from the US intelligence community from Washington. So American experts had basically two uncomfortable choices: declare their commander-in-chief incompetent, dim-witted or the unwitting subject of some new Manhattan Project, or Vladimir Putin as he is now portrayed in the western world: cold, cunning and calculating. The subject of Putin's soul - despite so many other matters of urgency - continues to haunt the US political scene. In an effort to show her strong feminine side, apparently, Hillary Clinton, while campaigning for the Democratic nomination, said, "He was a KGB agent... By definition he doesn't have a soul," to which Putin cooly replied, "I think that a head of state must have a head as a minimum. And in order to build interstate relationships, one must be governed by the fundamental interests of one's own country rather than by emotions."

Incidentally, Putin was nominated Time Magazine's Man of the Year for 2007, for his "extraordinary feat of leadership." Nobody ever said politics was easy. John Kenneth Galbraith described it as forever making a choice between "the disastrous and unpalatable." Putin, like every leader, has made his share of arguably ‘unpalatable' choices, but he could never be accused of not serving the interests of his nation. Perhaps this is the source of the contempt he regularly attracts from abroad: Putin contradicts by 180-degrees the stereotypical image of the ‘Russian leader' - an oxymoron in the west in its own right. Images of Putin performing judo, fishing bare-chested along the Volga, or bringing down a tiger in Siberia are actions that speak far more accurately about the man - and the country at large - than do the contemptible words of jaded critics. Putin's phenomenal political success is underscored by Russia's rapid resurgence since he first stepped onto the political stage. Many critics, however, explain away Putin's political fortunes as due to the lucky spin of the resource wheel; they ignore the fact, however, that Russia had oil and gas prior to Putin's rise to power, yet still managed to wallow in debt and decadence (Here is an easy way to disprove the resource argument: the next time you meet a Russian tourist abroad, ask what type of business they are engaged in. Unless you somehow found an oligarch, the last answer you will hear is "gas and oil").

Having lived in Russia for the duration of Putin's presidency, I am at a loss to explain what irritates the West about this man. After all, he achieved everything "we" demanded from Russia: the economy is back on track; the military has full control over its weapons of mass destruction; and nowhere else is freedom more alive and well than on a Russian street. Finally, Putin fully respected the borders of foreign nations - something the US, NATO and the EU glaringly failed to do. Despite, or because of, Putin's solid record of honoring the territorial integrity of sovereign states, western analysts charged him with actually prompting the Georgians to attack on August 8, as if the Russian prime minister himself held Mikheil Saakashvili's trigger finger to the fire button. "Bush... lingered in Beijing yukking it up with our beach volleyball team," neocon hothead Charles Krauthammer foamed on the pages of The Washington Post, "while Putin flew to North Ossetia to direct the invasion of a neighboring country." Some would call it self defense, Charles.

But few mentioned that Russian forces stopped far from the gates of Tbilisi, while NATO forces in 1999, acting in their own ‘democratic' interests, bombed Belgrade for 78 days to ‘free' Kosovo. Perhaps Putin's problem with getting fair western representation hinges on nothing more than the public's notoriously short memory. But we can be sure that Putin will always remind them of their shortcomings.


Tough-Talking Putin Crafted Image His Way

Few people had heard of Vladimir Putin when Russia's then-President Boris Yeltsin appointed him prime minister in 1999. But the stern-faced former KGB officer triggered a love affair with the Russian population — by starting a popular second war in Chechnya later that year. Soon after hostilities began, the man who later became president surprised the country with the first of what became known as "Putinisms." He issued a threat to Chechen rebels using slang terms usually heard only in Russia's notoriously tough prisons. "If they're in the airport," Putin said, "we'll kill them there … and excuse me, but if we find them in the toilet, we'll exterminate them in their outhouses." When Putin steps down as Russia's president next week, he will leave with approval ratings most leaders can only dream about. More than 80 percent of Russians say he has done a good job in office. His famous tough talk and outbursts might appear crude to foreigners — and even to many Russians — but they're essential to his carefully controlled public image, projected by a highly talented performer.

A Way With Words

Since he was first elected president, in 2000, Putin has systematically rolled back media freedom in Russia. Yet he's also forged a love-hate relationship with journalists. When Putin appears in front of more than 1,000 reporters during his annual news conferences, he owns the room, keeping reporters fascinated for hours by alternating between threats, jokes and flirtation. One journalist said in 2006 that she was speaking for all blond women when she asked why Putin looked so fit and attractive. His answer was that he doesn't drink and plays plenty of sports. He then asked her to convey his greetings to all blond women. Putin has often lost his temper in public. During a 2002 news conference in Brussels, Belgium, the president responded to a question that angered him by inviting a reporter to come to Moscow to be circumcised. "We have specialists in this question, as well," Putin said. "I'll recommend that he carry out the operation in such a way that nothing will grow back."

Crafting His Image

Even some of Putin's biggest critics say he knows how to work an audience. Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister of Russia, says Putin learned how to craft his image in a special educational program at a school for KGB officers. "He studied at KGB school … how to attract people, how to be comfortable. … And I believe that he studied well," Nemtsov says. Natalia Muravieva, rector of Moscow's Academy of Communications and Information, says Putin is a highly dynamic politician whose speeches are intricately crafted. "Putin uses a lot of repetition that builds to a crescendo," Muravieva says. "And his widely reported aphorisms are like gems. They're few and far between, and everyone remembers them." Russians won't necessarily be deprived of such gems just because Putin's term as president is expiring. He's used his tremendous popularity to retain much of his power. His self-appointed successor, Dimitri Medvedev, who was recently elected president and takes office May 7, has said Putin will be prime minister and head of the country's biggest political party. Both platforms will give Putin plenty of opportunity to create new Putinisms.

A sampling of some of Russian President Vladimir Putin's eyebrow-raising comments and actions over the years:

— In 2000, CNN's Larry King asked Putin what had happened to cause the Kursk nuclear submarine accident, which killed 118 crew members in the Barents Sea. Putin made light of the question, answering, "It sank." During the failed rescue operation, Russia had turned down offers of help from other countries, and Putin was criticized for refusing to cut short a vacation.

— Meeting reporters in 2003, Putin said jailed Yukos oil company chairman Mikhail Khodorkovsky's offer to pay back taxes from the 1990s had come too late. "One must always obey the law," Putin said, "and not only when you're grabbed in a certain place."

— In 2005, Putin met with American businessmen in Moscow, among them Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots football team, which had recently won the Super Bowl. When Kraft showed Putin his diamond-encrusted championship ring, Putin surprised his guests by trying on the ring, slipping it into his pocket and leaving. Kraft later said he had given the ring to Putin as a gift and token of respect.

— During a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2006, a Russian journalist overheard Putin talking about Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who had been accused of multiple rapes. "What a mighty man he turns out to be!" Putin said. "He raped 10 women; I'd never have expected that from him. He surprised us all — we all envy him!" The Kremlin later confirmed Putin had made the comments. During a call-in television program, Putin criticized reporters for "eavesdropping" on his conversation with Olmert, saying it was "unseemly."

— When asked by a journalist in 2006 about Russia's possible support for sanctions against Iran, Putin denied accusations that Tehran was developing nuclear weapons, saying, "If a grandmother had certain reproductive organs, she would be a grandfather."

— During a summit of the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries in Germany in 2007, Putin attacked the United States and Europe and described himself as the world's only "pure democrat." "After the death of Mahatma Gandhi," he said, "there's no one to talk to." Putin rejected criticism that he has ended democracy and reinstituted authoritarianism in Russia, accusing European countries of "killing demonstrators in the streets."

— During a news conference in 2008, Putin criticized Western elections observers by quoting a well-known line from a popular television crime drama. "They're trying to teach us something!" he said. "Well, let them teach their wives how to make cabbage soup!"


Why Are We Baiting Putin?

"No legitimate interest is served when oil and gas become tools of intimidation or blackmail, either by supply management or attempt to monopolize transportation," thundered Vice President Cheney to the international pro-democracy conference in Vilnius, Lithuania. "[N]o one can justify actions that undermine the territorial integrity of a neighbor, or interfere with democratic movements." Cheney's remarks were directed straight at the Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin, who is to host the G-8 Conference in July. Cheering Cheney on is John McCain, front-runner for the GOP nomination, who has urged President Bush to snub Putin by boycotting the G-8 summit. What the GOP is thus offering the nation right now is seven more years of in-your-face bellicosity in foreign policy.

What does McCain think we would accomplish – other than a new parading of our moral superiority – by so public an insult to Putin and Russia as a Bush boycott of the St. Petersburg summit? Do we not have enough trouble in this world, do we not have enough people hating us and Bush that we have to get into Putin's face and antagonize the largest nation on earth and a co-equal nuclear power? What is the purpose of this confrontation diplomacy? What does it accomplish? Eisenhower and Nixon did not behave like this. Nor did Ford or Bush's father. Reagan called the Soviet Union an "evil empire" once. But the Soviet Union we confronted in those years was hostile. Until lately, today's Russia was not. Yet the Bush boys are in their pulpits, admonishing the world's sinners every day. What is their beef with Putin's policy?

In January, Putin decided to stop piping subsidized gas to Kiev and start charging the market price. Reason: Ukraine's president, elected with the assistance of U.S. foundations and quasi-government agencies, said he was reorienting Kiev's foreign policy away from Russia and toward NATO and the United States. If you are headed for NATO, Putin was saying to President Viktor Yushchenko, you can forget the subsidized gas. Now this is political hardball, but it is a game with which America is not altogether unfamiliar. When Castro reoriented his policy toward Moscow, Cuba's sugar allotment was terminated. U.S. diplomats went all over the world persuading nations not to buy from or sell to Cuba. Economic sanctions on Havana endure to today. We supported, over Reagan's veto, sanctions on South Africa. We have used sanctions as a stick and access to the U.S. market as a carrot since we became a nation. What, after all, was "Dollar Diplomacy" all about? Cheney accuses Moscow of employing pipeline diplomacy – i.e., using its oil and gas pipelines to benefit some nations and cut out others. But the United States does the same thing, as it seeks to have the oil and gas of Central Asia transmitted to the West in pipelines that do not transit Iran or Russia. "[N]o one can justify actions that undermine the territorial integrity of a neighbor," declared Cheney in Vilnius. How the vice president could deliver that line with a straight face escapes me.

Does Cheney not recall our "Captive Nations Resolutions," calling for the liberation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which, though free between the two world wars, had long belonged to the Russian empire? Does he not recall conservative support for the breakup of the Soviet Union? Does he not recall conservative support for the secession of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia, and more recently Kosovo, from a Serb-dominated Yugoslavia? What concerns Cheney is Moscow's support for the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia. Georgia's president was also elected with the aid of pro-democracy NGOs, mostly funded by Uncle Sam. All these color-coded revolutions in East Europe and Central Asia bear the label, Made in the U.S.A. When Cheney says, "No one can justify actions that … interfere with democratic movements," he is hauling water for Freedom House, headed by ex-CIA Director James Woolsey, and similar agencies, which Putin wants shut down or kicked out of Russia for interfering in her internal affairs.

We Americans consider the Monroe Doctrine – no foreign power is to come into our hemisphere – to be holy writ. Why, then, can we not understand why Russia might react angrily to our interference in her politics or the politics of former Russian republics? The effect of U.S. expansion of NATO deep into Eastern Europe, U.S. interference in the politics of the former Soviet republics, and U.S. siting of military bases in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia has been to unite Russia and China, and undo the diplomacy of several successive U.S. presidents. How has this made us more secure? If we don't want these people in our backyard, what are we doing in theirs? If we don't stop behaving like the British Empire, we will end up like the British Empire.


Putin the Puppet Master

Vladimir Putin is on a roll. Last month he made it clear that he intends to become Prime Minister -- and keep the reigns of power in the Kremlin -- when his second presidential term ends in March of 2008. Last week in the midst of a bravura “mini-summit” with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr. Putin wowed the fawning European press by shrugging off a carefully-leaked rumor of an alleged assassination attempt and by speaking fluent German -- a language he mastered as a KGB officer in Dresden during the Cold War. All this apparently took U.S. diplomats and intelligence agencies by surprise. But wait, there’s more. While in Germany, the macho Mr. Putin baldly told reporters -- and therefore all those who might contemplate military action against Tehran, “threatening someone, in this case the Iranian leadership and the Iranian people, will lead nowhere. They are not afraid, believe me.” And just to make sure everyone got his point, two days later he went to Tehran for a “Caspian littoral” summit and reiterated to the world that Russia would block any moves to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

And to ice Mr. Putin’s cake, reputable polls show that more than 70 percent of Russians approve of his leadership. Officials in Washington, London and Paris don’t seem to be worried – but they should be. Mr. Putin’s Tehran gambit is much more than a rhetorical affront to the Bush Administration’s efforts to keep the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons. After meetings with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Russian president said, “Iran and Russia are now cooperating on a wide range of issues such as aviation industry and Russia will continue its contribution to Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.” Most of the U.S. and European media “sound-bites” focused on the “nuclear” issue. Some news reports cogently noted that the Russian-built Bushehr light water nuclear reactor is capable of producing weapon’s grade plutonium -- but ignored the arrays of gas centrifuges Iran is using to assure a dual-track approach to building nuclear weapons. Almost no one noticed that the new strategic synergy between Moscow and Tehran goes well beyond Bushehr. First, with petroleum soon to be at $100 per barrel or higher, both Iran and Russia have a financial interest in controlling how Caspian Sea oil makes its way to market. Messer's Putin and Ahmadinejad have now made it clear that they will dictate the terms by which Caspian crude will flow to the highest bidder. Second, Moscow and Tehran share a strategic interest in bad outcomes for the U.S. in Iraq. An American collapse in Mesopotamia gives Iran the kind of regional hegemony that Persians have sought for centuries.

And a precipitous U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would confirm Moscow’s assertion that the U.S. is an unreliable partner -- thus undermining NATO’s eastward expansion. Finally -- if the joint statement issued after the so-called Caspian littoral summit is to be believed, Tehran and Moscow have now coerced their neighbors into what amounts to a collective security agreement. According to Mr. Putin, “We are saying that no Caspian nation should offer its territory to third powers for use of force or military aggression against any Caspian state.” Just in case anyone missed the point, Mr. Ahmadinejad added, “The Caspian Sea is an inland sea and it only belongs to the Caspian states, therefore only they are entitled to have their ships and military forces here.” So much for any NATO plans to use air bases in Azerbaijan to launch, recover or re-fuel aircraft striking Iranian nuclear weapons facilities. None of this was forecast by U.S. or allied intelligence agencies. Nor do we know what Presidents Putin and Ahmadinejad discussed in private. We can only hope that Mr. Putin’s “aviation industry” reference doesn’t mean that Iran is about to acquire hundreds of Bal-E anti-shipping missiles or that Tehran is planning to replace its ancient F-14s with a fleet of new Russian-built Su-27s. All we know for certain is that Iran, awash in petro-dollars, can easily afford both and that Moscow is in a selling mood. Importantly, Putin the puppet-master timed all of this to coincide with meetings among U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and their Russian counterparts in Moscow.

According to our State Department, the ostensible purpose of these meetings were to “review security issues of mutual concern in Europe.” To underscore how much we have “misunderestimated” Mr. Putin, President Bush, when asked by reporters what all this might mean to U.S. interests, responded, “I’m looking forward to getting President Putin’s read out from the meeting.” So much for U.S. intelligence and diplomacy


Russian Analyst Says Putin to Become Monarch of Post-Soviet Space,format&cs=srgb&w=1400&_=bb6196c88e293f7958884ed9f75c49be&bg=f0eae6

Professor Igor Panarin, who grabbed headlines last November with his prediction that the United States would disintegrate, told the Izvestia newspaper that numerous factors, including last year's war with Georgia and the weakness of the global financial system, suggest that a new union will emerge around Russia. The new bloc, a result of step-by-step economic integration, would "not be formed on the model of the Soviet Union, but on the model of the European Union...

In describing the leader of such a union, I would use the word that Machiavelli liked to use - a prince," Panarin told the paper."The prince of the post-Soviet space would be Vladimir Putin. His main asset is that, firstly, he has authority among the national elites of the post-Soviet republics, and secondly, has produced effective results in the eight years he has led Russia. Our country is centralized and stable, and last August passed a test of its strength."

He called the August conflict between Russia and Georgia a turning point in Eurasian integration, as "Russia was then seen by the eyes of the world." The Americans and the Chinese decided not to interfere in the conflict, with the result that they lost all influence in the Caucasus region, he said. The conflict also had wider-reaching repercussions, he added. "We can see now that countries have essentially stopped hurling allegations at us, continual attacks. A few days ago the EU admitted that Georgia was wrong in its actions." Russia did not only succeed in ending the genocide in South Ossetia, but also "signed deals on placing military bases," setting the right political and military conditions for "processes of integration in the post-Soviet space." Under the world system envisaged by Panarin, there will be three centers of power - China, the European Union, and the Russia-led "EU-2."

The first to join Russia's union will be Belarus and Kazakhstan, whose president Nursultan Nazarbayev recently proposed a single currency for the region; the rest of the ex-Soviet republics, including eventually the Baltic States, will join later, he said. He noted China's support for Russia's idea of a new global reserve currency. "China should conduct integration in the Pacific region, and Russia in the post-Soviet space, based on their national currencies. The ruble and the yuan could become centers of gravity for the two countries, the basis of the new world super-currency." Panarin said that with the challenges facing the world amid the financial crisis, the process of integration in Eurasia can already be seen.

"The global economic and political system is on the verge of colossal changes. Now is the right time to think about the future of the global architecture - and its contours can already be seen."

"A unique situation is developing. Until recently there were many factors holding back the integration process in the post-Soviet space, but today the logic of the financial crisis demands new actions, which must succeed. In literally the past few days, several breakthrough foreign policy meetings have been held. An agreement was signed in Moscow on integration between Moldova and Transdnestr - the first breakthrough in 10 years. The unprecedentedly long talks between the presidents of Russia and Belarus - this is also no coincidence."

He suggested 2012 as a likely date for the process of forming a new union to be complete, with Putin initially elected for a five-year term. When asked about the current system of leadership in Russia, with Putin as prime minister and Dmitry Medvedev as president, he said it is bound to end soon. "The 'president-premier' system is very unstable for Russia. Our entire history has shown that two centers of power cannot strategically exist for long," he said. Panarin, 50, heads the international relations department at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and has authored several books on information warfare.


The West May Yet Come to Regret its Bullying of Russia

Putin has no interest in a new cold war and is struggling to modernise his economy. Yet he is rebuffed and insulted. Countries too have feelings. So I am told by a Russian explaining the recent collapse in relations between Vladimir Putin and his one-time western admirers. "We have done well in the past 15 years, yet we get nothing but rebuffs and insults. Russia's rulers have their pride, you know." The truth is that Putin, like George Bush and Tony Blair, has an urgent date with history. He can plead two terms as president in which he has stabilised, if not deepened, Russian democracy, forced the pace of economic modernisation, suppressed Chechen separatism and yet been remarkably popular. But leaders who dismiss domestic critics crave international opinion, and are unaccustomed to brickbats. Hence Putin's outburst at the Munich security conference this month, when he announced he would "avoid extra politesse" and speak his mind. Putin's apologists ask that he be viewed as victim of an epic miscalculation by the west. Here is a hard man avidly courted at first by Bush, Blair and other western leaders. After 9/11 he tolerated US intervention along his southern border with bases north of Afghanistan. Yet when he had similar trouble in Chechnya, he was roundly abused. When he induced Milosevic to leave Kosovo (which he and not "the bombing" did), he got no thanks. When Putin sought to join Nato in the 1990s he was rebuffed. Then Nato broke its post-cold-war promise and advanced its frontier through the Baltics and Poland to the Black Sea. It is now planning missile defences in Poland and the Czech Republic and is flirting with Ukraine and Georgia. Against whom is this directed, asks Putin.

The west grovels before Opec, but when Putin proposes a gas Opec it cries foul. America seizes Iraq's oil, but when Putin nationalises Russia's oil that, too, is a foul. Meanwhile, every crook, every murdered Russian, every army scandal is blazoned across the western press. True, Russia is still a klepto-oligarchy that steps back as often as forward, but what of America's pet Asian democracies, Afghanistan and Iraq? In his Munich speech Putin asked why America constantly goes on about its "unipolar world". Does Washington really seek a second cold war? Russia is withdrawing from Georgia and Moldova. Why is Nato advancing bases in Bulgaria and Romania? The west is handling Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran with the arrogance and ineptitude of 19th-century imperialists. Is it surprising Russia is seeking allies where it can, in China, India, Iran and the Gulf? At an Anglo-Russian conference in Moscow last weekend I was bemused by the talk of a return to "east-west" confrontation. Diplomats have a habit of listing complaints like marriage counsellors inviting couples to catalogue what most irritates them about each other. The list seems endless, but it surely points to a proper talk rather than a divorce. Don't they really need each other after all? Having visited Russia three times since the demise of the Soviet Union, I remain impressed by its progress. Debate and comment are open. Russia is not squandering its energy wealth but setting $100bn aside in an infrastructure fund. The links between Russia and western business are worth $30bn in inward investment. Cultural and educational contacts are strengthening. Moscow and St Petersburg are booming world cities, their skylines thick with cranes.

The west views pluralist democracy as so superior that any state coming to it fresh must surely welcome it with open arms. When there is backsliding, as in former Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Russia and parts of Africa, let alone the Arab world, the west behaves like a peevish car salesman whose client has not obeyed the repair manual. If the west can do fair elections, market capitalism, press freedom and regional secession - after a mere two centuries of trial and error - why can newly free states not do them overnight? The tough response to Putin is easy. It is the one he has from Washington and Nato. We won the cold war. You lost. Shut up. If, as Russia's top general said last week, you want to withdraw from the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty, then withdraw. If you think gas and oil enables you to play the superpower again, see what happens. Bush and Blair may be screwing up "Islamistan", but their successors will be more canny. Our defence budget is bigger than yours and we have you surrounded. All this makes for good realpolitik. But what Putin actually said in Munich reflected not belligerence but puzzlement at the aggressive course of western diplomacy. In the old days, he said, "there was an equilibrium and a fear of mutual destruction. In those days one party was afraid to make an extra step without consulting the others. This was certainly a fragile peace and a frightening one, but seen from today it was reliable enough. Today it seems that peace is not so reliable."

Putin is hardly seeking a return to the certainties of the cold war. He has no more interest than the west in stirring the hornet's nest of Islamic nationalism, stretching as it does deep into Russian territory. His desire for "ever closer union" with Europe and Nato after 1997 was sincere and was surely welcome. While Putin appears to have been conducting his diplomacy over the past decade from weakness and the west from strength, the reverse has been nearer the truth. Britain and America have been led by essentially reactive politicians with no grasp of history. A terrorist outrage or a bombastic speech and they change policy on the hop. When Bush and Blair go, they will leave a world less secure and more divided in its leadership than when they arrived. Their dismissive treatment of Russia's recovery from cold war defeat has been the rhetoric of natural bullies. Russia and the west have everything to gain from good relations. Putin has struggled to modernise his economy while holding together a traumatised and shrunken Russian federation. The west may feel he errs towards authoritarianism, but second-guessing Russian leaders is seldom a profitable exercise. This is a huge country, rich in natural and human resources. It is hard to think of somewhere the west would be better advised to "hug close". Instead, Putin will hand his successor an isolated and bruised nation. Under a less confident president, it could retreat into protectionism and alliances the west will hate. To have encouraged that retreat is truly stupid.


Worried About Putin's Russia? Read on

For the past several years, the Russia of Vladimir Putin has been sending very clear signals that it is no longer the weakened, troubled and Western-dependent state that it was following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia is once again a proud and assertive nation, increasingly recognizable by its actions to historians of its czarist and Communist predecessors. Many will say that its recovery is based on shallow foundations, in fact that it rests almost totally upon the high price of oil and gas - and Russia's fortunate possession of vast supplies of those vital commodities. That is true. But oil revenues, if invested wisely (as has been done by two countries as different as Norway and Dubai during the past decade), can enhance national infrastructure, industrial and technological developments, and military security. Not only is Putin's regime making smart strategic investments - in infrastructure, laboratories, a modernized military - its flow of energy wealth is giving the Kremlin the confidence to pursue assertive foreign policies, secure for the moment in a set of global circumstances that has hobbled the United States, turned the attention of China and India elsewhere (toward growth and internal modernization), and given all the world's oil-producing states immense leverage.

Right now, the list of Moscow's unilateralist actions is probably only exceeded by those of the White House over the past six years. Take an obvious example: Russia uses its veto power on the UN Security Council to support Serbia and crush Kosovo's hopes of independence, just as the United States uses its privilege to protect Israel and block pro-Palestinian resolutions in the world organization. In a similar negative way, Russia controls what the Security Council may, or may not, do regarding actions against Iran and North Korea. The list goes on. Putin's ministers are adept at using what has come to be called "pipeline diplomacy" to force neighbors like Belarus and Ukraine to bend to Moscow's will and recognize their dependence upon Russian energy supplies, and it is clear that this is intended to have a secondary intimidation effect upon the states of Western Europe as well. Estonia and Latvia are browbeaten over what are regarded as anti-Russian acts, such as the removal of Soviet war memorials or treatment of Russian-speaking citizens. Western oil companies are discovering that a contract for control of energy resources is not necessarily viewed by the Moscow government as a sacred legal obligation. Thus, massive international corporations such as BP and Exxon, long regarded as powerful independent actors, are now, literally, being put over the barrel, forced to recognize their weaker bargaining position.

Many of their chief executives must have rubbed their eyes at the reports that Russia has just claimed extensive rights at the North Pole, with implications for rights to the exploitation of seabed energy resources. Moscow seems to be advancing its international claims with about the same speed that it denounces arms-control accords. If all of this is unsettling, it is by no means unusual. Actually, Russia's actions are rather predictable. They are the steps taken by a traditional power elite that, having suffered defeat and humiliation, is now bent upon the recovery of its assets, its authority and its capacity to intimidate. There is nothing in the history of Russia since Ivan the Terrible to suggest that Putin is doing anything new. "Top-down" policies from the Kremlin have a thousand-year provenance. If they seem more noticeable at this moment in time, it may simply be because of two (possibly temporary) factors: the modern world's dependence upon petroleum, and the Bush administration's obsession with Iraq and terrorism. All Putin is doing is walking through an open gate - opened, by and large, by the West. So the reports from Russia that interest me most are not those concerning drone submarines under the Arctic icecap, or putting the screws upon Belarus to pay backdated oil charges. What intrigues me are the broader and more subtle measures being instituted by the Putin regime to enhance national - and, even more, nationalist - pride. They point to something much more purposeful, and potentially quite sinister.

Two examples will have to suffice here: the creation of a patriotic youth movement, and the not-too-subtle rewriting of Russia's school history books. The youth movement called "Nashi" (it translates as "ours") is growing fast, encouraged by government agencies determined to instill the right virtues into the next generation and to use this cadre of ultra-Russianists to buttress Putin's regime against domestic critics. The policies that Nashi advocates are eclectic. Among the main features are reverence for the Fatherland, respect for the family, Russian traditions and marriage, and a detestation of foreigners; it is hard to tell whether American imperialists, Chechen terrorists, or Estonian ingrates are at the bottom of their list of those who threaten the Russian way of life.

Right now, Nashi is training tens of thousands of young diligents; right now, they are in summer camps where they do mass aerobics, discuss "proper" and "corrupt" politics, and receive the necessary education for the struggles to come. Vast numbers have recently been mobilized to harass the British and Estonian ambassadors in Moscow, following Moscow's disputes with those two countries. According to The Financial Times, Nashi is training 60,000 "leaders" to monitor voting and conduct exit polls in elections this coming December and March. I find this all pretty creepy. So, too, are the reports that Putin has personally complimented the authors of a new manual for high school history teachers that seeks to instill a renewed pride in teenagers of their country's past and encourage national solidarity. As a historian, I always shrink from the idea that education ministries should approve some sort of official view of the national past, although I know that bureaucrats from Japan to France do precisely that, that Beijing's leadership would get highly upset if it learned that schools in China could choose their own textbooks, and that American fundamentalists try to put their own clumsy footprint on what children should actually be exposed to.

But it is one thing for French kids to be told about Joan of Arc's heroism or American kids about Paul Revere's midnight ride; everyone is entitled to a Robin Hood or William Tell or two. It's a bit more disturbing to learn that the new Russian history manual teaches that "entry into the club of democratic nations involves surrendering part of your national sovereignty to the U.S." and other such choice contemporary lessons that suggest to Russian teenagers that they face dark forces abroad. What does this all mean? Should oil prices collapse - should pigs fly - then Putin's efforts at a Russian nationalistic renaissance might also tumble. But there is no doubt about the coherence of this plan to rebuild Russian pride and strength from the top down and the bottom up. Over the longer run, the current street agitation against Britain's ambassador and the tearing down of the Estonian flag by Nashi extremists may be obscure footnotes to history. By contrast, the deliberate campaigns to indoctrinate Russian youth and to rewrite the history of the great though terribly disturbed nation that they are inheriting might be much more significant for the unfolding of our 21st century.


Why Putin Should Scare us

He’s an ethnic nationalist with a mystical sense of Russian destiny. Cold and pragmatic, he won’t play by the world’s rules

Possessing a clear vision of where he wants to go and the ruthlessness to get there, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is the world's most effective national leader in power. He also might be the most misunderstood. Grasping what Putin's about means recognizing what he isn't about: Despite his KGB past and his remark that the Soviet Union's dissolution was "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century, Putin isn't nostalgic for communism. By the time he joined the KGB in the mid-1970s, the organization was purely about preserving the power structure — not upholding abstract philosophies. Far from being a Marxist, Putin belongs to a long tradition of aggressive Russian nationalists. A complex man, he's cold-bloodedly pragmatic when planning — as both his rise to power and his preparations for the recent invasion of Georgia demonstrated — yet he's imbued with a mystical sense of Russia's destiny. The ambitious son of a doctrinaire communist father and a devout Orthodox mother, Putin's straight from the novels of Feodor Dostoevski (another son of St. Petersburg)

Putin's combination of merciless calculation and sense of mission echoes an otherwise different figure, Osama bin Laden. In both cases, Western analysts struggle to simplify confounding personalities and end up underestimating them. These aren't madmen but brilliant, driven leaders who flout our rules. Nonetheless, Putin did carry over specific skills from his KGB career: As a former intelligence officer myself, I'm awed by his ability to analyze opponents and anticipate their reactions to his gambits (Russia is, of course, a nation of chess masters). Preparing for the dismemberment of Georgia, the prime minister accurately calculated the behavior of that country's president, Mikheil Saakashvili, of President Bush, of the European Union and of the Russian people. He knew he could get away with it. Putin has a quality found in elite intelligence personnel: the ability to discard all preconceptions when scrutinizing a target. And when he decides to strike, he doesn't look back. This is not good news for his opponents, foreign or domestic. Among the many reasons we misjudge Putin is our insistence on seeing him as "like us." He's not. His stage-management of the Georgia invasion was a perfect example: Western intelligence agencies had been monitoring Russian activities in the Caucasus for years and fully expected a confrontation. Even so, our analysts assumed that Russia wouldn't act during this summer's Olympics, traditionally an interval of peace.

Putin had been conditioned to read the strategic cards differently: The world's attention would be focused on the Games, and key world leaders would be in Beijing, far from their crisis-management staffs. Europe's bureaucrats and senior NATO officials would be on their August vacations. The circumstances were ideal. It has also become a truism that Putin's foolish for relying on oil, gas and mineral revenue while failing to diversify his economy. But Russia's strongman knows what he's doing: He prefers a wealthy government to a wealthy society. Putin can control a handful of oligarchs whose fortunes flow from a narrow range of sources (once Russia's richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky sits in prison for crossing the Kremlin), but a diversified economy would decentralize power. Putin's obsession with control — another national tradition — serves an overarching purpose: restoring Russia's greatness. He realizes he can't restore a Soviet Union that sprawled deep into Europe. What he hopes is to reconstruct the empire of the czars, from eastern Poland through Ukraine and the Caucasus to Central Asia. Putin's expansionist model comes from Peter the Great, but his methods resemble those of Ivan the Terrible, not least when it comes to silencing dissent. The main thing the prime minister has salvaged from the Soviet era is the cult of personality. He knows what Russians want — a strong czar — and his approval ratings have exceeded 80%.

Does this ruthless, focused leader have a weakness? Yes: his temper. Despite his icy demeanor, Putin's combustible. He takes rebuffs personally and can act impulsively — and destructively. Instead of lulling Europeans into an ever-greater dependence on Russian gas, he angrily ordered winter shut-offs to Ukraine and Georgia, alarming Western customers. Rather than concealing the Kremlin's cyber-attack capabilities, he unleashed them on tiny Estonia during a tiff over relocating a Soviet-era memorial — alerting NATO. Putin's invasion of Georgia was also personal. In addition to exposing the West's impotence in the region, he meant to punish Georgia's defiant president. The lengths to which Putin was prepared to go in a personal vendetta should worry us all. Such outbursts of temper suggest that Putin's campaign to restore Russia's greatness could end very badly. We needn't take his dispatch of a naval squadron to Venezuela or bomber flights over U.S. Navy carriers seriously — they're staged for his domestic audience and militarily absurd. But Putin's willingness to use naked force against regional democracies suggests that, like so many strongmen before him, he'll ultimately overreach. Meanwhile, our next president will have to cope with this brilliant, dangerous man. That's going to require the experience and skills to exploit every element of our national power; to convince Europe that appeasement will only enlarge Putin's appetite; and to draw clear lines while avoiding drawn guns. Above all, our president will have to take Putin's measure accurately and not indulge in wishful thinking. Managing Putin's Russia could emerge as our No. 1 security challenge.


Putin's Hold on the Russians
BBC News profiles Vladimir Putin, whose presidency has seen Russia make a bold bid to justify its place among the world's most powerful nations

His face may not adorn the rouble, but Vladimir Putin's image is very much stamped on 21st-Century Russia and its citizens are only too aware that the money lining their pockets was largely minted under his presidency. After the hungry, often desperate years of the Yeltsin era, it is a prosperity few Russians may stop to question. But his critics believe that it has come at the cost of some post-communist democratic freedoms. Mr Putin rapidly ascended the political ladder in 1999 when Boris Yeltsin first made him prime minister, then acting president in his place. The former Federal Security Service (ex-KGB) director's talents and instincts continue to show through: to his admirers he represents order and stability, to his critics - repression and fear. Yet he strikes a chord with those who remember the chaos of the 1990s, when basic machinery of state such as the welfare system virtually seized up and the security forces looked inept. Investor confidence has climbed back since the nadir of the 1998 rouble devaluation, and economic recovery, buoyed by high prices for oil and gas exports, has helped restore a sense of stability not known since communist times. Political opposition is weak, partly because of a genuine feel-good factor but also because his rule has discouraged democratic debate. In the 2000 election, he took 53% of the vote in the first round and, four years later, was re-elected with a landslide majority of 71%. The 2004 ballot result "reflected [Mr Putin's] consistently high public approval rating", outside (OSCE) observers noted, but also talked of the contest's "dearth of meaningful debate and genuine pluralism".

Black belt

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin became a KGB spy after graduating from university, and served in East Germany. He enjoys a macho image, helped by election stunts like flying into Chechnya on a fighter jet in 2000, and his possession of a black belt in Judo. He has been described as a workaholic by his wife and mother of his two daughters, Lyudmila. For many Russian liberals, Mr Putin's KGB past is disturbing, with its authoritarian associations. A decade after Boris Yeltsin famously offered Russia's regions "their fill of sovereignty", Mr Putin brought in a system of presidential envoys seen by some as overseers for elected governors. Putin allies control much of the media and his rule has seen creeping controls over foreign-funded non-government organisations, which largely focus on exposing human rights abuses. The man who sent troops back into Chechnya as prime minister in 1999 has kept it under Moscow's control through military force, direct or proxy, and strict non-negotiation with the rebels. The price has been increasingly violent attacks by the separatists, which reached a horrifying level in 2004 with the Beslan school seizure. Mr Putin's patriotic rhetoric and evident nostalgia for the USSR - he once famously called its collapse "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th Century - play well with much of the public. But the flip side may be a disturbing rise in nationalism, taking its most sinister form in hate crimes directed at ethnic minorities such as African foreign students.

Wielding clout

Mr Putin has gradually eased liberals out of government, often replacing them with harder-line allies or neutrals seen as little more than yes-men. Yeltsin-era "oligarchs" like Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky - businessmen who grew rich in the chaos of the first privatisations - have ended up as fugitives living in exile abroad. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once head of oil giant Yukos and Russia's richest man, is now in jail for tax evasion. Mr Putin's Kremlin is accused of abusing its huge energy clout, allegedly punishing fellow ex-Soviet states like Ukraine with price hikes when they lean to the West. Further abroad, Mr Putin allied himself with Washington's "war on terror", comparing Chechen separatists to al-Qaeda, but he also opposed the invasion of Iraq and caused consternation in the US by inviting Hamas to Moscow for talks after their Palestinian election victory. The biggest diplomatic test may still lie ahead, as Iran defies the US with a nuclear programme based largely on Russian technology. Mr Putin is due to leave the Kremlin by 2008 since by law he cannot stand for a third consecutive term. Rather like Boris Yeltsin in 1999, he has no obvious successor but, unlike Russia's first elected president, he has no convincing rival yet. And, following revelations that he is considering a bid for the position of prime minister, it seems Mr Putin may continue to play a central role in Russian politics for years to come.


Vladimir Putin Rescued Russia From Disaster: So Let’s Just Leave Him Be

Our correspondent defends the Russian President and his legacy

Yet again President Putin’s fingers are being rapped: he has apparently been trying to hang on to power. Russia’s Constitution was written more or less to Western order, back in the days when free markets and democracy were supposed to reign. Models were consulted. The French one has a president with powers such that the prime minister is a glorified office-boy; but, in Russia, as in the American model, presidents are not supposed to run for office more than twice in case it goes to their heads. Vladimir Putin may retire to run Gazprom but instead, quite astutely, he is finding a way to hang on to power. He can put himself forward as deputy for the reigning party, then become prime minister, and push forward, as nominal president, a man in his mid-sixties whom he can control. Such devices are not at all without precedent in Russia. Moving an older or even an aged man, without ambition, into a high office so that he can be controlled from behind has long origins, beyond even communist times. If Vladimir Putin is finding a way to hang on to power, then he is doing so within the tradition. And the very first thing to be said is that he has been a very successful leader of the country.

Not so long ago, Russia was being written off. Wise persons shook their heads. Moscow was like Berlin in the latter days of the Weimar Republic – Cabaret, complete with rampaging inflation, old women selling their husbands’ medals in the underpasses of the ring roads, prostitutes all over the place (every businessman had his story), a collapsing birthrate, gangster-capitalism raking it in and making whoopee in hotels in Monte Carlo. There was even a school of thought to the effect that the whole of Eurasia was turning into a Latin America: a Slavonic culture disintegrating as the overall Spanish culture of Latin America had done, into oil-rich turbulent Venezuelas on the one side, and weird, atmosphere-poor Bolivias on the other, while wars went ahead between assorted Hondurases and Nicaraguas. Under Putin, Russia has not turned into Latin America. Quite the contrary. Reality on the ground in Russia nowadays is different, and this is not just to do with the recent rise in oil prices. If you go to the provincial towns east and south east of Moscow – Vladimir, say, or Saratov – you can see a successful change going ahead, as people set up businesses such as furniture factories to make up for that lack of consumer goods that marked the old Soviet Union. The university in Saratov has state-of-the-art computers; even agriculture is said to be improving.

The horrors of Chechnya are receding into the past and the International Herald Tribune, not a lover of Putin, recently carried an article about the return of order there: the planes fly back and forth and Grozny is being restored after two decades of vicious nonsense including that horrible massacre of schoolchildren three years ago. Of all things, tourism is being encouraged, and the Chechen insurgency seems to be a horror story of the past. There are other encouraging signs. In old Russia, the Tatars were a very important element, not backward Muslims as was sometimes casually supposed: they were good traders, and their habit of sobriety made them stand out. Now, Tatars have been adding their creative element (two instances that will have British resonance: both Nureyev and Barishnikov are Tatar names, Nur from “light” and Barish from “peace”). The Russians are even marketing an aircraft that will challenge Boeing and Airbus. So if Putin thinks that he has done well by his country he is not wrong, and masses of ordinary Russians agree. Now, Russia is recovering, and is back on the world’s stage. Why should a successful president be held back by some constitutional formality?

There is no real reason for constitutions to be set in tablets of stone. Referendums were staged elsewhere in the old Soviet continent for successful and popular presidents to stay in office, and it is maybe a measure of Putin’s lack of self-confidence that he shrinks from that. Does he really have to fear the criticism of Europeans, let alone Americans, who now seem to be settling into their own pattern of dynastic politics? Of course his regime is not pure, in the approved Scandinavian manner. It has had to deal with horrible problems of terrorism, and no government can ever be entirely without sin in conditions of that sort. But Putin has highlighted an aspect of Russia that anyone in London should recognise. Russia, like Britain, is a country with a capacity for tissue regeneration. In the Seventies, you would have written Britain off. And then, lo and behold, in the Eighties she struck back – many, many things wrong, of course, but back just the same. It is an odd fact that English literature translates best into Russian, and vice versa. Two countries on the European edge, with the same diagonal approach, and very interested in each other. We should not be criticising Putin: rather, encouraging him to stage that referendum.


Russia's foreign policy under Vladimir Putin: achievements and failures


1. Russia regained its status as a leading world power. Economic revival and stable economic growth have increased Russia's international prestige. Some countries like Russia and other countries don't; some are helping it to spread its influence and others are resisting it. Its views now carry far more weight in the international arena than they did in the 1990s, when Moscow's opinion on international crises was generally ignored. This goal has been achieved without a substantial increase in nuclear or other capacities, or not only due to such increases. Russia's increased importance as an exporter of oil and gas also played a role, along with the inclusion of Russia in the group of the most rapidly developing emerging economies (the BRIC, comprising Brazil, Russia, India and China). One more important factor was the rehabilitation of the "sick man of Europe," which many people did not expect to see.

2. Restoration of Russians' self-confidence. A nation's well-being is a key element of its coexistence with other nations and a crucial goal of its foreign policy. Today all Russians, whether at home or abroad, from ambassadors to tourists, feel that they are citizens of a large, strong, growing and respected state. In the 1990s, it was said that Russia was governed from Spaso House, the U.S. ambassadorial residence in Moscow. Today every Russian and foreigner knows that Moscow may disagree with Washington, or other capitals, on foreign or domestic issues, and uphold its stance without facing negative consequences. Few states can do this now.

3. Resistance to the wave of color revolutions in neighboring states. When manipulations of public opinion during elections brought anti-Russian regimes to power in neighboring states, some people thought that this would provoke the dissolution of the CIS and an economic and political crisis in Russia. They were disappointed. A failed "tulip revolution" in Kyrgyzstan, accompanied by chaos and pogroms in the capital, frightened the local political elites and population but strengthened Russia's stance in Central Asia. The color revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia lost their appeal following subsequent negative events there. Russia's foreign policy emerged as the victor in these crises because it reacted calmly to them, proving that sometimes it is better to do nothing.

4. Preservation of integration mechanisms (CIS, CSTO, etc.) and establishment of new ones (SCO). Russia's policy towards the former Soviet states during the 1990s was unsustainable and bound to change, as became evident at the beginning of Vladimir Putin's first presidential term. The only question was what policy would replace it. It became clear over the last eight years that the majority of post-Soviet states need some CIS functions and mechanisms, and so they are being reformed. At the same time, the military union of several CIS states - the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) - was preserved, and Russia is changing the post-Soviet policy of supplying cheap energy to political allies. It is developing new relations with Kazakhstan and a new model of international cooperation in Central Asia, which involves not only the former Soviet states in the region but also China (the Shanghai Cooperation Organization). Foreign policy in the post-Soviet space is being increasingly split into a Western and a Central Asian policy, which are quite separate and, therefore, more realistic.

5. Restoration of lost positions in traditional zones of influence (Vietnam, the Middle East, India, China) and development of ties with new partners (Latin American countries). In the 1990s, Russia's foreign policy lost its global reach. Partner relations established in the Soviet era were broken and foreign trade shrank, while pro-market reforms in Russia put trade in the hands of private business, for the first time in decades. The Russian authorities in the 1990s did not have a clearly defined view of economic and political goals in different parts of the world. The situation changed under Putin, with state-controlled and private businesses establishing ties in nearly all countries, supported by a special policy of promoting their interests.


1. Inability to become the top partner of close neighbors such as China and India. Russia's economy was not strong enough to become the leading influence even in countries that would have welcomed this. The era of unions formed for political reasons is over, and the ability of business to become a competitive leader in foreign markets is now crucial. Russian business has neither the experience nor the resources for attaining this goal. Russia is not the top partner for any of its main economic partners (such as Germany and China, as well as the CIS, notably Kazakhstan). At best, it is one of their 10 largest partners. This has weakened Russia's ties, including political ones, with these states.

2. Inability to become a global leader in lifestyle, culture and arts. This is not only a failure of Russian foreign policy. We must admit that Russia today cannot do what the Soviet Union did in the sphere of winning hearts and minds abroad. The territory in which the Russian-language is spoken is shrinking, and the prestige of Russian culture and arts abroad is declining. In this sphere Russia's foreign policy (or rather, related sectors) is lagging far behind many other countries, which have a multitude of technologies to promote their cultures beyond their national borders.

3. Inability to elaborate an effective policy of relations with the Russian diaspora abroad. New ideas appeared in that sphere in the early 1980s, but to this day the millions of Russians living abroad have not become drivers of Russia's development in economic and other spheres, unlike the Chinese and Indian diasporas.

4. Loss of influence in Georgia and Ukraine. Moscow proved unable to mobilize the seemingly huge resources of goodwill in neighboring states, including those with a large ethnic Russian population. Moreover, it has taken actions that worsened the position of its supporters in those countries, and the situation was further complicated by the successful actions of its opponents. It apparently caught the "American disease" - an over zealous feeling of righteousness and renewed strength. A stark example is sanctions against Georgia, which infuriated Georgians, even those who were dissatisfied with their government's policies.

5. Defeat on the market for military-technical cooperation (Algeria, India). During the 1990s, this sphere of international cooperation kept afloat nearly half of Russia's foreign policy, notably its relations with countries with which trade was lagging, such as China. It was seen as the core of a new model for foreign trade based on the export of technologies rather than raw materials. The volume of military exports increased in the early 2000s, but other arms suppliers also stepped up competition. However, this cannot be said to be the only reason that buyers of Russian-made weapons and equipment often refuse to take delivery of them and complain of unjustified delays. The never-ending reforms in the sector have not brought the desired goal of improving the prestige of Russian-made weapons any closer.


Texas Blogger’s ‘Man Crush’ on Putin Leads to Lengthy Heart to Heart

Gayne C. Young, a high school English teacher from Fredericksburg, Tex., is not a specialist in foreign policy. The blog he writes for Outdoor Life, a magazine for hunters and fishermen, focuses on subjects like his Labrador puppy, unusually large carp and a subdivision near his home that has been overrun by feral hogs.

Nonetheless, last week Mr. Young scored a journalistic coup, publishing a lengthy written interview with Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir V. Putin. Mr. Young approached the Russian government last year after blogging repeatedly about his “man crush” on Mr. Putin, and the questions he sent the Russian prime minister were, shall we say, softballs. They included, “Are there Yetis or Russian ‘wood goblins’ in the taiga?” and “Are you the coolest man in politics?”

The decision to grant the interview appears to be part of an attempt by Mr. Putin to soften his image in the West. During the three years since Mr. Putin entered a power-sharing arrangement with President Dmitri A. Medvedev, the president has been cast as the smiling face of a “reset” in the relations with the United States. In the eyes of Western observers, that has left Mr. Putin as the bad cop, which could pose a problem if he decides to return to the presidency next spring.

“There is some truth in this argument, and I think Putin has realized he needs to care about his image in the West,” said Alexander Rahr, a Russia specialist at the German Council on Foreign Relations. “The only argument which really speaks for Medvedev is this Western thing. That is his trump card. Putin has to counter it.”

The Outdoor Life interview — at times an exercise in mutual back-slapping — is not likely to have much impact, especially since it was released the same day as a much-anticipated news conference by Mr. Medvedev. But it does show Mr. Putin trying to present himself in a softer, more friendly light. In between discussions of tiger poaching, Ernest Hemingway and the fragility of human existence, Mr. Putin tells Mr. Young that the United States and Russia have been powerfully drawn to each other since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The recent improvement in relations “seems to point to the fact that the vast majority of barriers between our peoples were unnaturally and artificially forced upon them,” Mr. Putin said. “Ordinary people always want to live in peace rather than in war and to be able to freely socialize, interact and make friends, if you wish. For too long, we had been cruelly held apart from each other, so it was only natural that the fall of the Iron Curtain generated a huge wave of interest toward Russia.”

Mr. Putin also plays up his image as an avatar of manliness, which has been established by photos of him riding shirtless on horseback, shooting a tiger with a tranquilizer gun or offering judo instructions. Asked about an episode last summer, when he shot a dart at the exposed back of a gray whale from a rubber dinghy, Mr. Putin drifted into Hemingway territory.

“All that surrounded me — the low sky, the stormy sea and, of course, the whales — was magnificent,” he said. “Besides, these elegant giants showed us a real performance, leaping out of the water in front of our boat.”

On that occasion, a reporter asked Mr. Putin whether it was dangerous, and the prime minister responded, “Living in general is dangerous.” In the Outdoor Life interview, he elaborated, saying that a human being is “still one of the most vulnerable creatures on earth,” barraged by disease, disaster and criminality. “However, this is not a reason to hide away from life,” he said. “One can truly enjoy his or her life only while experiencing it, and it is inevitably related to a certain level of risk.”

It was the gray whale episode that especially captivated Mr. Young, 42. After he began writing about his “man crush,” his blog hits grew so high that his editors asked him for more, and he published an open letter to the prime minister proposing that the two men go hunting together.

Before long, Mr. Young was communicating with the press attaché in the Russian Embassy in Washington and with Ketchum, a public relations firm that represents Russia. “My editors were like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ ” Mr. Young said. But early in the spring, he was told that Mr. Putin was in the process of answering Mr. Young’s questions — at considerable length. The draft originally sent to Outdoor Life was almost 8,000 words long and had to be edited down by almost 3,000 words, Mr. Young said.

“I got to tell you, I’m more in love with the guy than ever,” he said. In an interview from his home in Texas, Mr. Young said Outdoor Life was hoping to send him to Russia to go fishing with Mr. Putin, who is not a keen hunter. It seemed Mr. Young’s ardor does not extend to Mr. Medvedev, since a mention of the Russian president’s name was met with silence on the other end of the line. “You’re going to have to remind me who that is,” Mr. Young said.


Putin Says Russia is the "Guardian of Christianity"

Russia is "the guardian of Christianity," President Vladimir Putin said Monday, following a visit to a monastery in the Solovki islands, in the White sea, Russian agencies reported. Recalling that his country was traditionally known as "Saint Russia," Putin said the "country is bestowed with a special role as the guardian of Christianity." Without the Orthodox religion, "Russia would have difficulty in becoming a viable state. It is thus very important to return to this source," said the former head of the KGB -- which massively persecuted the clergy and faithful during the Soviet era. But Russian leaders have once again given prominence to the Orthodox church, after decades in which atheism was imposed by the Communist rulers. Putin rarely misses an opportunity to make public church appearances. The Solovki monastery is famous not only as a place of pilgrimage, but also for housing one of the Soviet Union's first prison camps. According to the president, the Orthodox church, unlike the Roman Catholics during medieval times, has always insisted on the equality of all peoples before god. "Our spiritual prayers have taught us over the centuries to respect all peoples. It is important to remember that today," said Putin. Human rights activists have denounced Moscow's discrimination against minority groups, particularly those from the Caucasus. Russia forces have fought two wars against Chechen separatists. People from the Caucasus are frequently labeled "black arses" by the population. Putin is currently on holiday in the north of the country.


Putin’s Grasp of Energy Drives Russian Agenda

The titans of Russia’s energy industry gathered around an enormous map showing the route of a proposed new pipeline in Siberia. It would cost billions and had been years in the planning. After listening to their presentation, President Vladimir V. Putin frowned, got up from his chair, whipped out a felt pen and redrew the map right in front of the embarrassed executives, who quickly agreed that he was right. The performance, which was carried on state television in 2006, was obviously stage managed, but there was nothing artificial about its point. It was a typical performance for a leader who has shown an uncanny mastery of the economics, politics and even technical details of the energy business that goes well beyond a politician taking an interest in an important national industry.

“I would describe it as very much his personal project,” said Clifford G. Gaddy, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington and an expert in Russia’s energy policy. “It is the heart of what he has done from the very beginning.”

Indeed, from his earliest days in power in 2000, Mr. Putin, who left the presidency in 2008 and became prime minister, decided natural resource exports and energy in particular would not only finance the country’s economic rebirth but also help restore Russia’s lost greatness after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Just this month, Mr. Putin’s personal immersion in the topic was on full display as he ordered natural gas shut off to Ukraine, in the process cutting supplies to Europe. It was portrayed by the Kremlin as a protracted commercial dispute with Ukraine. But the hundreds of thousands of shivering gas customers in the Balkans and Eastern Europe sent an unmistakable message about the Continent’s reliance on Russian supplies — and Mr. Putin’s willingness to wield energy as a political weapon. When talking about energy, he often rattles off obscure statistics not often heard outside a Houston boardroom, like average daily production of fields and throughput capacity of pipelines.

Mr. Putin “clearly knows as much about BP’s business in Russia as I do,” Anthony B. Hayward, BP’s chief executive, once said after a meeting with him. In fact, the standoff in Ukraine was just one part of a far larger Russian playbook on natural gas policy under Mr. Putin. In the past year, Russia has formed a cartel-like group with Middle Eastern nations with the goal of dampening global competition in natural gas, sewn up sources of supply in Central Asia and North Africa with long-term contracts to thwart competitors and used its military to occupy an important pipeline route in Georgia. And this broader struggle extends over a dozen countries from Azerbaijan to Austria. In its sprawl and slow pace, it is often compared to the 19th-century struggle for colonial possession in Central Asia known as the Great Game. In the modern variant, Mr. Putin, a master strategist, has proved far more effective than his European counterparts.

“He has been thinking for some time, ‘What are the means and tools at Russia’s disposal, to make Russia great?’ ” said Lilia Shevtsova, a researcher at the Carnegie Moscow Center. In the post-Soviet world, she said, Mr. Putin concluded that “military power would no longer be sufficient.”

A spokesman for Mr. Putin, Dmitri S. Peskov, said that the energy market “was, is and will remain a strategic sphere for Russia” and that government leaders in Moscow should be versed in the topic. Mr. Peskov denied the Kremlin used exports for political purposes. Of Mr. Putin’s deep personal knowledge of the business, he said the prime minister showed a similar attention to detail in other matters, too. In this contest, Russia’s overarching goal is to prevent the West from breaking a monopoly on natural gas pipelines from Asia to Europe. Boris E. Nemtsov, a former Russian first deputy prime minister who is now in the opposition, said: “It is the typical behavior of the monopolist. The monopolist fears competition.”

As they did two years ago after a similar supply disruption, European officials have promised in the wake of the Ukraine dispute to take steps to diversify the Continent’s sources of gas to end its reliance on Russia, which supplies nearly 30 percent of the total. European dependence is expected to grow as North Sea gas fields decline. At a conference in Budapest on Tuesday, Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek of the Czech Republic called for a renewed effort to build the long-delayed Nabucco pipeline to bring Central Asian gas to Europe without passing through Russian territory. But there is a reason the project has never gotten off the ground: as determined as Europe is to end its reliance on Russian gas, Mr. Putin is equally adamant about extending it.

The Nabucco pipeline was proposed in 2002 by executives from European energy companies with the express intent of undercutting Russia’s gas monopoly. It would pass through Turkey and Georgia to the Caspian Sea. Under the best of circumstances, building an international pipeline is an intricate and arduous process, technically, financially and politically. However, Nabucco’s planners rapidly discovered that their biggest obstacle was not a mountain chain or a corrupt local politician, but Mr. Putin himself. When OMV, the Austrian energy company, formally created a consortium for Nabucco in 2005, he responded with a competing idea: a pipeline called South Stream that would terminate at the same gas storage site in Austria, but originate in Russia and bypass Ukraine by traveling under the Black Sea.

In a contest often compared to chess, this Russian countermove, like all good chess moves, was both offensive and defensive. To pay the hefty upfront construction costs, a pipeline needs both an assured source of supply and a market for the gas it transports. The South Stream pipeline would flood the gas market in southeastern Europe, locking up the customers the bankers behind Nabucco were counting on to finance the project. At the same time it would undermine Ukraine’s domination of gas lines headed west, one of the biggest obstacles to Russian domination of the European gas market. But Mr. Putin did not stop there. Leaving nothing to chance, he also took steps to choke off potential sources of upstream gas supplies deep in Central Asia.

The race to secure these rich sources of natural gas unexpectedly accelerated in 2006 with the death of the eccentric and isolationist dictator of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov. While energy executives around the world rushed to Ashgabat, the Turkmen capital, to meet the new leader, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, a former dentist, Mr. Putin was the first to cut a big deal. Smiling and holding shovels at a televised ceremony to mark the start of construction, Mr. Putin and Mr. Berdymukhammedov agreed in 2007 to build a pipeline north, to Russia, depriving Nabucco of potential supply. It was not until 2008 that European Union officials got to Ashgabat with a memorandum of understanding for a trans-Caspian pipeline that could link to Nabucco. It has yet to be acted upon.

Farther west, it was the same story. In February 2008, Mr. Putin signed an agreement with Bulgaria — over the objections of the United States and in spite of Bulgaria’s status as a new NATO member — making it a partner in the South Stream pipeline. And in April 2008, Mr. Putin was in Athens, cutting a deal for a spur of South Stream. In this flurry of diplomacy he again beat his Western opponents. The United States State Department’s point man on Eurasian pipelines, Matthew J. Bryza, in Athens the next day, could only rue the signed deal. Mr. Bryza was left explaining to the Greeks: “If you have only one supplier of feta, you’re in a vulnerable position. The same for gas.” The West still had an important pipeline partner in Georgia, a critical geographical link. But that all but evaporated in the brief war last summer.

By 2007, a pipeline section had been laid across Georgia, the Baku-Erzurum pipeline, which is now used for local distribution but will become a part of the Nabucco pipeline, if it is ever built. This brought the struggle for Nabucco to a pivotal stage, for it was now playing out along a storied trade route in the petroleum business, and one highly sensitive to the Russians. In the 19th century the Rothschild banking family and the Nobel brothers of Sweden had built a railroad and pipeline across Georgia to sell Baku oil, undercutting the near monopoly in the business, Standard Oil of the United States, which was supplying Europe with kerosene produced in America.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the revival of this pre-Bolshevik energy corridor became a major foreign policy goal of the United States, intended to strengthen the economic independence of former Soviet states and diversify world oil supplies away from the Middle East. At a narrow point, the pipeline route passes just south of the Russian-controlled enclave of South Ossetia and north of another Russian ally, Armenia. The August war sent a chill through boardrooms in the West when, for example, Russian tanks scurried back and forth over one of the buried pipelines and one crew occupied a pumping station. Russia, said Svante Cornell, a specialist on Central Asia and the Caucasus at the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, sent a simple message: “We can blow this up at any time.”

While his track record is very strong, Mr. Putin is not infallible. Last summer he made a rare mistake by locking in long-term contracts for Central Asian gas at close to the height of the market — $340 for 1,000 cubic meters in 2009. While Mr. Putin achieved his goal of depriving Nabucco of more potential sources, Russia is now selling that gas in a down market to Ukraine for an average of less than $240 per 1,000 cubic meters — one possible reason, energy experts have said, that Mr. Putin tried to force Ukraine to pay more for gas this winter. Despite its best intentions, Europe is likely to remain dependent on Russian energy supplies for the foreseeable future and, perhaps, indefinitely if Mr. Putin has his way. And that reflects his long-held beliefs.

As far back as 1997, while serving as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, Mr. Putin earned a graduate degree in economics, writing his thesis on the economics of natural resources. Later, when scholars at the Brookings Institution analyzed the text, they found 16 pages had been copied without attribution from a 1978 American business school textbook called “Strategic Planning and Policy,” by David I. Cleland and William R. King of the University of Pittsburgh. Mr. Putin has declined to comment on the allegation. Tellingly, the passages they say were plagiarized relate to the indispensable role of a chief executive in planning within a corporation — the need for one man to have strategic vision and control.


Putin’s War-Whoop: The Impending Clash With Russia

"What is a 'unipolar’ world?

It is world in which there is one master, one sovereign--- one center of authority, one center of force, one center of decision-making. And at the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within. It has nothing in common with democracy, which is the power of the majority in respect to the interests and opinions of the minority. In Russia, we are constantly being lectured about democracy. But for some reason those who teach us do not want to learn themselves." Russian President Vladimir Putin’s address to the Munich Conference on Security Policy 2-10-07

The deployment of the US Missile Defense System in Eastern Europe is a de-facto declaration of war on the Russian Federation. As Russian President Putin said in a recent press conference, "If this missile system is put in place, it will work automatically with the entire nuclear capability of the United States. It will be an integral part of the US nuclear capability." This will disrupt the current configuration of international security and force Russia to begin work on a new regime of tactical nuclear weapons. This is a very serious development. Russia will now have to rethink its current policy vis a vis the United States and develop a long-range strategy for fending off further hostile encroachments into former-Soviet states by NATO.

Welcome to the new Cold War.

Putin cannot ignore the gravity of the proposed system or the threat it poses to Russia’s national security. Bush’s Missile Defense is not defensive at all, but offensive. It thrusts US military bases--with nuclear infrastructure and radar--up to Russia’s doorstep giving the US a clear advantage in "first-strike" capability. That means that Washington will be able to intimidate Russia on issues that are of critical international importance. Putin cannot allow this. He must force Bush to remove this dagger held to Moscow’s throat.

Bush’s Pyrrhic Victory at the G-8

The central issues on the docket at the G-8 meetings were downplayed in the media. The press primarily focused its attention on the "anticipated" conflict between Bush and Putin. But, the brouhaha never materialized; both were respectful and gracious. President Bush, however, was adamant that his plan for missile defense in Czechoslovakia and Poland would go ahead according to schedule. Putin, for the most part remained politely silent. His objections were censored in the media. But less than 10 hours after the closing ceremonies of the G-8, Putin fired off the first salvo in what will certainly be remembered as "the war that brought down the Empire".

Putin addressed 200 corporate leaders at the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg and his comments left little doubt that he had already settled on a plan for countering Bush’s missile shield in the Czech Republic. Putin’s speech articulated his vision of a "Moscow-centered" new world order which would create a ``new balance of power''--less dependent on Washington. He said, ``The new architecture of economic relations requires a completely new approach. Russia intends to become an alternative global financial center and to make the ruble a reserve currency for central banks."

"The world is changing before our eyes.'' Countries that yesterday seemed hopelessly behind are today the fastest growing economies of the world. Institutions such as the World Trade Organization and the IMF are ``archaic, undemocratic and inflexible''. They don’t `` reflect the new balance of power.''

Putin's speech is defiant rejection of the present system. We can be sure that it has not passed unnoticed by anxious mandarins in the US political establishment. Russia is announcing the beginning of an asymmetrical war; designed to cripple the United States economically, weaken the institutions which have traditionally enhanced its wealth, and precipitate a shift of global power away from Washington. Putin’s challenge to the US dollar is particularly worrisome. He emphasizes the inherent unfairness of the current system, which relies almost entirely on the dollar and which has an extremely negative effect on many smaller countries’ economies and financial reserves. "There can be only one answer to this challenge," he said. "The creation of several world currencies and several financial centers."

Putin’s remarks are a direct attack on the dollar and its position as the de facto international currency. He imagines a world where goods and resources are traded in rubles or "baskets of currencies"--not just greenbacks. This would create greater parity between the countries and, hence, a more even distribution of power. Putin's vision is a clear threat to America’s ongoing economic dominance. Already, in the last few months, Norway, Iran, Syria, UAE, Kuwait, and Venezuela have announced that they are either cutting back on their USD reserves or converting from the greenback to the euro or a "basket of currencies". Dollar hegemony is at the very center of American power, and yet, the downturn is visible everywhere. If the dollar loses its place as the world’s "reserve currency"; the US will have to pay-down its monstrous current account deficit and live within its means. America will lose the ability to simply print fiat money and use it in exchange for valuable resources and manufactured goods. Putin is now openly challenging the monetary-system that provides the flow of oxygen to the American superpower.

Can he carry it off?

What kind of damage can Russia really inflict on the dollar or on the many lofty-sounding organizations (WTO, World Bank, IMF, NATO and Federal Reserve) which prop up the US Empire? Russia’s power is mushrooming. Its GDP is leaping ahead at 8% per annum and by 2020 Russia will be among the five biggest economies in the world. It now has the third largest Forex reserves in the world and it is gradually moving away from the anemic dollar to euros and rubles. Nearly 10% of its wealth is currently in gold. Russia has also overtaken Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading supplier of petroleum. It produces 13% of the world’s daily output and has the world’s largest reserves of natural gas. In fact, Putin has worked energetically to create the world’s first Natural Gas cartel—an alliance between Russia, Qatar, Iran and Algeria. The group could potentially control 40% of the world’s remaining natural gas and set prices as it sees fit. Putin’s ambitions are not limited to the energy sector either---although he has strengthened the country by turning away foreign investment and "re-nationalization" vital resources. As Pavel Korduban says in his recent article "Putin Harvests Political Dividends from Russian Economic Dynamism"; Putin intends to expand beyond energy and focus on technological modernization:

"The shift in official discourse to "innovations" reflects an attempt to reorient economic policy from the goal of consolidating the status of "energy superpower" to the emphasis on industrial modernization and catching up with the technological revolution. The key role in formulating this new policy is given to Sergei Ivanov, who promised that by the year 2020 Russia would gain leadership (measured as 10% of the world market) in such high-technology sectors as nuclear energy, shipbuilding, aircraft, satellites and delivery systems, and computer software." Putin has also strengthened ties with his Central Asian neighbors and engaged in "cooperative" military maneuvers with China.

"Last month it signed deals with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to revive the Soviet-era united system of gas pipelines, which will help Russia strengthen its role of the monopoly supplier from the region". (Reuters) He has transformed the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) into a formidable economic-military alliance capable of resisting foreign intervention in Central Asia by the United States and NATO. The CIS is bound to play a major role in regional issues as the real motives behind the "war on terror" are exposed and America's geopolitical objectives in Central Asia become clearer. So far, Washington has established its military bases and outposts throughout the region with impunity. But the mood is darkening in Moscow and Beijing and there may be changes in the future. We should also remember that Putin is surrounded by ex-KGB agents and Soviet-era hardliners. They’ve never trusted America's motives and now they can point to the new US bases, the "colored-coded" revolutions, the broken treaties and the projected missile defense system--to prove that Uncle Sam is "up to no good".

Putin sees himself as leading a global insurgency against the US Empire. He represents the emerging-market economies of China, India and Brazil. These 4 nations will progressively overtake the "old order". Last year 60% of the world's output was produced outside the G-7 countries. According to Goldman Sachs, by 2050 Brazil, Russia, India and China will be the world's leading economies. The transition from "superpower rule" is already underway. The centers of geopolitical power are shifting like giant tectonic plates. The trend is irreversible. The deployment of Bush’s missile defense system will only hasten the decline of the "unipolar-model" by triggering an asymmetrical war, where Forex reserves, vital resources and political maneuvering will be used as the weapons-of-choice. War with Russia is pointless and preventable. There are better choices than confrontation.


The Eurasian Project: A Threat to The New World Order

One might be tempted to regard Russian premier V. Putin's paper “A new integration project for Eurasia: The future in the making”, which saw the light of day in Izvestia on October 3, 2011, as the presidential front-runner's sketchily laid out program, but upon scrutiny that appears to be only one part of a wider picture. The opinion piece momentarily ignited wide-scale controversy in and outside of Russia and highlighted the ongoing clash of positions on global development…

Regardless of interpretation details, the reaction of the Western media to the integration project unveiled by the Russian premier was uniformly negative and reflected with utmost clarity an a priori hostility towards Russia and any initiatives it floats. Mao Zedong, though, used to say that facing pressure from your enemies is better than being in such a condition that they do not bother to keep you under pressure.

It helps to understand why, at the moment, Cold War-style headlines are constantly popping up in Western media and what perceived threat the West discerned in Putin's recent Eurasian integration. The obvious explanation is that, if implemented, the plan would come as a geopolitical challenge to the new world order, to the dominance of NATO, the IMF, the EU and other supranational bodies, and to the undisguised US primacy. Today's increasingly assertive Russia suggests and is ready to start building an inclusive alliance based on principles providing a viable alternative to Atlantism and neoliberalism. It is an open secret that these days the West is putting into practice an array of far-reaching geopolitical projects, reconfiguring Europe in the wake of the Balkan conflicts and against the backdrop of the crises provoked in Greece and Cyprus, assembling the Greater Middle East based on serial regime changes across the Arab world, and, as a relatively novel design, implementing the Asia project in which the recent disaster in Japan was an active phase.

In 2011, the intensity of geopolitical dynamics was unprecedented since the collapse of the USSR and the Eastern Bloc, with all major countries and international bodies contributing. Moreover, the current impression is that military might somehow became a legitimate instrument in international politics. Just days ago, Moscow drew avalanche criticism after vetoing the UN Security Council resolution which could authorize a replay of the Libyan scenario in Syria. As a result, US permanent envoy to the UN S. Rice slammed Russia and China over the veto, while French foreign minister Alain Juppé declared that “it is a sad day for the Syrian people. It is a sad day for the Security Council”. During the heated UN security Council debates on September 5, Syrian representative lambasted Germany and France, and charged the US with perpetrating genocide in the Middle East. After that, S. Rice accused Russia and China of hoping to sell arms to the Syrian regime instead of standing by the Syrian people and stormed out of the meeting, and French envoy Gérard Araud opined that “No veto can clear of their responsibility these Syrian authorities that have lost any legitimacy by murdering its own people”, leaving an impression that murdering people, as in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, should be a NATO privilege.

Moscow's Western “partners” are outraged whenever Russia, in concert with China, puts obstacles in the way of the new world order. Syria, albeit a regionally important country, only fleetingly tops the agenda, but Putin's ambitious plan for the whole Eurasia - “reaching a higher level of integration – a Eurasian Union” - had to be expected to evoke deep and lasting concerns in the West. Moscow openly challenges the West's global dominance by “suggesting a model of a powerful supranational union that can become one of the poles of today's world while being an efficient connecting link between Europe and the dynamic Asia-Pacific Region”. No doubt, Putin's messages that “the combination of natural resources, capital, and strong human potential will make the Eurasian Union competitive in the industrial and technological race and the race for investor money, new jobs, and advanced production facilities” and that “along with other key players and regional institutions such as the EU, the USA, China, and APEC, it will ensure the sustainability of global development” sounded alarming to Western leaders.

Neither the collapse of the USSR and the bipolar world nor the subsequent proliferation of pro-Western “democracies” marked a final point in the struggle over global primacy. What followed was an era of military interventions and displacements of defiant regimes with the help of information warfare and the omnipresent Western soft power. In this game, Eurasia remains the main prize in line with John Mackinder's geopolitical imperative by which “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; who rules the World-Island controls the world”.

In the late XX century the US became the first-ever non-Eurasian country to combine the roles of the world's top power and the final arbiter in Eurasian affairs. In the framework of the new world order doctrine, the US and the West as a whole see Eurasia as a zone of key importance to their economic development and growing political might. Global dominance is an openly stated and constantly pursued goal of the Euro-Atlantic community and its military and financial institutions – NATO, the IMF, and the World Bank - along with the Western media and countless NGOs. In the process, the Western establishment remains fully aware that, in Z. Brzeziński's words, „America's global primacy is directly dependent on how long and how effectively its preponderance on the Eurasian continent is sustained”. Sustaining the “preponderance”, in turn, takes control over Europe, Russia, China, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

Untamed Western hegemony in Europe, Central Asia, and, to an extent, in the Middle East and even Russia used to count as an unquestionable outcome of the past couple of decades, but at the moment the situation appears fluid. Western, Chinese, and Russian watchers alike are predicting an imminent failure of the neoliberal globalization model embedded in the new world order, and the time is coming for the political class to adopt the view.

By opening up opportunities to shield original models of national development from Atlantist pressure and to maintain real international security, Putin's new integration project holds a major promise for Russia and its allies, and thereby presents Russia's foes with a serious problem. Neither Russia nor any other post-Soviet republic can survive in today's world single-handedly, and Russia as Eurasia's key geopolitical player with economic, political, and military potentials unparalleled across the post-Soviet space can and should stake a bid for an alternative global architecture.

The West's allergy to Putin's plan is therefore explainable, but, regardless of the opposition the project is bound to run into, of the weakness of some of its elements, and of the potential difficulty of putting it into practice, the Eurasian integration project grew out of the life of the post-Soviet geopolitical and cultural space and is consonant with current global trends. Surviving, preserving the economic and material foundations of national existence, keeping traditions alive, and building a secure future for the children are the objectives the Eurasian nations can accomplish only if they stay aligned with Russia. Otherwise, isolation, sanctions, and military interventions awaits them…


Why Putin Is Driving Washington Nuts

Forget the past (Saddam, Osama, Gaddafi) and the present (Assad, Ahmadinejad). A bet can be made over a bottle of Petrus 1989 (the problem is waiting the next six years to collect); for the foreseeable future, Washington’s top bogeyman – and also for its rogue North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners and assorted media shills – will be none other than back-to-the-future Russian President Vladimir Putin. And make no mistake; Vlad the Putinator will relish it. He’s back exactly where he wants to be; as Russia’s commander-in-chief, in charge of the military, foreign policy and all national security matters.

Anglo-American elites still squirm at the mention of his now legendary Munich 2007 speech, when he blasted the then George W Bush administration for its obsessively unipolar imperial agenda “through a system which has nothing to do with democracy” and non-stop overstepping of its “national borders in almost all spheres”.”

So Washington and its minions have been warned. Before last Sunday’s election, Putin even advertised his road map. The essentials; no war on Syria; no war on Iran; no “humanitarian bombing” or fomenting “color revolutions” – all bundled into a new concept, “illegal instruments of soft power”. For Putin, a Washington-engineered New World Order is a no-go. What rules is “the time-honored principle of state sovereignty”.

No wonder. When Putin looks at Libya, he sees the graphic, regressive consequences of NATO’s “liberation” through “humanitarian bombing”; a fragmented country controlled by al-Qaeda-linked militias; backward Cyrenaica splitting from more developed Tripolitania; and a relative of the last king brought in to rule the new “emirate” – to the delight of those model democrats of the House of Saud.

More key essentials; no US bases encircling Russia; no US missile defense without strict admission, in writing, that the system will never target Russia; and increasingly close cooperation among the BRICS group of emerging powers.

Most of this was already implied in Putin’s previous road map – his paper A new integration project for Eurasia: The future in the making. That was Putin’s ippon – he loves judo – against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the International Monetary Fund and hardcore neo-liberalism. He sees a Eurasian Union as a “modern economic and currency union” stretching all across Central Asia.

For Putin, Syria is an important detail (not least because of Russia’s naval base in the Mediterranean port of Tartus, which NATO would love to abolish). But the meat of the matter is Eurasia integration. Atlanticists will freak out en masse as he puts all his efforts into coordinating “a powerful supranational union that can become one of the poles of today’s world while being an efficient connecting link between Europe and the dynamic Asia-Pacific Region”.

The opposite roadmap will be Obama and Hillary’s Pacific doctrine. Now how exciting is that?

Putin plays Pipelineistan

It was Putin who almost single-handedly spearheaded the resurgence of Russia as a mega energy superpower (oil and gas accounts for two-thirds of Russia’s exports, half of the federal budget and 20% of gross domestic product). So expect Pipelineistan to remain key. And it will be mostly centered on gas; although Russia holds no less than 30% of global gas supplies, its liquid natural gas (LNG) production is less than 5% of the global market share. It’s not even among the top ten producers.

Putin knows that Russia will need buckets of foreign investment in the Arctic – from the West and especially Asia – to keep its oil production above 10 million barrels a day. And it needs to strike a complex, comprehensive, trillion-dollar deal with China centered on Eastern Siberia gas fields; the oil angle has been already taken care of via the East Siberian Pacific Ocean (ESPO) pipeline. Putin knows that for China – in terms of securing energy – this deal is a vital counterpunch against Washington’s shady “pivoting” towards Asia.

Putin will also do everything to consolidate the South Stream pipeline – which may end up costing a staggering $22 billion (the shareholder agreement is already signed between Russia, Germany, France and Italy. South Stream is Russian gas delivered under the Black Sea to the southern part of the EU, through Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Slovakia). If South Stream is a go, rival pipeline Nabucco is checkmated; a major Russian victory against Washington pressure and Brussels bureaucrats.

Everything is still up for grabs at the crucial intersection of hardcore geopolitics and Pipelineistan. Once again Putin will be facing yet another Washington road map – the not exactly successful New Silk Road (See US’s post-2014 Afghan agenda falters, Asia Times Online, Nov 4, 2011.)

Ant then there’s the joker in the pack – the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Putin will want Pakistan to become a full member as much as China is interested in incorporating Iran. The repercussions would be ground-breaking – as in Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran coordinating not only their economic integration but their mutual security inside a strengthened SCO, whose motto is “non-alignment, non-confrontation and non-interference in the affairs of other countries”.

Putin sees that with Russia, Central Asia and Iran controlling no less than 50% of world’s gas reserves, and with Iran and Pakistan as virtual SCO members, the name of the game becomes Asia integration – if not Eurasia’s. The SCO develops as an economic/security powerhouse, while, in parallel, Pipelineistan accelerates the full integration of the SCO as a counterpunch to NATO. The regional players themselves will decide what makes more sense – this or a New Silk Road invented in Washington.

Make no mistake. Behind the relentless demonization of Putin and the myriad attempts to delegitimize Russia’s presidential elections, lie some very angry and powerful sections of Washington and Anglo-American elites. They know Putin will be an ultra tough negotiator on all fronts. They know Moscow will apply increasingly closer coordination with China; on thwarting permanent NATO bases in Afghanistan; on facilitating Pakistan’s strategic autonomy; on opposing missile defense; on ensuring Iran is not attacked.

He will be the devil of choice because there could not be a more formidable opponent in the world stage to Washington’s plans – be they coded as Greater Middle East, New Silk Road, Full Spectrum Dominance or America’s Pacific Century. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get ready to rumble.

Source: Why Putin Is Driving Washington Nuts

Why Russia's President Is 'Putin the Great' in China
Like Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin Is Seen as a Strong Leader Who Isn't Afraid to Confront the West

In the recommended-reading section of Beijing's Wangfujing bookstore, staff members have no doubt which foreign leader customers are most interested in: President Vladimir Putin, or "Putin the Great" as some Chinese call him. Books on Mr. Putin have been flying off shelves since the crisis in Ukraine began, far outselling those on other world leaders, sales staff say. One book, "Putin Biography: He is Born for Russia," made the list of top 10 nonfiction best sellers at the Beijing News newspaper in September.

China's fascination with Mr. Putin is more than literary, marking a shift in the post-Cold War order and in Chinese politics. After decades of mutual suspicion—and one short border conflict—Beijing and Moscow are drawing closer as they simultaneously challenge the U.S.-led security architecture that has prevailed since the Soviet collapse, diplomats and analysts say. The former rivals for leadership of the Communist world also increasingly share a brand of anti-Western nationalism that could color President Xi Jinping's view of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Beijing accuses Western governments of stirring unrest there, much as Mr. Putin blamed the West for the pro-democracy protests in Kiev that began late last year.

Russia has begun portraying the Hong Kong protests, too, as U.S.-inspired. Russian state-controlled television channels this week claimed that Hong Kong protest leaders had received American training. The Pew Research Center says China is one of the few countries where popular support for Russia has risen since Moscow's confrontation with the West over Ukraine—rising to 66% in July from 47% a year earlier. A poll by In Touch Today, an online news service run by China's Tencent Holdings Ltd., put Mr. Putin's approval rating at 92% after Russia annexed Crimea in March.

"Putin's personality is impressive—as a man, as a leader. Chinese people find that attractive. He defends Russia's interests," says Zhao Huasheng, an expert on China-Russia relations at Shanghai's Fudan University. "Russia and China can learn a lot from each other."

It is partly realpolitik. Russia needs China's market and capital, especially as Western sanctions over Ukraine bite, the analysts say, while Beijing sees Moscow as a source of diplomatic support and vital energy resources. The countries concluded a long-awaited deal in May for Russia to supply $400 billion of gas to China over 30 years. They have forged agreements to build a railway bridge over their common border and an ice-free port in Russia's far east. They have also unveiled plans to set up ground stations on each other's land for their satellite global-positioning navigation systems. Also driving the realignment is rapport between Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi, whose leadership increasingly resembles his Russian counterpart's charismatic nationalist authoritarianism.

"Putin and Xi Jinping are quite similar," says Yu Bin, an expert on China-Russia relations at Wittenberg University in Ohio. The leaders are from the same generation—they are both 61—and both want to re-establish their countries as world powers and challenge Western dominance following periods of perceived national humiliation.

Mr. Xi came to power two years ago succeeding Hu Jintao, whom party insiders saw as an uncharismatic leader unable to inspire popular support or defend China's national interests. "I think China, after 10 years of Hu Jintao, started to look for a strong leader," says Mr. Yu. "In that context, the Chinese leadership does look to Putin. There's a parallel experience." Mr. Xi has since made his relationship with Mr. Putin a priority. He chose Russia for his first foreign visit as Chinese president and was one of the few world leaders to attend the Sochi Winter Olympics. Mr. Xi has met Mr. Putin nine times since taking office, most recently at a Central Asian security forum in Tajikistan last month.

"I have the impression we always treat each other as friends, with full and open hearts," Mr. Xi told Mr. Putin in Moscow last year, according to an official Kremlin transcript. "We are similar in character."

He told Russian students later that China and Russia were both going through "an important period of national rejuvenation" and had "the best great-power relationship" in the world. Mr. Xi has established himself as a political strongman by outlining a "China Dream" of national rejuvenation, by overseeing a sustained anticorruption campaign and by using China's military muscle to enforce territorial claims around its coast. He has also tightened controls on the media and political dissent and has launched a campaign against Western ideological influence, such as through foreign-funded NGOs.

Some Chinese and Western scholars see parallels in Mr. Putin's early onslaught against Russia's oligarchs, his appeals for national revival, his crackdown on independent news media and his willingness to use military force to defend Russia's interests around its borders. Mr. Putin has also overseen a gradual rehabilitation of Joseph Stalin. Mr. Xi praises the achievements of Chairman Mao Zedong.

Both men play on their countries' wartime pasts. Mr. Xi has introduced three war-related national holidays, including a "Martyrs' Day," marked for the first time Tuesday. Mr. Putin just opened a new World War I memorial. They plan to hold joint celebrations next year for the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Both men, scholars say, rely heavily on state-controlled media to tap into a popular admiration for strong leaders that is widespread in Russia and China, former empires that for most of their histories have been ruled by autocrats.

Zheng Wenyang, the 30-year-old author of "He is Born for Russia," says the biography, which came out in 2012, has sold far more copies than his earlier works on Barack Obama, Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela. He says Mr. Putin's popularity, while inflated by glowing reports in Chinese state media, feeds off a deeply held conviction in Chinese society: "If a leader is weak and allows himself to be bullied, then people won't respect him."

Russia's pushback against Western-leaning governments in Georgia in 2008 and more recently Ukraine has been popular in China. Some say Beijing should draw lessons from those experiences as it jostles for control over waters in the East and South China seas with the U.S., Japan, Philippines and Vietnam.

"Putin is a bold and decisive leader of a great power, who's good at achieving victory in a dangerous situation," said Maj. Gen. Wang Haiyun, a former military attaché to Moscow, in an interview with the Chinese website of the Global Times newspaper. "These features are worthy of our praise and learning. Russia has been a great world power for hundreds of years and a superpower in the bi-polar order: It's much more skilled than us at playing great power games."

In the crisis over Ukraine—a supplier of corn and armaments to China—Beijing has stayed on the sidelines, calling repeatedly for a political solution and withholding support for Western sanctions against Russia. Some Chinese experts argue that China risks damaging its relationships with the U.S. and the European Union, still its biggest trading partners. Moscow's and Beijing's interests aren't always aligned.

Older Chinese fondly recall Soviet support for China in the 1950s but also remember the bitter ideological split in 1960 and border conflict in 1969. Though the two sides formed a new strategic partnership in 1996, only recently did they find common ground beyond supporting one another in the United Nations Security Council. New tensions could arise over China's expanding influence in Central Asian lands that once were part of the Soviet Union, and over Russian arms sales to India and Vietnam, neighbors of China that have boundary disputes with it.

Still, some analysts say that by staying out of the way in Ukraine, Beijing has ensured that Moscow will remain neutral over China's flaring territorial disputes in Asia. And for the moment, both sides have an interest in playing up the merits of their governance models. Liu Xiaohu, the 28-year-old author of another biography, "Putin's Iron Fist," which came out this year, says many young Chinese feel frustrated by what they see as their government's failure to respond to past foreign provocations, such as the U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999. "It's not that Chinese people instinctively want or need a strong leader: It's that the country needs one at this period of time," he says.


Here's Why Vladimir Putin Is The World's Most Powerful Person

Forbes came out with its list of the most powerful people in the world earlier this week. US President Barack Obama came in second. Russian President Vladimir Putin came in first. While Forbes obviously doesn't have the final say on world power, it is compelling to investigate why Putin, the ruler of a faltering quasi-republic, is considered the most powerful person alive. For one, he has a remarkable grip on power. He became prime minister in 1999. That gig lasted until 2000, when he switched to president, which lasted until 2008. Then he became prime minister again — until 2012. He then went back to being the president of Russia, an office he's held since May 2012. He's effectively run the world's largest country by landmass for 15 years. In roughly the same period, the US has cycled through Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations. While American presidents struggle with a foot-dragging Congress, Putin seems to do whatever he wants. You could argue that, this year, Putin has executed the most flagrant displays of power yet. But wait, there's more: Putin continues to keep European energy in a chokehold, and he hosted a (mostly) successful winter Olympics .  Putin  has even figured out the meaning of life , as expressed during the  15th Congress  of the Russian Geographical Society. "In general, love is the whole meaning of life, of being," Putin said. "[Love for Russia] is exactly that most important task to which we must all strive towards, and I am absolutely convinced that success awaits us." In short, Putin went for it in 2014. And he  isn't backing down from his ambitions, no matter what Obama, David Cameron, and the rest of the gang have to say. "The bear isn't asking anyone for permission," Putin said of Russia in another recent speech. "The bear is considered a strong and a very traditional animal ... (and) will not surrender."

Quotes from President Putin's Monumental Valdai Club Speech

‘Global media control allows US to sell black for white’

Vladimir Putin criticized the West for "sawing at branches" with sanctions against Russia and releasing a "genie in a bottle" with color revolutions. RT looks at the Russian President's five best quotes from his speech in Sochi. Vladimir Putin also lashed out at the United States for destabilizing the world order of checks and balances for its own gains. The Russian President understands that there is a need to change the systems in place within international relations, but according to him: "The US has been destabilizing the world order of checks and balances for its own gains." He added that the US, as perceived winners of the Cold War, is trying to create the world “for their own gains," which has weakened global and regional security. Any country that does not agree with Washington’s view of affairs is all but blacklisted.

President Putin clearly lays the blame for ongoing terrorism in the Middle East squarely with the United States, for policies that have been repeating themselves for decades. He also accuses the West of, "turning a blind eye," to the encroachment of international terrorism into Russia and Central Asia. “It never ceases to amaze me how our partners have been guilty of making the same mistakes time and again." He also used the example of Washington's funding of the Mujaheddin in the Afghan-Soviet war in the 1980's, which eventually gave birth to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

US and EU sanctions imposed on Russia were another sore point for the Russian President. He mentioned that there would be no winners from their decision, saying, "This was a mistake, which has a knock-on effect on everyone." He also accused Washington of using the EU against Russia to fulfill its own gains. The Russian President laid the blame for the crisis in Ukraine firmly on the West for meddling in affairs, which did not concern them. He mentioned that Russia had tried to discuss the issue of Ukraine with the EU for a long time, but in no uncertain terms he was told it was none of Russia’s business.

Vladimir Putin voiced his disagreement with the West’s position on Russia, which he likened to the Latin proverb "What is permissible for Jove is not permissible for an ox." However, he said the Russian "bear" won't ask anyone for permission and demands that its views on global issues should also be respected. Towards the end of his speech in Sochi, for the Valdai Club, which is an informal gathering for political scholars, the Russian President, alluded to fears that Russia was looking to expand its empire and that Moscow is looking to destabilize the world order. With relations between Russia and the West at a very low ebb, Putin also hinted Russia will look to develop allies further afield. He also used the notion of a bear defending its territory to have a swipe at the US for getting to close to Russia's borders.


‘Remember lessons we taught Hitler’: Top 10 quotes from Putin’s State of Nation address

In his yearly address to parliamentarians and dignitaries, Vladimir Putin gave a reminder of Russia's strength as the country that Hitler failed to defeat, while also comparing Crimea's significance to that of the Temple Mount to Jews. In a warning to the West about further encroachment towards Russia’s borders, President Putin reminded how many previous military powers have tried, but ultimately failed, to corner Russia and then invade the largest country on Earth. In the 1990s a weak Russia under Boris Yeltsin looked helplessly on as the US and the EU carved up Yugoslavia for their own personal gains. Almost two decades on, Putin says a repeat on Russian soil, despite the West’s desires, is unthinkable. "They would have gladly applied the Yugoslav scenario of dismemberment and disintegration for Russia. They failed. We did not allow them to do that."

Russia has one of the largest armies in the world; however, Putin is adamant he does not want the country to be drawn into a wider conflict. The president did admit that if forced, the Russian bear is prepared to bare its claws with devastating consequences for those opposing it. For centuries Crimea was part of Russia. The peninsula is ethnically Russian, not just Russian-speaking. However, in 1954 it was ‘transferred’ to Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev, who believed national boundaries were irrelevant given that they all came under the banner of the Soviet Union. However, following the collapse of the USSR, the Crimean question surfaced once again. The US and the EU have tried to play-up the effect sanctions imposed on Russia are having a detrimental effect on the country’s economy, when in fact the low price of oil is the real reason for the ruble’s slide. Putin says Russia is looking for new partners in the east for trade and believes the West’s aim to hurt Russia’s economy will be detrimental in the long run.

A resurgent Russia is a threat to the US, with Washington unwilling to let any nation challenge it as the world’s only super power. For almost a decade, the US has been looking at ways to diminish Russia’s role in world affairs both globally and politically. Putin was adamant that Crimea was just the excuse Obama was looking for to slap Moscow on the wrist. The Russian Finance Ministry estimates that $130 billion will leave Russia by the end of 2014 due to heightened geopolitical tensions and the mass sell-off the ruble throughout the year. However, now Putin’s going to try and keep Russian money in Russia. Vladimir Putin is adamant Russia will not be backed into a corner following the economic sanctions introduced by the US and the EU. On many occasions the Russian president has said that Moscow wants good relations with all countries, including the ones that are set on hindering its economic growth.

Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, the US’s tentacles, often under the pretext of NATO have encroached closer and closer to Russia’s borders and meddling in the affairs of foreign countries. “Our US friends, whether directly or from behind the scenes always affect our relations with our neighbors. Sometimes it’s unclear whether to talk to the authorities of the country, or to their US patrons.” Vladimir Putin said that countries are losing sight of their own national interests to suit the foreign policy of other countries. However, he said such a thing would not be happening in Russia. “If for many European countries, sovereignty and national pride are forgotten concepts and a luxury, then for Russia, true sovereignty is an absolutely necessary condition of our existence.”


Guns and religion: How American conservatives grew closer to Putin’s Russia

Growing up in the 1980s, Brian Brown was taught to think of the communist Soviet Union as a dark and evil place. But Brown, a leading opponent of same-sex marriage, said that in the past few years he has started meeting Russians at conferences on family issues and finding many kindred spirits. Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, has visited Moscow four times in four years, including a 2013 trip during which he testified before the Duma as Russia adopted a series of anti-gay laws.

“What I realized was that there was a great change happening in the former Soviet Union,” he said. “There was a real push to re-instill Christian values in the public square.”

A significant shift has been underway in recent years across the Republican right. On issues including gun rights, terrorism and same-sex marriage, many leading advocates on the right who grew frustrated with their country’s leftward tilt under President Barack Obama have forged ties with well-connected Russians and come to see that country’s authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin, as a potential ally. The attitude adjustment among many conservative activists helps explain one of the most curious aspects of the 2016 presidential race: a softening among many conservatives of their historically hard-line views of Russia. To the alarm of some in the GOP’s national security establishment, support in the party base for then-candidate Donald Trump did not wane even after he rejected the tough tone of 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, who called Russia America’s No. 1 foe, and repeatedly praised Putin.

The burgeoning alliance between Russians and U.S. conservatives was apparent in several events in late 2015, as the Republican nomination battle intensified. Top officials from the National Rifle Association, whose annual meeting Friday featured an address by Trump for the third time in three years, traveled to Moscow to visit a Russian gun manufacturer and meet government officials. About the same time in December 2015, evangelist Franklin Graham met privately with Putin for 45 minutes, securing from the Russian president an offer to help with an upcoming conference on the persecution of Christians. Graham was impressed, telling The Washington Post that Putin “answers questions very directly and doesn’t dodge them like a lot of our politicians do.”

The growing dialogue between Russians and U.S. conservatives came at the same time experts say the Russian government stepped up efforts to cultivate and influence far-right groups in Europe and on the eve of Russia’s unprecedented intrusion into the U.S. campaign, which intelligence officials have concluded was intended to elect Trump. Russians and Americans involved in developing new ties say they are not part of a Kremlin effort to influence U.S. politics. “We know nothing about that,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said. Brown said activists in both countries are simply “uniting together under the values we share.”

It is not clear what effect closer ties will have on relations between the two countries, which have gotten frostier with the opening of congressional and FBI investigations into Russia’s intrusion into the election and rising tensions over the civil war in Syria. But the apparent increase in contacts in recent years, as well as the participation of officials from the Russian government and the influential Russian Orthodox church, leads some analysts to conclude that the Russian government probably promoted the efforts in an attempt to expand Putin’s power.

“Is it possible that these are just well-meaning people who are reaching out to Americans with shared interests? It is possible,” said Steven L. Hall, who retired from the CIA in 2015 after managing Russia operations for 30 years. “Is it likely? I don’t think it’s likely at all. . . . My assessment is that it’s definitely part of something bigger.”

Interactions between Russians and American conservatives appeared to gain momentum as Obama prepared to run for a second term. At the time, many in the GOP warned that Obama had failed to counter the national security threat posted by Putin’s aggression. But, deep in the party base, change was brewing.

G. Kline Preston IV sits at the desk in his office in Nashville, with a portrait off George Washington painted by a Russian artist on the wall behind him. (Kyle Dean Reinford/For the Washington Post)

At least one connection came about thanks to a conservative Nashville lawyer named G. Kline Preston IV, who had done business in Russia for years. Preston said that in 2011 he introduced David Keene, then the NRA’s president, to a Russian senator, Alexander Torshin, a member of Putin’s party who later became a top official at the Russian central bank. Keene had been a stalwart on the right, a past chairman of the American Conservative Union who was the NRA’s president from 2011 to 2013.

Neither Keene nor Torshin responded to requests for comment. An NRA spokesman also did not respond to questions. Torshin seemed a natural ally to American conservatives. A friend of Mikhail Kalashnikov, revered in Russia for inventing the AK-47 assault rifle, Torshin in 2010 had penned a glossy gun rights pamphlet, illustrated by cartoon figures wielding guns to fend off masked robbers. The booklet cited U.S. statistics to argue for gun ownership, at one point echoing in Russian an old NRA slogan: “Guns don’t shoot — people shoot.”

A page from a Russian pamphlet written by Alexander Torshin. The pamphlet advocates for gun rights. (Obtained by The Washington Post)

Torshin was also a leader in a Russian movement to align government more closely with the Orthodox church. “The value system of Southern Christians and the value system of Russians are very much in line,” Preston said. “The so-called conflict between our two nations is a tragedy because we’re very similar people, in a lot of our values, our interests and that sort of thing.”

Preston, an expert on Russian law whose office features a white porcelain bust of Putin, said he had told Tennessee friends for years not to believe television reports about the Russian leader having journalists or dissidents killed. Preston was an international observer of the 2011 legislative elections in Russia, which sparked mass street protests in Moscow charging electoral irregularities. But Preston said he concluded that the elections were free and fair. By contrast, Preston said he and Torshin saw violations of U.S. law — pro-Obama signs posted too close to a polling place — when Torshin traveled to Nashville to observe voting in the 2012 presidential election.

Mementos from various trips to Russia decorate the G. Kline Preston IV's office. (Kyle Dean Reinford/For the Washington Post)

In Russia, Torshin and an aide, a photogenic activist originally from Siberia named Maria Butina, began building a gun rights movement. Butina founded a group called the Right to Bear Arms, and in 2013 she and Torshin invited Keene and other U.S. gun advocates to its annual meeting in Moscow. The event, where about 200 people gathered at Moscow’s convention center, included a fashion show in which models donned “concealed carry” garments with built-in pockets for weapons. One American participant, Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, recalled that Torshin and Butina took him and his wife out for dinner and gave them gifts that displayed research into their interests — exotic fabric for Gottlieb’s wife, a needlepoint enthusiast, and for Gottlieb, commemorative stamps that Torshin received as a member of the Russian legislature.

“They wanted to keep communications open and form friendships,” Gottlieb said. Butina, now a graduate student at American University in Washington, told The Post via email that her group’s cause is “not very popular” with Russian officials and has never received funding from the government or from the NRA. She said she has never worked for the government and added that she and the American activists she has befriended simply share a love of gun rights. “No government official has EVER approached me about ‘fostering ties’ with any Americans,” she wrote.

Hall, the former CIA officer, said he was skeptical. He said he did not think Putin would tolerate a legitimate effort to advocate for an armed citizenry, and asserted that the movement is probably “controlled by the security services” to woo the American right. When Torshin and Butina attended the NRA’s 2014 annual convention, their profiles as scrappy Russians pushing for gun rights were rising. Butina attended an NRA women’s luncheon as a guest of one of the organization’s past presidents. Interviewed by the conservative website Townhall, Butina called the NRA “one of the most world famous and most important organizations” and said that “we would like to be friends with NRA.”

While Russians are allowed to own shotguns, Butina said her group hoped to reverse a ban on carrying handguns. That year’s turbulent events — in which Russia’s incursion into Ukraine prompted the Obama administration to enact strict sanctions against Moscow — illustrated the Russians’ alliance with U.S. gun advocates. Butina argued in a Russian interview that firearm sellers in her country, including the popular Kalashnikov, were among the “most impacted” by sanctions, which specifically blocked its assets. In Washington, the NRA’s lobbying arm blasted the order, saying that such restrictions have “long been used by the executive branch as a means of unilaterally enacting gun control.”

Relationships between Russians and American conservatives seemed to blossom in 2015, as the Republican presidential race geared up.  Butina posted social-media photos showing how she and Torshin gained access to NRA officials and the U.S. politicians attending events. That April, Butina toured the NRA’s Virginia headquarters, and she and Torshin met Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), then a leading White House contender, at the NRA annual convention. Torshin told Bloomberg last year that he had a friendly exchange with Trump at the 2015 convention and sat with his son Donald Jr. at an NRA dinner the following year.
Walker’s spokesman said the encounter was brief, as speakers mingled with attendees before their remarks. A senior White House official said Trump may have briefly interacted with Torshin at the 2015 convention but did not recall. At the next year’s event, the official said Torshin briefly greeted Donald Jr. at a restaurant.  In June 2015, as Trump announced his candidacy, Butina wrote a column in the National Interest, a conservative U.S. magazine, suggesting that a Republican in the White House might improve U.S.-Russia relations. 

She wrote that Republicans and Russians held similar views on oil exploration and that cultural conservatives would identify with Putin’s party and its aggressive take on Islamic terrorism. Butina that summer immersed herself in U.S. politics. In July, she showed up in Las Vegas at FreedomFest, a meeting of libertarians where Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a rival for the GOP nomination, were speaking.

She made her way to a microphone during Trump’s speech and asked in accented English, “What will be your foreign politics, especially in the relations with my country?” It was the first time Trump had been asked about Russia as a candidate.  “I know Putin and I’ll tell you what, we get along with Putin,” he said. Trump would go on to repeatedly praise the Russian president as a strong leader. But Trump, who at the time was considered a long shot for the nomination, echoed a sentiment then bubbling up from some corners of the conservative grass roots — that Putin was a potential friend. 

That was the takeaway for Graham, the North Carolina-based evangelist, after his November 2015 Kremlin meeting with Putin. The last time Graham had visited Moscow, with his father, Billy Graham, in the 1980s, the practice of religion was prohibited. On this trip, he said, conditions for Christians in Russia remained difficult. But Graham recalled that Putin listened as he described evangelical Christianity and the challenges facing Christians around the world. Putin explained that his mother kept her Christian faith even during the darkest days of atheistic communist rule.  “He understood,” Graham said of the Russian leader. 

Putin offered to help Graham organize an international conference on Christian persecution in Moscow, Graham said. Instead, a Russian delegation is expected when the conference takes place in May in Washington, Graham said. At the end of 2015, Butina welcomed a delegation to Moscow that included Keene, by then a member of the NRA board, as well as top NRA donors. The group also included a rising star in GOP politics, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who went on to be a campaign surrogate for Trump and has been mentioned as a contender for a high-level job at the Department of Homeland Security. Clarke did not respond to requests for comment.

The group toured a gun manufacturing company and met with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who was among the officials sanctioned by the White House following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Keene told the Daily Beast, which first reported the meeting, that the interaction with Rogozin was “non-political” and consisted of touring the headquarters of a shooting group that Rogozin chairs.

After Trump’s victory, Torshin returned to the United States with a delegation of prominent Russians to attend the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington in February. In addition to his gun-rights work, Torshin also had helped build a similar prayer breakfast in Moscow from an obscure monthly event a decade ago into one more resembling the annual ritual in Washington.

Putin now sends an annual greeting to the Russian event, a recognition of its value in allowing “Russian and American guests to come together under one roof in order to rebuild the relationship between the two countries that has degraded under the administration of President Obama,” said breakfast organizer Peter Sautov in an email. Torshin, accompanied by 15 Russian church and government officials, requested to meet the new president before Trump spoke at the event, according to people familiar with the arrangement.

But they said the meeting was canceled as reports surfaced from Spanish authorities alleging that Torshin led an organized crime and money-laundering operation. Torshin has not been charged and denied wrongdoing in an interview with Bloomberg, which first reported the allegations. A White House official said the requested meeting was never confirmed in the first place. The proposed meeting was first reported by Yahoo

That night, Torshin gathered for a festive dinner at a Capitol Hill restaurant with conservative thought leaders who have supported warmer ties with Russia.  “There has been a change in the views of hard-core conservatives toward Russia,” a participant, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), said in an interview. “Conservative Republicans like myself hated communism during the Cold War. But Russia is no longer the Soviet Union.”

Putin and Europe’s Far Right

There’s love in the air between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Western Europe’s far-right political parties

The courtship between Eastern European far-right parties and Russia has been going on for years, of course. In 2008, Eastern Europe’s far right supported the Russian war against Georgia. In May 2013, leaders of Jobbik, the Hungarian far-right party with dubious fascist origins, met with Russian Duma leaders and academics at Moscow State University. The neo-Nazi Bulgarian Ataka party has vocally supported Putin and Russian foreign policy. In 2012, Ataka’s leader, Volen Siderov, traveled to Moscow, reportedly at his own expense, to celebrate Putin’s sixtieth birthday and express admiration for the Russian president’s strong leadership. After Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Siderov threatened to withdraw his party’s support from the coalition government if it supported further sanctions against Russia.

Since the Ukrainian crisis began, the romance has moved westward. In Austria, the Freedom Party (FPÖ) holds forty (out of one hundred and eighty-three) seats in Parliament, having won a fifth of the vote in last year’s elections. The Danish People’s Party has maintained its position as the third-strongest party in Parliament since 2001. And in 2012, the Greek extremist neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party shocked observers when it won eighteen parliamentary seats. The oldest and best-known party of the Western far right, the French National Front (FN), had its strongest showing in the past fifteen years when the party took fourteen percent of the vote in 2012. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) has struggled in national elections, but came in first in the May elections for the European Parliament.

Until very recently, Marine Le Pen, de facto spokesman for the European far right, was unknown in Russia, even after she hailed Russia’s president as a true patriot and defender of European values. But after Le Pen praised Russia’s actions in Ukraine, while Angela Merkel and other centrist European leaders were condemning it, Putin invited her to Moscow along with other representatives of the FN and other European far-right parties to observe the March referendum on Crimea’s accession to Russia. When she endorsed the Crimean referendum as legitimate, others on the European far right, including Austria’s FPÖ and Britain’s UKIP, followed suit. Russian media and bloggers, meanwhile, embraced Le Pen’s endorsement. One blogger started a “Merci Marine!” Twitter campaign. After the European parliamentary elections on May 25th, in which Le Pen’s party took the largest share of votes in France, Russia’s president returned the compliment by publicly praising the right-wing leader’s success.

The relationship between Russia and Western Europe’s far right may be a marriage of convenience, but it also shows signs of genuine affection. Closer ties with rising political parties in the EU will give Putin more leverage against NATO. For its part, the European right sees the Russian leader as a staunch defender of national sovereignty and conservative values who has challenged US influence and the idea of “Europe” in a way that mirrors their own convictions.
The far right’s major gripe with the European Union is the euro, which strips eurozone countries of control over their monetary policy. The hostility has grown during the economic crisis of the last few years, which has forced all of Western Europe to bend to unpopular austerity measures set by the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. In hindsight, the common currency looks like a terrible blunder to centrist political leaders and voters. Even the Germans, still the most pro-European members of the eurozone, are showing signs of buyer’s remorse.

For the Euroskeptic far right, endorsing the Crimean referendum was a carom shot that allowed them to reframe their defiance of the European Union and its growing influence over national politics, but it was also an endorsement of Putin’s nationalism and social conservatism. Le Pen derided the EU as an “anti-democratic monster” while in the same breath exalting Putin for doing “what is good for Russia and the Russians.” Meanwhile, the leader of Britain’s UKIP, Nigel Farage, sees Putin as a “brilliant” strategist who can outwit the West. When asked which world leader he admired the most, Farage’s answer was unhesitating: Putin.

Behind Russia’s affection for Le Pen and her fellow travelers may lie something more than appreciation for her endorsement of Crimea: a shared anti-Americanism. According to a recent survey by the Levada Center, in Moscow, seventy-one percent of Russians have a “bad or very bad” opinion of the United States. In fact, Russians’ opinion of the United States is the lowest since the fall of the Soviet Union.

In the Russian popular imagination, the US is still seen as setting the foreign policy agenda in Russia’s immediate neighborhood. Throughout the Ukrainian crisis, Russian media framed the US as the instigator and sponsor of the Maidan revolution that toppled Russia’s ally—Ukraine’s then president, Viktor Yanukovych—a view that pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s eastern regions subscribe to as well.

In early May, when I was in eastern Ukraine’s largest city, Kharkiv, pro-Russian protesters holding anti-American and anti-EU posters blamed a US-led “junta” for fomenting unrest. In this version of the story, the EU plays the role of the lackey sidekick: representing American interests because it is too spineless to adopt an independent stance.

For their part, Western Europe’s far-right parties have also been increasingly critical of the Obama administration’s campaign to impose economic sanctions on Russia. Leading the charge, Le Pen sees the sanctions as American meddling in European affairs. Echoing the Russians’ view of Europe, Marine Le Pen’s niece, French parliamentarian Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, called the EU “the poodle of the United States.”

But the infatuation of the Western European far right with Putin is about what it calls “values” as well as the constellation of nationalist issues that coalesce in opposition to the idea, as well as the fact, of “Europe.” Le Pen has gone so far as to call the Russian president a defender of “the Christian heritage of European civilization.”

The Putinist cultural conservatism that the far right admires has been enforced with an iron hand across Russian society. Most notorious is the anti-gay propaganda law passed in June 2013, which allows the government to infringe on LGBT individuals’ rights by banning peaceful demonstrations or imposing hefty fines on same-sex couples who are affectionate in public. The law was widely criticized by Western media, but in Russia, where population decline has reached a critical point, reinvigorating “family values” is high on the government’s agenda. Along with nationalism and law-and-order themes, traditional family values are key to Putin’s broader political ideology of “post-communist neo-conservatism.” To Putin and many Russians who support him, European cultural liberalism that grants equal rights to same-sex couples is not only degenerate, but also a threat to Russia’s survival as a nation.

For Russians, the Austrian bearded lady Conchita Wurst, nom de drag of Tom Neuwirth, whose song won the 2014 Eurovision contest, confirmed what many in the country already suspected: Europe is on a slippery slope toward cultural depravity. Vitaly Milonov, a conservative St. Petersburg politician who sponsored local legislation that laid the groundwork for the federal anti-gay law, urged Russian media to boycott the European song contest, which he called a “Sodom show.” Wurst’s win sparked anger in Russia. Even high-ranking Russian officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, denounced the drag queen for embodying the loose morals that European integration entails.

In the renewed culture war between Western social liberalism and Eastern traditional conservatism for which Conchita Wurst has become a symbol, Europe’s far-right parties have stood with the Russians. In its party program, Austria’s FPÖ defines family as “a partnership between a man and woman with common children.” UKIP’s Nigel Farage has said that gay marriage in France was unnecessary. (But even among the far right, there are exceptions: Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom, styles himself as a promoter of gay rights, which he sees as in line with traditional Dutch values.)

While the romance between Putin and the European far right is passionate right now, a question for both parties to face is how long this relationship can endure—and to what end. The importance of the far right’s gains in May’s European parliamentary elections is easy to overstate: voter turnout was low, the European Parliament is a weak governing body, and even in victory the far right is fractionalized across competing alliances. But the European elections could presage more important shifts in national politics. As Europeans grow more disillusioned with the EU, the far-right parties that have so far been marginal in national elections, like UKIP, could start to gain an audience.

Even if the alliance with Europe’s far right turns out to be transient, it has given the Kremlin a boost during a difficult time. If it turns out to have legs, it may give Putin a more powerful lever for influencing European foreign policy in the long term. With far-right parties on the rise in their own countries, centrist European politicians may eventually be forced to concede ground to anti-European, and now pro-Russian, sentiments if they want to win reelection. Fearing the power of voters aligned with UKIP, FN, and other parties, European leaders may become reluctant to take a strong stance against Russia. And an EU so crippled by inward-looking national politics that it cannot be a counterweight to Russian aggression is exactly what the Kremlin wants. If anti-EU, pro-Russian voices gain a foothold in national governments, a Europe united on foreign policy becomes difficult to imagine.


Where Russia Is Seen as a Buffer Against the U.S.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Orthodox Easter service at the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, on April 16, 2017.

As some Americans worry about alleged undue influence from Russia, many Orthodox Christians are anxious about the inverse

For Americans who worry about Russia’s impact on the United States, recent events have provided plenty of fodder. This week, it was a report claiming that President Trump divulged highly classified intelligence to Russian officials, a disclosure that some say is sure to hurt American interests. Last week, it was the news that Trump had fired James Comey, the FBI director who requested more resources for a probe into Russia’s alleged election meddling. Events like these add to some Americans’ anxiety that Russian influence on the U.S. may be going unchecked.

But across the pond, the anxiety runs in the opposite direction. In many Central and Eastern European countries, people are concerned about America’s influence on Russia and on their own nations—and they want Russia to push back, according to a major new Pew Research Center survey.

The results of the survey—released, by coincidence, just hours after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited the White House and joked about Comey’s firing—reveal that in most nations with Orthodox Christian majorities, Russia is seen as an important buffer against the influence of the West. Because the study was conducted between June 2015 and July 2016, before Trump’s election, it does not capture any shifts in public opinion that his administration may have provoked. Still, the survey offers illuminating insights into how America is perceived, and about how those perceptions correlate with religious identity.

The Pew researchers interviewed more than 25,000 adults in Russia and 17 other countries, from Ukraine and Poland to Bulgaria and Greece. They found that Orthodox Christians make up an estimated 57 percent of those in the region; in Russia, that number rises to 71 percent. The survey also found that the share of the population that identifies as Orthodox has risen dramatically in the region’s largest countries since the fall of the Soviet Union. By contrast, in historically Catholic countries, Catholics have seen declines.

The rise of Orthodox Christianity carries important implications: Those in Orthodox-majority countries are more likely than people elsewhere to be socially conservative, to say they’re very proud of their nationality, to see their culture as superior to others’, and to state that “a strong Russia is necessary to balance the influence of the West,” the survey found. Most people in these nations agreed with that last statement. Even in Greece, 70 percent were on board with it, despite the fact that the country is a member of the European Union.

What it actually means to want Russia to assert its influence as a counterweight to the West, however, is multi-faceted. “The look toward Russia is multi-dimensional: It’s geopolitical, it’s cultural, it’s religious, and it’s also economic,” said Neha Sahgal, one of the study’s lead authors. She explained that Russia’s desire to balance the West on all these fronts appears to stem partly from a perceived values gap—a conflict between the “traditional values” in respondents’ countries and the values of the West.

Economically, the clash is perhaps not so surprising given that many of these countries were previously ruled by communist regimes; ideals of equality still hold sway there. “There’s a deep suspicion with America because there is a real anxiety about full-blown capitalism … and how truly egalitarian it is and whether the Western rat race is all that it’s cracked up to be,” said Brittany Pheiffer Noble, a doctoral candidate in Russian cultural history at Columbia University.

But the perception of clashing values goes beyond different economic models. Pheiffer Noble added that there is a widespread sense among Russians that they are safeguarding civilization, be it through the conservative gender norms and sexual norms they advocate, the literature they produce, or the soldiers they send off to war in every generation. “In Russian culture, they have their canon, and their canon is pretty impressive,” she said. “They’ve got Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. They’ve got iconography. They’ve got the idea of suffering as a cultural value—and they feel like they’re also winning at that.”

Sergei Chapnin, the former editor of the official journal of the Russian Orthodox Church, agreed that many Russians feel their country is both integral to European culture and superior to it. (Indeed, 69 percent say their “culture is superior to others,” the survey shows.) “We have a desire to cooperate with Europe and to call Europe an enemy,” he said. “These exist at the same time in the mass consciousness in Russia.” But he also warned that “politicians manipulate” this psychological tension, appealing sometimes to pro-Western feeling and sometimes to anti-Western feeling, in order to serve their own purposes.

“The system of ‘traditional values’ is a way to find an enemy. ‘Traditionalism versus liberalism’ helps us to fight liberals,” he told me. Although the traditional-values agenda is sometimes framed in terms of positive goals, such as putting a premium on families and childbearing, Chapnin argues it’s more often a negative project that consists of fighting LGBT activists, same-sex marriage activists, and pro-choice activists. And far from being a sincere expression of cherished beliefs, the values agenda is primarily a tool to bolster the 
“anti-Western political rhetoric of the government,” he said.
Interestingly, even as 85 percent of Russians want their country to counterbalance the West, 55 percent agree that their country should work with the U.S. and other Western powers. They don’t see this as a zero-sum game. In 2016, for instance, Lavrov called for long-term cooperation and a “partnership of civilizations” to combat contemporary geopolitical threats like the Islamic State. In fact, majorities in most countries surveyed—including the Orthodox ones that want Russia to serve as a bulwark—also say they believe it’s in their nation’s interest to maintain strong working relationships with the West.

“They understand that they live in a part of the globe where Russia is an excellent ally, and that you basically need to have an ally,” Pheiffer Noble said. Especially for small countries like Moldova and Armenia, this makes sense not only geopolitically, but also economically. “You can’t ship tomatoes or watermelons to America. Ideology is one thing, but unloading a few tons of watermelons is another thing. And where can you do that? Russia is an enormous market.”

But, she added, these countries also understand that “in the global economy, you have to get plugged into the EU.” For young people in particular, this is about mobility; many want to be able to study or work in Western Europe and America.

The study notes that in Catholic-majority and religiously heterogeneous countries, a considerably smaller share of the public agrees that a strong Russia is needed to counter the West—only 42 percent, as opposed to the 66 percent in Orthodox countries. And in Catholic nations, people are more likely to say it’s in their country’s best interest to work with the United States than to say that the U.S. should be countered—as Sahgal put it, “Catholics look West.” It’s a logical choice: Structurally, the Catholic religion is oriented toward the papacy in Rome, and pragmatically, its adherents may feel they can gain more capital (both financial and social) by being perceived as Western.

How would the survey results differ if Pew ran its study today, with Trump as president? “The majority of Russians would say that the West is the enemy,” Chapnin said. “The attitude is still more or less the same.” Pheiffer Noble, for her part, said it’s possible that people would express “much less of an anxiety” about American influence. “Yes, those who are waiting for visas for travel to America are incredibly anxious about Trump. But for people who don’t interact with America in their daily lives, Trump just seems like some strange cherry on the top of a sundae that we ourselves ordered,” she said.

And as for how Russians view their own country’s alleged undue influence on America? “Trump talked so much about Putin on the campaign trail that Russians assume he was blustering and actually had no connection with the Russians,” she said. “If anything, they think Trump’s relationship to Russia is more fabricated than we may find out it is, once we have a new FBI director.”


 Putin's Orthodox Jihad

Yesterday Russia announced a revised military doctrine, signed by President Vladimir Putin, that names NATO as the Kremlin’s main adversary and clarifies that Russia’s military reserves the right to respond to conventional threats with both nuclear and conventional weapons. This is no big change, since it only amplifies existing doctrine, but its explicit emphasis on NATO as the primary threat to Russia’s security has raised Western eyebrows, as intended. Anyone who thought the West, led by the United States, could lay waste to Russia’s economy through sanctions brought about by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, without significant pushback from Moscow, is too naive to deal in such important affairs. The new year promises to be a busy one, with myriad forms of retaliation emanating from Moscow, some possibly very unpleasant, as I recently explained.

My explanation back in March, on the heels of Russia’s theft of Crimea, that we are in Cold War 2.0, whether we like it or not, was dismissed as alarmist by those not well acquainted with Putin and his system, but has been borne out by events over the last nine months. One reason oft-cited by skeptics regarding the state of relations between Russia and the West is the supposed absence of an ideological component to the rivalry, which is a necessary precondition for any reborn Cold War. President Barack Obama has been one of the leading proponents of this hopeful view, stating: “This is not another Cold War that we’re entering into. After all, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations. No global ideology. The United States and NATO do not seek any conflict with Russia.”

As I explained back in April, this view is wrong, and has only gotten wronger over the last several months. In fact, Putin should be seen as the leader of what I termed the Anti-WEIRD Coalition, the vanguard of the diverse movement that is opposed to Western post-modernism in its political and social forms — and particularly to its spread by governments, corporations, NGOs, or the bayonets of the U.S. military. While this should not be seen as any formal alliance, nor is it likely to become one, there exists an agglomeration of countries that are opposed to what the West, and especially America, represent on the world stage, and this was the year that Putin unambiguously took its helm.

What motivates this is a complex question. Putin is a complex character himself, with his worldview being profoundly shaped by his long service as a Soviet secret policeman; he exudes what Russians term Chekism – conspiracy-based thinking that sees plots abounding and is reflexively anti-Western, with heavy doses of machismo and KGB tough-talk. Hence persistent Western efforts to view Putin as any Western sort of democratic politician, albeit one with a strange affectation for judo and odd bare-chested photo-ops with scary wild animals, invariably miss the mark.

This year ending also saw the mask drop regarding Putin’s ideology beyond his bone-deep Chekism. In his fire-breathing speech to the Duma in March when he announced Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin included not just venerable KGB classics like warnings about the Western Fifth Column and “national traitors,” but also paeans to explicit Russian ethnic nationalism buttressed by Orthodox mysticism, with citations of saints from millennia past. This was the culmination of years of increasingly unsubtle hints from Putin and his inner circle that what ideologically motivates this Kremlin is the KGB cult unified with Russian Orthodoxy. Behind the Chekist sword and shield lurks the Third Rome, forming a potent and, to many Russians, plausible worldview. That this take on the planet and its politics is intensely anti-Western needs to be stated clearly.

But what of Putin’s actual beliefs? This knotty question is, strictly speaking, unanswerable, since only he knows his own soul. Putin’s powerful Chekism is beyond doubt, while many Westerners are skeptical that he is any sort of Orthodox believer. According to his own account, Putin’s father was a militant Communist while his mother was a faithful, if quiet, Orthodox believer; one wonders what holidays were like in the Putin household. He was baptized in secret as a child but was not any sort of engaged believer during his KGB service — that would have been impossible, not least due to the KGB’s role in persecuting religion — but by his own account, late in the Soviet period, Putin reconciled his Chekism with his faith by making the sign of the cross over his KGB credentials. By the late 1990’s, Putin was wearing his baptismal cross openly, for all bare-chested photo ops.

The turn to faith in middle-age, after some sort of life crisis, is a staple of conversion and reversion stories. In his last years in power, Saddam Hussein began talking a lot about Islam openly, which was dismissed as political theater in the West, but in retrospect seems to have been at least somewhat sincere. Did Putin opt for Orthodoxy after a mid-life crisis? I am an Orthodox believer myself and, having carefully watched many video clips of Putin in church and at religious events, I can state without reservation that Putin knows what to do. His religious act — kissing icons, lighting candles, interacting with clerics — is flawless, so Putin is either a sincere Orthodox or he has devoted serious study to looking and acting like one.

Whether this faith is genuine or a well-honed pose, Putin’s potent fusion of KGB values and Orthodoxy has been building for years, though few Westerners have noticed. Early in Putin’s years in the Kremlin, the younger generation of Federal Security Service (FSB) officers embraced a nascent ideology they termed “the system” (sistema), which was a sort of elitist Chekism — toughness free of corruption and based in patriotism — updated for the new 21st century. However, this could have limited appeal to the masses, so its place was gradually taken by a doctrine termed “spiritual security.” This involved the ideological fusion of the FSB and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), culminating in the 2002 dedication of an Orthodox church at the Lubyanka, the FSB — and former KGB’s — notorious Moscow headquarters. It suddenly became fashionable for senior FSB officers to have conversion experiences, while “spiritual security” offered Putin’s Russia a way to defend itself against what it has long seen as the encroachment of decadent post-modern Western values. Just how seriously Putin took all this was his statement that Russia’s “spiritual shield” was as important to her security as her nuclear shield.

Nearly all Western experts, being mostly secularists when not atheists, paid no attention to these clear indications of where Putin was taking Russia, while the view of the few who did notice was colored by the perception that this simply had to be a put-up job by the Kremlin. But what if it is not? Skeptics are correct to note that Chekists have had a toxic and convoluted relationship with the ROC ever since Stalin, that failed Orthodox seminarian, resurrected the remnants of the Church, what little had survived vicious Bolshevik persecution, during the darkest days of the Great Patriotic War to buttress the regime with faith and patriotism — all tightly controlled by the secret police. There was the rub. Under the Soviets, all senior ROC appointments were subject to Chekist review, while nobody became a bishop without the KGB having some kompromat on him. This was understood by all, including the fact that a distressing number of ROC senior clerics were actual KGB agents. It’s not surprising that Putin omits from his CV that he worked for a time in the KGB’s Fifth Directorate, which supervised religious bodies, leading some to speculate that Putin’s relationship with certain ROC bishops extends deep into the late Soviet period.

The ROC is not Russia’s state religion, as Putin and top bishops have been at pains to state, but it cannot be denied that the Moscow Patriarchate’s close ties to the Kremlin grant it a very special relationship with Putinism. Whether this actually is symphonia, meaning the Byzantine-style unity of state and church which is something of an Orthodox ideal, in stark contrast to American notions of separation of church and state, remains to be seen, but Orthodoxy has become the close political and ideological partner of the Kremlin in recent years, a preferred vehicle for explicit anti-Western propaganda.

ROC agitprop, which has Kremlin endorsement, depicts a West that is declining down to its death at the hands of decadence and sin, mired in confused unbelief, bored and failing to even reproduce itself. Patriarch Kirill, head of the church, recently explained that the “main threat” to Russia is “the loss of faith” in the Western style, while ROC spokesmen constantly denounce feminism and the LGBT movement as Satanic creations of the West that aim to destroy faith, family, and nation. It is in this context that Putin’s comments at last year’s Valdai Club event ought to be seen:
Another serious challenge to Russia’s identity is linked to events taking place in the world. Here there are both foreign policy and moral aspects. 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. 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.
The excesses of political correctness have reached the point where people are seriously talking about registering political parties whose aim is to promote pedophilia. People in many European countries are embarrassed or afraid to talk about their religious affiliations. Holidays are abolished or even called something different; their essence is hidden away, as is their moral foundation. And people are aggressively trying to export this model all over the world. I am convinced that this opens a direct path to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis.

This week the ideological ante was upped by the Kremlin with the comments of Fr. Vsevolod Chaplin, a media gadfly cleric, who gave a very long newspaper interview in which he castigated, among other things, radical Islam, usury, and the West generally, but it was his comments on the current conflict with America that got all the attention. Chaplin minced no words, proclaiming that Russia’s God-given goal today is halting the global “American project.” As he explained:
It is no coincidence that we have often, at the price of our own lives … stopped all global projects that disagreed with our conscience, with our vision of history and, I would say, with God’s own truth .. Such was Napoleon’s project, such was Hitler’s project. We will stop the American project too.”
Chaplin added the usual tropes about Western decadence compared to Russian spiritual strength, waxing nationalist and Orthodox in a manner much like Putin has done many times. This interview was viewed as strange by most Westerners, but it must be realized that Chaplin, for all his inflammatory statements, is hardly some lone cleric talking crazy. He is the official spokesman of the Moscow Patriarchate who has a very close relationship with Patriarch Kirill; he appears in the media regularly and has received a raft of decorations from the ROC and the Russian state.

The forty-six year old Chaplin regularly makes statements that reflect a patriotic and religiously hardline stance on, well, everything. To cite only a few of his utterances to the media, Chaplin recently denounced a Hobbit movie promotion in Moscow as a Satanic symbol that would bring evil to the city; he stated that the Pussy Riot case was proof that “The West gives its support to divide the people of Russia”; he advocated a national dress code for Russia, citing rising immorality (“It is wrong to think that women should decide themselves what they can wear in public places or at work … If a woman dresses like a prostitute, her colleagues must have the right to tell her that.”); and he has been particularly vocal in his opposition to Western-backed homosexuality: “it is one of the gravest sins because it changes people’s mental state, makes the creation of a normal family impossible, and corrupts the younger generation. By the way, it is no accident that the propaganda of this sin is targeted at young people and sometimes at children. It deprives people of eternal bliss.”

Chaplin’s biggest theme is that the decadent, post-modern West, led by the frankly Satanic United States — whose separation of church and state, per Chaplin, constitutes “a monstrous phenomenon that has occurred only in Western civilization and will kill the West, both politically and morally” — has no future. According to the ROC, speaking through its spokesman, the triumph of same-sex marriage means that the West doesn’t even have fifty years left before its collapse, and it will be up to Russia then to save what can be saved, to “make Europe Christian again, that is, go back to the ideals that once made Europe.”

While it is tempting to dismiss such talk as ravings, even when they come from the official spokesman of Putin’s own church, they have deep resonance with more serious thinkers whom Putin admires. Ivan Ilyin, a Russian philosopher who fled the Bolsheviks and died in Swiss exile, was reburied at Moscow’s famous Donskoy monastery in 2005 with public fanfare; Putin personally paid for Ilyin’s new headstone. Despite the fact that even Kremlin outlets note the importance of Ilyin to Putin’s worldview, not enough Westerners have paid attention.

They should. A devout Orthodox, Ilyin espoused a unique vision, a Slavophile take on modernity and Russia’s predicament under the militant atheists. He espoused ethnic-religious neo-traditionalism, amidst much talk about a unique “Russian soul.” Of greatest relevance today, he believed that Russia would recover from the Bolshevik nightmare and rediscover itself, first spiritually then politically, thereby saving the world. Ilyin’s take on responsibility for Bolshevism — and its cure — merits examination, as he explained:
The West exported this anti-Christian virus to Russia … Having lost our bond with God and the Christian Tradition, mankind has been morally blinded, gripped by materialism, irrationalism and nihilism … In order to overcome the global moral crisis, we have to return to eternal moral values, that is faith, love, freedom, conscience, family, motherland and nation, but above all faith and love.
Although Ilyin died sixty years ago, he remains to his admirers “the prophet of the new Orthodox Russia which is being born and which alone can give the contemporary world a viable future, providing that it is given time to grow to fruition in contemporary Russia.” As Ilyin wrote to a friend near the end of his life, when the fall of Communism was still decades off:
What are we to do, squeezed between Catholics, Freemasons and Bolsheviks? I answer: Stand firm, standing up with your left hand, which goes from the heart, for Christ the Lord, for His undivided tunic, and, with your right hand, fight to the end for Orthodoxy and Orthodox Russia. And, above all, vigilantly watch those groups which are preparing for Antichrist. All of this – even if we are threatened by apparent complete powerlessness and total solitude.
The sort of uncompromising faith Ilyin stood for, which bears little similarity to Western Christianity much less to post-modern notions of “tolerance,” is made abundantly clear in his numerous writings and speeches. Of particular interest is a speech Ilyin gave in 1925, extolling Lavr Kornilov, a White Russian general who fell in the struggle against Bolshevism (and, not coincidentally, exactly the sort of Orthodox-believing yet non-noble White counter-revolutionary figure much admired by Putin). Ilyin defined what Russia and Orthodoxy now needed: “This idea is more than a single man, more than a feat of one hero. This idea is great as Russia and the sacred as her religion. This is the idea of the Orthodox sword.” He cited the fatal shortcomings of pre-revolutionary Russia as “limp sentimentality, spiritual nihilism and moral pedantry,” and to counter those Russia needed a strong dose of fighting faith. As Ilyin explained:
In calling to love our enemies, Christ had in mind personal enemies of man, not God’s enemies, and not blaspheming molesters, for them drowning with a millstone around their neck was recommended. Urging to forgive injuries, Christ was referring to personal insults to a person, not all possible crimes; no one has the right to forgive the offenses suffered by others or provide for the villains to offend the weak, corrupt children, desecrate churches and destroy the Fatherland. So therefore a Christian is called not only to forgive offenses, but to fight the enemies of God’s work on earth. The evangelical commandment of “non-resistance to evil” teaches humility and generosity in personal matters, and not limpness of will, not cowardice, not treachery and not obedience to evildoers.
This is the vision — uncompromising faith and patriotism, without any sentimentality or weakness — that animates Russia’s holy warriors today, from Fr. Chaplin, and perhaps Vladimir Putin too, on down. Russian Orthodoxy’s church militant is a special breed that tends to mystify Westerners. Certainly the West finds the motley crew of Kremlin-backed Orthodox adventurers and mercenaries battling in the Donbass to be equal parts comical and sinister, yet they have an ideology which they hardly hide. As an Orthodox priest ministering to Russian fighters in Donetsk explained a few months ago — a bearded cleric and tough veteran of the Soviet Afghan war, he is a creature straight out of Ilyin’s dreams — what they are battling against is not the Ukrainian government, nor American neoconservatives, rather the Devil himself. The goal of Moscow’s enemy, as he elaborated, is perfectly clear to the eyes of faith:
The establishment of planetary Satanic rule. What’s occurring here is the very beginning of a global war. Not for resources or territory, that’s secondary. This is a war for the destruction of true Christianity, Orthodoxy. The worldview of the wealthiest men who own almost all the material goods in the world is Satanism. Having summoned the elements of the First and Second World Wars and a Third Information War, and having laid hundreds of millions of the slain at the altar of their father, Satan, they have initiated the Fourth World War. They are intentionally hastening the reign of Antichrist.
As with Vsevolod Chaplin, it’s tempting to dismiss all this as the ravings of a lone nut, but these are no longer fringe views in Putin’s Russia. Jihad is not a word to be used lightly, given its sinister connotations to the West after 9/11, but this bears more than a little resemblance to Holy War in a Russian and Orthodox variant. Whether Putin really believes all this may be immaterial, since his regime has created and nurtured a virulent ideology, an explosive amalgam of xenophobia, Chekism and militant Orthodoxy which justifies the Kremlin’s actions and explains why the West must be opposed at all costs. Given the economic crisis that Russia now finds itself in, thanks to Western sanctions, during the long and cold winter now starting, we ought to expect more, not fewer, Russians turning to this worldview which resonates with their nation’s history and explains the root of their suffering.

We perhaps should be grateful that the Orthodox Jihad rejects suicide bombings. In the 1930’s, Romania’s fascist Legionary Movement, led by the charismatic Orthodox revolutionary Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, toyed with what terrorism mavens today might term “martyrdom operations,” but these never really caught on. Orthodoxy frowns on suicide, even in a just cause. That, at least, is the good news.

The bad news, however, is that Putin’s uncompromising worldview has more than a few admirers in the West, far beyond the Orthodox realm. Many who reject Moscow’s quasi-religious mysticism nevertheless admire its willingness to take on America directly and offer a counterpoint to armed post-modernism in world affairs. As I’ve previously explained, many European far-right parties have quite a crush on the man in the Kremlin, perhaps due to the money he gives them, but the sincerity of some of the admiration is not in question. In France, Marine Le Pen is leading her National Front to ever-greater heights of political power, and her affection for Putin is unconcealed. “In Russia today there is a mix of exalting nationalism, exalting the church and Christian values,” explained a French politico: “They are now replacing the red star with the cross, and they are representing themselves as the ultimate barrier against the Islamization of the continent.” Since it is far from impossible that Le Pen will be president of France someday, the implications of all this for NATO and the West merit serious consideration.

It would be supremely ironic if the last defender of Europe and European values comes from the East, from a Kremlin controlled by a former KGB officer who mourns the collapse of the Soviet Union yet has rediscovered traditional faith and family values. As discontentment with American-led Europe spreads, the Russian option may look plausible to more Europeans, worried about immigration, identity, and the collapse of their values and economies, than Americans might imagine. Ivan Ilyin, however, might not be surprised by this strange turn of events in the slightest.


Putin puts fear of God in New World Order,c_limit/vladimir-putin-evil.jpg

In the wake of Crimea's independence referendum, Hillary Clinton says Russian President Putin is a "new Hitler."  Zbigniew Brezezinski, former National Security Advisor agrees, calling Putin not just another Hitler, but also a thug, a menace, a Mafia gangster, and a Mussolini. The Western mainstream media echoes this childish name-calling.
Why is the whole Western foreign policy establishment so afraid of Putin?
Because Putin is standing up against Western aggression – not only in Ukraine, but also in Syria and Iran. Ongoing Western attempts to destabilize these and other countries are just the most recent examples of a decades-old pattern of aggression. The long-term goal: Total destruction of traditional nations and values, and the creation of a New World Order global dictatorship.
Since the 1953 CIA-MI6 coup in Iran, the West has been using the same formula to overthrow legitimate but uncooperative leaders:  First, sabotage the country's economy. Then bribe corrupt military officers and thugs and pay rent-a-mobs to create chaos in the streets. Next (this step is optional) incite violence by paying snipers to fire into crowds – and maybe set off some bombs. Finally, send the corrupt military units and gangsters to overthrow the target nation's legitimate leader, murder or imprison his supporters, install a Western puppet in his place – and announce that "order has been restored."
The CIA did it to Iran's democratically-elected Prime Minister Mossadegh in 1953, to Indonesia's President Sukarno in 1965, and to Chile's Prime Minister Allende on September 11th, 1973. They did the same thing to Ukraine's legitimate president, Viktor Yanukovych, a few weeks ago. Neocon regime-change apparatchik Victoria Nuland (The assistant US secretary of state,) got caught admitting that the US had spent five billion dollars to overthrow Ukraine's democratically-elected government; and EU Foreign Affairs Chief Catherine Ashton was heard on tape discussing the "news" that the Maidan Square snipers were part of the US-sponsored coup.
The people of Ukraine should be worried. US-sponsored coups can turn very bloody very quickly.
The CIA's 1965 Indonesia coup was one of the biggest holocausts in history. According to Princeton history professor Bradley Simpson, as cited by the Jakarta Globe: "The US and British governments did everything in their power to ensure that the Indonesian army would carry out the mass killings" of more than one million people following the coup against Sukarno. Most of the victims were tortured before they were murdered. The list of names of people to be tortured and murdered was provided by the CIA to their hired Indonesian thugs. While this was going on, five-year-old Barrack Obama was living in Indonesia with his stepfather Lolo Soetoro, who was working for the American mass murderers.
That's right: Obama's stepfather was a holocaust perpetrator.
In 1971, following the CIA's coup in Chile, the American stooge Pinochet murdered 3,000 people and tortured 30,000. These actions were fully supported by Pinochet's American sponsors, who trained and paid the thugs and torturers. The hecatomb in Syria, too, is best understood as yet another US-sponsored coup attempt.
The NWO-driven Americans and their Western allies have killed tens of millions in these coups, interventions, destabilization campaigns, and undeclared wars. According to André Vltchek and Noam Chomsky's book On Western Terrorism, the total number killed is over 50 million since World War  II. If we add to this the number of people tortured, brutalized, falsely imprisoned, forced to become refugees, or who had their lives ruined by Western terrorism, the number of victims reaches the hundreds of millions.
Today, the American terrorists and their NATO allies seem less interested in installing puppet governments than in reducing entire nations to chaos. The CIA-NATO coup against Gaddafi has destroyed Libya as a modern nation-state. Western-backed false-flag terror in Iraq is splitting up that country. Syria is being decimated by a Western-backed attempt to overthrow Assad. Venezuela, too, is being destabilized by a CIA-backed coup effort.
In short, the New World Order – a shadowy group of global banking oligarchs bent on establishing a one-world dictatorship – is trying to overthrow every leader on earth who resists. Russian President Putin is resisting. That is why the Western propaganda machine is calling him names. It is worth noting that Russia and Iran – the two nations most successfully resisting NWO regime change – are doing so in the name of God.
According to Catholic intellectual E. Michael Jones, the 1979 Iranian Revolution was the opening salvo of a global backlash against secularism's destruction of traditional values. Like the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan (driven by Americans' disgust with the so-called sexual revolution) and the rise of Poland's Solidarity movement (which opposed communist atheism), the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran was a landmark event signaling an end to the 20th-century wave of militant secularism and atheism – and a revival of traditional religion.
President Putin enjoys overwhelming popularity in Russia due to his defense of traditional religious values. In his State of the Nation address last December, Putin said: "Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values… Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan."
Putin's reference to Satanism was a pointed rebuke to the New World Order elites, who – though they push militant secularism on the societies they are trying to undermine – are closet Satanists. Anyone who doubts this should run the name "Lt. Col. Michael Aquino" through a search engine. Aquino, an avowed Satanist and credibly-accused mass child abuser, was rewarded for his crimes against children with an appointment as Chief of Psychological Warfare for the US military. (For background on the satanic international banking elite, and its near-total control of Western institutions, read Nick Bryant's book The Franklin Scandal alongside the work of Canadian scholar Henry Makow.)
The shock troops of the NWO's war against religion and tradition (and Russia and Iran) are the neoconservatives. Operation Gladio terrorist Michael Ledeen explains: "Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our society and abroad. We tear down the old order every day, from business to science, literature, art, architecture, and cinema to politics and the law. Our enemies have always hated this whirlwind of energy and creativity which menaces their traditions (whatever they may be) and shames them for their inability to keep pace ... We must destroy them to advance our historic mission."
Putin is stopping New World Order "creative destruction" in Syria and Ukraine. He is part of a growing coalition opposing the NWO – not just religious traditionalists, but also progressive anti-globalization forces, including Hugo Chavez inspired anti-imperialists in Latin America. We are facing an epic struggle between those who espouse sacred values such as justice and decency versus those who wish to destroy all values. God bless President Putin, who is putting the fear of God into the New World Order.


How Russia Became the Middle East’s New Power Broker

On the morning of January 11, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar climbed up the companionway of an aircraft carrier floating off the Mediterranean port of Tobruk. As a Marine band played and an honor guard presented arms, an admiral in a white full-dress uniform greeted the Libyan strongman, who was a senior commander in the U.S.-backed rebel forces that ousted the dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011. After the welcoming ceremony, the 73-year-old Haftar, an American citizen who for many years lived in the United States, was escorted below decks for a secure video conference with the Middle East’s most energetic foreign power broker. The official topic was battling terrorists. But both sides knew the unofficial agenda was something else: how to boost Haftar’s power as he tries to defeat a weak, U.N.-backed government in Tripoli. Haftar has close ties in Washington, but his hosts in January were not American. Rather, he was aboard the Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia’s only aircraft carrier, and his interlocutor was Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Like a growing number of leaders in the Middle East, Haftar has a new set of friends in Moscow. After three decades on the sidelines, Russia is once again a major player in the region. In the last six months alone, the country has altered the course of the Syrian civil war and taken control of the peace process, forged a close relationship with Turkey’s strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and has been courting traditional U.S. allies such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and even Israel. And over the past two years, Russian President Vladimir Putin has received the leaders of Middle Eastern states 25 times—five more than former U.S. President Barack Obama, according to a Newsweek analysis of presidential meetings.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, left, Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev, center, and Russia's President Vladimir Putin, right, during a working dinner at the Heydar Aliyev Center. Alexei Nikolsky/TASS/Getty

For decades, Washington has tried to plant democracies in much of the world, including the Middle East. But that plan appears to have withered under Obama and current U.S. President Donald Trump. With the imperfect exception of Tunisia, the Arab Spring did not bring democracy to the Middle East. It instead allowed instability and extremism to flourish in countries including Egypt, Libya and Syria. Western intervention in Libya and Yemen—together with the involvement of Iran and a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen—helped produce failed states that are still mired in civil wars. Backing the Syrian rebels and insisting that autocratic President Bashar al-Assad shouldn’t stay allowed Syria’s civil war to drag on, or even intensify—fueling the rise of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). And a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians—a longstanding goal of U.S. foreign policy—now seems further away than ever. After Obama’s two terms, only last year's historic Iran nuclear deal, which curbed Tehran's nuclear program in return for lifting sanctions, remains as the lone regional success story—and even that looks shaky under the new administration.

“Obama’s entire policy in the Middle East has failed,” says Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the Russian Duma’s committee on foreign affairs. “The powerlessness and the lack of results are evident.”

Observing the U.S.’s setbacks, the Kremlin sensed an opportunity. For Moscow, the advantages of clawing back some of the Soviet Union’s old influence in the Middle East are manifold: Russia can continue empire-building and projecting its growing global influence and military heft; it can also gather diplomatic bargaining chips to exchange for softening of Western sanctions imposed after the 2014 annexation of Crimea—or for future use in negotiations with the West.

“First and foremost this is a question of regaining our strategic influence,” Senator Oleg Morozov, a member of Russia’s Federation Council international affairs committee, tells Newsweek. Or, as Dmitri Trenin, director of Moscow’s Carnegie Center, puts it: “The goal of [Putin’s] foreign policy is to restore Russia as a global major power. For him to be able to operate in the Middle East, in competition with the U.S., is a badge of [being] a major power. That is what Russia did in Syria.”

But perhaps more important than either of these goals—and a motivation little understood in the West—is Moscow’s desire to protect Russia from radical Islamist terrorism, the fear of which helped Putin ascend to power during the brutal wars in Russia’s North Caucasus in the 1990s. Russia’s homegrown insurgencies shaped its politics so that the Kremlin—and many Russians—favors order over personal rights and freedoms. After watching the U.S. a decade later try to import democracy to Iraq and Libya, only to see them crumble into civil strife, Putin saw a stark choice: Outside powers could side with strong regimes, however ruthless they might be, or the world will witness what he called “the destruction of state systems and the rise of terrorism.”
As ISIS grew more influential in Syria, so did Putin’s mistrust of Western efforts to combat the militant group. In mid-September 2015, Russia’s security services announced that there were at least 2,500 Russian nationals fighting for ISIS. In Putin’s eyes this was enough to make the survival and success of Assad’s regime a matter of national security for Russia. “Our main aim in Syria is to make sure that our citizens who went out there [to fight with ISIS] never come back,” says Vyacheslav Nikonov, a Duma member. “For Russia, intervention in the Middle East is a matter of defending our own security. All the rest is details.”
As the U.S. pulled back from costly interventions in the Middle East, Putin sensed an opportunity to make new allies and fight extremism—and restore Russia as a major global power. Corey Jackson for Newsweek

Defensive or not, Russia’s return to the Middle East has proved a stunning, sudden success—and a setback to American power and prestige. Up until recently the U.S. had no real diplomatic or military rival in the Middle East. Now, as Trump begins his presidency with promises of wiping out ISIS, there are Russian planes in the air and troops on the ground in Syria; battleships off the coast of Libya; and Moscow’s friends occupy—or are in line to occupy—presidential palaces from Tripoli to Damascus. Any time Trump makes a move in the Middle East, he’ll have to ask himself: What will Putin think of this? No other recent American president had that problem.
Power and Paranoia

For much of the Cold War, the Middle East was as much Moscow’s turf as it was Washington’s. The Soviet Union was the self-declared champion of proletarian revolution around the world. The anti-Western, strongly socialist Arab nationalism of Egyptian President Gamal Nasser gave Moscow an opening to spread its influence over the Arab world. After Nasser’s defeat of the region’s old colonial masters—Britain and France—in the 1956 Suez Crisis, Russian arms and money began pouring into the region. Soviet engineers dammed the Nile at Aswan, and helped construct modern cities in Baath Party-run Syria and Iraq. At the same time, an entire generation of Arab officers, doctors and professionals studied in Moscow—including future Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Haftar, who received training in the Soviet Union in the 1970s after graduating from Benghazi Military Academy. KGB generals helped build the security services of Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq and Syria in the image of the Soviet secret police.

Anxious to stop the Communist domino effect in the Middle East, Washington threw money at the problem. Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt—after Nasser’s fall—became major recipients of U.S. military aid. Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, hosted American planes, warships and, most controversially, Jupiter medium-range missiles—a deployment that prompted the Soviets to place rockets in Cuba, nearly triggering nuclear war in October 1962.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Moscow’s friends in the region clung to power, maintaining a stoutly anti-Western crescent from Libya to Syria despite the lack of Russian rubles. Then, one by one, Moscow’s clients began to fall. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein—who had at times received U.S. support—was the first to go, ousted in 2003 by what Russia described as naked American aggression. A decade later, the 2011 Arab Spring claimed Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Throughout this period, parallel waves of revolt in the former Soviet Union—the so-called Color Revolutions—also ousted pro-Russian governments in Serbia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia. In 2011, the yearning for greater democracy even reached Moscow, where 100,000 people poured into the streets to protest Putin’s return for a third presidential term.

For Americans, the series of protests seemed to mark a triumph of democracy and people-power. But for Russians, the Arab Spring appeared to be part of a Washington-orchestrated campaign to destroy any leader who dared to oppose the U.S.—including Putin. His approval rating slid to a historic low (63 percent) as protest leaders, who spoke of European liberalism and rapprochement with the U.S., seemed genuine contenders for power.

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan as Azeri President Ilkham Aliyev looks on during the 23rd World Energy Congress on October 10, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty

In Putin’s eyes, “[Cairo’s] Tahrir Square and [Kiev’s] Maidan are all part of the same conspiracy against Russia,” says one senior Western diplomat in Moscow who was not authorized to speak on the record. “We dismissed that as paranoia. It is paranoia. But they believe it.”

Throughout this period, Russia regularly protested—and was regularly ignored—at the U.N., in futile attempts to prevent the bombing of Belgrade in 1999 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The U.S. overrode Moscow both times. It was only by cosying up to Iran that Russia got Washington’s attention. In the late 1990s, Moscow helped Tehran develop the Shahab-3 intermediate-range ballistic missile and later began to build Bushehr, Iran’s first nuclear power plant. From 2008 onward, as the White House inched toward a deal to persuade Tehran to give up its nuclear weapons program, Russia began to play the role of an honest broker.

“Americans realized they needed our help with Iran,” says former Russian Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko, who was the head of the Rosatom state nuclear energy corporation during the key Iran negotiations. “The Iranians trusted us. We were their guarantee of security.”

At the same time, Russia was also inserting itself, steadily and quietly, into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Moscow’s key ally was Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who earned a doctorate at the Peoples' Friendship University in Moscow in the 1970s. Israeli researchers, citing documents that KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin smuggled out of Russia in 1991, have claimed that Abbas was recruited by the Soviet security service under the code name “Krotov”—although Palestinian officials dismissed the allegation as an Israeli smear. Agent or not, Abbas “likes the Russians, he wants to please them,” says Ziad Abu Zayyad, a former Palestinian minister and negotiator. When Putin visited Bethlehem during a 2012 trip to the West Bank, Abbas gave him a plot of land—now a Russian cultural center; that year, he named streets in Bethlehem and Jericho after Putin and his predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev.

Running in parallel with these grand, public gestures of friendship is a quieter and constant diplomatic campaign in the region. Spearheading Moscow’s outreach is a bespectacled, Arabic-speaking, 64-year-old career diplomat named Mikhail Bogdanov, who has been Putin’s special envoy to the Middle East since 2012. A former ambassador to Syria, Egypt and Israel, Bogdanov has played a key role in winning friends and influencing people, from Egypt’s president and military strongman, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to Libya’s Haftar.

America’s steady disengagement from the Middle East under Obama helped Bogdanov. The White House had good reason to step back from the region: The president wanted to wind down unpopular American military interventions. At the same time, America was becoming less dependent on Middle Eastern oil thanks to a domestic shale gas revolution that has transformed the U.S. into an energy-exporting country. But one unintended consequence was to allow Bogdanov to strike deals from Ramallah to Cairo and Benghazi, Libya.

“The nature of the Russian regime’s foreign policy is extreme pragmatism, the absence of ideology and the attempt to deal with all the main players in a region,” says Nikolay Kozhanov, former attaché at Russia’s embassy in Tehran, now with U.K. think tank Chatham House. “So this should be considered as the main principle of Russia’s strategy and its main advantage in the Middle East.”

Unlike his American counterparts, Putin didn’t lecture Egypt and Syria on democracy and human rights. “Russia saw an opportunity in Egypt because the U.S. has pushed for a reform environment since the Arab Spring,” says Steve Seche, a former State Department official and U.S. ambassador to Yemen. The Russian president was also ready to sell cheap arms to regional powers. Moscow has sold $4 billion worth of weapons to Egypt since 2012, and began talks with Iran over a $10 billion deal in November 2016. But two crises took the Middle East from the sidelines of Russian foreign policy to front and center: Russia’s annexation of Crimea in February 2014, which put Moscow in direct conflict with the West, and, a year later, the war in Syria, which offered Putin an opportunity to make sure Russia would become one of the primary power brokers in the Middle East.

Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the military leader of the Libyan National Army and Libya's parallel parliament based in the eastern city of Tobruk, is greeted upon his arrival at Al-Kharouba airport south of the town of al-Marj, about 80 km east of the Mediterranean port city of Benghazi on December 3, 2016 after his visit in Russia. Abdullah Doma/AFP/Getty
The Damascus Gambit

On September 30, 2015, Putin ordered a squadron of Russian jets to deploy to the Hmeymim airbase near Latakia, a stronghold of Assad loyalists. It was Russia’s first military deployment outside the former borders of the Soviet Union since Moscow’s disastrous 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. Within days, some 30 Russian warplanes had already begun to turn the war in Assad’s favor.

Though the deployment was tiny, it was a pivotal moment for Moscow’s foreign policy. Suddenly, Russian planes were flying in the same airspace as those of America and its allies, who were battling ISIS. At home, Kommersant radio claimed the Syrian people were hailing Putin as “Caesar,” while daily weather reports on Russian news began featuring the bombing conditions over Syria. By the end of 2016, Russia’s defense ministry boasted that its jets had performed 30,000 sorties and hit 62,000 targets. The U.S.-led coalition, by contrast, flew 135,000 missions against ISIS in Syria and Iraq between 2014 and the end of January 2017 but damaged fewer than 32,000 targets. The main reason: what the coalition says are strict rules to limit civilian casualties. In January, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter complained that Russia’s air war has done “zero” to degrade ISIS. Whatever the impact of the Russian air campaign, most agree it has helped deplete U.S.-backed rebel forces and allowed Assad to regain control of the strategically vital city of Aleppo.

Senator Oleg Morozov, a member of Russia’s Federation Council international affairs committee, says Putin “had no choice other than to step in. It’s not so much that we need Assad in place—but we need some kind of stability in Syria. If we had allowed Assad to fall, that would have been the end of our influence on the Middle East.” Either way, the Syria campaign quickly became Putin’s symbolic rebuke, says Trenin, to Obama’s claims a year prior that Russia was just a “regional power” and a “desperate” one at that.

The symbolic peak of Russia’s self-appointed role as Syria’s “savior” came on May 5, 2016, just days after Assad’s troops backed by Russian special forces and close air support seized the ancient city of Palmyra from ISIS—though most Russian airstrikes were against U.S.-backed rebel groups in the center of the country. Moscow flew in its greatest conductor, Valery Gergiev, and his Mariinsky Symphony Orchestra to play before an audience of international journalists in the ancient theater at Palmyra, which ISIS had previously used as a venue for public executions. A publicity stunt, sure—but an immensely effective one.

Russian president Vladimir Putin addresses the musicians and audience via a video link between Moscow, Russia, and Palmyra, Syria, during a concert by Mariinsky Theatre Symphony Orchestra at the ancient Roman amphitheater in the town of Palmyra on May 5, 2016. Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS/Getty

Russia's success in Palmyra didn't last long—but that didn't seem to matter: In December, seven months after the Russian orchestra played, cameras and—most importantly—troops left, and ISIS retook the city. The Kremlin blamed lack of cooperation from the U.S. for the defeat and Moscow has seldom mentioned Palmyra since. But now with Aleppo in regime hands and the peace process being run by Moscow, the new U.S. administration has little influence on the Syrian endgame either diplomatically or on the ground. “What can we do to counter it?” a State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, tells Newsweek . “[Russia has] become very influential in Syria because they have elected to engage in behavior which, in any other part of the world, would be condemned as war crimes.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he addresses students during his visit to the German Embassy School in Moscow, Russia, on June 29, 2016. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Reuters
Enemies With Benefits

Over the past 18 months, Russia’s successful intervention in Syria supercharged Moscow’s position in the region. The Kremlin’s unlikely new best friend is Turkey, a NATO member and centuries-old foe of Russia. Just a year ago, when Turkey shot down a Russian plane after a 17-second incursion into Turkish airspace, Putin was furious; in retaliation, he ordered the suspension of Russian charter tourist flights to Turkey and imposed sanctions on Turkish goods. Since then two things have transformed the relationship between Moscow and Ankara—Assad’s victory in Aleppo, and the failed July coup that prompted Erdogan to initiate a purge of his opponents, earning criticism from the U.S. and Europe alike. In response to stinging rebukes from his one-time allies in Brussels and Washington, Erdogan has turned to his “friend Vladimir” in Russia. “Without Russia it is impossible to find a solution to the problems in Syria,” Erdogan said in August, in a Russian TV interview before visiting Putin in St. Petersburg. “The axis of friendship between Moscow and Ankara will be restored.”

At the same time, Erdogan acknowledged that his relationship with Obama was “disappointing.” The Obama administration refused to cease support for Kurdish anti-ISIS fighters in northern Syria and it has declined to extradite Fethullah Gülen, a U.S.-based cleric who is an Erdogan foe, to Turkey. As a result, Turkish officials have openly questioned America’s use of the strategic Incirlik base in Adana, near the Syrian border. Erdogan has urged Turkish politicians to re-evaluate their “fixation” with the EU and instead consider joining the Chinese-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which Moscow also favors. In January, for the first time, Russian and Turkish warplanes participated in joint airstrikes against ISIS. The new friendship may be “transactional,” says Fadi Hakura, head of the Turkey Project at Chatham House, but it suits both countries. Erdogan wants to “increase the distance between Washington and Ankara”—something Russia is only too keen to encourage on the time-honored principle that my enemy’s enemy is my friend.

Russia’s friendship with one of the region’s other major powers, Iran, may have begun as an alliance of outcasts—but it now appears formidable. Tehran has joined Moscow in taking control of the Syrian peace process, becoming joint arbiters of talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, in January that outlined a roadmap to peace and a new constitution for Syria that will inevitably reflect Assad’s military victories on the ground. Russian arms supplies—including an S-300 anti-aircraft missile system delivered last year—have helped Tehran keep up with massive military spending by its regional rivals Israel and Saudi Arabia. In exchange, Iran gave Russia temporary access to its Hamadan air base for raids on Syria and allowed Moscow to fire cruise missiles from warships in the Caspian Sea over its territory en route to Aleppo. And most crucially, says Sir Richard Dalton, a former British ambassador to Iran, by keeping Assad in power, Russia helped Tehran maintain “an axis of resistance against Israel and the United States.”

While Iran has not been a U.S. ally for decades, Cairo has long been a key military, intelligence and diplomatic partner for Washington. As the recipient of the second-largest amount of U.S. military aid, Egypt continued this partnership even when relations with Obama strained following Sisi’s power grab in 2013. While close ties with Washington have been maintained since then, Egypt has also acknowledged Moscow’s new-found status by hosting an air drill for Russia last year—the Kremlin’s first such exercise in Africa. Last November, Egypt also signaled its support for Putin by becoming one of only four countries to support Russia’s resolution on Syria in the United Nations. Moscow, in turn, has pushed to lift U.N. sanctions on Libya, where Haftar, Sisi’s ally, is still vying to become the country’s military strongman. “Putin will undertake to revoke [sanctions],” Haftar told reporters after his video conference in January with Shoigu on Russia’s aircraft carrier.

A civil defence member reacts at a site hit by what activists said were three consecutive air strikes carried out by the Russian air force, the last which hit an ambulance, in the rebel-controlled area of Maaret al-Numan town in Idlib province, Syria, on January 12, 2016. Khalil Ashawi/Reuters

Putin has even achieved new levels of friendship with Israel, Washington’s closest and most important ally in the Middle East. Russian jets now operate within reach of the Golan Heights, a contested territory that Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 War and now divides the two countries. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has visited Putin in Moscow three times since September 2015 — more than he has visited Obama, with whom he had a notoriously rancorous relationship. Medvedev traveled to Israel in November last year to mark 25 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries, and to boost trade. Netanyahu is obviously concerned about Russia’s cooperation with two of Israel’s main enemies, Iran and the Lebanon-based Shiite militia Hezbollah. He hopes to harness Russian influence with Israel’s enemies to his benefit, and, so far, Moscow has not objected when Israel has conducted strikes against Hezbollah in Syria. But Netanyahu had concerns about the U.S., too: Obama overruled Israeli objections to a nuclear deal with Iran and pressured the Israeli leader to stop settlement building in the West Bank, a main obstacle to reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians. On February 2, the White House press secretary Sean Spicer echoed Obama’s policy, saying “ the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving” peace.

Russia, on the other hand, makes no such tiresome demands of Israel. After Washington set sanctions on Russia following the annexation of Crimea, Putin has been pushing to make all the friends he can get in the region in order to “develop a second front,” says Zvi Magen, former Israeli ambassador to Russia. Putin “needs more leverage with the West.… One [such lever], the new one, is the Israeli-Palestinian process.” After Putin and Netanyahu’s third meeting in Moscow in June—in which the Russian leader called Israel an “unconditional” ally—Russia offered to host peace negotiations in Moscow between Netanyahu and Abbas. In this blossoming relationship, based on pragmatism, both leaders saw an opportunity: for Netanyahu, a pivot from the Obama administration; for Putin, a challenge to Washington’s leadership. There’s a lot of win-win situations developing in the Middle East right now. Unfortunately, none of them apply to the United States.
Partner or Spoiler?

Obama may have retreated from employing Bush-like American force in the Middle East—and elsewhere—but it seems that Trump is intent on entirely abandoning America’s 70-year-old, bipartisan commitment to being the world’s most determined promoter of democracy. America’s policy of "intervention and chaos" must end, Trump said in December. That shift, in the Kremlin’s view, threatens to create a dangerous power vacuum that could be filled with Islamist sympathizers, from Libya to Iraq to Syria. Though many in the West see Moscow’s resurgence in terms of building a lost empire of prestige and influence, many top Russian officials see their Middle East deployment as a matter of Russia’s self-defense.

“We remember how many radicals came to fight in Chechnya from the Middle East,” Leonid Kalashnikov, chairman of the Duma Committee on the Former Soviet Union, tells Newsweek , referring to foreign jihadis who fought alongside rebels in separatist wars in the North Caucasus in the 1990s. “The region is right next to Central Asia. That is our underbelly. We have to be in [Syria] in order to prevent the contagion of terrorism from spreading.”

Or, as Nikolai Kovalev, a former head of the Russian domestic security service (the FSB) and now a member of the Duma security committee, puts it: “There are thousands of our citizens fighting there. They are inadequate people from all over the world [that] have gathered in Syria. The Islamic aspect is just an excuse. These people who enjoy putting others on their knees, literally and metaphorically, who enjoy making women their sex slaves. It's a matter of national security to make sure that they don’t bring that ideology back to Russia.”

Russia is determined to hang on to its new dominance in the Middle East—which means that regional leaders will have to find a way to cooperate with both sides. Trump has reached out to Netanyahu by inviting him to meet in Washington next month; pledging to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem; and appointing a pro-settler ambassador to Israel — all of which may dampen the Netanyahu-Putin bond. (The Palestinians, however, will need Moscow more than ever. “We have no hope with Trump,” says Abu Zayyad, who was a Palestinian negotiator in the 1994 Oslo Peace Accords.)

A billboard showing a pictures of U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen through pedestrians in Danilovgrad, Montenegro, on November 16, 2016. Stevo Vasiljevic/Reuters

Just as Israel may seek a compromise between dealing with both Russia and the U.S., so may Egypt. Alongside closer ties with Putin, Sisi has also warmed to Trump. In a phone call, he became the first world leader to congratulate the billionaire on his November election victory over Hillary Clinton, having already been the first Arab leader to meet with him during the campaign. Their close relationship has developed further since Trump entered the White House, and will likely continue to mature. After his inauguration, Trump’s first gesture toward the Arab world was to call Sisi—likely the first of many exchanges. He also hosted Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Washington and called several Arab leaders to assure them of America’s continued support.

“One can broadly assume that [Trump and Sisi] see the world in the same way,” says Hugh Lovatt, Middle East and North Africa policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s not beyond the realm of imagination to see a sort of Russian-Egyptian-U.S. joint effort” on Middle Eastern issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Such a triad could be appealing to Israel, which has developed secretive diplomatic and security ties with Egypt, more so than with other Arab states.

For the U.S., that would be a largely new way of doing business. In all previous Middle East peace talks, it has been the primary broker. Trump must now face an awkward reality: To strike peace deals, crush terrorism and protect America’s economic interests in the region, he might have no choice but to continue expressing admiration for the man who made the last American president’s eight years so difficult.


Putin's 20 years in power: Russia's re-emergence as a global power

On August 9, 1999, when Russian president Boris Yeltsin named Vladimir Putin as his new acting prime minister, the career KGB officer was largely an unknown political figure. His only previous political experience was as adviser to St. Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchek. After Sobchek lost his re-election bid in 1996, Putin had moved to Moscow as the head of the department of presidential property management. Yeltsin subsequently appointed him as head of KGB's successor agency FSB, at a time when the credibility and viability of the Russian security apparatus was at an all-time low.

No one expected Putin to survive for long as prime minister in Yeltsin's revolving-door administration. Three of his predecessors had lasted only a few months. The Russian economy was on the verge of collapse following the financial crash of 1998. The oligarchs close to Yeltsin were busy appropriating Russia's seemingly endless natural resources. Chechnya was imploding. There were chaos and corruption everywhere. And Yeltsin was looking for a safe exit, guaranteed by a strong successor.

A few months into his tenure, Putin demonstrated that he was made of sterner stuff. After a series of apartment bombings which killed hundreds in Moscow, Putin appeared on national television, talking tough, in complete contrast to the drunk and blabbering Yeltsin, and declared his intent to tackle the terrorists. After the Russian intelligence agencies identified Chechen rebels to be behind the attacks (there were also conspiracy theories about the government orchestrating the attacks for political reasons), Putin authorised a massive military offensive, flattening the Chechen capital Grozny, killing thousands of civilians and winning over the loyalty of the Kadyrov clan, which was leading a sizeable group of rebels. It brought a semblance of peace to the restive region. The audacious move helped Putin consolidate his grasp on power and boost his popularity. When Yeltsin gave up office late in 1999, Putin became acting president. He won the 2000 elections and became president in his own right, and has not looked back since.

Putin started off as a pro-western reformer, a technocrat, who was trying to restore order in a chaotic society and usher in economic growth. During the early phase of his presidential career, he was on friendly terms with the west, and there were even reports about him speaking to president Bill Clinton about Russia finding a place in in NATO. A few months before the infamous 9/11 attacks, president George W. Bush and Putin had a conversation after which Bush said he looked Putin in the eye and felt that he was straightforward and trustworthy. “I was able to get a sense of his soul,” said Bush. The friendship prospered further after the 9/11 attacks. Putin was the first major global leader to call up Bush and offer support in the war on terror. He allowed the US to have a temporary base in Central Asia and permitted US Air Force to fly over the Russian airspace during sorties to Afghanistan.

The honeymoon with the west, however, did not last long. Putin opposed the US invasion of Iraq. One of the many reasons behind the break was the western involvement in the former Soviet space, most notably following the Orange revolution in Ukraine. After Moscow-backed candidate Viktor Yanukovych won the Ukrainian presidential elections, there were massive protests against the alleged rigging. The supreme court subsequently nullified the elections and Viktor Yushchenko, backed by the west, won the reelection. Putin was unnerved and annoyed by the west's decision to interfere in what he considered was Russia's natural sphere of influence. He articulated the break in clear terms at the 2007 Munich Security Conference. Putin criticised the unipolar world order, lamented the collapse of the Soviet Union and signalled the beginning of a new Cold War. “The US has overstepped its borders in all spheres—economic, political and humanitarian,” said Putin, and called for restructuring the global security architecture.

Putin was uncomfortable with the global democracy project of the neocons in the US administration. He had allowed free market policies in the beginning, but a western-style democracy, for him, was an unwelcome intrusion. Putin responded with the concept of “sovereign/managed” democracy, proposed by one of his closest aides, Vladislav Surkov, in a series of essays in 2006. It gave the state sovereign right to define democracy, and Surkov used it to offer a Russian substitute for the western concept of liberal democracy. It called for free and sometimes fair elections, but offered zero checks and balances against unbridled executive power. Managed/illiberal democracy seems to be the preferred system for several regimes across the world now, including that of Hungary and Turkey.

One of the earliest manifestations of the functioning of sovereign democracy was the manner in which the Russian state took down Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his multibillion dollar hydrocarbon enterprise Yukos. Khodorkovsky's downfall came after he started criticising what he called the Putin regime's crony capitalist policies. Yukos was taken over and sold to the state-run oil firm Roseneft and Khodorkovsky was banished to a Siberian labour camp for ten years. He was released in 2014 following a deal in which he promised never to return to Russia. Khodorkovsky is now working to orchestrate a regime change in Russia through democratic means and he still remains optimistic. Some of Putin's other detractors were not as lucky as Khodorkovsky. Double agent Sergei Skripal, politician Boris Nemtsov and journalist Anna Politkovskaya who were opposed to the Putin regime were found dead under mysterious circumstances.

Yet, it did not hurt Putin's popularity in Russia. By the end of his second presidential term, Putin had managed to restore order, the economy was growing, especially with oil prices at a record high, and Russia was being taken seriously yet again at global platforms. After the ignominious years of experimenting with democracy following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russians were glad that they enjoyed some sort of political stability. Putin for many of them appeared to be a Tsar-like figure, wielding authority, offering stability and restoring Russia's national pride.

Putin developed a new compact with the Russians by shifting the national polity to the right, invoking memories of Mother Russia's bygone glory, renationalising natural resources, reinstating the primacy of the security services and by co-opting the Russian Orthodox Church. Close association with the church and Patriarch Kirill has been one of the cornerstones of the Putin presidency. The president has lent support to hostile positions adopted by the church against homosexuality and divorce, although Putin himself divorced his wife of 31 years, Lydmila, in 2014. The support of the church is also a helpful foreign policy tool as a significant majority of the population in the Russian neighbourhood, including Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Bulgaria and Romania, identify themselves as Orthodox. On the domestic front, it gives Putin sufficient support and legitimacy for his nationalist agenda, and giving a bump to his popularity.

Putin was so confident about his appeal that at the end of his two presidential terms in 2008, he chose not to tinker with the constitution, which barred a third consecutive term. Instead, he got his protégé Dmitry Medvedev elected as president, and worked with him as prime minister till 2012, when he returned as president. During Medvedev's term, the presidential term was extended to six years, which took effect from the 2012 elections.

Upon his return to the Kremlin, Putin was decidedly more hawkish, especially in his foreign policy. He embarked upon an anti-western course and became more and more close to China under Xi Jinping. In 2014, Putin invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea. However, more than territorial ambitions, what perhaps forced Putin's hand was the fact that Ukraine was looking to evict Russia's Black Sea Fleet from its base in Crimea's Sevastopol. It was also a pointed message against NATO's expansion, especially into what Russia considers its sphere of influence. The west imposed sanctions on Russia and Putin, in response, banned the import of food and agricultural products from countries critical of Russia.

Putin also chose to challenge the western narrative on Syria, offering support to the embattled president Bashar al-Assad. It officially launched its airstrikes in Syria in 2015 and over the past four years, Putin has managed to stay the course in the country. With President Trump in a hurry to give up on Syria, Assad has largely regained control, reinforcing Moscow's influence not just in Damascus, but also in the larger Middle East. Russia enjoys close working relations with regional powerhouses like Turkey—the S-400 deal is on despite sustained American pressure, Iran, Israel and the Gulf states.

Relations with China have been another key defining feature of Putin's foreign relations after his return as president. He enjoys warm personal ties with Xi. The sanctions after the annexation of Crimea have given Russia an added incentive to work more closely with China. It has replaced Germany as Russia's largest trading partner. China is the biggest consumer of Russian hydrocarbons. The traditional Russian wariness of sharing sophisticated military technologies with China seems to be on the wane. Russia and China are likely to get even closer in the days to come as sanctions and tariff war continue to hurt their economies. Russia is undoubtedly worried about the long-term threat posed by China. The demographic disadvantage that Russia is facing is too dire. Although Russia is six times the size of India, its population is only a little more than a tenth of India's population. As it shares a 4,000km-long border with China, the world's most populous country, Russia faces a real threat of demographic invasion, especially in the far east. Moreover, Russia no longer enjoys the technological edge it once had vis-à-vis China and it could soon be reduced to a supplier of raw materials even as China floods its markets with finished products.

Notwithstanding the threat perceptions, Putin seems to have resolved that short-term tactical cooperation with China is inevitable to ward off immediate concerns. The two countries are now partners in multiple fields from trade to technology. In his 2019 Annual Threat Assessment, the US director of national intelligence warned that increasing Sino-Russian cooperation would lead to economic, political, counterintelligence, military and diplomatic challenge to the US and its allies. The American political system is yet to get over from the shock about the alleged Russian subterfuge in its electoral systems. While Putin categorically denied any involvement, the FBI has recorded hundreds of attempts at cyber-infiltration into various American electoral systems, processes and databases from servers located in Russia. With the US entering the presidential election season, it could be a major cause for friction.

Putin's present six-year term will run till 2024. There have been a few anti-government protests of late, but Putin has survived several bigger challenges in his two-decade long political career. The sinking of the submarine Kursk (2000), the Moscow theatre hostage crisis (2002), the serial apartment bombings (1999), the Beslan school attack (2006) did nothing to hurt his popularity. Putin easily weathered several allegations of corruption, too, ranging from the Panama Papers (2016), the 2014 report by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, embezzlement of funds for the Sochi Winter Olympics and allegations about the ownership of the billion-dollar Gelendzhik Mansion on the Black Sea.

Over the past few months, Putin has been facing yet another wave of anti-government protests. Resentment has been brewing across Russia because of the ongoing economic crisis, and the Kremlin's decision last year to raise pension age has added to it. The government's highhanded ways to manipulate the Moscow city council elections have brought more people on to the streets. The city council does not have any real power, but the ruling United Russia party of Putin has become so unpopular that many potential candidates quit it, opting to run as independents. The government has responded by disqualifying a large number of anti-establishment candidates, further intensifying the protests. Putin, perhaps, is dealing with a new demographic cohort here, which is not enamoured by his record. Those who were born after Putin became president have reached voting age and they do not remember the chaotic days and humiliation from which Putin saved Russia. Their aspirations and the political grammar they follow seem to be different from what is offered by Putin and the existing Russian political system. And, they hardly ever watch Russian television, robbing the administration off one of its most powerful propaganda tools.

Putin, however, has proved to be a past master in weathering crises and staying on top. His two decades as the undisputed leader of Russia bear testimony to his unmatched survival skills and his uncanny ability to sense the popular mood and stay a step ahead. The system of governance that he has created appears durable and is unlikely to collapse easily. Even as he faces a worrisome wave of anti-government protests, Putin's personal popularity is at a healthy 66 per cent, although considerably down from the post-Crimea high, which had nearly touched the 90s. He has time till 2024 as president and what happens next is anybody's guess. He could amend the constitution and stay on, could do a 2008 by putting a close ally as president and take up the PM's post, or could cede presidency but retain power by creating a new position for himself. Putin is likely to walk away into the sunset only after he feels confident about his post-retirement future as well as the safety of his inner circle.


The Zionist West Has Met Its Match - Putin, Medvedev and The Russian Bear

The BBC scenes from Georgia on Friday, August 22, 2008 clearly showed columns of Russian armor leaving Georgia. Sort of. Those Russian units are now going to occupy South Ossetia...and the new protective perimeter that Russia has cleared out and will now enforce with whatever lethal force is necessary. Russian General Nogovitsyn was on BBC clearly stating: "Russia will continue to enforce the peace in this area. Our troops are withdrawing; no one will be allowed to put armor or heavy artillery in this area EVER AGAIN. As the map clearly shows, WE (Russia) are in total control." He added: "Russia is pulling out on its terms and at its pace." BBC then switched to a Zionist West British talking-head (Michael Wooldridge) grumbling that the Russians were not following the script from the Georgia-US screenplay.

NATO warships are having an 'exercise' in the Black Sea. Meanwhile, the Russian fleet has made it clear it is not going to allow any re-arming of Georgia. If that happens, Georgia will be toast. What was comical was that right behind those Russian armored units were OSCE Jeep Cherokee Police vehicles but were apparently not allowed to come any further than the edge of this new Russian Peacekeeping Zone to protect Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Even though OSCE voted on Tuesday to not provide 'peacekeepers' in the New South Ossetia, they have flooded Georgia with new Jeep Cherokee police units. Read on and you will understand why OSCE is NOT WELCOME inside the New South Ossetia unless they are there to clearly document the war crimes that were just inflicted on South Ossetia. OSCE just proved to Russia that it is not to be trusted. For those who have been reading these essays, and can remember what I have disclosed, I ask that you take the time to read this one very slowly and think. Use the brain you were born with to think and see clearly what is really going on.

I have never in my life feared there would be a nuclear war between the US and Russia...until just recently. The US and their EU allies have now reached the point of failure and desperation. They will tell any lie, they will commit any unspeakable crime. They have committed war crimes in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and just this month in South Ossetia. Russia just drew the line in the stops or the biggest shit-storm ever on this planet is what is coming next. Russia has just made it abundantly clear that Russians are not going to be subjected to war crimes and genocide by these Zionist New World Order thugs any longer. Russia has just made it abundantly clear that the territorial integrity of Russia and those wishing to live as friends and citizens of Russia WILL BE ABSOLUTELY RESPECTED BY THE ZIONIST WEST and WILL BE DEFENDED - ABSOLUTELY - BY RUSSIA.

This is the New Russia...not the Cold War USSR.

Most people above room temperature are now beginning to see quite clearly that the United States and some of its allies are, in fact, war criminals. It recently came out that France was behind the genocide in Rwanda...while the French UN ambassador was pontificating about the horrors of that very genocide. These people lie as easily as they blink their eyes. They are sub-human in their regard for their fellow man. They are war criminals in suits, fancy offices with fancy sounding titles. I am getting many emails from people who are just now, almost 10 years after the crime, seeing clearly that the US and certain EU buddies committed genocide on the Slavic Serbian Christians of Kosovo. I have known for many years that the last thing the Russians want is another calamitous war. Between Bolshevik Zionist Communism they lost 30-40 million people who would not kneel down to the Zionist god of communism. Due to World War II, they lost another 20 million after Zionists helped to create Nazism. I am now convinced that if the Zionist New World Order does not get its way...and they are failing miserably to get their way...they will take the entire world down with them rather than fail.

We are now facing the most dangerous mindset of the Zionists: "If we (the Zionists) cannot have it all no one will have it." They are like a bunch of punk juvenile delinquents who refuse to let anyone on this planet freely choose how they want to live. Now, for the first time...EVER...Russia is in position to build a nation with a lifestyle similar to that of the US and some ways even BETTER because they are refusing to let Zionism in the door. The Zionist West assumes that only it has a right to such a comfortable lifestyle. Watch closely and you will see such a mindset when they mumble or boast or brag...their arrogance is palpable. The Zionist West essentially feels Russia must OBEY it...and that Russia needs a 'regime change.' Read the Zbigniew Brzezinski TIME article again...and pay attention to his arrogant air of 'superiority' over the Slavic Russians. Of course, it is the Zionist West which is clearly and blatantly the aggressor...but Zionists use their mass media monopoly and huge influence over governments to point the finger of blame at Russia - because it will NOT roll over and obey.

The Grand Chessboard is lost. Russia won.

Zbigniew can pontificate and use all the big fancy words he wishes but that will never change the fact that his idiotic plan was DOA. It was stillborn in his delusional mind. That DC used such a doomed scheme for a strategic plan is to its everlasting shame and proves DC is unfit to lead the world. The fraud Global War on Terror and the mass genocidal wars for oil are lost. The result? About 5.5 billion people are turning their backs on the US, Canada, UK, EU (mainly France and Germany) and Zionist Israel. This lunacy of backing Israel blindly for 60 years to the severe and brutal detriment of many Islamic nations in the Middle East (and now the Islamic peoples of the Caspian Basin, Iran and Pakistan) has proven to be a colossal mistake and monumental failure of US foreign policy. There is only so much belittling, demeaning, humiliating, abusing, maiming and killing any peoples of any land will tolerate. The US is no longer welcome in much of this world. The US is not hated for its freedoms. It is hated for its policies and what these butchers think they alone have the right to do to other nations, other human beings.

I was living in the Washington DC area when Desert Storm happened. I knew it was not adding up, something was amiss and lies where being piled upon lies to sell that story to America. It took years for the truth to come out. I was in direct contact with the White House almost every day during 1991-1992 and the bits and pieces I was getting did not add up to the truth. Since I knew about Bridas Corporation and their business dealings long before 9-11, I knew when Bush pointed the finger at Afghanistan that what the US (and their allies in Europe) wanted were those vast amounts of oil and natural gas in the Caspian Basin. They had to have that pipeline. That is why NATO is now in Afghanistan and Barky (Brzezinski) was in Europe telling them that they had to contribute more to this bogus Global War on Terror. It is their 'duty' as citizens of the Zionist New World Order. That pipeline deal is 7 years behind schedule and the Taliban control more of Afghanistan each day.

Every move to corner or provoke Iran has failed.

I have known about Operation Gladio for many years. NATO's Secret Armies were conducting terrorism by NATO, the US and UK against innocent civilian populations (in West Europe) and then they pointed the finger of blame at Russia...when Russia had nothing to do with it. If you want to become ILL at the deceit of the US, UK and NATO, get a copy of 'NATO's Secret Armies' by Dr. Daniele Ganser, PhD. The man did his homework and what is in the book is from investigative reporters, court cases and government documents. It happened, the US and UK as terrorists against innocent people in Europe. I have talked to Dr. Ganser and he has been on my email update list since I returned to the EU. Maybe Jeff Rense can air him sometime because the information is crucial for people to see the TRUTH. That is why Kosovo did not surprise me. Here was practically all of Europe chiming in to go kill Serbian Christians and then to invade to pretend to get rid of those 'Christian-hating Muslims.' Just two years later, 9-11 and the ill-conceived Global War on Terror were launched. It was another Operation Gladio, but was really Operation Kill Christians under the code name of Operation Kosovo UNMIK and NATO. In their evil minds they were not killing Christians, they were killing Slavic people. The elitist snobs of the Zionist-controlled EU think they are much better than Slavic people, and the Russians are Slavic and so are the Serbs.

Remember back even in the Clinton Administration the 1993 bombing of WTC, 'terror', 'terrorists', 'ethnic cleansing of Christians', etc. We have to intervene in Bosnia to defend the Christians. What a mockery! That sleazy bastard Clinton had the CIA and Zalmay Khalilzad arming the Muslims to go kill the Christians that sleazy bastard Clinton said he was going to save. I have been wondering why OSCE was the first one to intervene in this Georgia fiasco. That was an odd emissary to send for such a serious matter, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. It is merely another NGO and front company for the Zionist New World Order. Most do not know that Russia is a member of that group. You see, that way the EU can claim they have influence 'all the way to the Pacific Ocean' since the Russia land mass ends at the Pacific Ocean.


Putin Now Thinks Western Elites Are 'Swine'

An article I published close to five years ago, “Putin to Western elites: Play-time is over”, turned out to be the most popular thing I’ve written so far, having garnered over 200,000 reads over the intervening years. In it I wrote about Putin’s speech at the 2014 Valdai Club conference. In that speech he defined the new rules by which Russia conducts its foreign policy: out in the open, in full public view, as a sovereign nation among other sovereign nations, asserting its national interests and demanding to be treated as an equal. Yet again, Western elites failed to listen to him. Instead of mutually beneficial cooperation they continued to speak the language of empty accusations and counterproductive yet toothless sanctions. And so, in yesterday’s address to Russia’s National Assembly Putin sounded note of complete and utter disdain and contempt for his “Western partners,” as he has usually called them. This time he called them “swine.”
The president’s annual address to the National Assembly is a rather big deal. Russia’s National Assembly is quite unlike that of, say, Venezuela, which really just consists of some obscure nonentity named Juan recording Youtube videos in his apartment. In Russia, the gathering is a who’s-who of Russian politics, including cabinet ministers, Kremlin staffers, the parliament (State Duma), regional governors, business leaders and political experts, along with a huge crowd of journalists. One thing that stood out at this year’s address was the very high level of tension in the hall: the atmosphere seemed charged with electricity. It quickly became obvious why the upper echelon of Russia’s state bureaucracy was nervous: Putin’s speech was part marching orders part harangue. His plans for the next couple of years are extremely ambitious, as he himself admitted. The plank is set very high, he said, and those who are not up to the challenge have no business going near it. Very hard work lies ahead for almost everyone who was gathered in that hall, and those of them who fail at their tasks are unlikely to be in attendance the next time around because their careers will have ended in disgrace.

The address contained almost no bad news and quite a lot of very good news. Russia’s financial reserves are more than sufficient to cover its entire external debt, both public and private. Non-energy-resource exports are booming to such an extent that Russia no longer needs oil and gas exports to maintain a positive balance of trade. It has become largely immune to Western sanctions. Eurasian integration projects are going extremely well. Russian government’s investments in industry are paying dividends.

The government has amassed vast amounts of capital which it will now spend on domestic programs designed to benefit the people, to help Russians live longer, healthier lives and have more children. “More children—lower taxes” was one of the catchier slogans. This was what most of the address was about: eradication of remaining poverty; low, subsidized mortgage rates for families with two or more children; pensions indexed to inflation above and beyond the official minimal income levels (corrected and paid out retroactively); high-speed internet for each and every school; universal access to health care through a network of rural clinics; several new world-class oncology clinics; support for tech start-ups; a “social contract” program that helps people start small businesses; another program called “ticket to the future” that allows sixth-graders to choose a career path that includes directed study programs, mentorships and apprenticeships; lots of new infrastructure projects such as the soon-to-be-opened Autobahn between Moscow and St. Petersburg, revamped trash collection and recycling and major air pollution reductions in a dozen major cities; the list goes on and on. No opposition to these proposals worth mentioning was voiced in any of the commentary that followed on news programs and talk shows; after all, who could possibly be against spending amassed capital on projects that help the population?

Perhaps the most ambitious goal set by Putin was to redo the entire system of Russia’s government regulations, both federal and regional, in every sphere of public life and commerce. Over the next two years every bit of regulation will be examined in order to determine whether it is necessary and whether it responds to contemporary needs and if it isn’t or doesn’t it will be eliminated. This will significantly ease the burden of regulatory compliance, lowering the cost of doing business. Another goal was to continue growing the already booming agricultural export sector. Last year Russia achieved self-sufficiency in wheat seed stock, but the overall goal is to achieve complete self-sufficiency in food and to become the world’s provider of ecologically clean foodstuffs. (As Putin pointed out, Russia remains the only major agricultural producer in the world that hasn’t been contaminated by American-made GMO poisons.) Yet another goal is to further grow Russia’s tourism industry, which is already booming, by introducing electronic tourist visas that will be much easier to obtain.

Last year’s addressed surprised the world with its second part, in which Putin unveiled a whole set of new Russian weapons systems that effectively negate every last bit of US military superiority. This year, he added just one new system: a supersonic cruise missile called “Zirkon” with a 1000 km range that flies at Mach 9. But he also provided a progress report on all the others: everything is going according to plan; some new armaments have already been delivered, others are going into mass production, the rest are being tested. He spoke in favor of normalized relations with the EU, but accused the US of “hostility,” adding that Russia does not threaten anyone and is not interested in confrontation.

Putin’s sharpest words were reserved for the US decision to abandon the IMF treaty. He said that the US acted in bad faith, accusing Russia of violating the treaty while they themselves violated it, specifically articles 5 and 6, by deploying dual-use launch systems in Romania and Poland which can be used for both air defense and for offensive nuclear weapons which the treaty specifically prohibits. Nuclear-tipped Tomahawk cruise missiles, which the US could deploy in Poland and Romania, would of course pose a risk, but would not provide the US with anything like a first-strike advantage, since these cruise missiles are obsolete to the point where even Syria’s Soviet-era air defenses were able to shoot down most of the ones the US lobbed at them as punishment for the fake chemical weapons attack in Douma. Speaking of the American dream of a global air defense system, Putin called on the US to “abandon these illusions.” The Americans can think whatever they want, he said, but the question is, “can they do math?” This needs unfolding.

First, the Americans can think whatever they want because… they are Americans. Russians do not allow themselves the luxury of thinking complete and utter nonsense. Those who are not grounded in fact and logic tend to get the Russian term “likbez” thrown in their faces rather promptly. It literally decodes as “liquidation of illiteracy” and is generally used to shut down ignoramuses. But in the US shocking displays of ignorance are quite acceptable. For an example, you need to look no further than the astonishingly idiotic “Green New Deal” being touted by the freshman congresstwit (how’s that for a gender-neutral appellation?) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. If she were Russian she’d have been laughed right out of town by now.

“But can they do math?” Apparently not! There is another Russian term—“matchast”—which literally decodes as “material part” but stands for the understanding that can only be achieved through the knowledge of mathematics, the hard sciences and engineering. In Russia, ignoramuses like Ocasio-Cortez, who think that transportation needs can be provided by electric vehicles powered by wind and solar, get shut down by being told to go and study “matchast” while in the US they are allowed to run wild in the halls of congress. In this case, if Americans could “do math,” they would quickly figure out that there is no conceivable defensive system that would be effective against the new Russian weapons, that there are no conceivable offensive weapons that would prevent Russia from launching an unstoppable retaliatory strike, and that therefore the “new arms race” (which some Americans have been daft enough to announce) is effectively over and Russia has won. See above: Russia is not spending its money on weapons; it is spending it on helping its people. The US can squander arbitrary amounts of money on weapons but this won’t make an iota of difference: an attack on Russia will be the last thing it ever does.

Russia does not plan to be the first to violate the ABM treaty, but if the US deploys intermediate-range nuclear weapons against Russia, then Russia will respond in kind, by targeting not just the territories from which it is threatened but the locations where the decisions to threaten it are taken. Washington, Brussels and other NATO capitals would, clearly, be on that list. This shouldn’t be news; Russia has already announced that in the next war, should there be one, will not be fought on Russian soil. Russia plans to take the fight to the enemy immediately. Of course, there won’t be a war—provided the Americans are sane enough to realize that attacking Russia is functionally equivalent to blowing themselves up with nuclear weapons. Are they sane enough? That is the question that is holding the world hostage.

It is in speaking of them that Putin used the most withering word in his entire address. Speaking of Americans’ dishonesty and bad faith in accusing Russia of violating the ABM treaty while it was they themselves who were violating it, he added: “...and the American satellites oink along with them.” It is rather difficult to come up with an adequate translation for the Russian verb “подхрюкивать”; “oink along with” is as close as I am able to get. The mental image is of a chorus of little pigs accompanying a big swine. The implication is obvious: Putin thinks that the Americans are swine, and that their NATO satellites are swine too. Therefore, they shouldn’t expect Putin to scatter any pearls before them and, in any case, he’ll be too busy helping Russians live better lives to pay any attention to them.