Putin vs. Russia

Vladimir Putin is not Russia, nor is he “the Russian people.” He is a ruthless dictator who murders or imprisons his most popular opponents and critics, propagandizes his subjects out of any clear alternative perspectives on life and the global political situation, and exploits the poverty and hopelessness that he himself has fostered to cajole the weak and desperate “masses” into viewing him as their only protector and savior. Hence when people speak, as Angela Merkel just did, of the danger of “isolating Russia,” they are either honestly failing to distinguish the tyrant from the tyrannized, or dishonestly conflating the two in order to run interference on behalf of the tyrant. But whether they commit this fallacy honestly or mendaciously, it is certain that they would not be committing it at all were they not ultimately motivated by some projected personal advantage to be gained from maintaining the global status quo, even if such maintenance necessitates the obliteration of Ukraine (and how many other “unimportant” countries?) and the continued and deepening oppression of the Russian people. 

“Humiliating Putin,” as Emmanuel Macron refers to a Ukrainian victory in defending its sovereign territory, is not only an acceptable outcome, contra Macron. It is the most desirable outcome, given the reality of the situation. And it is desirable not only for Ukraine and the cause of global security, but for the Russian people. The only way out of the twenty-year reign of thuggery that has interrupted that country’s efforts at national rebirth is to see Putin defeated and diminished. As he has had decades to establish a governmental infrastructure to protect his power, his defeat, if it is to occur, will have to come primarily from outside, rather than from internal upheaval. Thus, the best thing that could happen for the Russian people would be to see Putin thoroughly defeated and humiliated. This would bring immediate hope and a sense of new opportunity to the millions of Russians who have seen so many of their own poisoned or arrested by Putin’s punks, of course. But it would also be a necessary shaking by the moral collar for those millions of Russians who threw in their lot with Putin simply because he projected power and confidence when they felt weak and lost. Nothing breaks a personality cult’s spell more quickly than seeing its hero swept into the trash bin by a world that has ceased to give a damn about him, or to have any patience for his blowhard bullying — in other words, nothing unravels a strongman fantasy faster than seeing the strongman’s ultimate weakness and ineffectiveness. 

Help the duped in Russia take off those Putin-colored glasses. More importantly, help those who know what he is, and feel impotent to save their country from his power lust, to see a beam of light breaking through their new iron curtain at last.

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