A lot of opinions have been expressed regarding the recent crisis in Ukraine and the Russian annexation of Crimea. I have especially been troubled by some comments I have read on traditional blogs. I would like to address some of the opinions expressed there.
Lest I be accused of being duped by the US government and media propaganda, let me assure you that until three days ago I had read reports from neither regarding this issue. Instead, I have been reading the very few remaining independent Russian sources (most of them have been shut down) and talking to friends and family still living in Russia.
1. Putin wants stability for his country.
This is true enough, but stability at what cost? If there was one thing we had in the Soviet Union, it was stability. All was stable and crystal clear. One knew exactly what to think and what to say, and if you did not think or say that, there was a provision in the criminal code that could be applied to such “de-stabilizing” individuals. Fingers on both hands are not enough to count the members of my family who were imprisoned and executed by that “stable” regime.
Putin has not re-opened the GULAGs, so far as I know, but he has systematically centralized power and struck down opposition, both through legislative measures and other kinds of pressure. These measures have been stepped up since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine. Most recently Putin’s government has passed a bill that allows the Russian authorities to block web sites, without a court order, for promoting rioting and extremism. What exactly constitutes extremism is left to the discretion of the officials. This measure was quickly applied to Putin’s political opponents. This occurrence is neither singular nor new. One of my former classmates is a political analyst who has been critical of Putin’s government for a number of years now, and for the same number of years he has been unable to publish anything in any major Russian newspaper or appear on any major TV station.
2. Putin is a Christian man who supports religion.
I don’t have insight into Putin’s conscience, but should we not at least be somewhat suspicious of this old union that is presented in a new light? A union between a man who made his previous career at KGB – an agency that has a history of persecuting Christians – and the same church hierarchy that not so long ago assisted that agency in this task?
Interestingly, Putin in a talk aired by the Russian TV channels a few years ago said: “As you know, we have eastern Christianity – the Orthodox Church. And some Christian theorists claim, that it is in many ways closer to Islam than, let’s say, Catholics.”
3. At least he is making laws that support the family. His government is giving financial assistance to families for having more children. He passed laws against homosexual propaganda.
Yes, Putin is encouraging people to have more children. He is doing so because the population of Russia is decreasing with catastrophic speed! Germany has similar laws in the hopes of increasing its population, and by the way, so did Joseph Stalin. And yes, Putin opposes homosexuality, but laws against it existed in the Soviet Union. The Soviets understood that they must support the family to avoid a population crisis that Russia is facing now.
It is ironic that Putin himself divorced his wife of many years during the year he declared to be the year of the family.
4. He went after Russia’s corrupt oligarchs who had stalled the development of the Russian economy.
That seems to be true on the surface, but in reality Putin only went after the oligarchs who politically opposed him. Very different was his treatment of wealthy supporters. One example is Roman Abramovich (one of the richest men in the world). He is not opposing Putin and is allowed to conduct his business “as usual.” The most significant oligarch bleeding Russia to the point of death is the gas-extraction company Gazprom – one of the largest companies in the world – in which the Russian government has the controlling stake (and believe me, one has to have the “correct” political views just to work there).
5. Crimea joined Russia following a legal referendum.
This one really puzzles me. The referendum was conducted on what was Ukrainian territory at the time without any involvement from Ukraine. The referendum was hastily cooked up in two weeks and conducted with the ubiquitous presence of individuals in unidentified military uniforms, while being boycotted by large Ukrainian and Tartar minorities. Should these facts not at least draw some questions? Should they not at least cast some doubt on the 99.5% “in favor” vote?
6. The coup in Ukraine was staged by Americans.
This is another puzzling one. Given the history of oppression by the Soviet regime and the treatment of the Ukrainians even prior to the revolution, is it really so unbelievable that Ukraine, as some other former republics, would want to practice self-determination and to distance themselves from Russia as far as possible? It is their unfortunate position that they must now choose their poison – alliance with Russia or the EU. But I am not at all surprised that they, without any edging from the Americans, would want to choose the latter.
And thanks so much to my friend for this post.