Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Putting The Putin Puzzle Pieces Together

Original image (pre-puzzle) from Esquire
The way I see it, Putin is on a roll.

He's kept Asad in Syria.  He's helped send half the population out of Syria, many as refugees to Europe, where the sheer number of them is straining Europe's capacity to handle them.  And it's straining Europe's ability to work together.  His machinations probably helped the Brexit vote.

And all that means that Europe's attention is on refugees and [not on] their ability to monitor and respond to his interference in former Soviet nations.

I have little doubt that the Russian government is doing what it can to help recruit young men in Europe and the US to commit terrorist acts.  He's probably not directly supporting ISIS, since Russia's had its own issues and terrorists out of Chechnya, but he surely benefits, in the short term anyway, from a European population that is more focused on internal threats than Russian threats.

His fingerprints are reported to be on the hacked emails of the Democratic National Headquarters and we don't know how else he's working to get the Republican nominee for president elected.

And there is always the very real possibility of someone electronically stealing votes.  I've been assured that our Alaska machines aren't internet connected, so it's unlikely the Russian's will mess with our election.  And we do have hard copies of all ballots to compare the results against, but that only happens when there's a challenge, and the challengers have to pay for the hand count.  But any system that's connected to the internet is very vulnerable.  Here's more on these topics.

Back in December, Putin praised Trump:
"He is a bright and talented person without any doubt," Putin said, adding that Trump is "an outstanding and talented personality."
And in an interview Trump seemed to eat it up:
BRZEZINSKI: Do you like Vladimir Putin's comments about you?
TRUMP: Sure. When people call you brilliant it's always good, especially when the person heads up Russia.
[Note:  Putin said 'bright and talented' but Trump heard 'brilliant.']

Remember back what George W. Bush said about Putin? (From ABC News)
"I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue," Bush said according a BBC account. "I was able to get a sense of his soul.
I suspect Bush's ability to assess someone's character is better than Trump's, yet his assessment was totally off.

While I was looking for that quote, I also found this one from Joe Biden in the same article:
Biden recalled visiting Putin at the Kremlin in 2011: "I had an interpreter, and when he was showing me his office I said, 'It's amazing what capitalism will do, won't it? A magnificent office!' And he laughed. As I turned, I was this close to him." Biden held his hand a few inches from his nose. "I said, 'Mr. Prime Minister, I'm looking into your eyes, and I don't think you have a soul.' " 
"You said that?" I asked. It sounded like a movie line. 
"Absolutely, positively," Biden said, and continued, "And he looked back at me, and he smiled, and he said, 'We understand one another.' " Biden sat back, and said, "This is who this guy is!"
I'm guessing this is a joke off of Bush's encounter rather than an serious account of the Biden-Putin exchange.

But there are people who have studied Putin.  Several years ago, a friend lent me  a Putin biography  called "THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE:  The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin" by Masha Gessen, a journalist who holds both US and Russian passports.  From a Washington Post book review:
"Most prominent politicians had abandoned Yeltsin, and the remaining prospects were “all plain men in gray suits.” Boris Berezovsky, the wealthy oligarch and ambitious power broker who was close to Yeltsin’s team, personally recruited the largely unknown Putin, thinking he would be pliable. “Possibly the most bizarre fact about Putin’s ascent to power,” Gessen says, “is that the people who lifted him to the throne knew little more about him than you do. . . . Everyone could invest this gray, ordinary man with what they wanted to see in him.”
What Gessen sees in Putin is a troubled childhood brawler who became a paper-pushing KGB man and, by improbable twists and turns, rose to the top in Russia. He grew up fighting in the courtyards of St. Petersburg apartments. He became “a consistently rash, physically violent man with a barely containable temper.” When studying at a KGB academy, he once got into a fight on a subway when someone picked on him. On the day of his inauguration in 2000, Putin’s stiff gait was “the manner of a person who executes all his public acts mechanically and reluctantly, projecting both extreme guard and extreme aggression with every step.” Putin, she concludes, is a “hoodlum turned iron-handed ruler.”
So far I'm just looking at puzzle pieces.  Some seem to fit together, but many don't yet, and others are missing.  So this is conjecture, but it's starting to feel chillingly probable.  Putin's destabilizing much of the world, including the US.  Trump may see Putin as just another narcissistic entrepreneur, but he's much, much more than that.  Russians play chess and he's half a dozen moves ahead of Trump.

[UPDATE July 26, 2016, 8:19pm:  Minutes after posting this, I opened Twitter and the first was a tweet linking to this article by Masha Gessen, responding to others comparing Trump to Putin or saying Trump was Putin's plant.  She doesn't agree.  And I want to be clear about what I was trying to say.  Not that Trump was, as someone wrote, 'the Siberian Candidate', or that he is a lot like Putin.  I was just saying that Trump would be more in Putin's interest (Gessen says Putin hates Clinton more than liking Trump).  And yes, there are similarities between Trump and Putin, but there are dissimilarities as well.]


  1. Putin reminds me of young men I've gotten to know in London from Kosovo, Bulgaria and Bosnia-Herzegovina: the young tough guy, loyal to race and nation. My experience would unfortunately contribute to your assessment of what may well be cultural norm for a Slavic masculinity. Or might it describe onset manhood in many cultures?

    Passivity, or holding back use of force when required (it nearly always is!) are seen as weakness -- we must instead be strong, physically ready. Broad stereotypes but taken we can and do talk of an "American character" -- witness the happy ending -- should these cultural notes on character be ignored?

    I have small doubt as to how I can understand Britishness: it comes from the cultural heritage of my mother and father -- their teaching of a Nordic and German variation of the British middle and upper classes 'stiff upper lip.'

    Europeans know this about our character and know, too, that it is the 'third rail' of a racism built upon folk-wisdom about difference in national or regional culture(s).

    We acquire these subjective prejudices and we are embarrassed we think them, so that Putin being Russian should be less important than the fact he objectively acts as a tyrant.

    Yes, understand the culture but know the person. I appreciate that Russians enjoy a good game of chess.

  2. You're making me think about how and when I would talk about 'national characteristics.' I guess it would have to be the things that most everyone has in common, even when, as individuals, they are radically different, say in political beliefs or other behaviors. Young, old, rich, poor, left, right can all unite behind their local sports team for example. But then there are Americans who never pay attention to sports. Perhaps the easiest way to figure out those cultural unifiers is to watch ex-pats getting together far from home.

  3. The problem I've found, is that to observe is to participate!

    I do what many have done for a very long time: watching tourists on parade and immersing myself in another nation's local television in situ (not in my home). We both enjoy a good history, that 'foreign' flim and novel. What I've found so helpful is to employ how a writer, an artist, or an actor must see to begin to gather what makes a believable character. It's this thinking on actions and emotions that gives me hope we can, sometimes, begin to understand another person, and by gross extension, a culture or region that might correspond with a nation's borders.

    But in the end, I remind myself that this purpose is good art, not certainty. There are always outliers, aren't there?

    In the end, it's how we use it, isn't it?


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