Putin Isn’t Just Like You-Know-Who, But He’s Similar
Putin’s War on Ukraine manifests his sweeping hatreds and contrived grievances. Now focused on his vulnerable and militarily weaker neighbor Ukraine, Putin is acting like a spurned, violently abusive suitor. He demands affection and loyalty. He is leading a murderous campaign to overcome the embarrassment of Ukraine’s rejection of him and Russia.
Putin insists that the collapse of the Soviet Union was unjust and the culmination of an elaborate plot against the Russian people. As a path to power, Hitler once also stoked shame, embarrassment, and resentment among Germans for the loss of empire and territory. It is the road taken by many an autocrat.
The brooding Putin blames phantasmagoric forces aligned with and led by the United States for the failures of the Soviet Union and the diminishment of the Russian Empire. He does this to exploit resentments and insecurities among large segments of the Russian people. He also does this in order to gaslight the rest of the world, even as he unleashes an invasion against Ukraine.
The German collapse to end World War I was sudden and quicker than expected. It resulted from the severely exposed position of the German military, the rapidly increasing size and presence of the American force on the Western Front and the mutiny of much of Germany’s navy. Widespread domestic unrest at home, brought about by food shortages and an assortment of economic woes, also corroded Germany’s governing resolve and reduced its capacity to supply its military.
Many Germans would not accept the World War I defeat and, perhaps more important, they were unable to nurture the fragile peace and budding democracy that followed. Germany’s post-World War I political turmoil and street unrest were agitated significantly by self-serving and malevolent military, business and ultraconservative leaders.
The rationalizations for Germany’s World War I defeat metastasized throughout its society as the Myth of the Stab-in-the-Back (Dolchstoss im Rücken). Too many Germans readily embraced that toxic claim, peddled and projected by Adolph Hitler and his gang. The “Eternal Jew” came to be the eternal enemy.
On December 31, 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed. It was an immense shock. I did not believe such a thing would happen in my lifetime, if ever. Fifteen independent nations resulted from that disintegration, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldava, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and, of course, Russia and Ukraine.
The collapse of the Soviet Union was spectacular, yet relatively peaceful, considering the massive transfer of power that took place. It involved the “freeing” of a host of nations from the immediate threat of Russian-Soviet influence, including the reunification of East and West Germany, as well as the unleashing of former “Soviet bloc” nations like Czechia and Slovakia (previously united as Czechoslovakia), Hungary, Romania, Poland and Finland.
The Soviet Union’s collapse was driven primarily by its incapacity to produce the standard of living desired by its people. The deeply impaired Soviet Union’s economy, weighed down even further by the burden of its military and the costly misadventure in Afghanistan, likely accelerated the Soviet Union’s disintegration.
None of that matters to Putin. For him, the break-up of the Soviet Union stemmed from machinations of the United States and its allies. Putin has no general admiration or affection for the former Soviet leadership. He assesses many of them as feckless and anti-Russian, corrupted by Western values.
Some might argue that Putin’s animus to modernism, his penchant for deploying brute force, and his imperial impulses make him more akin spiritually and temperamentally to Ivan the Terrible. Almost everything that went badly for Tsarist Russia, the Soviet Union and then the Russian Federation was, in the resentful and inflamed mind of Putin, the fault of the West — with its democratic governance, its tolerance of diversity, its avant-garde and its sexual pluralism.
There is no doubt that the Soviet Union’s opponents could have managed the post break-up period better and mitigated against some actions that stoked Russian paranoia. There is also no doubt that World War I allies could have been less vindictive towards Germany after World War I. We can debate all that in another forum.
Regardless of what we might have done better to assuage Russia’s or Putin’s grievances, we are now confronted with a genuine threat to world peace, a threat that is powered by the fears and geopolitical lust of one man.
Whatever psychic maze that Putin has traveled, he is now imbued with an ideology that posits Americans and the West as the eternal enemy of Russians. They are the cause of all that has afflicted Russia. It now seems as though Americans and their allies are increasingly situated in Putin’s mind just as Jews were in the ghastly brain of Hitler. Yes, I know, it would be foolish to equate Putin with Hitler. Yet, it would also be foolish to dismiss the Hitlerite style and tones with which Putin currently darkens the world.