Saturday, January 7, 2017

Vladimir Putin: The Quiet Russian

The Russian Platform has posted a two and a half hour documentary  put together by Rossiya 24 from footage accumulated since before the start of the Putin presidency.  With dozens of Putin collaborators carrying the narrative, it gives the lie to every US government attempt to paint the Russian President in its own image.
Accused of being an authoritarian (like Lee Kuan Yew, who turned the tiny island of Singapore into the country that is 11th internationally and first in Asia on the Human Development Index), at 48 he was asked to take over the presidency of the largest country in the world, which was on its knees. In the nine years since the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, the people had become tired and angry, seeing it raped by oligarchs protected by the world’s financial institutions. 
The Second Chechen war began when Putin was still Prime Minister under Boris Yeltsin, and the documentary shows him on a hastily improvised flight into the war zone, over which his handlers anguished. His message to the Russian commanders on the ground surely raised eyebrows.  Vodka glass held high, he told them that they would definitely drink to the fallen when the campaign was over. Then putting down the glass down without drinking, he announced: “Now it’s time to get to work.”
That was one of the many snapshots of Putin exercising authority, all equally balanced by evidence of his deep humanity.  His interactions with ordinary people — whom he generally encounters when they are distressed — demonstrate the caring that is faked by smooth Western politicians.
While his enemies routinely refer to him as ‘living on a different planet’ (Angela Merkel) or being difficult to read, this visual history as well as excerpts from a long interview recorded for television with a prime time Russian journalist reveal a man who appears to wear his heart on his sleeve while knowing exactly where he wants to take his country: to a better place. 
It’s clear from these takes that Putin’s authority emanates from his demonstrated competence starting at a young age. Not as tall as the average Russian, he stands in front of his taller pairs with quiet confidence. Nor is there the slightest hint of a Mussolini complex about him. Putin is the quintessential quiet man who, as one narrator remarked, wears his power like a cross, not a sword.  Quiet but not dour, on more than one occasion he is seen improvising humorous remarks at the mike, even singing unpretentiously. He is also seen condemning those he refers to ironically as his international ‘partners’. His hopes for relations with the West do not get in the way of a clear-eyed recognition of its rejection, whose reasons he contests. 
That Russians should have consistently given him an 80+ rating is easy to understand when we see him giving a judo lesson to a kid half his size. At first the boy fails to tumble him, but when he makes the move correctly, Putin allows himself to be taken down, gracefully, without the hype that would be forthcoming from a Western leader. He recognizes that his relations with the Russian people are in good part the result of having grown up in modest surroundings, while recognizing the ‘advantages’ of being born in a privileged environment. 
Scarcely into his first year as President, the submarine Kursk suffered an explosion with over a hundred sailors on board. Announcing the decision not to raise it personally to their families, he displayed equal parts of pain and quiet determination to succeed in making them understand that it would be useless.
His tenacity, whether in learning to play the piano, or conquering English, was already apparent when as a teenager, he went to the headquarters of the formidable KGB to tell them he wanted to work for them.  (They told him he needed a degree in law, which he got, telling his bosses on his first job that what they were planning to do would contravene a whole series of laws, both domestic and international.)  

Were President-elect Trump to see to it that this film is shown on prime time television, the alternative press would have a much easier job of fighting the Neo-cons plan to carve Russia up into so many obedient vassals.  It might even spark a revolution, giving the Beltway hacks something real to chew on.

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