Vladimir Putin, Direct Line

After experiencing decades of rightwing attacks for being “soft” on Moscow, progressives may be feeling a bit of whiplash as they witness prominent conservatives—with Donald Trump in the lead—heaping praise upon an autocratic Russian leader. Trump has praised President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB operative who tolerates little dissent, for his “very strong control over a country. ” Putin has returned the favor by strongly endorsing Trump.

For sure, we’ve also seen Putin defended by some on the U.S. left. Part of this is a legacy of the Cold War, when exaggerated claims of Russian power, its threats to U.S. security, and the domino theory about the spread of Soviet influence through popular revolutions in various countries were used to rationalize shameful U.S. policies. This history creates an understandable skepticism by many progressives of anti-Russian rhetoric in Washington.

Just as U.S. governments used to portray armed leftist revolutions against autocratic U.S. allies as part of a Soviet plot, some on the U.S. left embrace an equally simplistic view that more recent popular liberal uprisings against autocratic Russian allies were somehow the responsibility of the United States.

As economist and New York Times columnist  Paul Krugman has observed,

“Russia isn’t Communist, or even leftist; it’s just an authoritarian state, with a cult of personality around its strongman, that showers benefits on an immensely wealthy oligarchy while brutally suppressing opposition and criticism.”

Indeed, inequality in this formerly Communist country is now greater than inequality in the United States and many developing countries.

The Russian media faces regular censorship and there are few independent sources of news. The Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that at least twenty-four journalists have been murdered since Putin came to power sixteen years ago, many by Russian officials.

Some in the anti-imperialist left even rationalize Putin’s support for the brutal Syrian regime, including his sending the Russian air force to conduct air strikes in crowded urban areas resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians. Like those who have rationalized similar attacks by Israeli forces in Gaza and Saudi forces in Yemen, these war crimes are depicted as “legal and effective“ military actions against “terrorists.”

Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and irredentist efforts in the eastern part of the country constitute a direct violation of the U.N. Charter, the Ukrainian constitution, and the 1994 Budapest Treaty signed by Russia, Ukraine, and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Polls as recently as the previous year showed only a minority of the population in Crimea supporting a union with Russia, making the claimed 97 percent tally in favor highly unlikely.

Despite this, Trump is among those who insist that the Crimeans “would rather be with Russia than where they were” and says he would consider recognizing the annexation, even though the overwhelming majority of the world’s governments have gone on record in opposition.

There is no question that a number of U.S. actions since the fall of the Soviet Union—such as the eastward expansion of NATO—have been unnecessarily provocative toward Russia, contributing to the ultra-nationalism that Putin has stirred up. Hillary Clinton’s strident anti-Russian rhetoric is also disturbing. Denouncing Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine and occupation of Crimea is ironic coming from someone who supported U.S. aggression against Iraq and defended the Israeli and Moroccan occupations.

Trump’s position might even look, to some, like a welcome alternative to the dangerous escalation in U.S. rhetoric against Moscow, the moving of U.S. forces into former Soviet republics bordering Russia, and the prospect of a new Cold War between these two nuclear-armed nations.

But Trump’s pro-Putin positions are not based on a principled anti-war stance. It’s more personal than that. For example, Trump’s son Donald, Jr. has acknowledged that Russian money has “made up a pretty disproportionate section of a lot of our [the Trump Organization’s] assets.” Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns—which all other major party nominees have done for over forty years—has raised speculation that it might reveal embarrassing details of Kremlin-related financial deals.

According to Bill Browder, who once operated the largest foreign-investment fund in Russia,

“Trump is a dealmaker, and I can’t imagine that he would be doing this [promoting policies favorable to Russia] unless there was something in it for him. He doesn’t think of it as high treason. He thinks of it as a deal. What that deal is we don’t know.”

In response to questions about Trump’s repeated praise of Putin’s strengths as a leader, his runningmate Mike Pence stated, "it's inarguable that Vladimir Putin has been a stronger leader” than President Obama. When Trump was asked about his pro-Putin rhetoric, he cited the Russian president’s poll numbers, showing by close to 80 percent favorable ratings among the Russian public.

In response, Stanford University professor and former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul tweeted, “If Obama seized control of Fox, allowed only supporters in Congress, closed the NRA and arrested Trump, he, too, might have 80 percent approval rating.”

Trump likes Putin because he is a strongman. That should make Americans worry, no matter what their politics.

Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and coordinator of Middle Eastern studies at the University of San Francisco.

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Comments

Speaking of simplistic views. America "somehow" was involved in Ukraine, Georgia, and earlier Yugoslavia? Our Arab Spring policies, the continual mainstream haranguing and even personal attacks on anybody not going belly up for our hegemony... Wow. My next report will focus on academia in America teaching our future leaders how to hate, be obtuse, and focusing on "exceptionalism" in a global community. Study Russia a bit more professor. What sort of leadership would you have them adopt? Our form?
You neglected to mention the U.S.-engineered coup that put a new government in place in Ukraine in 2014.
This GOP approval of Putin is NOT a new thing. Pat Buchanan has been loudly singing Putin's praises for years since Russia started cracking down on gay rights and other social liberal causes. Also Putin has been fusing the Orthodox Church with the government as a state religion, and conservatives like this, they also have a desire for a "Christian Nation" - never mind that Constitution. And yes the GOP loves those strong and manly types, don't they? Many in the GOP have been unfavorably comparing Obama to Putin for years, it's just part of the stock accusations by Republicans the Democrats are soft and weak. It's just that when Trump starts doing it, it gets amplified and the message gets weirder, because Trump is a whack job.
IT's disgusting the support that Putin gets from some so-called liberals, like the publish of the rag known as The Nation. IT's obvious that some leftists miss the good ol' soviet union, so Putin will do.
The author, in his anti-Russia propaganda piece, makes some serious errors. First Putin did not heartily endorse Trump he actually said “He’s a very colorful person. Talented, without any doubt. But it’s not our affair to determine his worthiness — that’s up to the United States voters.” It seems like the author wants Putin to call Trump a butthole and vice versa before he it can be considered acceptable. Putin for neo-con-liberal Hillerites has to be evil and Trump a complete idiot (which isn't hard). It also seems to bother the author that Putin is regarded as a wise man. If one compares him to our politicians he certainly seems so. I respect a person that never resorts to name calling or demonizing. Instead he regards us as "partners." It's smart approach to dealing with anyone - friend or foe. But that's not our intention is it. Another curiosity is how the author believes Putin is an expansionist monster for reclaiming Crimea. Crimea voted numerous times, favorably I might add, to become a part of Russia in the preceding decades. Heck, even Gorbechov's mother was born there. Maybe it would have been more acceptable had Putin, in US fashion, bombed the hell out of the country and killed a few million first? A shameful crime we have yet to account for. Or perhaps he should have let the US take over after their Nazi-led coup in Keiv? I don't mean to be so sarcastic and angry, but nothing gets me more than people who profess one thing but do exactly the opposite. People who reserve morals and compliance to laws for everyone else but themselves. People who can never take responsibility and so go about wreaking endless havoc and destruction – in Afghanistan (the worlds largest heroin exporter, thanks Uncle Sam!), Iraq, Libya, and now Syria and all the while blaming others. It's a sad state of affairs when liberals don't seem to just sort of write off with indifference all the lives destroyed by our lies and deceit. Lies and deceit largely perpetuated by our so-called “free press” but in truth a powerful propaganda machine in it's own right regardless of what one thinks of Russian news. So what has Putin's Russia done that has been aggressive and against international law? Not much. Crimea voted and Russia was asked to by Syria to defeat ISIS (aka US proxy force). The war on ISIS has been very effective. So effective that the US who is allied with Saudi Arabia and Turkey (two ISIS factories) keeps complaining about it's so-called “moderates” being bombed. Well, if they would separate from ISIS that would be nice, but they won't and they can't because they are. And why exactly does the author want to overthrow a country that is secular, inclusive, and provides universal healthcare and higher education anyway? Does he really want what we have now in Libya – which also provided the same before “we came, we saw, he died”? Maybe he prefers a country of intolerant head-choppers like Saudi Arabia? A state broken up into religious factions? He may want to think about that awhile. Finally, if we get by without a direct confrontation, which many neo-liberal-cons including the author seems to be itching for, we will be lucky. It's getting frighteningly close to midnight as the US leaves Russia few options except surrender or direct confrontation. The Progressive would do well to get out the unreported information in these conflicts, it could mean the difference between catastrophe or survival. Seriously.
THOM HARTMANN you nitwits is America's No.1 defender of Putin - any military conflicts 100% the fault of NATO. Russia firing up its NUKE program again, the USA response bitterly derided by the Russiaphile Thom. As Russia commits War Crime after Atrocity in Syria, even FIREBOMBING a United Nations Aid Convoy and leveling EVERY HOSPITAL in non-Assad Aleppo, Thom's response is to change the topic and vigorously ban unacceptable callers.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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