I’ve been seeing quite a bit of lionization of Vladimir Putin lately, by a lot of the same people who were up in arms last year about Obama’s hot mic comment to Dmitri Medvedev that he’d have “more flexibility” as regards to giving the Russians what they want (re: missile defense for our allies in Eastern Europe). Some of it can be traced to this, a “letter” published by Breitbart.com. Some of it seems to be little more than cheering on the “enemy of my enemy” by those who really detest Obama.
Objectivity, however, requires that we take another look at Putin, and just who and what he is, and just who and what he’s supporting in the Middle East at the moment. That should put to rest the idea that he is some champion of freedom.
Vladimir Putin got his start as a KGB officer in East Germany. The details of his time there, and what his assignments were, remain secret. There are rumors but not much more than that. Following his tenure with the KGB, he became an up-and-coming bureaucrat until the time an ailing Boris Yeltsin, beleaguered by scandals about the corruption in his administration, as well as vote-fixing to keep Yeltsin in power, appointed him Prime Minister.
Now, the KGB, while immensely powerful, had no political power of its own. Its reins were held tightly by the Central Committee and the Chairman, the de facto dictator of Soviet Russia. Under the senile rule of Leonid Brezhnev, the “Sword and Shield of the Party” began to really chafe about this lack of control, so when Yuri Andropov, the former chief of the KGB, took over the Chairmanship, the KGB began to become more powerful as well. By then, the Soviet Union was already starting to collapse, and though Andropov didn’t last very long before his kidneys failed, the KGB had already started building its alternate structures. There is a considerable body of evidence that this was in fact the birth of the Russian Mafia.
When Putin rose to power, a lot of other former KGB and FSB (the Federal Security Service, successor to the KGB) rose to positions of government power as well. Known as siloviki, these former agents now run the bulk of the Russian government. In 1999, Putin himself said, “There is no such thing as an ex-Chekist.” (Chekist is a term for spy or secret policeman, after Lenin’s Cheka, the first Soviet security force and predecessor of the KGB.).
True to his word, Putin has operated like a Chekist, informed as well by his love of judo. Instead of trying to control everything directly, which led to the downfall of the Soviet Union, he concentrates on keeping his enemies off-balance before striking them in a way they don’t expect. There is some evidence that he and his siloviki comrades exacerbated the conflict in Chechnya, achieving their intended purpose of consolidating state power in the wake of fears brought on by terrorist bombings in 1999. His policies have since strengthened the Russian economy, at the cost of freedom and any potent opposition. Many of Putin’s opponents now live in fear of their lives, elections are fixed, and any demonstrations that attempt to go ahead when denied permission by the police are rapidly broken up.
While condemned publicly by Putin, the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB officer, in London by polonium-210 poisoning, points straight back to the Kremlin. Russia is the chief producer of polonium in the world, and it is tightly controlled by the government. While the Mafiya does have extensive connections to the Kremlin, Litvinenko had been a harsh critic of Putin, and had fled the country to the UK to avoid the authorities. Champions of freedom and righteousness don’t assassinate their political opponents using nuclear terrorism.
Now we come to the current situation. Syria is Russia’s primary remaining ally in the Levant. As such, Putin’s support of Assad is in his country’s interests. Currently, the primary backers of the Assad regime on the ground are Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force. Russia is also allied with Iran, sponsor of Hezbollah and the Jaysh al Mahdi, both of whom have been responsible for many American deaths. Hezbollah had the highest American body count of any terrorist organization prior to 9/11.
So how, by supporting Shiite jihadists, is Putin a natural ally against Sunni jihadists? Answer: he’s not. He is acting in his country’s interests, and the people he is backing in Syria are as much our enemies as the Al Qaeda-affiliated rebel groups that we have previously profiled on this site. As inept as our own administration may appear, let’s not make the mistake of lionizing a “godfather” just because he opposes someone we don’t like. Sometimes the enemy of my enemy is my enemy’s enemy, no more, no less.*
*With apologies to Howard Tayler.