Skip to comments.Vladimir Putin in firing line after the shot that could change the world
Posted on 07/20/2014 1:10:29 PM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
RUSSIAS President, Vladimir Putin, the little man with the big stare, has always been in control. It starts with those chameleon eyes and what, at least one observer assumes, must be decades of practice. Does Putin ever blink?
He has never bothered with charm. No need. Newspapers that write the wrong thing? They close. Naughty rock singers? They go to jail. As for Western powers united in condemnation? So what?
Until Thursday afternoon, that is, when a plane fell out of the Ukraine sky and Putin, a master manipulator and (sometimes shirtless) man of action, sensed it at once. A student of history, he recognised a turning point.
The MH17 disaster was a coincidence of timing, a tick over a century to the day since a crazed Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, shot dead the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Franz Ferdinand.
The Archdukes assassination was terrorism at its clumsiest, a blunder in a heightened time of tension. Comparisons are tempting. Putin seemed to know that the downing of MH17, too, would be a shot heard around the world.
He blinked. He had lost control.
For the first time in months, if ever, Putin feigned care for Western attitudes. First, he told US President Barack Obama about the MH17 blast in a (previously scheduled) phone call. There was a cabinet meeting, with a minute of silence (photographed), and his (published) declaration that such acts were absolutely unacceptable.
Then, the real work, the kind of shameless propaganda for which Putin owes his popularity at home despite an economy hurtling into recession could begin.
He stopped playing at Ivan the Terrible and started playing at Bob the Builder. There must be peace, he proclaimed, despite the many months he had surreptitiously sponsored war.
If his backflip seemed absurd, it also showed the depth of Putins dilemma.
As did Ukraines decision yesterday to publish a photo of a dead infant in a field. Accompanying it was an accusation against Putin, the glib kind that sticks: Damn you for centuries.
By then, as the numbing details grew, Putin had been promising transparencies that conflicted not only with his leadership, but with a personality type that loathes scrutiny or small talk. Putin promised a thorough investigation. Subsequent reports that local military chiefs could not agree to a ceasefire, and therefore allow access for investigators, seemed truer to Putins disingenuous styling.
One report says the Russian separatists were using the confusion to destroy incriminating evidence.
For months, Putin had denied connections with Russian separatists. The US, meanwhile, had tightened sanctions against Russias biggest companies for those connections this was the original point of Thursdays phone call with Obama.
At first, Putin had sought to offload responsibility, to smudge any association between himself and the suspected perpetrators. They are ragtag zealots some armed with sophisticated weaponry originally designed for World War III, some wielding sticks. They constitute what have been labelled in America as Russias Taliban.
For Putin, the opening gambit went like this the Ukrainians were to blame.
If there was no war, he argued, the tragedy would not have happened. No matter, it seemed, that Ukraine broadcast audiotapes, apparently of separatists describing the crash site. The speakers sounded disappointed at an absence of weapons amid the body parts.
No matter, too, that a Russian separatist fighter, Igor Girkin, had apparently imitated drunken sports stars everywhere, and taken to social media to boast of the downed plane. They had been warned, Girkin posted, before someone in his camp thought the message might be best deleted.
GIRKIN had form. In late June, he wrote on social media about acquiring Buks, the type of rocket launchers almost certainly responsible for MH17s destruction. Back in April, Girkin, a figure almost as nebulous as Putin himself, nominated one-third of his fighters as non-Ukrainian: soon afterwards, he said it was 10 per cent. His materialisation at the time he is thought to be a Russian intelligence officer bolstered the case for Russian involvement.
Girkin said most of his men had followed from battles in Crimea, which was annexed in March and led to a massive poll surge for Putin. It was only in April, with typical opaqueness, Putin admitted that insurgency had involved Russian troops.
Girkin has a prim moustache and a thirst for nationalist military causes in former
Soviet states. He has been variously described as wildly Messianic and delusional, and is fond of donning old uniforms to re-enact nationalistic military scenes.
On Friday, The New Yorkers David Remnick offered views of Putin and Girkin from a former Putin adviser, Gleb Pavlovsky.
The adviser said Putin was no Joseph Stalin, who bent public opinion to his whims by contriving of a healthy nationalist majority against a pathological liberal minority.
Putin certainly has strategic interests in Ukraine a Black Sea warm water port, and Russias concerns about a spread of Kievs increasingly Western perspective. Yet Pavlovsky spoke of Putins continuing menace in Ukraine as a political ploy aimed at a home audience.
Today, 40 per cent of Russia wants real war with Ukraine, the adviser told Remnick.
Putin himself doesnt want war with Ukraine. But people are responding to this media machine. Putin needs to lower the temperature.
Putins problem is that all threads of blame, ultimately, lead to him. On the ground, the troops are considered Putins proxy fighters, given their ideological bent, regardless of how directly Russia has armed them. He was already isolated politically; earlier this year, Prince Charles dispensed with the usual niceties, and compared Putins incursions in Ukraine to the work of Hitler.
If, as assumed, the MH17 attack was a deliberate strike on a mistaken target, the argument goes Russia should never have allowed such unprofessional troops, with primitive radar systems, access to such sophisticated weaponry.
After all, this was the third plane strike in recent days the first two were against Ukraine military craft. Michael Desch, from University of Notre Dame, argues that in such circumstances, such a tragedy might have been anticipated.
Obama offered a surprisingly muted opening response. Other American representatives openly assumed the separatists launched the MH17 attack. They lined up to denounce Putin for reneging on de-escalation agreements.
Senator Lindsay Graham hinted of a wide sense of residual bitterness.
I dont even need the airliner incident, he said. I would go ahead and arm the Ukrainian military so that they could better arm themselves, and I would push the international community to get behind the new round of sanctions. (Putin) doesnt need to shoot down an airliner to be in my bad graces.
Putin would be mindful of the consequences of the 1983 shooting down of Korean Air Lines Flight 007, when 269 passengers died. That error upset the Soviet Unions Cold War priorities.
His Ukraine ambitions appear to be scuttled, lest he buck a torrent of condemnation from Europe, the US, as well as Australia. He chose to ignore sanctions from the start of this year. The tragedy of MH17 redefines him and his plans.
From now on, every time his government closes a business, or is accused of murdering a journalist, he will stand to be scrutinised with an attention he has never before received.
The chameleon has lost his camouflage. For now, he is being told to end a war. As the Wall Street Journal wrote yesterday: This isnt a neighbourhood autocrat trying to redress local grievances. Hes a would-be czar ... This has been obvious for years for those willing to look.
PUTIN is due to attend the G20 summit in Brisbane in November. Those who encounter him will be surprised to find that, like so many powerful men, he is surprisingly short.
He bows to his countrys former greatness, and the little favours his ancestral history turned his way. Putins grandfather, a chef, served Rasputin, Lenin and Stalin. In his office, Putin sometimes turns to the collection of Stalins books. He shows off the red crayon scribbles in the margins to visitors.
Putin has wielded superpowers for decades, but little is known about his private pursuits he once admitted, begrudgingly, a fondness for Brahms and the fact he does not do email. His spy past is credited for his air of secrecy. When a reporter asked about his marriage in 2008, her newspaper closed soon afterwards. Such methods are effective; Putin has two daughters, but no photos have been published of them as adults.
Members of Pussy Riot, an all-girl rock band, were jailed in 2012 for subversiveness (among other things, their lyrics were critical of Putin), despite the worldwide bemusement. Gays are bad and empire-building is good; Putin has never cared much about world opinion, certainly not when populist politics play well to traditionalist voters.
I think theres going to be hell to pay, said John McCain, assuming Russian-backed involvement. Other Congress representatives spoke of acts of war and terror. Putin, much like the Malaysians discovered with MH370, cannot control the intensity or direction of the worldwide media gaze.
He is the first leader to extend Russias borders since World War II. In 2007, he lamented to Time magazine the dissolution of the Soviet Union as a tragedy, mainly because 25 million ethnic Russians were stranded in foreign lands.
In the same interview, he expressed suspicion foreigners cast Russians as savages so they could better meddle in its internal affairs.
Now, internal savageries have exploded as a global scandal.
Russias chameleon leader has lunged for territories with a sudden and sharp flicks, much like the reptile gathers food with its tongue. His gaze, it seems, will now be forced to cast further than the aloof disregard he has normally shown for realms beyond his troubled patch.
Putins snappy response suggests a keen awareness a single rocket launch on Thursday on Thursday afternoon could be empire changing. As was a bullet fired by a crazed nationalist in a Sarajevo street a century ago.
A lot of senseless huffing and puffing. Vlad will be more flexible after the next election over there.
Wow. Well-written article.
Well written, yes, but accurate? Only time will tell.
While it’s fashionable to demonize and even make fun of Putin, he remains a leader with great control, resources, and a vision for the future that people like this author and the rest of us can only guess at. That Putin is firing whatever shots he’s firing at the same time that the US is led by a feckless narcissist is no coincidence.
Of course he has disregard for Western powers.
He has a MASSIVE nuclear arsenal and the stones to actually USE it.
What do we have?
I suppose one could have said the same of Chavez.
Obama will give away the USA, if he can, but Putin is President for Life. Obama’s flirting with Putin should have doomed him with the American voters. The fact that Putin ended up with disillusioned Americans actually saying nice things about him only shows how deep their commitment to conservative values are.
25 million Russkies without a home? Send them all back.
Is there a part of the world that isn’t completely effed up? If there is don’t tell Obama. Thank you so much Democrats. Israel is doing wonderfully, Iraq is back in the hands of the psychos, Iran is building nukes like a hobby, Russia is blowing planes out of the sky, terrorists are being freed, the health care system is a complete disaster, we are $17 trillion dollars in debt, we are being invaded by foreign countrieS, veterans are dying while terrorists and illegals get healthcare, we have a traitor as secretary of state who is probably selling out the country every chance he can get, Hitlery and Fauxcahontas Warren are actually seriously being considered as potential POTUS candidate, Pelosi and Reid are not in jail, and Justin Bieber still has a career.
Okay, I am even more down in the dumps.
"I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue. "I was able to get a sense of his soul."
Yup, in hindsight Bush was fooled too. So why are so many other still duped?
And your point is? Or are you simply interested in being yet another Obama apologist?
They had plenty of good reasons to lock those freaks up. From trespassing on church property to conducting orgies inside of them.
I am not at all convinced that Putin is put into a bad place by this event, no worse than before, anyway. Whose opinion about Putin or Russia is going to change dramatically because of the tragedy? We have been dealing with Russia, the same Russia on a fast track to starting a New Cold War. The same Russia that only last week had Castro of Cuba meet with Putin, while they discussed restarting the spy satelite system in Cuba. An electronic eavesdropping post is being reset to spy on the United States. Putin has agreed to forgive 90% of the 32 Billion Cuba owes Russia from expenses during the Cold War. If anything, this may even strengthen Putin’s hand and make his influence that much more ominous.
Putin is being given credit by association and denial by association as well. He does not ever have to tell us the full truth.
Just think of the character from the “Lord of the Rings” movie series who was obssesed with getting that “gold ring” named Gollum or Smeagol.
No worry there. He’s well trained in lying.