November 7, 2015


'The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin,' by Steven Lee Myers (GAL BECKERMAN, NOV. 2, 2015, NY Times Book Review)

Vladimir Putin has an origin story. It takes place in Dresden in the fall of 1989, in the dying days of East Germany, on the night that thousands of protesters stormed the city's Stasi headquarters. Once they were done ransacking the offices that had inspired so much terror, they directed their anger down the street toward the K.G.B. residence where Lieutenant Colonel Putin, a young intelligence officer, stood looking out the window. Watching the approaching mob, Putin called the local Soviet military command and asked for reinforcements. But no higher authority would approve it. "Moscow is silent," he was told.

Shocked that the Soviet Union was so weakened that it couldn't even defend the sensitive documents inside the building, he decided to take matters into his own hands. Dressed in his military uniform but with no pistol, no orders and no backup, he walked out to the gate where the crowd had assembled. And he bluffed. "This house is strictly guarded," he said in an even tone, in fluent German. "My soldiers have weapons. And I gave them orders: If anyone enters the compound, they are to open fire." With that, he turned and walked back into the house. The protesters dispersed.

Putin loves this story. But it's also good fodder for Putinologists, struggling to decipher what drives the man who has so completely ruled Russia for the last 15 years. It's a question as critical now -- with a Moscow-backed insurgency raging in eastern Ukraine and Russia choosing to actively intervene in the Syrian civil war -- as it was when Putin first came to power in 2000 and went to war in Chechnya. And here we have some insight into how he likes best to see himself: One man representing his country, representing stability and order, stands against the chaos of the street; one man who still believes in the unique power of the state personifies its sovereignty and its prerogative to defend its interests; one man who embodies calm, measured authority resists the emotional swell of undisciplined, angry people, and understands that the appearance of forcefulness and obstinacy can be as powerful as an actual show of force.

The Right looks at him and believes he's the grand and glorious Wizard.  The rest of us see the lonely con man.

Posted by at November 7, 2015 8:32 AM