Vladimir Putin: Russia’s ruler for life

It's at our peril that we dismiss the threat this dictator presents to Europe and the United States. That threat is all the greater because the unchecked power Putin displayed last week aroused the admiration of ultra-conservatives.



May 13, 2024 - 2:13 PM

Honor guards take part in a parade following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration at the Kremlin in Moscow on Tuesday, May 7. Now that he has seen the country’s constitution changed so that he is ruler for life, Putin’s power is unchecked. (Pavel Bednyakov/Pool/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

While TV news was glued last week to Stormy Daniels’ tell-all testimony and pro-Palestinian demonstrations, scant attention was paid to Vladimir Putin’s tsar-like coronation for a fifth term. Nor to his bellicose parade of Russia’s nuclear-capable missiles through Red Square on Thursday, the annual Victory Day commemoration of World War II.

I would argue that Putin’s stage-managed glorification was more significant than Donald Trump’s hush money trial or the student upheavals.

For one thing, the ceremonies reflected Putin’s optimism about victory in Ukraine. Despite congressional passage of a long-delayed military aid package for Kyiv, the weapons may arrive too slowly to prevent Russia from making dangerous new gains unless they are dispatched with a greater sense of urgency. Putin’s preening is clearly fed by the belief that the new aid is too little, too late, and that a Trump victory in November will mean an end to further U.S. support for Kyiv.

Moreover, the diversion of White House attention to Gaza distracts from a desperately needed administration focus on helping Ukraine make progress against Moscow this year, not in the unpredictable future.

Yet, the deeper reason Putin’s pomp should have drawn greater attention is that it demonstrated something most Americans still don’t grasp: the threat this Russian leader presents to Europe and the U.S. That threat is all the greater because the unchecked power Putin displayed last week aroused such admiration from close associates of Trump, and from the GOP candidate himself.

The longest-serving Kremlin leader since Joseph Stalin, Putin took his oath beneath the glittering arches of the Andreyevsky Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace — where Russian tsars were once crowned. A 30-gun salute followed. Putin had had the Russian Constitution changed to enable him to rule for life.

Recall that Putin was inaugurated after a sham election in March in which no genuine alternative candidate was allowed to run. The most serious opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, had survived poisoning by Russian intelligence agents only to be imprisoned in an Arctic penal colony; he died conveniently and mysteriously in prison one month before the election.

Navalny was only the latest in a long string of Putin opponents to be poisoned or otherwise murdered, not just inside Russia but across Europe.

The Russian dictator believes his country has a ‘sacred duty’ to swallow, or dominate, other Europeans and Central Asian states what were once part of its empire. … At last week’s ceremonies, he bragged of the ‘correctness of the country’s course’ and made clear his willingness to confront the West.

On Monday, at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, I am to interview former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko, who barely survived a poisoning attempt in Kyiv in 2004 by a Russian agent; Putin opposed his efforts to draw his country closer to the European Union.

If you want a theatrical glimpse of how this cold-blooded Kremlin killer operates, rush to New York before the British play “Patriots” ends its run. You will see a splendid cast depict Putin’s brutal destruction of the Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky who lifted him out of political obscurity to the presidency, but then had the audacity to challenge the Frankenstein he helped create.

This is the nature of the leader whom Trump so admires.

The Kremlin boss is cracking down on any and all dissent inside Russia at a level unseen since the breakup of the Soviet Union. He is having statues of Stalin rebuilt all across Russia.

And, as his grandiose inaugural confirmed, he is obsessed with Russia’s past imperial glories. “We are answering to our thousand-year history and our ancestors,” he proclaimed. It is Putin’s distorted view of Russian history that underlies his invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian dictator believes his country has a “sacred duty” to swallow, or dominate, other European and Central Asian states that were once part of its empire. He considers himself the incarnation of past conquerors such as Catherine the Great, whose statue he keeps in his office. At last week’s ceremonies, he bragged of the “correctness of the country’s course,” and made clear his willingness to confront the West.

Having basically recolonized independent Belarus, Putin insists Ukraine has no right to exist as an independent country. On Victory Day, he repeated his grotesque comparison of Moscow’s fight against Ukraine to Russia’s World War II battle against the Nazis.

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