I have long been leery of Vladimir Putin. Rather like Mitt Romney, who warned during the 2012 presidential campaign that Russia was “America’s number one political foe” (a position for which he was at the time widely derided), Putin has never done other than make me fearful of what one day he might become, of what one day he might do.
I wish I could say with certainty this day is now. I wish I could say with certainty that what he is now he will be in a year. I wish I could say that his level of threat will remain the same – rather than escalate. But if the West does nothing significant to stop him, my best guess is that he will become ever more ominous a menace.
Consider these three stories, each of which broke just in the last week.
- The Russian government announced that it would recognize the results of the coming elections in Eastern Ukraine. Since this region is controlled by Ukrainian/Russian separatists, the tensions between them and the legitimate government in Kiev can only escalate. As it is even now, Eastern Ukraine is more or less autonomous.
- More than two dozen Russian aircraft flew along the edges of NATO territory in Europe. They stayed over international waters, but it was clear nevertheless that these exercises were part of broader Russian aggression, in which it is testing the West with a determination and regularity not seen since the Cold War. This includes, I should add, cyber-attacks, targeted particularly at American interests, in both the private and public sectors.
- Putin’s pressures on his own citizens, on Russians, to toe the line, his line, continues unabated. Just this week (11/2) the New York Times printed an extensive expose on how the printing of schoolbooks is increasingly being centralized, put under the control of a single publishing house, headed by one of Putin’s closest and oldest friends. “By the time the school year began this fall, the number of approved textbooks for Russian’s 14 million schoolchildren had been slashed by more than half.”
At this rate the worm is turning faster than the West – faster than the United States – dares to or cares to keep up. Whatever became of “the leader of the free world”?