Conservatives should not trust Putin

Naïve American conservatives want to like  Putin.
Current presidential candidate Donald Trump said this of Russia’s leader: “I’ve always felt fine about Putin, I think that he’s a strong leader, he’s a powerful leader…”
Conservative columnist Rachel Marsden said this in a recent column:
Russia is moving in the opposite direction from the West in critical ways: There’s a sense here that Putin is trying to preserve what is good of Russian culture and character while steering the country towards a freer way of thinking and operating — albeit still at a very Soviet pace. The West, by contrast, seems to be destroying its heritage and roots with initiatives straight out of the leftist playbook while becoming increasingly more shackled economically
Both Trump and Marsden should read Winter is Coming, a warning about Vladimir Putin by former World Champion Chess player, Garry Kasparov.
Garry Kasparov
Kasparov writes that China and Russia have social compacts which exchange economic stability for their citizen’s human rights.
They have propaganda instead of news, sham elections, and minimal freedom of speech and assembly.
But he tells us:
Do not fall for the false choice.  Repression may begin as a means to an end, but it always ends up being an end unto itself.

There was a window of opportunity under Boris Yeltsin, who preceded Putin, and who allowed a free press, but much went wrong in the effort to supplant the old Communist economy with a free market.

The West had poured money into Russia, but…
What the West failed to understand, that the average Russian was more likely to point a finger at foreign financial institutions and governments for imposing what many Russians perceived as a corrupt and dysfunctional capitalist system.  That it wasn’t really much of a capitalist system at all yet wasn’t understood.  This resentment was compounded by how Yeltsin (and later Putin)..routinely deployed anti-Western rhetoric to pass off any blame from landing on their own shoulders.
Russians also wanted a tough guy to stand up to the criminals and the Western influences.
Every day struggling Russians read about the new billionaires being created by cozy deals with the government.  You didn’t have to understand how things like privatization vouchers, loans-for-shares and rigged auctions worked to realize there was a huge scam going on.
At the time, Russian media was free, but now it is not, and so though there is plenty of corruption now, Russians can’t get angry at something they don’t know about.
When Yeltsin appointed Putin to Prime Minister, Putin became the public face of a new war in Chechnya.  It was an indiscriminate war, that caused thousands of deaths and countless refugees.  Average Russians were supportive of the campaign, and Kasparov was also quite sympathetic to it.
Chechen criminal gangs were active all over Russia, and for many Russians the crackdown in Chechnya was hopefully going to end the plague of corruption and criminality in the cities where they lived.  There were other reasons as well, including an invasion of Dagestan and bombings of apartment buildings in Russia (but see notes – Chechens may not have been the bombers)
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Chechen war, it was a human rights disaster, with prisoners rounded up indiscriminately, and routinely murdered or tortured.
Clues to the agenda of a closed society can come from its internal propaganda.
Kasparov says that government propaganda in Russia portrays it as a victim, humiliated by the West, and surrounded by enemies that are intent on holding it back.  Kasparov quotes Robert Paxton’s  book “Anatomy of Fascism” that says that Fascism includes
the belief that one’s group is a victim, a sentiment that justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against its enemies, both internal and external.
When Putin began his war in Ukraine, propaganda portrayed the new democratic government in Kyiv as being full of fascists and Nazis, and Russia had to intervene to protect the ethnic Russians, and even the Ukrainian Jews.  This might indicate that the Russian government cares about Jews, but on the other hand, Russian propaganda also tells stories of Jewish oligarchs supposedly running Ukraine, apparently in hopes to discredit the Ukrainian government to its own citizens.
After leaving the word of chess, Kasparov became a political activist, and toured Russia.  His experiences are instructive.  “There was no chance for me to get on TV and discuss my future plans.” and groups that ranged from pranksters to dangerous criminals, all on a [government] payroll, went after him.  Youth groups assigned members to heckle and throw things at him wherever he went to speak and of course these groups were never bothered by the police. He was bashed in the head with a wooden chessboard by a young man at an event in Moscow.  He was sprayed all over with red ketchup.  And finally, he describes how the supposed free elections were a farce.

So what should the West do, if anything?

In Kasparov’s view, we should not disregard human rights.

Just like old times, Moscow has become an ally of troublemakers and anti-democratic rulers around the world.  Nuclear aid to Iran, missile technology to North Korea, military equipment to Sudan, Myanmar, and Venezuela, making friends with Hamas; this was how Putin repaid the West for keeping its mouth shut about human rights in Russia for eight years.

Kasparov compares Russia’s government with a Mafia, with “…a long string of convenient deaths among leading critics, eliminating traitors, the code of secrecy and loyalty…”

But asking the West to be more aggressive on human rights, may, in this bloggers opinion, run into roadblocks since economic sanctions on Russian cronies of Putin, or arms buildups in Eastern European countries, or military aid to Ukraine, could be considered by many risk-averse Westerners as a provocation of Russia that could lead to war.

There has been much dispute in the U.S. about our efforts to “nation build” in Iraq and Afghanistan and our attempts to install democracies in both countries.  Much of Iraq is now under the control of Jihadists.   The Islamist Taliban is gaining again in Afghanistan.  The U.S. is supporting Islamic rebels versus the Syrian dictator, while Russia is supporting the Syrian dictator and already, a Russian plane that strayed from Syria into Turkish airspace has been shot down (Turkey’s leader is a good friend of Obama).

But to counter the mindset of not antagonizing other countries it could be argued that by ignoring the “total control” that Putin quickly imposed on Russia, that we have lost an opportunity to avert the “Winter” that Kasparov thinks is coming and which will cause hard times for us.

Note: among the reasons for the War vs Chechnya was four terror bombings of apartment buildings in Russia which were blamed on the Chechens by the FSB.  However, the bombers may not have been Chechens at all, see:

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