In 2002, Vladimir Putin told a French reporter who asked about “innocent civilians” killed in Chechnya that—since the journalist evidently sympathized with Muslims—he would arrange to have him circumcised, adding: “I will recommend that they conduct the operation in such a way so that afterwards nothing else will grow.” People of the pompous persuasion were shocked to hear the president of Russia speak, well, the way most normal souls would answer some wise guy trying to score points for his ten seconds of fame. Bravo Vladimir, I cheered at the time. If only more heads of state spoke like that to self-important, busybody reporters.
Putin happens to be the favorite politician of one of my closest friends. “It’s because he doesn’t sound like the rest of them, and he’s done a hell of a lot for my country,” says his Royal Highness Prince Nicola Romanov, the direct descendant of the last czar and titular head of that tragic family. Romanov is my neighbor in Switzerland, a very tall, extremely well-read gentleman in his mid-80’s, who until recently was president of our ski club in Gstaad. A bit of a comedown, I admit, but Nicola could not have cared less. We elected him in order to chop the heads off the entrenched oligarchy ruining the club, and he did just that. In a very noble manner, that is. “My ancestors must be turning over,” he joked at the time. But back to Putin.
As everyone who doesn’t watch MTV all day knows by now, an important oil pipeline passes through Georgia. For all the idealistic blather about the rights of small nations and ethnic minorities, cynical Realpolitik suggests that neither Moscow nor Washington nor London would be so concerned about the region if oil and gas were not at stake. Behind the scenes, all Russia has to do is threaten the West with an attack on the pipeline if it backs Georgia too much. This fact does not seem to bother such sofa samurais as the hideous William Kristol, who twins Putin with the leaders of Sudan, Rhodesia, Burma, and North Korea in his urging for Uncle Sam to take a hard line. The trouble is Kristol, as always, has it the wrong way round. There is nothing America can do in that part of the world, Putin not being a weak Milosevic, and Russia not a small country like Serbia. Kristol urges the “civilized world” not to repeat the mistakes of the 30’s, as “delay and irresolution simply invite future threats.”
What a clown this man is. Imagine if Georgia were in the Middle East. He might even consider asking his brood to enlist. (No way.) The only answer to his drivel is Pat Buchanan’s: “Is it better to be a saved Pole, with 7 million dead, or a betrayed Czech with 100,000 dead?” Ironically, parallels between Kosovo and South Ossetia are striking. The Western powers supported the Kosovo separatists with the use of force, including bombing Belgrade. Russia supported South Ossetian separatists with the use of force, including bombing Tbilisi. All Russia has done is follow the lead set by the West in resolving separatist disputes. So why are the usual suspects screaming bloody murder?
My friend Radek Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister and an ex-Spectator writer and colleague, is skating on thin ice by welcoming American weapons to his country. Radek can be excused because he’s a Pole, his country having suffered terribly under Russia and the Soviet Union since time immemorial. But the Kremlin’s reaction to the Polish gesture to Washington was immediate, and its nukes will certainly know how to target their old bases across the border.
Let’s face it. During the Cold War, neither Washington nor Moscow let its satellites get out of hand. In today’s post-Cold War world, small states have the potential to trigger bigger crises between nuclear-armed powers. The Russians believe that a Polish missile shield has the Russian Federation as its target. Ditto for the Czech Republic, Georgia, and Ukraine. Yet as everyone with an ounce of history knows, the fear of encirclement has characterized Russia for centuries. NATO lost its principal purpose with the collapse of communism. It now serves only Washington’s expansionist instincts. The expansionist urge gained impetus from the neocons in the 1990’s with their Project for the New American Century. But as I said before, the neocons have a Masada complex—as long as others do the dying. Russia and China are not patsies; they are not Iraq or Syria. Uncle Sam can push around the Philippines, Cuba, Mexico, Grenada, Lebanon, and Serbia, but Russia was around long before we were, and has seen it all. Both Napoleon and Hitler failed, and for some strange reason I think Mr. W would be well advised to look into Russian eyes and back off.
Putin is not Hitler or Stalin. He was provoked into invading by a Washington shill. In Russian eyes, the invaders were defending kith and kin. The Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003 was doing nothing of the sort. It was simply following orders from the neocons in order to make the Middle East safer for Israel. What Putin should have done is use Bush’s words. Call for regime change and suggest that Georgian gangsters had contacts with Al Qaeda. The Russians know where their interests lie, and we in America should not waste time lecturing them.