Vladimir Putin turning Russia into a 'prison' that 'would make Stalin blush': columnist
Max Boot, a conservative opinion columnist at The Washington Post, emigrated to the United States from the former Soviet Union in 1976 with his mother and grandmother. As he marveled at the economic liberties that Americans took for granted, Boot's hopes grew for the Russian population as Western capitalism took root throughout the foredoomed communist bloc in subsequent years.
Today, the 52-year-old Boot is disheartened at what Russian President Vladimir Putin is doing to the land of his birth and its citizens. In a searing editorial that was published on Monday, Boot blasted "dictator" Putin for implementing an agenda of regression that would be the envy of the most brutal leaders of the USSR.
For Boot, Putin's "barbaric" invasion of Ukraine is the culmination of more than two decades of "Sovietization" under Putin's regime.
Putin "has pushed 'rewind' on more than 30 years of Russian history. The faltering steps Russia has been taking since the late 1980s to develop an open society have been erased in the blink of an eye. In just a few weeks, Russia has gone from authoritarianism to totalitarianism, and its economy has been disconnected from the West. This isn’t quite Stalinization — Putin isn’t sending millions to the gulag — but it is definitely Sovietization," Boot wrote. "Now the most sanctioned country in the world, Russia is returning to the kind of backward and repressive place that my family fled in 1976."
In response to Putin's attack on Ukraine, scores of major Western companies have either suspended or completely abandoned their operations in Russia.
Boot pointed out that these unprecedented movies are "a case study in what happens when a country 'de-globalizes.' Russians are losing access not just to McDonald’s but to Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Ikea, Visa, Mastercard, Apple, Goldman Sachs, and all the rest. The stock market is closed. The ruble is in free fall. A debt default is likely. There are long lines as Western stores close, and grocery stores are rationing flour and sugar. Putin is now threatening to nationalize the assets of Western companies that are leaving Russia. If he carries through on his threat, few Western companies are likely to return."
That will undoubtedly take a massive toll on Russia's economy and its people, although the pain will take some time to manifest, Boot said.
It is important to remember that Russia is not a democracy, at least in the Western sense. Elections are (actually) rigged, and Putin has manipulated his way to remain in power for the rest of his life via venal relationships with political sycophants, Russia's wealthy industrialists (the oligarchs), and obsequious military commanders.
"Putin is not a democratic politician who needs to win votes, but, like any despot, he is eager to brainwash his population. So he is cracking down on dissent, snuffing out the last remnants of a free press, and banning American social media sites. Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, there were always Western reporters in Russia. But now Western news bureaus are shuttering and few sources of independent reporting remain," noted Boot.
The Kremlin's aversion to free thought underscores Putin's push to impose Soviet-style mind control.
"The lies of Putin’s lackeys would make Stalin blush: The United States is training migratory birds to fly from Ukraine to Russia to distribute 'bacteriological weapons.' Ukrainian victims of Russian bombing are 'crisis actors.' The Ukrainians are shelling their own cities. Russia’s foreign minister even denies that Russia attacked Ukraine. It is now a crime in Russia to call the war a war; it’s a 'special military operation.' The only war Putin mentions is the economic one being waged on Russia. This is Orwellian — or, more accurately, Putinian," Boot continued.
Putin is also the "most isolated Russian leader since Stalin," Boot added. "Putin sees few of his own aides in person anymore — and when he does, he makes them sit as far away as possible. He is said to spend most of his time at a sprawling compound midway between Moscow and St. Petersburg with its own solarium, bowling alley, golf course, swimming pools, and saunas, where he can nurse his grievances in solitude."
Incidentally, a 2019 poll found that more than half of all Russians still viewed Stalin favorably.
Putin's self-imposed sequestration has led to him acting upon his paranoid musings, regardless of objective reality. That, along with how he perceives his place in history, is almost impossible to rationally reconcile.
"While claiming to be fighting 'neo-Nazis,' Putin is creating his own fascist cult whose symbol is the letter Z, which is painted on Russian military vehicles invading Ukraine. He appears to view himself as another great czar — the second coming of Peter the Great — reviving the Russian empire. In fact, he is destroying not only Ukraine but also Russia in pursuit of his mad dreams of imperial glory," Boot said.
"Watching the dismal, depressing events of recent weeks, I am immensely grateful to my late mother for bringing me out of the Soviet Union," Boot concluded. "I grieve for all those still trapped in Putin’s prison."
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