“Who cares?”

Even though many of Vladimir Putin’s Western apologists – notably Noam Chomskywould surely identify themselves as ardent anti-imperialists, for them, as we’ve seen over and over again, the old imperial notion of “spheres of influence” is still very much alive.

putin9
Vladimir Putin

Consider an exchange that took place on a German TV talk show early last year. A Ukrainian journalist who was standing up for her country’s right to freedom and self-determination told Klaus von Dohnanyi, a German Social Democratic politician: “I don’t feel particularly good about how you speak about Ukraine, as though the country didn’t even exist.”

She couldn’t have put it more correctly: Americans and Western Europeans who are eager to “understand” Putin’s motivations and his supposed feeling of insecurity over being “surrounded” by NATO are deplorably quick to reduce Ukraine – a nation of 45 million people – to a chess piece, a bargaining chip, a buffer zone without any rights or will or mind or its own.

(As we saw last time around, right-wing British opinion columnist Peter Hitchens – not to be confused with his late, great brother, Christopher – had a succinct answer to concerns about Russia’s moves on Ukraine: “Who,” he sneered, “now cares about squalid Ukraine….?” Back in 1938, certain British commentators wrote similar things about the Sudetenland.)

dohnanyi
Klaus von Dohnanyi

Dohnanyi’s response to the Ukrainian journalist was nothing short of disgraceful: “You can’t simply remove yourselves from a zone of influence,” he lectured her.

Has Dohnanyi forgotten that the eastern part of his own country was, until not very long ago, a part of the USSR’s “zone of influence”? As writer Ralf Neukirch put it in Der Spiegel, “the Ukrainians…are being sacrificed on the altar of sympathy for Russia.” Or, rather, sympathy for Putin, whom his midguided apologists see not as a tyrant but as a victim – even as they view 45 million Ukrainians as troublemakers whose very existence is a problem and whose longing for freedom only adds insult to injury.

Another such apologist for Putin’s designs on Ukraine is Atlantic Monthly‘s Russia columnist Jeffrey Tayler, who, in March 2014, argued that Putin was right to view with a gimlet eye U.S. aid to that country under the 1992 Freedom Support Act.

tayler
Jeffrey Tayler

American efforts under this act, of course, have been aimed at helping a people liberated from Communism to develop democratic institutions; instead of lauding this noble goal, Tayler urged his readers to sympathize with Russians who see the program as insidious, and himself described these aid efforts as “aggressive steps…to reduce Russia’s influence.” By seeking to help Eastern Europeans develop free institutions and economies, the U.S., in Tayler’s view, is expanding its “hegemony” – and is doing so “at Russia’s expense.”

Some of us might suggest that what’s increased “at Russia’s expense” is the freedom and prosperity of its former subject peoples. But Tayler is less concerned about those millions of free people along Russia’s borders than he is about poor Putin, who, he maintains, is convinced – and quite reasonably so – that he’s “locked in a struggle not only for Russian dominance in its near-abroad, but for the future of his government — and even, possibly, for his life.”

Yes, his life. Tayler omits to mention the arrest, imprisonment, torture, and assassination of countless Putin adversaries, but he does raise the absurd specter of the US taking out Putin – for it’s apparently just a short step, in Tayler’s view, from mischievously encouraging the spread of liberty in Putin’s backyard to ordering his assassination.

pilger
John Pilger

In Britain, the Guardian is home to several scribes who, it appears, can see Ukrainian freedom only through Putin’s eyes. John Pilger calls the 2014 Ukrainian revolution “Washington’s putsch in Kiev”; for him, Putin’s Russia isn’t an anti-democratic menace but an innocent victim of “provocation and isolation” by a U.S. government whose actions against it are “right out of Dr. Strangelove.” Fellow Guardian writer Seumas Milne agrees, calling Putin’s invasion of Crimea “clearly defensive” and expressing satisfaction that, thanks to Putin, “the east of Ukraine, at least, is not going to be swallowed up by Nato or the EU.” Yes, you read that right: a columnist for the Guardian views NATO, not Putin, as a bully out to “swallow up” eastern Ukraine. Jonathan Cook, a former Guardianista, puts it like this: “Russia is getting boxed in by an aggressive Nato policy on its doorstep.” Again, everything’s upside-down: NATO’s the aggressor, Russia the prey.

Let’s wind up our overview of Putin’s apologists with a look at Daniel Larison, who’s been a regular contributor to the flagship paleocon journal American Conservative since 2004. Back in 2007, Larison published a piece in Taki Magazine (another paleocon sheet) entitled – no kidding – “Persecuting Putin.” In it, Larison – who was then a grad student in Chicago – condemned the “savage criticisms of Putin and his regime” by “putative” Western conservatives, whom he accused of a “lingering post-Cold War suspicion of Russia” and a “not-so-latent Russophobia.” If Westerners distrust Putin, Larison charged, it’s because “a relatively strong, assertive Russia poses an unacceptable threat to the ability of Washington and Brussels to dominate their desired spheres of influence in post-Soviet space.”

What about, um, the freedom of the countries in that “post-Soviet space”? Larison wrote so condescendingly about the spread of liberty to former Soviet republics and satellites that we found ourselves wondering exactly how old he is. We discovered that he got his Ph.D. in 2009. One suspects, then, that Larison is too young to remember the Cold War – too young to have ever set foot behind the Iron Curtain and experienced the genuine terror that was Soviet totalitarianism. Surely no American of conscience, we submit, could have lived through the Cold War and the fall of the Iron Curtain and be able, in 2007, to write (as he does) about the freedom of Eastern Europeans as if it were simply a question of “spheres of influence” and of unsavory efforts by U.S. and European leftists to impose social democracy on people who belong, by nature, in the Kremlin’s orbit.

larison
Daniel Larison

Larison, we’ll repeat, wrote that piece way back in 2007. He hasn’t changed his tune, however. Like his American Conservative colleagues Pat Buchanan and William S. Lind, he’s written one piece after another making it plain that he sees Putin’s Russia as a bastion of the “conservative” values that the U.S., in the paleocon view, has brutally betrayed. As James Kirchick observed last year in the Daily Beast, “Larison is a dependable Putin apologist no matter how egregious the Russian president’s behavior.”

Alas, that statement could be made about all too many of Putin’s useful idiots in the West, whose dependability is matched only by their moral dereliction.

Putin’s U.S. fan club

 

Vladimir Putin is a thug, a gangster, a demagogue, who has gained popular approval in Russia by encouraging his people’s most barbaric impulses and demonizing everything civilized. Yet he has his Western admirers.

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin

We’ve examined lefty movie director Oliver Stone‘s unsavory enthusiasm for Putin, ditto that of conservative journalist Christopher Caldwell, who’s characterized Putin’s Western critics as “harsh” – a word he seemed loath, interestingly, to use in describing Putin’s own imprisonment, torture, and assassination of pro-democracy dissenters.

Now we’ll look at a few other right-wing Putin fans.

  • First up: Jacob Heilbrunn of The National Interest. Just as Caldwell slammed Putin’s Western critics as “harsh,” Heilbrunn chided them for “pummeling” Putin – a thought-provoking choice of words, given that Putin literally has people pummeled (and worse). In response to a London Times article noting parallels between his actions and those of Joseph Stalin, Heilbrunn asked: “But is he really that bad?”

Yes, Heilbrunn recognized his obligation to accept a degree of criticism of Putin: “No one is under the illusion that Putin is a very nice man or that he isn’t in charge of a pretty nasty regime.” But he held out the illusion that Putin is “creating a stable foundation for a democratic state as emerged in Spain after the death of Francisco Franco.” Sheer fantasy.

  • Let’s move on to Rod Dreher, a sometime contributor to National Review and Weekly Standard, who wrote in August 2013 that while he “deplore[s] the anti-gay violence taking place in Russia today,” he “agree[s] with Pat Buchanan when he says that Vladimir Putin’s Russia is defending traditional Christian moral standards and actual Christians more than America is.” While the West has become “post-Christian,” argued Dreher, Putin’s Russia is “in important ways more conscious of its Christian history and character than the United States.”

Four months later, Dreher returned to the topic, saying that while Putin, through “our Western eyes,” might look like “an authoritarian who hates gay people,” what really matters is that “Putin is playing a long game here, a game that is far more serious and consequential for the survival of his country than American culture warriors can see.”

raimondo
Justin Raimondo
  • Or check out Justin Raimondo, who, writing in January 2015, mocked concerns about the corruption of Putin’s regime – saying that the roads in Russia, for example, can’t possibly be any worse than the ones in his own neck of the woods in northern California – and rejected the idea that Putin was eroding political freedoms or that his elections were rigged. Raimondo denied that Russia is on its way to being a “failed state”: “Russia is nowhere near becoming anything like, say, Somalia, a classic failed state.”

Similarly, “Russia is very far from being a ‘dictatorship’”: Putin’s suppression of opposition parties and media isn’t all that much worse, Raimondo claimed, than the situation in the U.S. For Raimondo, Putin isn’t an aggressor but a victim – namely, of a “wave of Russophobia.” Besides, however bad Putin may be, he insisted, some of Russia’s other potential leaders are much worse, and if any of them gain power, it’ll be the West’s fault.

  • Then there’s surgeon, author, and presidential aspirant Ben Carson, who in February 2014 wrote that “there may be some validity” to Putin’s claim that the US and Europe had become godless. “While we Americans are giving a cold shoulder to our religious heritage,” Carson averred, “the Russians are warming to religion. The Russians seem to be gaining prestige and influence throughout the world as we are losing ours.”
  • Writing in the same month, William S. Lind, former director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism, celebrated Putin for helping Russia to “emerg[e] once more as the leading conservative power” Quoting Putin’s criticism of same-sex marriage, his statement that many Europeans are ashamed of their religious convictions, and his insistence on “the rights of the majority,” Lind asked: “Should we not cheer a Russian president who dares to defy “political correctness?”

While America, he concluded, “is becoming the leader of the international Left[,] Russia is reasserting her historic role as leader of the international Right.” He called on his fellow American conservatives to “welcome the resurgence of a conservative Russia.”

Franklin Graham
Franklin Graham
  • In March 2014, Billy Graham’s son and successor, Franklin Graham, praised Putin for cracking down on homosexuality, favorably contrasting his brutal suppression of gays to President Obama’s “shameful” support for the human rights of gay people. “Putin is right on these issues,” Graham asserted, saying that Putin had taken an admirable “stand to protect his nation’s children.”

Graham asked: “Isn’t it sad…that America’s own morality has fallen so far that on this issue — protecting children from any homosexual agenda or propaganda — Russia’s standard is higher than our own?”

Conservatives like these used to despise the Soviet Union. But they’ve made a role model out of Putin’s Russia, which is basically the Soviet Union with a makeover.

Still, none of them is quite as eloquent in his enthusiasm for Putin’s tyranny than Pat Buchanan, who once upon a time was perhaps the fiercest Cold War combatant of them all. We’ll move on to his perverse praise for Putin next time.