Give me a sec to count. In my lifetime the Soviet Union and latterly the Russian Federation have had nine leaders. Stalin’s death elevated Malenkov and then Khrushchev, and the banishing of Khrushchev led to Brezhnev. Then came a pair of forgettables, then Gorbachev and on to the ever-inebriated Yeltsin (whom one wants dearly to forget). For 15 years, counting the Dmitry Medvedev interval, Vladimir Putin has held the wheel of the Russian bus.
Of all these figures only Stalin, and only in his post-“Uncle Joe” years, has been vilified to the extent of the current Russian leader. The question is obvious and I hope not too complicated: Why?
There are always plenty of answers floating around. I take almost all of them to lie somewhere between misguided and malevolent by intent, but I will get to this in a minute. In as few words as I can manage, here is my thought: Putin has fallen drastically afoul of Washington — and his war is with Washington more than the Europeans — because those in deep slumber do not like to be awakened.
It is an irresistible time to consider this problem for two reasons. One, in history two sure signs of imperial decline are deafness and blindness in the imperial capital, and as of the past year or so Washington exhibits seriously deteriorating symptoms. The willful refusal of our foreign policy cliques to look squarely at our world and listen to those in it is getting dangerous.
Two, Putin has just delivered a speech every American deserves to hear and consider. Few will have done so for the simple reason that our media declined to tell you about the Russian leader’s presentation to an annual gathering of leaders and thinkers called the Valdai International Discussion Club, a Davos variant. Here is the Kremlin transcript, and now readers have two things to decide: What they think of the speech and what they think of the American media for not reporting it.
The theme at Valdai this year was “The World Order: NewRules, or a Game Without Rules.” With the Ukraine crisis bumbling along toward a conclusion (or not) and the horrifically pointless mess America has made of the Middle East and now worsens daily, the either/or title is just about right: We cannot continue on in the post-Cold War era as we have until now.