Scarier Than You Think

The confrontation with Russia is becoming more alarming. Kathrin Hille, reporting from Moscow for the Financial Times, describes how cellphone operators are offering free ringtones of patriotic war songs, intended to evoke the defense of Moscow in 1941.

The government-led drive, named Hurray for Victory! comes as Moscow enters the homestretch in an impassioned and increasingly shrill campaign to commemorate the end of the Second World War.

Meanwhile, The New York Times, as part of the rollout of its redesigned magazine, commissioned Sovciet-born Russian novelist Gary Shteyngart to hole up for seven days at the Four Seasons Hotel on 57th Street in Manhattan with the main Russian television networks on three screens. In “‘Out of My Mouth Comes Unimpeachable Manly Truth:’ What I learned from watching a week of Russian TV ‘” Shteyngart concludes, The War Against Putin:... M S King Check Amazon for Pricing.

When you watch the Putin Show, you live in a superpower. You are a rebel in Ukraine bravely leveling the once-state-of-the-art Donetsk airport with Russian-supplied weaponry. You are a Russian-speaking grandmother standing by her destroyed home in Lugansk shouting at the fascist Nazis, much as her mother probably did when the Germans invaded more than 70 years ago. You are a priest sprinkling blessings on a photogenic convoy of Russian humanitarian aid headed for the front line. To suffer and to survive: This must be the meaning of being Russian. It was in the past and will be forever. This is the fantasy being served up each night on Channel 1, on Rossiya 1, on NTV.

And The Wall Street Journal has an essay by Andrew S. Weiss, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment, an aide in various capacities in the administrations of presidents CAPITAL George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Weiss writes,

[T]he Ukraine showdown is even scarier than you think: Mr. Putin is making it up as he goes along….  Almost single-handedly, [he] seems to be dragging much of the West into a New Cold War.  He’s winging it, and when things get difficult, he tends to double down.

Weiss describes an “extreme personalization of power” following Putin’s return as president in 2012. As the Ukraine crisis intensified in late 2013 and 2014, Putin narrowed his circle of advisers and placed them on a war-footing, valuing loyalty over worldliness. We Who Dared to Say No... Murray Polner, Thomas ... Check Amazon for Pricing.

Blindsided when events in Kiev spun out of control last February and Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych fled to Moscow, Weiss says, Putin had only himself to blame for having backed a leader who simply panicked when the going got tough.”  So, on the “spur-of-the-moment,” Putin annexed Crimea.

Why on earth would Moscow want to take over a money pit like Crimea at a time of slowing economic growth and plunging oil prices?  On the fly, Kremlin propagandists came up with a mantra that they invoke to this day: the new authorities who replaced Mr. Yanukovych in Kiev were illegitimate because they had staged a coup d’état with Western backing,

Putin followed his invasion – “the most audacious land-grab since World War II” – with a “sham popular referendum” and formal annexation. Then came more “damn-the-consequences, trial-and-error improvisation” to sow unrest in  southeastern Ukraine: seizures of government buildings by Russian-speaking separatists, led by Russian “facilitators.” And after the situation escalated to outright war, Putin sought a ceasefire, obtained it on advantageous terms, and then violated it with an unexpected surge of fighting around Donetsk and Lugansk.

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