Vladimir Putin vs Democracy


“Although. . .victory may coincide with the destruction of humanity,. . .without totalitarianism we would never have known the true radical nature of evil.”

Hanna Arendt: Excerpt from The Origins of Totalitarianism (Harvest Book 244) First Edition 1951.


“If liberalism were to succeed as the core of a new world order, it would be based on a belief in the rule of law and a constitutional order:    one that limits executive power in favor of the ability of individuals to make decisions for themselves about the course of their lives; which is only guaranteed through a system of democratic rights and laws.”




In her book “Difficult Decisions, about Vladimir Putin” (2014), Hillary Clinton tells us that, as Secretary of State, she attended a ceremony at the St. Petersburg Monument erected to the victims of the Nazi invasion of Leningrad, after which she dined with Putin.   Putin shared with Clinton that his father had served on the front lines of the war against Germany in Leningrad and that he had had the uncanny experience of having rescued his wife alive from a pile of corpses, just before they were being buried.   Putin added that his mother, having survived an almost certain death, gave birth to him after the war (Vladimir had two brothers who had died of natural causes before and during the war).   Understandably, she felt a kind of compassion that these events had left on his psyche.   In her book Clinton poses to the reader the question as to whether these events could explain Putin’s mythology about what it meant for him to be Russian.   For her, correct or not, however, it must be taken that this story gave an account of Putin’s perception of his own history and that of Russia.


From the US Secretaries of State, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Rex Tillerson, we have learned that Putin expected and demanded respect and recognition of Russian capabilities.   The key would not be to respect his values or actions, but rather to respect the importance of his role as a leader.   According to these Secretaries, the key to negotiations must correspond to the present, recognizing that Putin is ambitious in his purposes, and that, although he can adapt to circumstances as they arise, he remains unpredictable.   We would have to expect his opposition to Western ideas, in particular on the basis of his own notions of equality.   These are salient features of the Russian president, particularly with regard to his relations with the United States.   Nevertheless, in the past, Putin has maintained long-standing collaborations with the US, regarding the sanctions against Iran, the nuclear agreement with Iran, and the air corridor over Russia to resupply American troops in Afghanistan.


On November 8, 1991, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus signed at a state dacha the Belovezh Agreement (the Creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States) to dissolve the Soviet Union:   a move that Putin later proclaimed as “ the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” [2].


Following the closing down of the East German KGB in 1991, Putin returned to Russia, where he then first rose to the post of first deputy mayor of St. Petersburg in 1994.   In 1996, he joined the presidential staff of Boris Yeltsin as a deputy to Pavel Borodin, the Kremlin’s chief administrator.   In July 1998, President Boris Yeltsin appointed him director of the Federal Security Service (FSB, the domestic successor to the KGB) and, shortly thereafter, he became secretary of the Russian Security Council.

In the beginning, Yeltsin nominated Putin as prime minister in 1999.   Rising crime, institutional corruption, and economic difficulties marred Yeltsin’s regime.   Suddenly, on December 31, 1999, Yeltsin announced his resignation and named Putin interim president.   Vowing to rebuild an already weakened Russia, Putin was victorious in the March 2000 elections, winning 53 percent of the votes.   His campaign promised to eliminate corruption and create a strong market economy.   Afterwards, Boris Yeltsin came to lament his support of Putin.   In March 2004, Putin won a second term as president with more than 70 percent of the vote after oil prices fueled a consumer boom and raised living standards, a trend that continued for another four years.   In 2007, Putin advocated the principles of democratic equality in his speech at the 43rd Munich Security Conference, when he accused the US of imposing a unipolar world and attacked its EU participants for complicity [2].   Then with a controversial constitutional provision, Putin was forced to step down in 2008.   Putin chose Dmitry Medvedev as his successor and Medvedev, in turn, nominated Putin as the country’s prime minister within hours of taking office on May 7, 2008.


In 2008, as prime minister Putin directed the annexation of two parts of the Republic of Georgia by military force and, in 2009, suppressed the separatist movement in Chechnya.   Putin cultivated a nationalist fervor, being re-elected president for a third time in 2012, and nominating Medvedev as primer minister. Violent measures quelled the resulting popular uprising in the capital and the rest of the country.   According to information sources of journalists in exile [3], the mortality rate of the opposition rose significantly.   Putin’s measures were to repress the opposition through incarceration, as well as poisoning them and extorting them, inside and outside the country.   In line with his aspiration to reinforce a Soviet like Federation of Russia, Putin began to affirm that the prestige of the past had been lost and that he intended to restore it.   This is reflected in his 2013 New York Times op-ed [4]—“A Plea for Caution from Russia” — where he once again focused his distrust on the US.   On Feb. 27, 2014, Russian troops started annexing Ukraine’s Crimea region after Ukrainian protesters had ousted pro Russian president Viktor Yanukovich.   The following month, Russia incorporated Crimea after a Russian referendum. Subsequently, both the United States and the European Union imposed sanctions.

On September 30, 2015, Russia launched air strikes in Syria in its biggest Middle East intervention in decades, turning the tide of the conflict in favor of President Bashar al-Assad.   In November 2016, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States after having promised to improve ties with Moscow.   American authorities have determined that Russia tried to interfere in the election in favor of him.   On March 19, 2018, Putin won his re-election in a landslide with a mandate that would keep him in office until 2024.   In 2021, he approved constitutional amendments that would allow him for re-election through 2036.


In 2021, before Russia’s invading Ukraine, the Biden administration was already completing the withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan, a policy incidentally initiated by the former president Donald Trump.   It coincided with Putin’s article, “On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians” [5] as preamble to the war against Ukraine, which began on February 24, 2022.


Now in its tenth week, the war in Ukraine appears to be evolving into a protracted conflict.   Although Ukraine has accomplished a somewhat successful first phase of the war, Russian belligerence has centered on eastern and southern territories of the country.   Without an increased support of NATO, Ukraine is faced with a more difficult situation than it has been in the past.

Having not succeeded in overthrowing Ukrainian government, Putin has begun a second phase to the eastern Dombass region.   His new goal seems to be the separation of the Dombass from the rest of Ukraine and, thus, to control access to the Black Sea.


For Putin, one of his propaganda vehicles is his defense of the Russian language, which would be equivalent to the assumption of England annexing the United States of America as a reason to protect the English language.   On Russian television, Putin explains to a 12-year-old girl that the “tragedy” in the Donbass is that Ukraine was committing “genocide” against Russian-speakers [6].

In the context of this narrative, Russian state television broadcasts that “the special military operation is one to establish peace.”


Ukraine’s offers for peace continue to be rejected by Vladimir Putin [7].   Ukrainian President Zelenskyy has maintained that a compromise should be negotiated from where it all began:   in Crimea in 2014.   For Putin, however, the annexation of Crimea, just as the invasion of Ukraine, is historical revisionism.   Many observers say that the war is not so much an existential crisis for Russia, as it is a struggle for the survival of the regime itself.


Is it possible that Putin’s failure in this war will bring to a halt future attacks by a totalitarian regime against its neighbors?   We can ask ourselves if there could be a united front against these attacks.   If not, then the question remains.

Edited by Billy Bussell Thompson


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwuMMmUCw98

[2] 2007 https://youtu.be/hQ58Yv6kP44

[3] Zaborona Media https://zaborona.com/en/ and Ukrainska Pravda News https://www.pravda.com.ua/eng/

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/12/opinion/putin-plea-for-caution-from-russia-on-syria.html

[5] http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66181— published in July 2021 by Putin’s presidential office, in which he explained Western support for Ukraine as a nefarious conspiracy against the unity of the Russian Federation. In it, Putin plays a questionable role as a historian to justify his determination to confront the powers that intervene in the sovereignty of his country.

[6] https://youtu.be/UzS1c_lSpNM

[7] https://www.ft.com/content/7b341e46-d375-4817-be67-802b7fa77ef1

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