Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

March 17, 2014

BRIAN HOWEY: Putin's Russia and, perhaps, Putin's Ukraine

Invasion of Crimea brings new chapter of history.

(Continued)

But Politkovskaya’s insights into the “soul” of Putin are relevant today. It’s a different take than that of President George W. Bush, who observed in 2001, “I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul, a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.”

Politkovskaya observed: “Meeting no resistance, Putin naturally became bolder.

“He is not a born tyrant and despot; rather, he has been accustomed to think along the lines inculcated in him by the KGB, an organization he considers a model, as he has stated more than once. In Russia, we have had leaders with this outlook before. It led to tragedy, to bloodshed on a vast scale, to civil wars.”

For Russia, the response to Ukraine was a knee-jerk after decades of watching NATO advance into the Baltics, Poland and now what was once the Soviet Union.

But the world is rapidly changing. The U.S. is becoming an energy exporter. Want to hurt Putin in the pocketbook? Produce enough to bring down gas and oil prices. Reconsider the missile defense shield the Russians fear because it will greatly escalate their defense costs.

“We’re going to see in the next few months whether this is going to be a source of friction for decades to come,” former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn said at the University of Indianapolis just hours before Putin moved into the Crimea.

Putin’s Russia has its many facades. People can come and go, and not as many millions have been consigned to the gulags. But I personally witnessed the “soul” of the country in 2007 while traveling with Nunn and Sen. Dick Lugar. When I returned to my Moscow Grand Marriott room, I found my papers and notes scattered about. My departure from Yekaterinburg to Odessa was briefly held up when no one could seem to find my passport.

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