Frontline has produced a two-part feature called “Putin’s Revenge” which I found very helpful in understanding some of the background of Putin’s wish to see the current occupant of Our White House beat out Hillary Clinton. It was being repeated here by our local PBS station last week and I took some notes. If you missed it, you can watch it online; but in case you don’t, here are a few highlights from Part I, just in case you are interested.
This is hardly holiday reading, sorry.
I do realize many of you may already be a lot better informed than I am…and I don’t claim that this is an complete summary or review of the program. Not having followed much of Russian news before last summer, i just found this program helpful and thought i’d share my “research”.
Here in Wisconsin, PBS will be broadcasting Part II tonight, Wednesday night at 10 p.m. and I plan to watch that and take notes again. (It will repeat Sunday night at 9, but that is Christmas Eve.)
And by the way, an article in Vox today describes the current congress as engaging in “wholesale looting” of America, reminding me of a long paper i wrote at the time of the invasion of Iraq; and that, I believe, is what happened in Russia under Putin and why he is so rich.
Remember as you watch, that Putin is the one world leader that Trump has repeatedly praised.
Part I: the period beginning at the end of 1999, when Yeltsin resigned as President and handed over his position to Putin.
**Yeltsin was a promoter of more progressive values for Russian society, breaking down the totalitarianism and wanting to maximize freedom, and thus called “the father of Russian democracy”. He allowed a lot of freedom of the press and strove to make things better for the Russian people. When he left, he told Putin, “Take care of Russia”, and apparently believed that Putin shared his outlook. He came to regret his choice of a successor when he saw how Putin governed.
**Putin’s background was as a counter-intelligence person in the KGB – where he learned: that the US was the big enemy, to focus on conspiracies within his own country, and to be a world-class liar.
**As soon as he took power, he focused immediately on “image” – watching news clips over and over, and believing in his power to manipulate information. He reacted to terrorist acts there by declaring that he was the only one who could deal with it; when his use of heavy violence vs. Chechnyan rebels resulted in a debacle and criticism of him, he blamed the US and used the crisis to consolidate his own power.
**He could not stand media outlets that criticized or mocked him, and had them shut down. Journalists who were not his fans were jailed, their media taken over, and so he basically created a state-run media. Then journalists who persisted in publishing their own views started being found dead. [Note: the program doesn’t really get across how bad this was; the title of a documentary about one who was killed, 211: Anna, gets its title from her being “the 211th journalist to be silenced by the allegedly democratic government…”]
This was just one aspect of his moves to consolidate power in himself and reduce democracy. One commentator refers to Putin’s “project” was to “make Russia great again” – convinced that his country had been humiliated by the US and seeing the fall of the Berlin Wall as a disaster.
**In Ken Burns’ documentary, we heard that during the VietNam War, LBJ dismissed the anti-war protests that so many of my generation participated in, actually believing they were set up by “Communists”. Putin’s response to widespread protests, e.g., of the blatant election-rigging in Russia in his favor (in 2011) was also that they were instigated and supported by the U.S. and not legitimate.
**Putin viewed the falling of the Berlin wall as a major disaster; he was also very disturbed by the US military’s work to topple figures like Saddam Hussein (remember how he did not encourage the invasion of Iraq? I remember being favorably impressed by that, unaware of what might motivate him). He has always feared that he may be next – as he clearly identifies with dictators who he sees as “strong” like himself. He also feared and resented any efforts by the US to promote democracy (one reason the Russians prefer Republicans – they will not “lecture” them on human rights…). He was very upset by the fall of Kadafi, watching video of his ignominious end over and over. Since Hillary Clinton was so deeply involved in that, he specifically and deeply resents and fears her.
**The program also shows how various former U.S. Presidents — Clinton, Bush JR, and Obama — related to Putin.
They present the US proclamations about “bringing democracy” to Iraq, etc. with no irony — but that was not the issue from Putin’s pov anyway, so it’s kind of beside the point of the program.
**By the way, speaking of freedom of the press — which means freedom to read and find out as well as freedom to speak and write: Reporters Without Borders (https//rsf.org/en/ranking) releases an annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index. In 2002 the U.S. was rated #17; in 2006 it was #53; in 2016, #41, in 2017, #43. With the attacks on net neutrality and the surge in more right-wing “news” sources, it will be interesting to see where we will be next year. Canada is currently #22, Australia #19, Norway #1.
Russia in 2016 and 2017 ranked #148. These figures are out of 180 countries.