“We have turned a blind eye to the true Putin”

March 9, 2014
Svenska Dagbladet – Google translation from Swedish

Not see, not hear, not speak. The West’s view of Putin resembles the three monkeys that keep the eyes, ears and mouth [covered]. Award-winning historian Anne Applebaum who has written extensively about [“Putinism,”] said in an interview with Svenska Dagbladet that we have turned a blind eye to the true Vladimir Putin – and believed that he would eventually become one of us.

Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Applebaum, world famous for the books “Gulag: A History” and “The Iron Curtain: the communist takeover in Eastern Europe 1945-56, has no illusions about Vladimir Putin’s intentions and his determination.

– For us in the West, he looks sometimes like it’s irrational.He contradicts himself, saying that Viktor Yanukovych will no longer have a political future while keeping fixed at that Yanukovych remains Ukraine’s legitimate president.

– But the fact is that Putin is extremely rational and there is a logic to the system that he invented: Is Ukraine a threat to your personal power, you have to crush it!

Anne Applebaum, born 1964 in Washington and educated at Yale, Oxford and the London School of Economics, speaking on a wobbly mobile from London where she last had a guest professorship. She speaks quickly, intensely and with a glow that reveals both a strong commitment and deep knowledge.

Since 1992, she is with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and lives since 2006 in Poland, now as Polish citizens. So close to the crisis, Ukraine and the increasingly nervous Baltic States.

Is there a risk of conflict in Ukraine spreads? The Baltic States have the large Russian-speaking minorities.

– Not now, not this week. But Putin’s signal to the world that he is prepared to break any agreement or settlement, and that he no longer feels bound by these, including attempts to threaten NATO.

– After months and years trying he is undermining NATO. He threatens Sweden with airplanes and he orders the military maneuvers in the region with the aim of intimidating the Baltic States.

How then should the West respond to these challenges?

– First of all, Sweden should join NATO. It would be a very strong public signal that the West is united.

Sweden, according to Anne Applebaum long lived comfortably between East and West but is no longer on the edge of Europe but in the midst of the EU integrated part of the Baltic Sea region with Poland and the Baltic states as close economic and political allies. Meanwhile, Sweden is a country that Russia likes to intimidate and undermine.

Anne Applebaum advocates a strong and unequivocal answer to Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine. But most importantly, she emphasizes, is that we open our eyes and sees Putin as he really is. Not that we would like to have him.

– Since the early nineties, we have had the notion that Russia is our partner, albeit a cumbersome partner. And if we are just trying to integrate Russia into our institutions, it will sooner or later will become just like us.

Anne Applebaum is Putin KGB man who began his career under then-KGB chief Yuri Andropov, who advocated a hard line against dissidents. In Putin’s world is communism for stability and security, which he in present Russia is trying to re-create with the help of carefully controlled elections, regulations conditioned media and a corporatist economy.

The goal is to make Russia strong again. And to secure Putin and the inner circle of power and wealth. As a KGB officer in East Germany, Putin could follow closely the popular uprising that swept away the aging DDR leaders and crumbled Berlin Wall, which, under the mighty Erich Honecker would be left in the 50 and 100 years.

It was a lesson that Putin never forgot.

– In Putin’s eyes, the West is decadent, corrupt and a threat to traditional Russian values. West is not a friendly-minded trading partners without an ideological enemy and democracy with its freedom of speech a threat to state power.

There is nothing that he tried to hide. We have heard him say it again and again. Why we took him never seriously?

– We thought all along that Putin Semitism was only a sort of rant and empty threats. After all, Russia is the Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky country with this wonderful ballet tradition.

Three American presidents in a row have tried to create special relationships with Moscow. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and now Barack Obama have all thought that it would be enough to talk to Moscow to be closer to each other.

– And once again, we have been equally surprised when it did not happen.

Tillnyktringen has come late. Only now, when the Crimean practically occupied and risk becoming a frozen conflict that dominated Russian Transnistria, Abkhazia or South Ossetia, we start according to Anne Applebaum see the true Vladimir Putin – and it requires that the West is reviewing its strategy.

– We must now do many things at once: to review our energy security, transform NATO and take a look at how Russians spend their money in Europe. And we must consider how we will use our defense spending.

In this new world, eerily quickly freed from years of illusions, we must according to Anne Applebaum be aware that the invasion of the Crimea show that Putin is ready to move on. Or as her husband, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski recently said: We know that a predator only gets hungrier once it has begun to eat.”