Putin the shirtless outlaw: Part 1

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Above: Part of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet ported in Crimea. (Wikipedia)

Ever been swimming in winter? Now there’s an idea! You tip toe in and — good god almighty! That water’s cold! Not just here in Southern California. People join “Polar Bear” clubs around the country, in places like Milwaukee, WI, just to go swimming with like-minded fools in the winter.

Polar Bear Club in Milwaukee, WI taking a swim in Lake Michigan, New Year’s Day, 2008. (Photo by Bob Israel, via Flickr)
Polar Bear Club in Milwaukee, WI taking a swim in Lake Michigan, New Year’s Day, 2008.
(Photo by Bob Israel, via Flickr)

And so it must be in the Black Sea — cold, cold water. It isn’t too far north of the Mediterranean Sea, but ocean water, any water, gets progressively colder the further away from the equator we travel. Officially the Black Sea is at 44° North and 35° East and is fed by a number of rivers that bring cold mountain water into the basin. Still, in the summer there are many nice beach resorts where good Europeans can spend a holiday.

The other thing it has, the one thing that makes the Black Sea so strategic — offshore oil fields. And wouldn’t you know it, these oil fields are located on the western side of Ukraine. He who controls Ukraine controls the oil. And he who controls the Black Sea petroleum controls Europe.

The problem for President Putin is that his ideological buddy who once controlled Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, has been ousted and his now an exile in Russia. The largest political faction in Ukraine wants to align itself with the West and possibly join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization— NATO.

A Little History

Going back nearly 65 years, NATO, was created in April 1949 as a buffer against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics — the USSR, or less formally, the Soviet Union — and its satellite states: East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania and Albania. They made up the Warsaw Pact.

Memorial to the victims of the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia, August 1968 (Photo via Wikipedia)
Memorial to the victims of the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia, August 1968
(Photo via Wikipedia)

Young people wouldn’t remember this history; they may have read about it in History classes and maybe even watched the videos on YouTube, but the Soviet Union exerted its control over the Warsaw Pact by military force twice. So, this latest transgression isn’t the first time an American president has watched Russia invade one of its neighbors.

First in 1956 when the Soviets sent troops into Hungary to augment their existing troops there after the Hungarian people rose up in revolution against the communist rulers and their masters in Moscow. The Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev had the Hungarian Prime Minister Imre Nagy not only replaced, but also executed. He sent a message: don’t mess with the Nikita.

The second time came in August 1968 when the Soviets invaded Prague, Czechoslovakia after the Czechs decided to liberalize their government policies by ending censorship and secret surveillance of the citizens. That was enough to push the Soviets and their satellite allies over the edge and invade.

If the Czechs were allowed to become “liberal” communists that kind of idealism could spread to other nations within the Warsaw Pact, including those republics inside the Soviet Union — including Georgia and the Ukraine. In fact, a freedom movement was organizing and becoming active in Poland about the time of the Prague Spring. A few years later it became Solidarność, — “Solidarity” in English. About that time a Polish cardinal was selected to be Pope and voila: Soviet power had its first real non-military adversary.

Between Lech Walesa going to jail and Karol Józef Wojtyła ascending to the Holy See (as Pope John Paul II), the rulers of Poland at least, and to a larger extent, the Soviet Politburo, had a serious challenge to their once-ironclad authority.

Within 20 years the Warsaw Pact began to fall apart and by 1992 the Soviet Union was no more. Vladimir Putin was an officer in the KGB, the Soviet security police, for 16 years. When the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse he retired and became a politician. Shortly thereafter, 1996, he became a member of Boris Yeltsin’s administration and in 1999 he took over the presidency when Yeltsin resigned. He has been consolidating his power ever since.

The Russian Constitution forbids serving more than two consecutive four-year terms as president, so in 2008, after his second four-year term, Putin ally Dimitry Medvedev won the presidential election and then the new president appointed Putin to be Prime Minister.

The Black Sea by satellite. (Photo via Wikipedia)
The Black Sea by satellite.
(Photo via Wikipedia)

Confused yet? Don’t worry, it’s politics Russian style. It’s not meant to be understood, just accepted.

Here in the U.S. we had some people hash out a Constitution that went into effect 225 years ago and we pretty much adhere to it, with some variations here and there, mostly in times of war. Presidents, for the most part — and despite what the Obama haters claim — don’t make a habit of violating or arbitrarily changing the Constitution to suit their personal and political whims and ambitions.

Of course there was Richard M. Nixon …

And we can add up a laundry list of actions taken by presidents over the years that could and did make some people apoplectic, but for the most part we stay pretty close to the Constitution in thought words and deeds, knowing of course there are mechanisms within the document that make it possible to add laws and even change the Constitution.

Supreme Ruler For Life

In Russia, whoever holds the power can pretty much do as they please and so once Putin had the power he was not keen on letting go so he devised a scheme to be the Supreme Leader For Life.

Here, in the good ole’ U.S. of A. our former presidents finish out their terms and then either retire into a life of public service (Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton) or they fade into the shadows, playing golf and painting pictures of themselves in the bathtub.

So, once he was the prime minister, Putin, along with Medvedev and their allies in the Russian government changed the presidential term to six years (from four) and Putin ran for president again in 2012, consolidating his power even more.

Scuba diving Putin. (Photo via YouTube video)
Scuba diving Putin.
(Photo via YouTube video)

What does Putin want? Many analysts believe Putin wants a return to the days of the Soviet Union, when, as Sir Winston Churchill put it so eloquently 69 years ago, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow.”

All because President Putin (potential Supreme Ruler For Life) said, “Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century. As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself.”

There’s no doubt more than a grain of truth to that; he was a colonel in the most feared intelligence force in the world when his nation was one of the two world super powers. It’s gotta sting, even two decades later, to see America and China called the world’s two super powers and Russia … a regional power.

Sort of like Kobe Bryant and the L.A. Lakers. There he is, missing most of the season, watching his team grapple to win the first pick in the NBA draft, i.e. have the worst record in the NBA, which isn’t even guaranteed because the Milwaukee Bucks have an even more dismal record … you get the point.

But Kobe Bryant isn’t going to order his minions to invade the lower portion of the visiting team’s locker room. Putin devised a plan to grab the Crimea back from Ukraine, 60 years after former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev gave the peninsula to Ukraine.

The pretext being that most of the Crimea’s residents are either Russian or of Russian descent. By any account that may be a good reason to try and get Crimea back into Russian control, especially because that’s where the Russian Black Sea Fleet ports itself.

With the growing international pressure on him and his country, Putin has assured everyone he has no plans or interest in pushing into any other Ukraine territory, a claim analysts look at with more than a bit of skepticism.

The manliest of men, Vladimir Putin hunting shirtless. (Photo via YouTube video)
The manliest of men, Vladimir Putin hunting shirtless.
(Photo via YouTube video)

Putin didn’t use political and diplomatic channels to get the Crimea, he sent in Special Forces with unmarked uniforms and equipment to pose as Crimean “freedom fighters” to wrest the Crimea away from Ukraine. And he has divisions of Russian troops amassed on the border with Ukraine and we all know how that looks: the Russians want to cross that border and buy up all the cheap fireworks.

That’s probably not what they are waiting to do, but if you lived in Wisconsin when I lived in the Dairy State, whenever you crossed the Illinois border you’d stop at one of the many fireworks retailers and stock up on the stuff that was illegal in the Badger State. So it’s a relevant analogy.

  • And oh yeah, the Wisconsin Badgers are in the Final Four. Take that Michigan and Michigan State.

(Part 2 will come Thursday)