Should we Trust Putin?

Henry Rosemont Jr. writes that we should — or at least that we should not demonize him — until we have evidence that he should be demonized.

What do you think?

In my view, Henry needs to wake up. No evidence? Let us reflect for a moment, on what we know about Russia.  You see the following patterns of activity in Russia

  • killing journalists and opposition figures
  • arrest, poisoning, and murder of opposition figures
  • suppressing opposition through systematic violence
  • kleptocracy on a massive scale

The above are not figments of the imagination. They have been happening over a period of years. Is Putin directly responsible? Perhaps that is less important than asking has Putin done anything to change any of the above?

The answer to that second question is “no”. Whether he is behind it, he has either endorsed it (in the case of the murderous Kadyrov activities) or ignored it.  And there is no doubt that he has vastly benefited from it. Is that not evidence enough that something is rotten in Moscow? Or should we pretend that we don’t know?

Despite that, we might — as the professor suggests — talk with Putin as needed. And the US has done this. The US negotiated with Lavrov to achieve a cease-fire in Syria — and that cease-fire was achieved. Errr … until it was sabotaged by the Russians.  Perhaps the good professor has forgotten the outcome of Mr. Kerry’s trust in Lavrov?

So where is the problem?  The professor closes his argument this way

… we might want to contemplate the advice of Henry Stimson, Secretary of War under Franklin Roosevelt during World War II. When writing his memoirs, he thought long and hard of how Roosevelt and Churchill had dealt with Stalin. Stimson had no illusions about the latter – claiming that he broke many of his promises made during the several summit negotiations – but also noted that Stalin had kept many of his promises, too, and following the recent horrors of the Nazi invasion had good reason to fear Western encroachment of any kind on or near the Motherland. In the end, Stimson went along with the two leaders and took a hard line on Stalin. But he later had regrets and the regrets remained, encapsulated in Stimson’s well-known quote qua folk wisdom: “The only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him; and the surest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him and show your distrust.”

Here it comes — the old question — did the west cause the cold war by not trusting Stalin? We might keep in mind that among the promises that Stalin did not keep after the summits was to allow free elections in areas that Soviet armies invaded during the war. Quashing free elections happened BEFORE, not AFTER the cold war got serious.  Stimson be damned! The west showed its trust, not distrust, and look where it got us!

We might also recall a fact that was not well known during Stimson’s time. Everyone knew that the Molotov/Ribbentrop pact that secured Hitler’s eastern front empowered him to fight France and Britain. That treachery was ignored out of necessity by western leaders during the negotiation of the peace. But ignoring it should not have meant forgetting it. Should the west have shown trust to the dude who had tried to sell them down the river?

And there was more — something that was less well known at the time. While the Soviets denied it for half a century, the Molotov/Ribbentrop agreement did indeed have secret protocols. Those protocols carved up Eastern Europe into areas of influence.  And based on these secret protocols, Stalin made territory grabs at will, knowing that Hitler would do nothing to stop him.

That included forcing his way into Estonia in 1940, where the Soviets pursued a policy of decapitating the country. Was it because Estonia was a threat to the Soviet Union? Errr … I don’t think so.

Finally, should we forget Stalin’s dreaded gulag system that led to the deaths of millions after the war? Was that due to fear of encirclement? Of course not. Was it caused by distrust from the west? I do not think so.

In light of this, calling Stalin’s record “mixed” is revolting.  But we are not fighting Stalin’s ghost now. Putin is something different, and we should treat him for what he is. The only overlap is that in light of what we know, there is no reason to trust this dude.

But then again, what do I know?

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