“To the outside, Vladimir Putin says he is in favor of democracy and reform but in his heart he longs for the Soviet Days.”
– KGB Gen. Oleg Kalugin (Ret.) in an 2001 unclassified speech to NSA employees
I was listening intently to General Kalugin’s speech at NSA’s Friendship Annex (FANEX) facility in early 2001. When he uttered those words, there was a noticeable groan from the audience that had assembled to hear the General’s thoughts on modern Russia.
President Bush had only recently been inaugurated and while Putin had been in office since the surprise resignation of Boris Yeltsin on the eve of the millennia, the U.S. was still trying to figure out who Vladimir Putin was, how he would govern Russia, and how he would act on the world stage. The General’s speech was not reassuring and time has shown that Kalugin was right.
More recently, I have noticed a disconcerting level of what I would almost call hero worship around Vladimir Putin on social media. At a recent GOP debate, a few participants seemed to battle over who had had the most meaningful interaction with the thuggish “President” of Russia.
While recent events may have shown that the United States and Russia have a common interest in defeating ISIS, Russia has zero interest in seeing it replaced by a stable, democratically elected government. Nor does Russia want the United States to succeed in any endeavor on the international stage. Putin, quite simply, wants to rebuild the empire of the Soviet Union on the back of a Russian-flavored version of capitalism, capitalism that would look to us like something crossed between crony-capitalism and the mafia.
If we want to look for heroes, let’s not look too far from our own shores. There are plenty of people doing the right thing here at home.