I’m still trying to figure out why so many good, kind, intelligent, well-meaning people in North America, South America, Europe, Australia, etc. keep supporting Russia in its cannibalistic war against Ukraine. It is so obvious to me that nothing whatsoever can be found about Putin’s regime that would be even remotely redeeming. Yet people keep making googly eyes in Russia’s direction.
Is it as simple as: everybody has gotten used to seeing Russia as a source of alternative ways of being, and even though Russia’s alternative has been discredited very clearly and extremely recently, people still can’t snap out of that mentality? Is that’s what going on?
31 thoughts on “In Search of an Alternative”
I can’t answer directly, and really I wonder if I am still getting over the impact on my being of a major fire in our region which put eucalpyt smoke in the air for a few days (you may have noticed a decline in my spelling during that time), but my observations are that current people in contemporary Western culture have lost sight of the meaning of politics. We could call this the loss of a political instinct. I mean they can’t sniff out power relations accurately. We had a major and devastating bungle in Australia recently, which has ended up with two Australian kids in line to being shot by an Indonesian firing squad in the next few weeks. I view this as resulting from an incapacity to take into account considerations of power on a number of levels…
You may have heard of the “Bali Nine”. Anyway, they were kids smuggling heroine into Indonesia. One of the parents got wind that something was up and notified their lawyer who notified Australian Federal Police. The parent had hoped to stop his son from leaving Australia and committing some sort of crime, The AFP considered it a good idea to immediately notify the Indonesian authorities, who captured the nine and now two have been on death row, scheduled to be executed by the end of this month.
Perhaps I am being overly judgemental, but the decadence of the current Western character probably ought not to be underestimated, for personal safety reasons. These people, all down the track, thought reporting the infringement to the appropriate authorities would produce excellent results. It seems that at no stange did anybody think that powerful bodies of the state also have interests of their own. This indicates a decline in the political instict.
It seems we from the undeveloped world still have a political instinct (for our survival) but those of the contemporary West are like the Eloi. They keep getting eaten and do not understand why.
Even if I tried to explain to them why, they would never understand it.
I think the number of people in North America who are sympathetic to Putin is actually small. It’s possible that you keep encountering them because you seek out this particular minority view. Or maybe the circles you move in are skewed toward people who fall into pro-Putin arguments as a poorly-thought-out way to express that they are anti–something else.
She finds them because she works in American academia where people like Stephen Cohen have dominated study of the USSR/Eurasia for decades. If she worked in African academia she wouldn’t find nearly so many. Musteryou is right that we have better political instincts here.
Forget academia, turn on the news, read an American newspaper. Haven’t you heard that Putin is one of the 10 most admired people in the US? Weren’t you the person who brought the CNN report about “pro-US troops in Ukraine”? What, the CNN has been overrun by academics?
Haven’t you heard that Putin is one of the 10 most admired people in this country?
I’ve barely seen an article or a newscast in mainstream media that was deeply Putinoid.
Here is a CNN opinion poll from March 2014:
“According to the poll, 69% of Americans say they see Russia as threat to the U.S.
“‘That’s a 25-percentage point increase since 2012 and represents the highest number on that question since the break-up of the Soviet Union,’ says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
“Thirty-one percent now say they don’t see Russia as a threat, down from 53% two years ago. The poll indicates that Americans place Russia in the same ballpark as North Korea (71%) and Iran (70%) when it comes to being seen as a threat to the U.S.
“Only 11% of those questioned say they have a positive view of Putin, with 68% saying they see him in a negative way.
“‘The numbers are pretty clear on the Russian president. Americans really don’t like Vladimir Putin, whose unfavorable rating has jumped 14 points since early February,’ Holland added.”
And here’s a Pew poll from July 2014 which finds that Russia is unpopular in the U.S., that Russia and Putin are viewed less favorably after “Putin’s actions in Ukraine,” and that this growing unpopularity extends to most of the world.
Forget March and July. Here is December of 2014: “Vladimir Putin: The 10th Most Admired Man in America
The widely denounced Russian leader received more positive votes than Mitt Romney, Joe Biden, or Bono in an annual Gallup survey. . . And it’s not as if Putin is a fixture on the annual list. He hasn’t received a single vote since 2010, and nobody cited him as their “most admired man” in seven of the last 10 years.” http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/12/vladimir-putin-the-10th-most-admired-man-in-america/384085/
As for “most of the world”, have you heard about Greece, Hungary, France, Latin America, Italy, Zimbabwe, and soon, I fear, Spain in relation to Putin?
Who’s left? Poland? Well, yes, Poland has been on the side of angels. But who else?
Yes, that’s true, Estonia has started waking up, ever so slowly.
And the Brits seem to have been unnerved enough by the recent escapade of Russian fighter planes over la Manche to send some aid to Ukraine.
In the Gallup poll you link to, 1% of respondents named Putin, and he finished alongside Bill O’Reilly, Ben Carson, Benjamin Netanyahu, and barely above Mitt Romney. I think a question like “do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Vladimir Putin?” is more informative than “what living person do you most admire?” At the most the poll in The Atlantic says that part of the small minority who has a favorable attitude toward Putin intensely favors him, which doesn’t surprise me.
In the case of Greece, I think Greek leaders are much more concerned about Germany and the EU crushing them economically, and any gestures they make toward Putin are an attempt to gain bargaining power against their much more powerful creditors. It seems like a mistake to take such tactics as expressing sincere admiration of Putin and Russia. Hungary has a different kind of problem with the EU, and the Hungarian government probably does not want the West interfering in the “internal” affairs of authoritarian states.
As for France, support for Putin dropped from 36% in 2013 to 26% in 2014. In Italy, from 31% in 2013 to 20% in 2014. In Latin America, Putin has a net unfavorable rating even in Venezuela, and a worse one in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile (though almost half of Nicaraguans had a favorable view in 2014). That’s all from the Pew poll. Support for Putin did seem to be growing in China, India, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories, presumably because tension between Russia and the EU/US led Russia to reach out to China and Hamas, while India and Israel have their own recent friction with the EU and/or US and some may have seen Russia as their enemy’s enemy.
That’s my story, anyway. I’m no expert and I may be wrong, but I don’t think the numbers show any groundswell of support for Putin, in the U.S., Europe, or Latin America. And why would they? I’ll be very surprised if the 2015 polls show Putin with majority support in any large country in North or South America or Western Europe.
Yes, no groundswell of support whatsoever: “Vladimir Putin has been busy making friends. He found plenty of warmth on his recent trip to Egypt, and he’s close with the heads of the new Syriza government in Greece. Further north, he’s got plenty more buddies. The Financial Times reports on Czech President Milos Zeman:
When European leaders pleaded with Vladimir Putin to end the conflict in Ukraine at a conference in Milan last October, Czech President Milos Zeman was conspicuously absent. Better-known and more mainstream European politicians are also cozying up to Putin: French ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, who was recently re-elected head of the powerful UMP, came out this week in support of the EU formally ceding Crimea to Russia, and had some kind words for the Kremlin. Another UMP figure, the mayor of Nice, has come out in even stronger support of Putin.
Leader of the far-right UKIP party Nigel Farage asserted in late 2014 that Europe “directly encouraged the [Euromaidan] uprising in Ukraine” that “led in turn to Vladimir Putin reacting.” Farage also called Putin “the statesman he most admires.” And Vlad’s well-documented, longstanding friendship with Italian ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi is more meaningful when you consider the latter may soon be back in power due to changes in Italy’s electoral laws that allow him to form a pact with current PM Matteo Renzi.”
And David Cameron had to answer a question from an MP today as to whether it is not better to just led Russia have its “sphere of influence” in Ukraine.
I seriously wish we all had such “groundswell of support.”
Look at the article you’re quoting! The only two big names it can come up with are French and Italian politicians who are out of power (Sarkozy, Berlusconi – and Berlusconi supported Putin before, so his presumed support now shows no change). Then it has one well-known far-right politician with no power (Farage). Farage (like Marine Le Pen in France) being pro-Putin is an extreme stance that’s at odds with mainstream parties. Using Farage’s UKIP as a proxy for UK or European opinion is almost as bad as the Russian media playing up far-right Ukrainian parties that no one in Ukraine supports.
After that, the writer is stuck talking about “the mayor of Nice” and a British MP who asked David Cameron a question, but who’s too obscure to bother naming. And that British MP sounds like an opponent of military escalation in Ukraine, not a supporter of Putin. If you choose to equate “Putinoid” with “opposes military escalation in Ukraine,” you’ll find more Putinoids, and it’ll be as convincing as arguing that Iraq War opponents in 2002-03 all loved Saddam Hussein.
It seems like every time a random blogger or French mayor or desperate Greek politician says something nice about Putin, you think “oh no! Why can’t these fools see the truth! The West is doomed because of its lack of resolve!” But every piece of evidence showing that public opinion in country after country is strongly against Putin makes no impression at all.
Berlusconi might be out of power but this week Italians have prevented Ukrainian volunteers from sending the goods they gathered and donated to Ukraine our of Italy. These are charitable donations people have gathered, and they can’t take them out of Italy.
“But every piece of evidence showing that public opinion in country after country is strongly against Putin makes no impression at all.”
“If you choose to equate “Putinoid” with “opposes military escalation in Ukraine,” you’ll find more Putinoids”
Escalation happens if the US and/or EU send arms to Ukraine (as is currently being debated), and Putin responds by sending more troops and arms to Ukraine, and the West counter-responds with more arms, and perhaps eventually troops, and then Putin escalates further, and so on. My point is that a lot of people are against Putin and simultaneously fear that Western military aid to Ukraine would make things worse, not better, including for Ukrainians.
“Every news publication I have seen on the subject of Ukraine talks about ‘pro-Russian rebels’ and ‘separatists in Ukraine.’ There are no weapons coming to Ukraine, everybody is reciting Putin’s propaganda like it’s gospel, and I’m yet to meet anybody, and I meet a single person anywhere, who would be at least marginally sympathetic to Ukraine.”
I think your reading must be selective. The first article I found to check this is from the New York Times 4 days ago, and it treats it as an established fact that there are Russian weapons and troops in eastern Ukraine, that Russia agreed to remove them, and that Russia has not moved them. It also quotes John McCain in favor of military escalation and Joe Biden saying ambiguously that “The Ukrainian people have a right to defend themselves.” McCain argues that force will cause Putin to back down, and Angela Merkel argues that force will lead to more death and destruction in Ukraine.
Here’s a paragraph of it: “The pointed exchanges laid bare the divisions within the West’s ranks and did not provide a sense of how the United States and its European allies hoped to fashion a common strategy that might persuade President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to honor an agreement negotiated in Minsk, Belarus, in September. The agreement called for a cease-fire and the removal of Russian weapons and forces from eastern Ukraine.”
“Escalation happens if the US and/or EU send arms to Ukraine (as is currently being debated)”
“My point is that a lot of people are against Putin and simultaneously fear that Western military aid to Ukraine would make things worse, not better, including for Ukrainians”
“I think your reading must be selective.”
Then I’m not sure why you say “Every news publication I have seen on the subject of Ukraine talks about ‘pro-Russian rebels’ and ‘separatists in Ukraine’” and “everybody is reciting Putin’s propaganda like it’s gospel.” I guess we now agree that this is empirically not the case.
Yes, I should have said “the overwhelming majority” instead of “every. ” I apologize for this mistake.
Will you now give me an answer to my question about escalation? I have just discovered that there are people who believe it is possible to be simultaneously against Putin and against giving weapons to Ukraine and I’m finding this phenomenon to be very curious.
The anti-escalation argument is pretty straightforward, and the usual example is Vietnam: having larger powers fight a proxy war there was a terrible thing for people living in Vietnam, or for that matter in Laos or Cambodia.
I can understand the emotional desire for the West to do something to help Ukraine, but I haven’t seen an explanation of how arming Kiev will make things better. I think Merkel is more likely to be right than McCain: Putin would probably respond to force with more force.
You will probably hate this piece, but I think Stephen Walt lays out the case well, and the difference between his “deterrence model” and “spiral model” is the key point. (“Destroying Ukraine in order to save it” at the end is an allusion to the Vietnam War.)
Have I answered your question?
No, you haven’t answered. The question was: if not giving weapons to Ukraine has led to constant escalation, what makes you believe that doing more of the same will not produce the same results?
I looked at the link you provided but the moment I get to Putin ‘ s favorite canard of “Putin ‘ s invasion of Ukraine was provoked by the expansion of NATO, I stop reading. As you probably know, Putin is already saying that the people fighting in Ukraine are NATO legionnaires. This narrative is of no interest to me.
“No, you haven’t answered. The question was: if not giving weapons to Ukraine has led to constant escalation, what makes you believe that doing more of the same will not produce the same results?”
We are talking past each other. By “escalation” I am talking about the ratcheting upward of the intensity of the conflict that COULD happen IF the US and EU armed Kiev, and then Russia sent more arms and troops, and the US/EU sent more arms, and so on.
I gather you are using “escalation” to describe what Russia has been doing up to this point. I do not want to defend Putin’s actions or understate the tragedy of what has already occurred, but it could get worse.
You seem to think that the anti-escalation argument says that not arming Kiev will make Putin withdraw from eastern Ukraine and Crimea, but that isn’t the point. It’s that Putin is unlikely to back down if the West does arm Ukraine, but if both sides of the conflict have massively more weapons and resources, more people will die.
What is the endgame if the US/EU do arm Kiev? An invasion of Russia? Nuclear war? Continuing the war for years until the Russian army runs out of people and bullets? All these options would be costly to the US, EU, and Russia, but horrifically tragic for Ukraine.
I understand why you are skeptical of sanctions and diplomacy, but I do not understand why you are not more skeptical about the usefulness of military intervention.
“I gather you are using “escalation” to describe what Russia has been doing up to this point.”
“I do not want to defend Putin’s actions or understate the tragedy of what has already occurred, but it could get worse.”
“What is the endgame if the US/EU do arm Kiev? An invasion of Russia? Nuclear war? Continuing the war for years until the Russian army runs out of people and bullets? ”
“I understand why you are skeptical of sanctions and diplomacy, but I do not understand why you are not more skeptical about the usefulness of military intervention.”
A few minutes ago you said “I have just discovered that there are people who believe it is possible to be simultaneously against Putin and against giving weapons to Ukraine and I’m finding this phenomenon to be very curious.” And now no one is talking about military intervention? I continue to believe that one can be against Putin and Russian policy in Ukraine, and also doubt the wisdom of a particular strategy, such as the U.S. sending weapons to Ukraine, that is advocated by other opponents of Putin. But I’ll leave the discussion here, and thank you for taking the time to respond to my comments.
Sending weapons does not equal military intervention.
“I continue to believe that one can be against Putin and Russian policy in Ukraine”
“I continue to believe that one can be against Putin and Russian policy in Ukraine, and also doubt the wisdom of a particular strategy, such as the U.S. sending weapons to Ukraine, that is advocated by other opponents of Putin”
I thought it was time to agree to disagree, but I don’t want to leave your questions unanswered.
“Sending weapons does not equal military intervention”
I think it is a form of military intervention. Ukrainian soldiers and civilians would be the ones dying instead of, in a scenario where the U.S. sent troops as well as weapons, both Ukrainian and U.S. soldiers and Ukrainian civilians. But sending weapons is proxy war. It’s still war, just a war that’s easier to sell to American voters.
If you’d rather substitute “arming Ukraine” for “military intervention,” that’s fine with me, though.
“War. Not ‘policy.’ War.”
Sure. Russian policy in Ukraine right now is war. A particular kind of undeclared war, which could change into a larger-scale and more destructive war.
“If what you are advocating is exactly what Putin wants, then how can you claim to be against Putin?”
I believe what Putin is doing is wrong. I honestly don’t know what the best way to oppose Putin is. It is a terrible situation with no easy solution that I can see. There is, however, no reason to let Putin make up my mind for me by saying that I have to want the U.S. to do the opposite of what you think Putin wants the U.S. to do.
You have inspired me to write a long post on the subject, so thank you. 🙂
The observation that you made – and I also can corroborate – that men are more susceptible to Putin worshiping makes me think it’s all part of some weird masculinity complex.
Russia and Ukraine don’t matter to these people, but Putin and his perceived old school violent bravado is appealing to men who feel they’re ’emasculated’.
“Russia and Ukraine don’t matter to these people, but Putin and his perceived old school violent bravado is appealing to men who feel they’re ‘emasculated’.”
The banality of this Other has become a bonfire of banalities …
Out of that bonfire of banalities, looking out upon the destruction, does the newly arisen Günther Anders sigh at the banality of banalities that has arisen since the passing of the banal evils documented by Hannah Arendt?
Or does he say, “Now we have even more bastards to repudiate — simply repudiating your evil fathers was not enough, and you now live in a world that is worse than living as sons of Eichmann because you did not go far enough” …