GREAT BARRINGTON -- The only real thing you have to know about Vladimir Putin is that at heart, he is a KGB colonel. He doesn’t particularly care what you think about him. The only thing that KGB colonels, of the Putin style, care about is power and how to use it. Look, there is no Soviet Union. Theoretically, it’s gone. But is it? Let’s take a look and see.
Russia has always been headed by strong men and women. You can call these people dictators and you can call the people who live in the country "strong man dependent." Russia has no real history of democracy or balanced government. If Barack Obama wants to do something, he has to get it through two houses of Congress, including a Republican House of Representatives (otherwise known as the "Land of No"). If Putin wants to do something, he does it.
Let’s face it -- the last thing the Russians want is to be perceived as a humiliated nation. On the other hand, polling data does not show widespread support for a war over Ukraine. If you could look into Putin’s brain, you would find a man who wants to give Russia a shot in the arm. He needs the support of the people. From that perspective, his moves in Ukraine are perfectly understandable. Nikita Khrushchev gave Crimea back to his native Ukraine but, of course, the Russians were allowed to keep their Black Sea naval facility and had tremendous influence in the whole country. Ukraine was solidly within the "sphere of influence" of the Russians and when it appeared that some in the country wanted closer ties with the European community, the Russians said no.
It is pretty well understood that whoever held the seat of power in Ukraine was ethically compromised. Take a look at the last occupant, Victor Yanukovych, who has just been forced from power. The papers that were retrieved as he fled for his life apparently show massive, almost unimaginable corruption. Not only that, many reports show that among the Kiev Ukrainians are people of many stripes, including fascists. Into all of this comes the president of the United States. The Republicans, with their "just say no" to the president, use this, as they have used everything else, to hammer Obama. I keep asking anyone who thinks that he has not been forceful enough what they would do. Do they really think we should get into a confrontation with the nuclear-armed Russians? There may be a time when that is necessary but that time is not now. Some will argue that this kind of territorial push is what happened leading up to World War II. In other words, if Putin is allowed to take territory any time he wishes, we could be looking at another Hitler-like situation.
My bet is that Putin has had enough. When the last so-called Ukrainian revolution took place, the first thing the new and possibly illegal parliament did was to limit the use of the Russian language. Talk about really dumb moves. On the other hand, Putin has an interdependent relationship with the western powers and the last thing he needs is a threat to that relationship. Germany is dependent on Russia for a great deal of its natural gas. While it is true that Germany needs the gas, it is also true that Russia needs the money that pays for the gas.
As it stands now, Putin has pulled back. Whether he stays back is largely up to the group of Western governments. If they say Putin has to be punished and sanctioned, he may feel that he has nothing to lose by exhibiting more aggressive behavior. If they let him off the hook, he ends up with Crimea. Hey, in this world, nothing is easy.
Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.