Vladimir Putin’s friend list grows shorter. There’s Hugo Chavez, there’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, there’s Bashar Hafez al-Assad, and, of course, there’s Barack Hussein Obama.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s definitely not there, though.
In September 2008, a group of Russian performance artists staged an event in a Moscow supermarket (warning: Russian language link with strong photographic content). They tried to speak out against Russia’s barbarically hostile attitudes towards blacks, Jews, and gays by mock-hanging several bodies from the rafters of the market in the manner of the KKK.
Cut to November 2012. Merkel arrives in Moscow for a meeting with the Russian dictator. She has noisily proclaimed well in advance that she plans to confront Putin on his human rights record, including the now infamous prosecution of three members of the Pussy Riot art collective for an event they staged in a Moscow Orthodox cathedral. She’s as good as her word. The German press even publishes an op-ed by Pavel Khodorkovsky, scion of the jailed Putin opponent, castigating Putin for seeking to take Russia back to the days of Stalin.
Putin’s response was truly jaw-dropping, one for the ages. Putin told Merkel, before rolling microphones, that Pussy Riot deserved imprisonment because they were antisemitic, and for proof he points to the fact that one member of the trio participated in hanging a Jew in effigy at the Moscow supermarket in 2008. Putin figures he can get away with this unmitigated lie, one of the biggest whoppers ever told by a head of state in world history, because (a) Merkel may not be familiar with the relatively obscure 2008 incident and (b) even if she is, she’ll be terrified of seeming to side against the Jews because of Germany’s Nazi past. He’s right.
Leave aside the fact that the three Pussy Riot members were arrested for being anti-Orthodox, not antisemitic. Forget about the fact that Putin did nothing in 2008 about the alleged antisemitic act, and has in fact never done anything to punish anyone for being antisemitic. He’s never even given a speech in defense of the Jews, who routinely see egregious acts of racism on the streets of Putin’s Russia. He aggressively supports the Orthodox church, giving it vast influence in the corridors of the Kremlin. Ignore the fact that two of the three Pussy Riot convicts had nothing whatsoever to do with the supermarket event.
Just focus on the fact that Putin feels so secure that he can precisely reverse the facts about what happened in the supermarket and tell his egregious lie to one of the most preeminent world leaders, while speaking before a crowd of journalists. What does that tell you about what is happening in Putin’s neo-Soviet state these days?
Putin has just implemented a draconian new law giving the Kremlin the power to block websites it doesn’t like, and already more than 200 such sites have disappeared from the Russian Internet, including the Russian Wikipedia which had contained merciless personal criticism of Putin. Simultaneously, a terrifying second new law came into force that lets Putin jail any political opponent on treason charges, at will. It’s predicted that Putin will soon take dramatic steps to wipe out Internet anonymity so that prosecutions against Internet offenders can roll forward.
Putin’s efforts at propaganda are truly Soviet in nature; the Daily News, for instance, recently ran a shocking story about how the liberal Huffington Post and CNBC outlets have essentially handed their pages over to Putin’s propaganda wizards without the slightest clue to their readers that it has happened.
Thankfully, Germany doesn’t stand alone. France recently poked Putin in the eye by granting formal recognition to the Syrian rebels, condemned by Putin as Russia continues to support the dictatorial regime they oppose.
And the Republicans in Congress are on board as well. They are pushing forward the so-called Magnitsky law opposed vigorously by both Putin and Obama, ignoring Russia’s threats, and insisting that Russia not be given normal trade relations with the U.S. until it backs down from its neo-Soviet course.
An important statement regarding U.S. foreign policy will be made soon, as Hillary Clinton steps aside as secretary of State. Some Republicans are agitating against the nomination of Susan Rice as Clinton’s successor, because she is supposedly “up to her eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle.” They should reconsider. With both WaPo columnist Dana Milbank and Vladimir Putin strongly opposed to Rice, agitating for the appointment of milquetoast John Kerry, that’s more than good enough reason to strongly consider supporting Rice.
Putin knows that with Kerry as secretary of State and Obama as president, he will have clear sailing for the next four years to complete his neo-Soviet crackdown. And make no mistake: part and parcel of that crackdown is making Orthodox the state religion of Russia. It’s Putin, not Pussy Riot, who is a major threat to the Jews.
On November 3, 2012, Vladimir Mikhailovich Gundyayev, better known as Kirill I, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, in other words the Russian pope, appeared on state-sponsored national broadcast television, specifically on a program called The Pastor’s Word. Kirill, who many believe is a former KGB operative, told the people of Russia that they should ignore the devastating failure of Putinomics because it is immoral — yes, immoral — and a contravention of God’s wishes for them to modernize and prosper. In other words, those who criticize Putin for not doing enough on the economy are not just wrong, not just unpatriotic, but they are blasphemers and agents of Satan. Any more such criticism, he bellowed, and Russia was quite likely to collapse in ruin.
That was just the appetizer, though. For the main course, Kirill served up a healthy dose of racism and imperialism. He said in no uncertain terms that Russia is a Slavic country, and that Poland was a Slavic country too, clearly implying there was no reason for the two countries to be separate. Nor, for that matter, any other Slavic countries. This in a country rapidly becoming Islamic will likely serve as the harbinger of a terrifying racist crackdown. He stopped just short of proclaiming Putin the Holy Slavic Emperor and calling for him to unite the Slavic kingdom in holy war against the non-Slavic demons, east and west.
And for dessert, Martin Scorsese’s 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ was suddenly the topic of a criminal investigation by the Russian prosecutor’s office on charges of “extremism” preferred by Kirill and his minions. Should Scorsese set foot in Russia, he may well find himself behind bars because his two-decade-old movie “insults the feeling of millions of [Christian] believers and has a negative impact on public morals.” The chilling effect on Russian artists, coming on the heels of the Pussy Riot prosecution, also instigated by Kirill, is obvious and lethal.
If a racist crackdown is imminent, it would only be part of a much wider final neo-Soviet political crackdown that is already well underway in the aftermath of Putin’s landslide “reelection” as president-for-life.
Putin has already launched a wave of arrests against the leaders of the bedraggled Russian opposition movement. When one of them fled to Ukraine seeking political asylum, he was kidnapped from the streets of Kiev by a band of KGB thugs and dragged back to Moscow, after being forced to sign a neo-Soviet “confession” upon being threatened that his children would be killed if he did not. In a classic sign of his “toughness,” when the husband of Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova traveled to see his young wife and the mother of his baby at her remote prison colony, he was summarily denied visitation.
Putin has also moved to seize absolute control over the Russian energy sector, pushing non-state interests out of the enormous Rosneft oil concern, which observers called the last bastion of market economics in Russia.
Putin needs to ratchet up his control over Russian civil society because, as I’ve documented, his economic plans are rapidly coming unraveled. His pincer movement of totalitarian crackdown combined with co-opting the Orthodox clergy is devilishly effective, and it is critical that Western leaders stand up to him before a whole new cold-war era unfolds. The reelection of Obama bodes ill for its ability to do so.