The world is no longer divided by communism vs. capitalism. But it’s still divided by ideologies that have their clearest expression in the policies of Russia and the United States. That division contrasts liberal and realist views of the world.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s popularity has soared at home in the wake of his actions in Ukraine – and the masterful spin his intervention has been given.
The United States has troubles. This was the subtext of President Barack Obama’s speech at the United States Military Academy at West Point last week. The latest trouble is the raw ambition of Russian President Vladimir Putin to dominate as much of the former Soviet Union as he can.
To lose Ukraine — as the Russians and the President of Russia Vladimir Putin would see it — would be a huge blow. For Russians, it is part of them; of their history, of their economy and of their kin. If Putin were to “lose” Ukraine it would hurt him with the large part of the Russian population who have supported him and even more with the circle of military and security people who are his closest and most critical colleagues. The specter of being deposed like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, or, even worse, Libya’s late dictator Muammar Gaddafi, hangs over him.
Masha Lipman, one of the great chroniclers of Russian politics, told a story at a conference I attended outside of Moscow earlier this week. It was about two scholars who, in a recent discussion about the history of Russia and the Soviet Union, fell into a savage argument. One saw the end of the Soviet Union as a tragedy, the other as a release from tyranny. So radical and bitter was the disagreement that they came to blows, an unheard of event in the generally decorous world of Russian academia.