At the start of the Winter Olympics, I had thought that both Russia and the Ukraine would be seas of calm, all the necessary battles being postponed until Putin felt safe in the knowledge that the world wasn’t looking any longer. On this, how wrong I was. This morning, the police in Kiev have had a fresh go at the protesters in the Maidan. Twenty-six people lie dead already from battles with the police earlier this week. Yesterday, footage of the Pussy Riot girls being beaten up by Cossacks in Sochi hit the web. It wasn’t the fact that Putin had released them only to have them physically assaulted that was shocking; it was that the perpetrators did it with no care to the fact that there were copious cameras on the scene, documenting every punch and kick. It’s like Vlad just doesn’t care what we think anymore.
And looking at the way Putin is often talked about in the west these days, I suppose why should he worry? On the right in America, Putin is increasingly being lionised for his “moral” stance on social norms, namely his assault on homosexuality. Pat Buchanan, the godfather of the neo-cons in the States, even asks “Is Putin One of Us?” in a recent article. He quotes Putin:
“In many countries today, moral and ethical norms are being reconsidered. They’re now requiring not only the proper acknowledgment of freedom of conscience, political views and private life, but also the mandatory acknowledgment of the equality of good and evil.”
Buchanan then explains this statement to the American right:
“Translation: While privacy and freedom of thought, religion and speech are cherished rights, to equate traditional marriage and same-sex marriage is to equate good with evil.”
Just one tiny problem with that analysis, Pat: Putin doesn’t think that freedom of thought, religion and speech are cherished rights. Actually, he’s not really that keen on the whole concept of cherished rights altogether. Perhaps you should have done some research on the guy before you decided that the President of Russia was your soul brother.
On the left, there is a creeping dialectic that because Putin is increasingly an enemy of big, bad America, and particularly in the wake of the Edward Snowden proceedings, that he is a friend of the anti-capitalist movements around the world. His anti-gay rhetoric dealt this a blow, but it hasn’t killed the idea fully, I fear. All I can say to lefties who are in any way swayed by this line of thought is to ask Nadezhda Tolokonnikova what she thinks about Russia as some sort of haven for free expression. After she manages to catch her breath from her latest beating by the Cossacks, obviously.
Meanwhile in Kiev, the prolongation and fierceness of the fighting in the Maidan has caused an inevitable drifting away of more moderate people simply wishing for a better way of life for themselves and their countrymen, and the moving in of fairly nasty elements of the far right. It is analogous to what happened in Syria, albeit on a much smaller and less destructive scale; the non-sectarian, anti-Assad fighters eventually being replaced by the jihadists. It is a depressing trend, one that is a great aid to despots.
In conclusion, things don’t look great in the Ukraine, at least for the near future. And Putin appears to feel buoyed enough by the Olympics to feel even more superior to the west than he already did. I don’t know where all this is going; I can only hope for the best.