I had a birthday celebration in my immediate family a couple of days ago so I was over there having a coffee and chatting with family members when the conversation switched over from the family photo albums I’d brought over to the current situation in the Ukraine. One family member was of the opinion that Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, was ‘crazy’ and ‘dangerous’ and that his behaviour regarding his handling of the Ukrainian secessionist issue and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over the eastern part of Ukraine last week was symptomatic of something inherently sinister.
I was not surprised to hear such an opinion because most people watch the US-dominated western electronic media, who are currently demonizing Russia and Vladimir Putin and calling for an immediate end to the situation in the Ukraine. The fact of the matter is that Vladimir Putin is probably a very run-of-the mill totalitarian and heaved-handed Russian strongman, who is reacting no differently than any other Russian President or Czar would’ve if he felt that his traditional sphere of influence was being muscled in on by a foreign power, in this case NATO, led by the USA, who have continued upon a course of eastward expansionism into East Central and South Central Europe and Central Asia ever since the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the old Soviet Union the Warsaw Pact military alliance and COMECON economic union which bound Soviet Russia and the Warsaw Pact countries into a tight economic trading alliance for many decades.
Basically, Russia considers The Ukraine to be part of its sovereign territory, and two important strategic military and economic seaports on the Black Sea are currently in dispute: Odessa and Sevastopol, which Ukraine claims are part of its territory, but which Russia disputes, since these two seaports are both warm water seaports, giving Russia access to the sea for the export and import of goods and resources such as oil, chemicals, and in the case of oil pipelines, are linked directly to the EU system of pipelines, so a lot is at stake here in the west. If Russia is cut off from her access to the sea, she gets her hackles up. They don’t call her the ‘Russian Bear’ for nothing.
Mother Russia the Russian Bear is normally a peaceful creature, like her namesake the Mama Bear, hunting for food and caring for her young, but if she feels somehow threatened by an outside force, and feels boxed in, as is currently the case, she gets ornery and comes out swingin’ with all her teeth bared and her claws ready to tear anybody to shreds who gets in her way.

That’s why Vladimir Putin is not ‘crazy’ or ‘dangerous.’ He’s just protecting what he considers to be his sovereign territory from a foreign invader. Odessa and Sevastopol were both heavily damaged in WWII by the Germans and the local population suffered heavy casualties as a result. I don’t think Vladimir Putin wants to see a repeat of such a scenario ever again in the history of his country. He wants to protect the Motherland from invasion from foreigners.

NATO and the Obama White House and all future US Administrations would be wise not to push the Russian Bear too hard on her western flank, because she’s going to come out swinging every time with fury. The Ukrainians have been under Russian domination for at least 350 years ever since the Czars began ruling parts of Ukraine in the 1650s. The area briefly became independent after the First World War, but was forcibly integrated into the USSR in 1922. In 1932-33 Ukrainians attempted once again to go their own way but were brutally repressed by Stalin, who committed genocide against the Ukrainian people by confiscating and dumping 1,7 million tons of grain onto western markets. It is estimated that 10 million Ukrainians died from this atrocity.

However, Ukrainian and Russian language and culture are very similar, the Ukrainians having undergone a heavy dose of Russification of their language and culture in the 17th and 18th centuries and even into the 19th. Their language was banned, their Sunday schools were abolished and so forth. So basically, the Russians have done to the Ukrainians what the English did to the Irish, and both resent it deeply. However, Ireland is off in another part of the ocean, whereas Ukraine is strategically linked to the Russian land mass and to its outlet to the sea on its western flank and thus generations of Czars and Soviet Presidents have been wont to let her go.

Any Russian leader will tell you that bringing in goods all the way from Vladivostok across the Trans-Siberian Railway is prohibitively expensive and maintaining this railway, the world’s longest, completed in 1916 at great cost to the Russian treasury, is also very expensive. So it’s no wonder that successive Russian leaders, both Czarist and Presidential have been rather bellicose in the defence and promotion of their much-cherished Motherland. Ivan the Terrible acquired this nickname not necessarily because he was all that brutal, but because the Russian word for ‘terrible’ is ‘grozny’ which means ‘formidable’, or ‘threatening’, ‘tough’, ‘strict’ or ‘authoritative.’ Ivan the Terrible instituted the first printing presses in Russia and reformed the legal codes and was the first ‘Czar of all the Russians’, making him a King based on religious belief in a Divine Right to rule. He also had St. Basil’s Cathedral built. It was only later in his rule when his mental health deteriorated and he killed his heir apparent and his health slipped further that his reputation took a beating.
Peter the Great was very open to western influences, but the city he had built in his Patron Saint’s honour, and in a way, for himself, St. Petersburg, was built in a huge marshland by mostly peasants, prisoners of war and army recruits and many died as a result of poor working conditions. But Peter modernized the Russian Army, had 600 books printed, founded a theatre, modernized modes of dress and architecture and so on.
So are Russian leaders ‘crazy’ and ‘dangerous’? Or are they just typical of their civilization’s social fabric? Basically I’d have to say the latter is the case. Russia is a civilization whose history is bathed in blood and tears and will continue to be so. Her people are very heroic and a combination of cultured and ‘bearish’, getting their hackles up when they feel threatened by outsiders or by threats from within. All in all a very fascinating and storied people.
Didn’t think having a coffee at a family birthday gathering would prompt such musings, but there ya go. That ain’t so crazy and dangerous an undertaking for a breezy Sunday afternoon while the laundry dries on the line! Come to think of it, better check that out! See ya!

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