On Russia and Vladimir Putin

I recently came across a blogpost by a local blogger who wrote about Vladimir Putin.  While I do agree with her point that Putin is often vilified by our heavily Western-influenced media, I have a feeew bones to pick with this particular article.  Usually I would just let it slide or rant about it to my boyfriend (which I have done, lol), but I cannot stand the thought that someone as well-read as this blogger could be spreading such inaccurate information. So, here I am.

One of her claims is that supporting Russia will help in the war against ISIS.  Her logic (at least, as I can read it) is as follows – Putin has made many ‘badass’ claims about ISIS.  Under Putin’s direction, Russia has begun attacking ISIS-held areas in Syria, cooperating with states such as France.  Therefore if we contribute to Russia’s economy (ostensibly through tourism), we will be contributing towards the fight against ISIS.

I quote:

“If you wish to take a step further and contribute financially to the war against ISIS, you might want to consider Russia as a travel destination.

It is a great time to travel there because rubles have fallen greatly compared to Singapore dollar. I’ve visited Moscow in May and my entire trip (SIA flight + Four Star Hotel + Internal Transport etc) only cost about SG$2000. You can read my travel guide on Moscow.”

Now I don’t claim to be an expert on Russia to any extent, but I did take a class on Russian history and here’s what I have to say:

1. Putin makes these ‘badass’ comments all the time. It’s not just about ISIS.  Just before he was sworn in as Prime Minister, Putin was heavily involved in the investigation of the Moscow apartment bombings in 1999.  He’s famous for uttering the lines: “We will chase the terrorists everywhere.  In the airport, then in the airport.  So if we find them in the toilet…we will rub them out in the outhouse.” Just go and google Putin and toilet, and you can find various sources which quote him on this. I would argue that Putin’s public image relies heavily on this idea of him as a masculine, ‘badass’ hero who saves Russia from the big bad Western powers. Hence the black belt in judo, the photos of him riding topless on horses, riding a bear, hanging out with biker gangs…etc.etc. I don’t want to go into a long history lesson here, but a large part of Putin’s popularity in Russia today rests upon how the Russians view him as someone who has reestablished Russia’s strength in the international domain, especially in comparison to his predecessors Gorbachev and Yeltsin, whom Russians view as ‘weak’ – largely because these two played key roles in the democratisation and liberalisation of Russia.  So Putin’s macho image is tied up with the history of politics in Russia. Not just because he has abs or speaks like a gangster.

So maybe Putin’s a badass.  But in my opinion, a large part of it remains his public image rather than any real desire to help the Syrians. Putin has used the same language to justify an invasion into Chechnya, Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea, etc. etc. I would argue that his actions in Chechnya, Ukraine and Crimea are complex and not always justified.  Just because someone is brimming with bravado and makes a lot of bold claims does not mean that we should support them.

(Some may argue that supporting someone who goes against ISIS is a natural foregone conclusion.  Perhaps that is so.  But this particular post I am referring to seems to be making the case that Putin’s bravado and strong language is a reason for us to support him.  If we agree with this then, we are basically saying that we should support Putin in his invasion of Chechnya and Ukraine, and the Crimean annexation – because of his machoism. I don’t think we ought to go that far. Especially since Putin has shown in the past to be highly indiscriminate in his methods in order to achieve his desired ends – see Moscow apartment bombings controversy, purported assassinations of journalists, etc. Putin will stop at nothing to get what he wants, and that can very possibly include bombing innocent people. I don’t think this should be condoned, or at the very least, ignored, re: Syria.)

2. This is my real problem with her claim: Visiting Moscow does not help the war against ISIS.  This is, frankly, a ridiculous leap of logic and for the life of me I cannot understand what is going on here.  Yes, perhaps by visiting Russia you are contributing to the Russian economy…which adds to the Russian military budget…which might possibly go towards building like 0.000001% of one of the thousands of bombs they rain upon Syria, all in the name of ‘fighting ISIS’.  How much money do you really think you’re going to spend on a two-week holiday in Moscow?! And this is assuming that Russia actually does some good in Syria. I might be being cynical here, but looking at the current shitstorm that is Syria, I would think that nobody is doing anything good in Syria right now.  Least of all Russia, who made the news most recently for accidentally bombing Iran instead of Syria.

What is more, don’t forget that Russia is notoriously corrupt – so your supposed well-intentioned tourist dollars are more often than not going to land in some bureaucrat’s fat pocket rather than dealing any damage towards ISIS.  Please do not lull yourself into a sense of heroism by thinking that the fight against ISIS validates your vacation. Please. Just don’t. It cheapens the fight against ISIS, and it cheapens your holiday.  A holiday is a holiday, dammit.

3. Last of all, for all the macho buff pictures of Putin and his mountain skiing and hang-gliding photos, please remember that this guy is a ruthless politician.  He has been linked with multiple crimes, including murder.  If the author of this cited post had truly been keeping up with multiple news outlets (as claimed), she would know that Putin is not a figure to be glorified.  Is he a strong leader? I think so.  Has Putin done good for the Russian people? I think so. But should we admire him for his role in the international stage? Laud him as a figure of morality, a shining beacon of good against the evil of ISIS? …ehhh. Questionable. With politics, I tend to take the stance that we shouldn’t reduce issues to black-and-white, right vs. wrong, good vs. evil. This applies very much so here.

At the end of the day, this is a silly response to an equally silly post.  But it got my ire up.  So this is where I go to rant about it.  Honestly? I’m trying to be charitable here but a part of me thinks that this post was written partly to promote her other posts about travel in Moscow – if not, why the random leap of logic from ISIS –> Moscow holiday? It clearly doesn’t make sense otherwise. Perhaps she really does admire Putin.  However I hope that people who read her blogpost will take it upon themselves to go read up about Putin and form their own opinions about him.

As I hope you will too, now. Hope you guys enjoyed this silly rant/info dump about Putin, and let me know what you think.



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