By Chet Yarbrough
The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin
Written by: Steven Lee Myers
Narration by: Rene Ruiz
Vladimir Putin is no Tsar. Steven Lee Myers has written a highly polished and informative biography but fails to convince one that Putin is a Tsar. Putin is more Richard Nixon than Catherine the Great. Putin, like Nixon, is smart and thin-skinned. Putin, like Nixon, makes personnel decisions based on loyalty, and views the world in real-politic terms.
Myers shows that Putin comes from a family of Russian patriots with a grandfather and father that fought in Russian armies in different generations. Each lived during the Stalinist years of Gulags and terror but none rebelled against the power of Russia’s leadership.
Myers explains how Putin becomes interested in the KGB at the age of 16 and grooms himself for a life in the secret service. Putin’s KGB-influenced’ career-path is to become an attorney. He learns German and is assigned to East Germany in his first years as a KGB agent.
Myers explains how Putin’s steely disposition grows in East Germany, and later St Petersburg, Russia. Putin keeps a low profile but exhibits bravery, independence, and initiative when his country’s leaders are overwhelmed by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain.
Putin becomes the “go-to” guy for the Mayor of Leningrad (aka St. Petersburg). Putin’s relationship to the Mayor of Leningrad, Anatoly A. Sobchak, is founded on loyalty. Sobchak is initially recognized as a representative of new Russia but the power of his position is diminished by the ineptitude of his administration. In spite of Sobchak’s mistakes, Myers shows that Putin stands by him. Loyalty is a characteristic of Putin that is expected of all who work with him. Eventually Sobchak is electorally defeated and Putin is left out of a job.
Russia is unlikely to be ruled by a Tsar again because its population is better educated; aware of the value of qualified freedom, insured by relative social stability and security. Russia is equally unlikely to return to a repeat of U. S. S. R.’s hegemonic control because ethnic nationalism and the desire for greater freedom are unquenchable thirsts. This is not to say Russia will not remain a major international power and influence in the world. Nuclear capability and cybernetics guarantees Russia’s position in world affairs.
Forcing the Ukraine or Georgia to return to the Russian block or quelling Chechen resistance is beyond the military strength of Russia’s Putin or his successors. Reassembly of a form of the U. S. S. R. is only conceivable based on political accommodation based on economic influence or volitional federation. Neighboring countries can only be seduced; i.e. either by economics, or cybernetic influence. A majority vote of neighboring countries; not military dominion, will be the “modus vivendi” for Russian expansion.
But what about the Crimea. It is a part of the Ukraine.
An argument can be made that territory of the Crimea is not an exception; it is proof of the point. Millions of dollars were spent by Russia to modernize Crimea for the Olympics. Undoubtedly, a great deal of time was spent influencing Crimea’s population (which is ethnically 65% Russian). It is conceivable that a majority of the Crimea residents voted to become part of Russia.
Of course, this sets aside the truth of Crimea’s territorial and nationalist connection with Ukraine. One might argue this is analogous to Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. Hitler used the excuse that ethnic Germans were being abused in the Sudetenland. In this view, Putin is no Tsar; i.e. he is more Stalinist.
(To make the Sudetenland the equivalent of the Crimea one might ask oneself if the majority in the Sudetenland were ethnic Germans, and was there a vote by Sudetenland residents.)
Myers cogently reveals the strengths and weaknesses of modern Russian rule. In a limited sense (limited by Myers’ independent research and fact checking), Myers’ corroborates the experience noted in William Browder’s book, “Red Notice”. Putin is certainly capable of undermining the influence or action of any person in Russia who chooses to challenge his authoritarianism.
In spite of Putin’s great power, Myers shows there are chinks in his invincibility. Putin’s sly manipulation for re-election after Medvedev’s only term as President fails to quell the desire for freedom of Russian citizens. Just as Watergate exposed the hubris of Nixon, Putin will suffer from the sin of being a flawed human being. Putin, like Nixon, is a great patriot of his country but neither exhibit the inner moral compass that make good leaders great leaders. This is a reminder of today’s American President who is focused on the business of America; not its role as a beacon for freedom and equality of opportunity.
Myers creates a convincing portrait of a man who is subject to the sins of most who rise to power. Putin believes he has become a god among men. He rationalizes his greed by thinking the fate of Russia’s re-ascendance lies in his hands. Even in the days of Stalinist governance, relationship to the leader was the sine ne quo of wealth and power. Putin carries on that tradition. Putin’s friends and associates from the KGB and his tenure in St. Petersburg are critical components of Putin’s control of the economy and government.
Putin is no Tsar but he could have been if education had not advanced society and freedom of expression had not entered the internet age.