By Chet Yarbrough
The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin
Written by: Steven Lee Myers
Narration by: Rene Ruiz
Steven Lee Myers, NYT’s reporter and author.
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 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.
Putin’s relationship with the mayor of Leningrad reminds one of his support for Lukashenco, the President of Belarus, who illegally diverted a commercial airline to capture a government political dissident (Roman Protasevich).
Roman Protasevich (Belarusian journalist and political dissident.)
Alexander Lukashenko (President of Belarus)
In a televised June 4th, 2021 confession by Protasevich, Lukashenco embarrasses himself and his country with coerced praise by the Belarus President. This reminds one of Stalin’s show trials.
Russia is unlikely to return to hegemonic control of adjacent countries. Ethnic nationalism and desire for greater freedom are unquenchable thirsts. Ukraine, Georgia, and even Belarus, seem unlikely to rejoin Russia in a new Socialist Republic.
Russia is equally 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 will remain a major international power and influence in the world. Nuclear capability and cybernetics (particularly as a weapon of political and economic disruption) guarantees Russia’s position in world affairs.
Forcing 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. 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 accolade.
(To make Crimea the equivalent of the Sudetenland one might ask oneself if the majority in the Sudetenland were ethnic Germans, and was there a vote by Sudetenland residents.)
Undoubtedly, a great deal of time was spent influencing Crimea’s population. 65% of the Crimea’s population is ethnically Russian. It is not inconceivable that a majority of Crimea residents voted to become part of Russia
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 who chooses to challenge his authoritarianism.
American-born British financier and political activist.
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 the 45th American President who focused on the business of America; not its role as a beacon for freedom and equality of opportunity.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they hold a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
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.