|Boeing F/A-XX concept|
By BILL KELLER
The world needs Nelson Mandelas. Instead, it gets Vladimir Putins. As the South African hero was being sung to his grave last week, the Russian president was bullying neighboring Ukraine into a new customs union that is starting to look a bit like Soviet Union Lite, and consolidating his control of state-run media by creating a new Kremlin news agency under a nationalistic and homophobic hard-liner...
Putin’s moves were not isolated events. They fit into a pattern of behavior over the past couple of years that deliberately distances Russia from the socially and culturally liberal West: laws giving official sanction to the terrorizing of gays and lesbians, the jailing of members of a punk protest group for offenses against the Russian Orthodox Church, the demonizing of Western-backed pro-democracy organizations as “foreign agents,” expansive new laws on treason, limits on foreign adoptions.
What’s going on is more complicated and more dangerous than just Putin flexing his political pecs. He is trying to draw the line against Europe, to deepen division on a continent that has twice in living memory been the birthplace of world wars. It seems clearer than ever that Putin is not just tweaking the West to rouse his base or nipping domestic opposition in the bud. He is also attempting to turn back 25 years of history.
“Putin wants to make Russia into the traditional values capital of the world,” said Masha Gessen, author of a stinging Putin biography, an activist for gay and lesbian rights and a writer for the Latitudes blog on this paper’s website.
What, you may wonder, does Russia’s retro puritanism have to do with the turmoil in the streets of Kiev, where Ukrainian protesters yearning for a partnership with the European Union confront a president, Viktor Yanukovich, who has seemed intent on joining Putin’s rival “Eurasian” union instead? More than you might think.
Listen to the chairman of the Russian Parliament’s International Affairs Committee, Alexei Pushkov, warning that if Ukraine joins the E.U., European advisers will infiltrate the country and introduce “a broadening of the sphere of gay culture.” Or watch Dmitry Kiselyov, the flamboyantly anti-Western TV host Putin has just installed at the head of a restructured news agency. Kiselyov recently aired excerpts from a Swedish program called “Poop and Pee,” designed to teach children about bodily functions, and declared it was an example of the kind of European depravity awaiting Ukraine if it aligns with Europe. (Kiselyov is also the guy who said that when gay people die their internal organs should be burned and buried so that they cannot be donated.)
Hyping the specter of World War G is going to make some people a whole lot of money.
Keller is a Bloombergian centrist, a Voice of Responsible Opinion. So just remember if this struck you while reading it as hysterical and irresponsible in a 1913 kind of way of taking excessive umbrage at other Great Powers, well that just shows what an extremist weirdo you are.