It may be just the time of the year, but it seems that a lot of what I call ‘revisionist’ articles have been running in newspapers and online in recent days.
These go against the prevailing flow of opinion, thus United States President-elect Donald Trump is really a good guy who will be a steadying influence once in office; Philippines leader Rodrigo Duterte should be nominated for a human rights award, and despite record high temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere and freezing conditions in the north, climate change is nothing to worry about.
Among the number of these attention grabbers was an article in defence of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
While admitting Putin is a thuggish bully who has crushed political dissent at home, Senior Fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, Tom Switzer defends the Russian leader’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine and its indiscriminate bombing of Aleppo in Syria as “protecting legitimate security interests”, even hinting that this might extend to intimidating the Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, part of the European Union.
Rehashing the myth that the West was behind the 2013 overthrow of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine, Switzer claims that years of EU and NATO expansion into what historically has been Russia’s sphere of influence, forced Putin’s hand because “he could not tolerate a Western bulwark on his border”.
What the Russian President fails to understand (and Switzer ignores) is that history has no reverse gear. The Soviet Union has gone for good and Putin can no more reconstitute it than the Prime Minister of Italy can reclaim the Roman Empire.
Russia’s adventures in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldovia and its propping up of the dictator, Bashar al-Assad, in Syria is costly folly for a country with a shrunken economy and an ageing, vodka-sodden population. There has been much speculation over Putin’s decision to wind down his forces supporting Assad, not least that he is simply running out of money to fund them.
There should also be concerns about the way the Russian leader conducts himself personally. Leaving aside the persistent rumours about plastic surgery, why does the 64-year-old have to appear in pictures shirtless and riding a horse? What is the point of his participation in rigged ice-hockey games where he is made to look like the star performer?
These episodes can be seen as the actions of an insecure man desperately seeking to demonstrate his masculinity in the face of advancing age, attitudes that can be translated into aggressive actions on the world stage.
There are plenty of opportunities for Russia to play a constructive international role but not if it continues to bully the former Soviet clients, now independent nations, on its borders.