9-19-14 FROM MY FILES FRIDAY: In February 2011, I wrote a blog that described Russian President Vladimir Putin as a common thief. His recent foray into Ukraine is a testament that Putin is much more — he is a dangerous and pompous threat to freedom loving people.
The World’s Biggest Thief
Advocating for better mental health care is a top priority to me, but it’s not my only interest. I took time last week to have lunch with a friend of mine who works for a U.S. intelligence agency and our conversation quickly turned to Russia.
I have been fascinated with the Kremlin and Moscow much of my life. Perhaps, it started when I was a youngster living in Pueblo, Colorado when my mother began storing food items in the bathroom closet in 1962. The bathroom was the only room in our small house that didn’t have windows, which was why it was chosen as our family’s emergency bomb shelter if the Soviet Union attacked.
For those too young to remember, 1962 was when the Cuban Missile Crisis happened and at the elementary school that I attended, we did drills where we either hurried into hallways or ducked under our desks. That was supposed to help us if bombs fell.
Being a cost conscious minister’s wife, my mom didn’t want to toss out the stored food after the crisis passed so she decided one night to add water to the packets of dehydrated meat that could be kept without refrigeration. Eating that miserable tasting stuff made me more angry at the Soviets than their plans to install missiles off our shore.
I also remember a billboard near our house that showed an angry Nikita Khrushchev about to pound his shoe on the table. I still remember the wording on that poster. It said: “We will bury you!” That image might have terrified other children, but it made me wonder what sort of people these Communists were. Only later would I learn that both the shoe pounding incident and the translation of Khrushchev’s words were in dispute. I’d also discover the photo on that billboard was fake.
Regardless, I jumped at the chance to visit Moscow in 1994 and 1995 while researching Confessions of a Spy: The Real Story of Aldrich Ames. It turned out to be a fabulous time to visit. Muscovites were adjusting to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. While the nation was struggling with hyperinflation and the emergence of the Russia mob, most of the individuals I met and interviewed were wonderful folks, no different in many ways from you and me. They were eager to begin a new era of freedom. This was especially true of students and, of course, Russian journalists.
Although I’m certainly no expert on Russia, I still have several friends there and what has happened since 1991 is a tragedy. I suspect that historians will eventually describe it as a major missed opportunity to create a freer and modern nation.
Rather than helping his people rise to greatness, Boris Yeltsin turned out to be drunk who helped his Oligarch buddies loot the nation. As the second Russian president, after Yeltsin suddenly resigned, Vladimir Putin took the reins with high U.S. expectations. (Remember President George Bush’s famous statement – “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. ..I wouldn’t have invited him to my ranch if I didn’t trust him.”)
While Putin re-established political and economic stability, as well as, the rule of law, it now is obvious that he also has taken the low road as a leader.
Putin has used his power to imprison his political enemies, muzzle the media and undermine the democratic system by installing a puppet president. Yes, he stripped Yelstin’s Oligarchs of their stolen wealth. But he promptly turned his buddies lose to rape the country.
Russia has gone from being an oppressive regime to a shiny example of a kleptocracy, which is defined as being a nation “ruled by thieves.”
What prompted this blog? A recent Wikileaks revelation in Russia and a comment by my lunch guest who told me that a recent U.S. intelligence assessment pegged Putin’s personal wealth at $20 BILLION.
If that is accurate, then poor Putin may have actually lost money. In 2007, there was speculation in the English press that Putin’s worth was in excess of $40 Billion. And this week, the Russian version of wikileaks revealed that Putin has spent an estimated $1 billion constructing a secret palace for himself on the Black Sea. The website that contained that story was immediately shut down in Russia by the Russian government. Last year, Putin and the Kremlin said there was little money to give federal workers, such as teachers and doctors, modest pay increases. Yet, somehow Putin has managed to become one of the wealthiest men in Europe even though his yearly salary, according to the Russian government, is less than $63,000 per year.
The people of Russia, especially those who fought to end Communism, deserve better than this puny egotist.
Putin’s $1 billion palace under construction on Black Sea.