Trudy Rubin

While TV news was glued last week to Stormy Daniels' tell-all testimony and pro-Palestinian demonstrations, scant attention was paid to Vladimir Putin's tsar-like coronation for a fifth term. Nor to his bellicose parade of Russia's nuclear-capable missiles through Red Square on Thursday, the annual Victory Day commemoration of World War II.

I would argue that Putin's stage-managed glorification was more significant than Donald Trump's hush money trial or the student upheavals.

For one thing, the ceremonies reflected Putin's optimism about victory in Ukraine. Despite congressional passage of a long-delayed military aid package for Kyiv, the weapons may arrive too slowly to prevent Russia from making dangerous new gains unless they are dispatched with a greater sense of urgency. Putin's preening is clearly fed by the belief that the new aid is too little, too late, and that a Trump victory in November will mean an end to further U.S. support for Kyiv.

Moreover, the diversion of White House attention to Gaza distracts from a desperately needed administration focus on helping Ukraine make progress against Moscow this year, not in the unpredictable future.

Yet, the deeper reason Putin's pomp should have drawn greater attention is that it demonstrated something most Americans still don't grasp: the threat this Russian leader presents to Europe and the U.S. That threat is all the greater because the unchecked power Putin displayed last week aroused such admiration from close associates of Trump, and from the GOP candidate himself.

The longest-serving Kremlin leader since Joseph Stalin, Putin took his oath beneath the glittering arches of the Andreyevsky Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace — where Russian tsars were once crowned. A 30-gun salute followed. Putin had had the Russian Constitution changed to enable him to rule for life.

Recall that Putin was inaugurated after a sham election in March in which no genuine alternative candidate was allowed to run. The most serious opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, had survived poisoning by Russian intelligence agents only to be imprisoned in an Arctic penal colony; he died conveniently and mysteriously in prison one month before the election.

Navalny was only the latest in a long string of Putin opponents to be poisoned or otherwise murdered, not just inside Russia but across Europe.

On Monday, at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, I will interview former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko, who barely survived a poisoning attempt in Kyiv in 2004 by a Russian agent; Putin opposed his efforts to draw his country closer to the European Union.

If you want a theatrical glimpse of how this cold-blooded Kremlin killer operates, rush to New York before the British play Patriots ends its run. You will see a splendid cast depict Putin's brutal destruction of the Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky who lifted him out of political obscurity to the presidency, but then had the audacity to challenge the Frankenstein he helped create.

This is the nature of the leader whom Trump so admires.

The Kremlin boss is cracking down on any and all dissent inside Russia at a level unseen since the breakup of the Soviet Union. He is having statues of Stalin rebuilt all across Russia.

And, as his grandiose inaugural confirmed, he is obsessed with Russia's past imperial glories. "We are answering to our thousand-year history and our ancestors," he proclaimed. It is Putin's distorted view of Russian history that underlies his invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian dictator believes his country has a "sacred duty" to swallow, or dominate, other European and Central Asian states that were once part of its empire. He considers himself the incarnation of past conquerors such as Catherine the Great, whose statue he keeps in his office. At last week's ceremonies, he bragged of the "correctness of the country's course," and made clear his willingness to confront the West.

Having basically recolonized independent Belarus, Putin insists Ukraine has no right to exist as an independent country. On Victory Day, he repeated his grotesque comparison of Moscow's fight against Ukraine to Russia's World War II battle against the Nazis.

Never mind that in 2024, it is Putin who is playing the role of Hitler, as state-controlled Russian TV acts the part of Joseph Goebbels' propaganda network. In the weeks leading up to the inauguration, Russian talk show hosts fulminated on how Ukrainians are "animals," and advocated killing the parents, wives, and children of Ukrainian soldiers.

A Russian plot to assassinate Ukraine's Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, just prior to the Victory Day celebration, was fortunately broken up by Ukraine.

Putin's nuclear threats are meant to deter the West from helping Ukraine win.

You might well ask why the West should take Putin seriously, given his failure to conquer Ukraine in three weeks as he had intended, and the cost of the ongoing war. Only one Russian tank, a World War II T34 relic, rolled through Red Square in the Victory Day parade, both this year and last, a sign of how much military resources Moscow has had to commit to Ukraine.

Here we come to the reason it gives me heartburn that America's attention has turned away from Kyiv.

Putin thinks the West is fractured and fractious, and will eventually permit him to gnaw at the weak points in its society and its defenses. That is what made his bravado at this year's Victory Day parade so flagrant after the more dismal outlook last year.

After annexing chunks of Ukraine, he intends to destroy its infrastructure and cities (unless the West rushes more air defenses to the country). He is striving to undermine NATO by backing far-right parties in Europe with propaganda and financing. The coup de grâce would be a victory by Trump, who openly disdains the Atlantic alliance.

Putin hopes his nuclear saber-rattling — including the parade of missiles through Red Square — will dissuade the West from saving Ukraine, and will enable further planned Russian aggression on land, sea, and in space. As he reviewed the troops on Red Square, he bragged, "We will not allow anyone to threaten us."

Needless to say, China, Iran, and North Korea are closely watching to see if his bluster works.

Most insidious is Putin's pretentious pose as the global standard-bearer for "centuries-old family values and traditions," as he put it in his inaugural address. He is skillfully playing on the cultural divides that have poisoned politics in the West.

We know Trump envies Putin's vainglorious pomp, the glitz and military parades and salutes. Less obvious is the Russian leader's success in wooing U.S. conservatives who see him as a global advocate for the conservative, Christian, anti-immigrant values they embrace.

Never mind that this self-proclaimed defender of Orthodox Christian values is responsible for civilian slaughter, torture, rape, kidnapping of children in Ukraine, and murders of opponents. This includes persecution of LGBTQ people, and encouraging women to stay home and have eight children to increase Russia's population. It also includes forcing artists, filmmakers, and cultural institutions to hew to a "patriotic" line or go to jail.

Yet, the GOP's far-right has swallowed, or simply admires, Putin's constant harping on "family values." Tucker Carlson, who still has a huge following, treats Putin like a hero. Trump compliments him and invites his staunchest European backer, Viktor Orbán, to Mar-a-Lago. The Conservative Political Action Committee, or CPAC, rushes to Budapest, Hungary, to see Orbán.

Moreover, according to the latest Pew poll, 49 percent of Republicans buy Putin's argument that America gives too much aid to Ukraine, oblivious to the security consequences of a Putin victory. While 83 percent of liberal Democrats have no confidence in Putin, only 61 percent of all Republicans say the same.

This past week, as Americans ignored his Kremlin theatrics, Putin laid bare the risks he poses to our country. I wish U.S. Putin-huggers had been compelled to watch his dictatorial display over and over. Yet, that might just make those who despise liberal democracy admire him more.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the The Philadelphia Inquirer. Readers may write to her at: Philadelphia Inquirer, P.O. Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101, or by email at trubin@phillynews.com. This article was distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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The biggest story was about Putin's optimism

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15.05.2024

Trudy Rubin

While TV news was glued last week to Stormy Daniels' tell-all testimony and pro-Palestinian demonstrations, scant attention was paid to Vladimir Putin's tsar-like coronation for a fifth term. Nor to his bellicose parade of Russia's nuclear-capable missiles through Red Square on Thursday, the annual Victory Day commemoration of World War II.

I would argue that Putin's stage-managed glorification was more significant than Donald Trump's hush money trial or the student upheavals.

For one thing, the ceremonies reflected Putin's optimism about victory in Ukraine. Despite congressional passage of a long-delayed military aid package for Kyiv, the weapons may arrive too slowly to prevent Russia from making dangerous new gains unless they are dispatched with a greater sense of urgency. Putin's preening is clearly fed by the belief that the new aid is too little, too late, and that a Trump victory in November will mean an end to further U.S. support for Kyiv.

Moreover, the diversion of White House attention to Gaza distracts from a desperately needed administration focus on helping Ukraine make progress against Moscow this year, not in the unpredictable future.

Yet, the deeper reason Putin's pomp should have drawn greater attention is that it demonstrated something most Americans still don't grasp: the threat this Russian leader presents to Europe and the U.S. That threat is all the greater because the unchecked power Putin displayed last week aroused such admiration from close associates of Trump, and from the GOP candidate himself.

The longest-serving Kremlin leader since Joseph Stalin, Putin took his oath beneath the glittering arches of the Andreyevsky Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace — where Russian tsars were once crowned. A 30-gun salute followed. Putin had had the Russian Constitution changed to enable him to rule for life.

Recall that Putin was inaugurated after a sham election in March in which no genuine alternative candidate was allowed to run. The most serious opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, had survived poisoning by Russian intelligence agents only to be imprisoned in........

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