Published On: Sat, May 3rd, 2014

Soviet Spring

In a rare display of Russian nationalism and Communist nostalgia, the Kremlin yesterday staged its first May Day Celebration in Red Square since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

With red flags waving, an estimated 100,000 marched past Lenin’s tomb in a show of solidarity for Russia’s current de facto president, Vladimir Putin.

As Reuters described the scene; “Unlike Kremlin leaders in Soviet times, Putin did not personally preside at the parade from atop the mausoleum. But he carried out another Soviet-era tradition by awarding ‘Hero of Labour’ medals to five workers at a ceremony in the Kremlin. He revived the Stalin-era award a year ago.”

Since becoming President in 2000, Putin has described the end of the Soviet Union as a national tragedy. In his quest to reestablish Russia’s prominence in the world, Putin has recently intervened in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, prompting the worst tensions in Eastern Europe since the Cold War.

With the reset button between America and Russia seemingly out of order, one might also describe yesterday’s May Day Celebrations as a kind of “Soviet Spring”.

Soviet Spring in the Kremlin

Soviet Spring – May Day Celebrations in the Kremlin

While it is highly unlikely that Mr. Putin would ever return Russia to a Communist economy – he and his fellow oligarchs have gorged billions from Russia’s natural gas industry – the political apparatus that kept the Soviet-era Politburo in power for decades was firmly on display yesterday.

There is something in the Russian soul that loves a tyrant and Mr. Putin has shown a willingness to mimic the ruthless tactics of both Lenin and Stalin: he has arrested political rivals and put on show trials; he has tracked down adversaries oversees and had them murdered the way Stalin had Trotsky assassinated in 1940. (Stalin’s henchmen used a pickax, Putin’s used radiation poison.)

Mr. Putin has also reawakened a nostalgia for Czarist Russia. He styles himself as a latter-day Peter the Great – moving heaven and earth to make Russia a world power again.

This strange confluence of Czarist nostalgia and Soviet stagecraft has enabled Mr. Putin to maintain his grip on power while, at the same time, undermining democratic reforms.

His control on the media is absolute and reminiscent of Pravda during the Soviet era. He persecutes minorities such as gays in order to make himself the face of public morality.  (Even though he has gone through a divorce and is known to cavort with mistresses.)

He has revived the Russian myth of the Iron Fist and – as long as he exhibited these totalitarian impulses domestically – America was content to look the over way. But with an invasion of Eastern Ukraine looking more and more likely, the West is going to have to react Mr. Putin’s aggression sooner or later.

Russian Troop movements

Russian Troops surround the Ukraine

The Obama administration has been weak in dealing with Putin. Sanctions have not deterred Russian Troop movements around Ukraine and Eastern Europe is beginning to shudder at the prospect of an awakening Russian Bear on its borders. Our allies in the region are also wondering if they can depend on our support to thwart Russian ambitions. President Obama has repeatedly drawn red lines on foreign policy that he has never enforced. This makes Obama look callow and Putin strong.

While the Arab Spring is faltering all across the Middle East, the Soviet Spring is burning bright.

This may very well undermine Hillary Clinton’s chances in running for president in 2016. As Secretary of State, she initiated the reset button with Russia that now looks like a losing hand. She also oversaw foreign policy during the Benghazi attack in 2012, killing four Americans. A recently released email on the night of the attack raises new questions about the Administration’s conduct during the crisis and will likely lead to new congressional hearings.

If American foreign policy continues to deteriorate overseas, Mrs. Clinton will most likely be left holding the bag, further derailing her prospects for the presidency.

It is important for American to reestablish its own strength and reliability in Eastern Europe. To demonstrate to Mr. Putin that there is a limit to how much we will indulge his displays of aggression. As one foreign analyst has pointed out; “Mr. Putin does not do frontal attacks; he does judo.” Our allies need to know that we have not abandoned them to the meddling of a resurgent Russia. While direct intervention is not advisable in the Ukraine, shoring up our NATO defenses in Poland, Estonia and Lithuania would be a show of strength and resolve.

Putin can play the Czar all he wants. He can even put on May Day Celebrations. But he needs to understand that – going forward – red lines will remain firm.

 

 

About the Author

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Robert Maley has worked in publishing, banking and – as incongruent as it may seem – the theatrical world. After many years of living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, he now resides in the more pastoral setting of Virginia. A playwright with an MFA from Columbia University, he has had several plays produced off-off-Broadway. Presently, he is a critic of the Cultural Marxism to which he once allied, especially as it pertains to the arts, faith and academia.

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