For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reading books about Russian president Vladimir Putin and watching videos of him online. And I have been very surprised at how completely amazing he seems! He is very intelligent and even charming at times. Is he evil like the American press would have you believe? I don’t think so. In the war on ISIS, he seems to be the Good Guy who is bombing them (some dispute this).
Here are some of the eye-opening facts I’ve learned about Vladimir Putin:
- He is a Christian
- His mother had him secretly baptized into the Russian Orthodox church, an off-shoot of the Roman Catholic church (done quietly as this was Communist Russia and his dad was a member of the Communist Party and an atheist)
- He wears a religious medal around his neck everyday, attends holiday church services and prays in a little chapel next to his office in the Kremlin
- He bonded with former President George Bush over their shared Christian faith
- He is rarely called Vlad or Vladimir; instead he is called Volodya, a nickname
- He worked for the KGB but never rose above boring paperwork, writing reports about the politicians in East Germany before the Wall fell
- When asked by U.S. journalists about his career in the KGB (always with a sinister sneer), he compares it to our CIA (haha, our CIA has done plenty of underhanded things, too)
- When the Berlin Wall fell and East Germany joined West Germany instead of staying close to Russia, he saw how unprepared Moscow was and knew that someday Communism would fall in Russia; so he started his career over, first in the university system and then in politics
- When Communism finally did die in Russia, he quietly put his party membership card in an desk drawer and left it there
- He is not in the Russian mob; in fact, he has made great progress in weakening the mob and is called a modern-day Robin Hood for re-distributing oil wealth out of the hands of the corrupt mobsters
- An example of his anti-corruption work: A super rich oil tycoon or “oligarch” who owned a factory in a poor part of Russia was behind on paying his workers their wages. The workers ran out of money for food and rent and started protesting in the street, blocking a main road. Putin became so incensed at this rich man (who he knows well and has been on ski vacations with) that he drove to the factory and, on live TV, threw a pen at the oligarch/boss and told him to sign the strike papers now and start paying the workers!
- Another example of Putin’s anti-corruption work: Before he became prime minister, the Russian oil fields mysteriously lost much of their profits (siphoned off by the mob). He worked on this issue and oil revenues rose 15 per cent (production remained the same).
- In televised press conferences, he often talks about how, during World War II, America and Britain worked together with Russia and how we should do the same now, to help the whole world. (Do you see these clips on American TV? Search for his U.N. addresses online.)
- He knows English! Search YouTube for “Putin speaking English.”
- He cried at a World War II memorial service, holding a photo of his relative.
- He disputes that he is anti-gay. In the most recent 60 Minutes interview he did with Charlie Rose (aired October, 2015), Putin said he has an anti-propaganda law to stop gay rights parades and protests, but his reasoning is that children and minors under the age of 18 shouldn’t see this when they are out in public. He also said he supports gay marriage (he calls it “non-traditional partnerships”) and gay adoption and has given out civic awards to gay people. This is much different than what we hear about him on the news! Putin is even scheduled to meet with Elton John and his husband, after hearing about the phone call prank by radio DJs. Putin called them and invited them to talk to him in person about gay rights in Russia! Elton John’s husband has already praised him as being very nice and very polite.
- He also disputes that he is against free speech on the Internet. Putin says the sites he is proposing to ban in Russia are porn sites, herbal pot shops, and gay rights sites that are accessible to minors. (I don’t agree with this last one – gay teens need support groups.)
- He grew up in the projects. He lived in a one-room studio apartment with his parents (doubled as their bedroom) which didn’t even have a bathroom or a kitchen (shared down the hall). The only source of heat was a wood furnace. And now he is the most powerful man in Russia. A typical American success story!
- He passed a law officially recognizing 4 main religions in Russia: Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim. This protects the churches and gives them state funding. Religion is taught in all schools (the parents choose the religion class from these four choices) or non-religious students can take an ethics class instead. (I really like this!)
I could go on and on. My point is that I wish the U.S. would work with Russia and not against them. If we continue to disparage Russia (which is not Communist anymore), I feel Putin will strengthen an alliance with China and we will be in trouble, especially economically. And we need military alliances to fight ISIS. I believe that Putin is bombing ISIS in Syria, and that we are against him because we are arming rebels to kill Asad, while Putin trades with Asad and isn’t trying to remove him. Another interesting point people make online are about all the “regime changes” the U.S. does in the Middle East. Is the U.S. TRYING to de-stabilize the region? Why did we let Libya fall into chaos after killing Ghadaffi? And why are we not helping Iraq form a real government that could hold the country together (divided by 2 different forms of Islam)? And now we want to take down Asad, leaving the mess that is Syria without any functioning government. Is a democratic Syrian president going to rise out of the rubble? I don’t think so. Maybe our government is OK with the oil-rich Middle East being in chaos…. I’m guessing it helps us with oil prices in some way. I challenge Americans to look into Putin for themselves. His aim is to help Russia (naturally), which puts him in opposition to some things the U.S. wants (like fighting to get his Russian “satellite states” back when we don’t want him to – I’m for peace and don’t think he should be fighting with Ukraine or Crimea), but he is not the evil mastermind that the U.S. press would have you believe. A new Hitler? No. Realizing this makes me question a lot of what we see on the news.
The books I’ve read about Putin (click on the titles to see the book on Amazon) are Putin by Chris Hutchins (a biography written in 2012) and First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President (a series of interviews with him and his then wife Lyudmila by Russian journalists).