As we continue our look at major threats the next American President will face, we must take a hard look at Vladimir Putin.
In addition to invading Georgia and Ukraine in recent years, Putin has continued to rebuild Russia's military and expand Russia's military and diplomatic influence in the Middle East. Specially, Putin has:
aggressively forged a military alliance with Iran
sold state-of-the-art weapons systems to Iran
sent Russian troops into Syria to fight alongside Iran to prop up the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad
expanded Russia's arms and nuclear sales to countries throughout the Middle East
eagerly moved to fill the vacuum created by President Obama's retreat from the Mideast.
The trend lines are as clear as they are dangerous. At his core, Putin is a Czar. He wants to dramatically expand the imperial reach of Mother Russia. He is testing and probing Western defenses and resolve to see when and where he can expand next. If he remains unchecked by the U.S. and NATO, Putin will make even more dangerous military incursions in the near future -- possibly into Europe, but also in the Middle East.
That said, to best understand how serious a threat Putin will be in the future, one must look at what he has said in the past. In 2014, I wrote a column for National Review on this subject. Let me cite here some of my findings.
In 2000, three Russian journalists — Nataliya Gevorkyan, Natalya Timakova, and Andrei Kolesnikov — published First Person, which may prove to be one of the most important books ever written about Putin. It is useful not because the journalists offered their own insights or analysis into Putin, but because they simply let Putin speak for himself. They interviewed the Russian leader six separate times, each time for about four hours. The book is merely a transcript, and when it comes to understanding Putin’s ambitions and approach, it is a gold mine of intelligence.
Putin on his mission in life: “My historical mission,” he insisted, is to stop “the collapse of the USSR” (p. 139). To do this, he vowed to “consolidate the armed forces, the Interior Ministry, and the FSB [the successor to the KGB, the secret police of the Soviet Union]” (p. 140). “If I can help save Russia from collapse, then I’ll have something to be proud of” (p. 204).
Putin on his style: “Everyone says I’m harsh, even brutal,” Putin acknowledged, without ever disputing such observations. “A dog senses when somebody is afraid of it, and bites,” he observed. “The same applies [to dealing with one’s enemies]. If you become jittery, they will think they are stronger. Only one thing works in such circumstances—to go on the offensive. You must hit first, and hit so hard that your opponent will not rise to his feet” (p. 168).
Putin on the czars: “From the very beginning, Russia was created as a super-centralized state. That’s practically laid down in its genetic code, its traditions, and the mentality of its people,” said Putin, adding, “In certain periods of time . . . in a certain place . . . under certain conditions . . . monarchy has played and continues to this day to play a positive role. . . . The monarch doesn’t have to worry about whether or not he will be elected, or about petty political interests, or about how to influence the electorate. He can think about the destiny of the people and not become distracted with trivialities” (p. 186).
Putin on his choice of history’s most interesting political leader: “Napoleon Bonaparte” (p. 194). On his rise from spy to president: “In the Kremlin, I have a different position. Nobody controls me here. I control everybody else” (p. 131).
Putin on his critics: “To hell with them” (p. 140).
In 2014, I engaged McLaughlin & Associates, a nationally-respected polling firm, to ask a series of questions of 1,000 likely U.S. voters. Among the questions we asked: Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: “In light of Russia’s invasion of southern Ukraine, and Russia selling arms and nuclear technology to Iran, and Russia selling arms to the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria, I have come to believe that Vladimir Putin and the government of Russia pose a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States and our ally, Israel”?
We found a remarkable 72 percent of Americans said they agreed with such a statement. Only 19 percent disagreed.
Since 2014, the U.S. has retreated even more aggressively from the Middle East, and Putin has even more aggressively moved to fill the vacuum. Make no mistake: the Russian Bear is hungry, and unless he is stopped, he will devour again.