When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.


Do Not Underestimate Putin’​s Thirst For Power

Putin, Erdogan and other leaders last year in Istanbul.
Merkel and Putin in Berlin last October
Richard Herzinger


BERLIN — The expansion of Vladimir Putin's authority is directly connected to his ability to exploit the weaknesses of Western democracies. But people continue to play down the danger that Putin poses. Could this prove to be a fatal error for our system of liberal democracy?

"If you can't beat them, join them," or so an old proverb tells us. But the new version of this old proverb among Western observers trying to figure out how to deal with Russia's renewed ambitions is: "if you can't beat them, then talk down the threat they pose." And be clear, these are observers who could never be accused of being sympathetic towards the Kremlin.

But it is in this vein that the Bulgarian political expert Ivan Krastev recently published an article in The New York Times about "the return of the Cold War narrative," warning not to over-hype Russia's influence over Western political developments. Russia experts have expressed similar views in several popular German newspapers.

According to these articles, the general "overreaction" to Putin's aggressive policies only enhances Putin's status, and that the Russian president is not as powerful as he likes to portray himself. It would, therefore, be much smarter to ignore his threatening political and military gestures up to a certain point, and thus undermining his ambitions.

None of the arguments mentioned above are novel revelations. We have heard them repeatedly since Putin declared the West to be the enemy and broken decades of peace on the European continent by annexing Crimea and invading Eastern Ukraine.

Subverstion tactics

But what is astounding is the fact that they are being repeated so vehemently at precisely this moment, after Putin has just had Aleppo reduced to rubble and downgraded the West to mere extras in the Syrian war theater. Now he is preparing to establish a new order in Syria, according to his wishes, with the support of both Iran and Turkey.

And on top of that, the Kremlin's disinformation and cyberwarfare specialists have proven that they are able to manipulate the presidential election of the most powerful nation on Earth, with new Putin-friendly leaders eyeing victory in the Netherlands, France and Italy.

So, even if the recommendation to be more relaxed about the threat that Putin poses seems a tall order, the many crises looming in the West can hardly all be blamed on the Kremlin's subversion tactics.

Alice Boota rightly notes in her article in Die Zeit that Putin "is not the cause for the crisis that liberal democracy faces. He is simply the beneficiary."

Still, we should remember that authoritarian and totalitarian leaders and movements were never the cause for the crises of the democracies they destroyed. Instead, these leaders and movements were simply adept at how best to exploit such crises, while well-meaning democrats inevitably underestimated the danger before them.

His authoritarian societal model has a stronger gravitational pull in the West than the Soviet regime ever did.

Thus Putin's authoritarianism and his apologists inside the West are a true peril in the face of a growing weakness of liberal democracy. Meanwhile, there is no lack of theories carted out to play down the threat. Former Kremlin advisor Gleb Pavlovski, for example, rehashes the age-old statement that, unlike the Soviet Union, Putin's Russia does not have an attractive ideology to offer to its supporters around the globe.

Although it is true that Putin does not have a monolithic ideology to offer comparable to Marxism-Leninism, his authoritarian societal model has, in a way, a stronger ideological and practical gravitational pull in the West than the Soviet regime ever did. This is because it is attractive to the classes who have means and who, under communism, would have been dispossessed.

Putin's system, with its symbiosis of state, intelligence services and organized crime, offers them unrestrained reapings, while being free from the chains of law and order, democratic institutions or a free press. Another classic argument utilized to calm the unease Putin spreads is the noted weakness of the Russian economy. Though this may indeed one day be the factor that leads to the downfall of the regime, until that day the worsening of the Russian economy will only drive Putin to be even more aggressive in his foreign policy because confrontation helps legitimize his claim to power.

Putin's continuous demonstration of his willingness to apply force intimidates, blackmails and divides the West, which currently shies away from any kind of military engagement.

Any supposed "overreaction" to this threat is nowhere to be seen. Russia need not fear any sanctions for its war crimes and violations of international law committed in Syria. As an example, Western governments as well as the UN have chosen to call the expulsion of Eastern Aleppo's population, which constitutes a crime against humanity, an "evacuation" and celebrate its execution as a heroic act of humanitarianism.

It stands to fear, that the U.S., under the leadership of its new president, will legitimize Moscow's violation of international law as well as its demands for a "zone of influence" within Eastern Europe. But no one should be fooled into believing that Putin's ambitions stop there. Ultimately, he envisions forcing his will onto all of Europe.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


What's Spoiling The Kids: The Big Tech v. Bad Parenting Debate

Without an extended family network, modern parents have sought to raise happy kids in a "hostile" world. It's a tall order, when youngsters absorb the fears (and devices) around them like a sponge.

Image of a kid wearing a blue striped sweater, using an ipad.

Children exposed to technology at a very young age are prominent today.

Julián de Zubiría Samper


BOGOTÁ — A 2021 report from the United States (the Youth Risk Behavior Survey) found that 42% of the country's high-school students persistently felt sad and 22% had thought about suicide. In other words, almost half of the country's young people are living in despair and a fifth of them have thought about killing themselves.

Such chilling figures are unprecedented in history. Many have suggested that this might be the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but sadly, we can see depression has deeper causes, and the pandemic merely illustrated its complexity.

I have written before on possible links between severe depression and the time young people spend on social media. But this is just one aspect of the problem. Today, young people suffer frequent and intense emotional crises, and not just for all the hours spent staring at a screen. Another, possibly more important cause may lie in changes to the family composition and authority patterns at home.

Firstly: Families today have fewer members, who communicate less among themselves.

Young people marry at a later age, have fewer children and many opt for personal projects and pets instead of having children. Families are more diverse and flexible. In many countries, the number of children per woman is close to or less than one (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong among others).

In Colombia, women have on average 1.9 children, compared to 7.6 in 1970. Worldwide, women aged 15 to 49 years have on average 2.4 children, or half the average figure for 1970. The changes are much more pronounced in cities and among middle and upper-income groups.

Of further concern today is the decline in communication time at home, notably between parents and children. This is difficult to quantify, but reasons may include fewer household members, pervasive use of screens, mothers going to work, microwave ovens that have eliminated family cooking and meals and, thanks to new technologies, an increase in time spent on work, even at home. Our society is addicted to work and devotes little time to minors.

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest