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Ideas

Russia's Prime Export Under Putin: Chaos

Russia's president is neither clearly right-wing nor left-wing. As his dubious allies around the world suggest, he simply hates Western liberal democracy and seeks to expand his personal power, at home and abroad, by sowing unrest and conflict.

Photo of Nicolas Maduro shaking hands with Vladimir Putin

A file photo of Putin with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro

© Alexei Druzhinin/Russian PPIO/ZUMA
Héctor Abad Faciolince

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — A glance at Vladimir Putin's friends around the world gives us a clear idea of the Russian president's preferences: It is not about a penchant for the left (as you might think, given his friendship with supposedly leftist governments) or the right (and he does have allies on the right).

His real inclination is for governments that despise liberal democracy, or at least democracy as conceived in the European Union, United States, Australia or Japan.


Even leaders from those democratic countries with authoritarian tendencies will immediately reveal sympathies for Putin and his methods.

Strongman friends on the left and right

Wherever you see a strongman spouting nostalgia for past strongmen or determined to unite the country around him, you'll soon find Putin. So Putin is close to Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela — the autocratic leaders of the continent's supposed left — but there is also recent affection between Putin and Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro.

The latter recently visited Putin, right in the middle of the Ukraine crisis (declaring there, "Putin believes in God, honors his military and values family"). There is also flirting with the Argentine Peronist (nostalgic of General Perón) Alberto Fernández, another recent visitor to Russia, eager for dollars Putin cannot give him.

Is Putin a killer? Some former colleagues believe so.

The path by which the fascist Bolsonaro has become Putin's new friend in Latin America is pretty evident. When Biden won the U.S. elections, Bolsonaro was the first to side with Trump. Bewitched by his idol and model, he declared Biden's victory to have been fraudulent. Now, Trump was already friends with Putin, owing the autocrat a lot of favors for his own election campaign against Hillary Clinton. And he paid him back, systematically closing his eyes to Putin's crimes. To get an idea of the change between Trump and his successor, Biden bluntly called Putin a killer.

Photo of Vladimir \u200bPutin in talks with Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro in Moscow

Putin in talks with Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro

kremlin.ru

Nostalgia for Soviet influence

Is Putin a killer? Some former colleagues believe so. Take the dissident Alexander Litvinenko, for instance: a former Russian secret serviceman who escaped arrest in Russia and fled to the United Kingdom with his family, where he was given asylum, then naturalized. He accused Putin of having ordered the murders of the disgraced Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky and the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, both fierce critics of his regime.

Litvinenko didn't survive his declarations long — he was poisoned in 2006 with a lethal isotope, Polonium-210. It took a microgram (a millionth of a gram) of it dissolved in a drink to cause him an excruciatingly painful death within 20 days. All clues in that case led the same way: toward the former KGB colonel and spymaster of communist East Germany, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

Putin misses that time, and wants to restore Soviet domination of this land.

Just in case you didn't know, Putin is also the grandson of Stalin's personal chef. Ukraine is one of Europe's chief producers of grain. Its fertile plains are wheat production platforms. Its sin is to want to move closer to the EU's model of democracy and away from its past as a republic dominated by Soviet, or Soviet-style, Russia.

Under Stalin, the Ukrainian language was banned and the Soviet Union sought to Russify the country entirely. Putin misses that time, and wants to restore Soviet domination of this land. Since Russia has no industries or export technologies (only weaponry and raw materials), it exports what it can — chaos.



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Economy

Europe's Winter Energy Crisis Has Already Begun

in the face of Russia's stranglehold over supplies, the European Commission has proposed support packages and price caps. But across Europe, fears about the cost of living are spreading – and with it, doubts about support for Ukraine.

Protesters on Thursday in the German state of Thuringia carried Russian flags and signs: 'First our country! Life must be affordable.'

Martin Schutt/dpa via ZUMA
Stefanie Bolzen, Philipp Fritz, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister, Mandoline Rutkowski, Stefan Schocher, Claus, Christian Malzahn and Nikolaus Doll

-Analysis-

In her State of the Union address on September 14, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, issued an urgent appeal for solidarity between EU member states in tackling the energy crisis, and towards Ukraine. Von der Leyen need only look out her window to see that tensions are growing in capital cities across Europe due to the sharp rise in energy prices.

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In the Czech Republic, people are already taking to the streets, while opposition politicians elsewhere are looking to score points — and some countries' support for Ukraine may start to buckle.

With winter approaching, Europe is facing a true test of both its mettle, and imagination.

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