the national interest

Guardian Columnist: Putin Is a Great Democrat, Like Hugo Chávez or Castro

Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen during the Opening Ceremony of the Paraympic Games on March 7, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
He’s no different than any other powerful man, like a Senator or a president. Photo: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images

John Pilger’s Guardian column about Russia and Ukraine is fairly standard-issue left-wing cant, defending Vladimir Putin on the grounds that he stands opposed to the United States, which is the font of all evil. (Representative passage: “The name of ‘our’ enemy has changed over the years, from communism to Islamism, but generally it is any society independent of western power and occupying strategically useful or resource-rich territory, or merely offering an alternative to US domination. … All are subjected to a western media campaign of vilification — think Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez, now Vladimir Putin.”)

A possibly more seductive aspect of Pilger’s argument is his claim that Putin is fighting the good fight against fascism. (Pilger: “it is a poignant irony that Putin is the only leader to condemn the rise of fascism in 21st-century Europe.”) Timothy Snyder actually has a brilliant (subscriber-only) essay in The New Republic explaining that, yes, there may be far-right elements among Ukrainian nationalists, but the automatic historical association between Ukrainian nationalism and fascism is itself a trick of Soviet propaganda. (One of the many facts I never would have guessed that Snyder brings to our attention: “more Ukrainians were killed fighting the Wehrmacht than American, British, and French soldiers — combined.”)

Obviously Pilger’s attempt to cast land-grabbing, ultranationalist dictator Vladimir Putin as an enemy of fascism is comical. But Snyder explains why even the less obviously deluded version of Pilger’s case is also ahistorical.

Guardian Columnist: Putin Is a Great Democrat