Is Putin a Closet Republican?

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If Putin was an American politician, what would he be?  He is conservative, deeply religious, a patriot, and strong partisan for Russian traditions.

Given this, I doubt we would have seen Putin strutting about on the DNC’s American Idol-esque stage, swearing his undying, almost cultic allegiance to Barak Obama.  It’s more likely we would find him preparing to jet to St. Paul to rouse the base in support of McCain.  For some, Putin’s Republican affinities are all too clear: Putin is a closet neocon and the his real intent of his interview with CNN was to cast a veiled vote for John McCain.

It is this last point that I find interesting.  Mostly because the big question has been what Putin was thinking when he asserted that the US might be behind the Georgian War.  Bad information?  Kooky conspiracy thinking.  An age old Russian paranoia?  Or was he somehow trapped in the simulacra of his own state media machine where the lines between reality and virtual are erased?  An affirmative to the last question wouldn’t surprise me.  I’ve witnessed this discursive circle in Soviet archival documents.   The central and local Soviet leadership often referenced the press in internal reports.  When I do come across this phenomena, I always ask: Don’t they know that the media is controlled?  They can’t actually think the press is some reflection of reality?  If the documents are any answer, they do and continue to do so.  And this belief is not as simple as them “believing their own bullshit.”  That is clear. Nor is such a belief unique to Russia.  The real question is how and why this happens  My short answer is that Putin & Co. are locked in their own rhetoric.  There is no outside discourse with enough truth value to break the logic of their dominant discourse.  Their belief, rhetoric, and power to control the parameters of acceptable speech reinforces themselves in a dizzying circle signification.

Some, however, are suggesting there is something more sinister at work in Putin’s allegations.  Namely, that it is the way that Putin meddles in American elections.  This is the thesis of Ilya Milshtein’s article “Coercion to McCain” (Russian verison).  As Milshtein writes,

One way or another, our national leader has “voted” for the republicans for at least four years already.

In the fall of 2004, the Russian president sternly spoke out against democrat John Kerry. Literally equating the liberal candidate to Al-Qaeda, Putin said that a defeat of Bush would be “a grandiose victory for international terrorism.” He repeated this thought he had grown fond of at the moment when America was counting the votes collected by the contenders. If George wins, Putin said, this would mean that “the American public did not allow itself to be frightened, and made a wise choice.”

As you know, the American public lived up to his expectation.

Was Putin’s assertion of American meddling in Georgia, though couched in “hypothesis” and “ifs” a similar gesture? Maybe.

Milshtein continues:

Every word here is worth its weight in gold, and each is clear as crystal.

It is hard to accept that Putin, one of the most informed people on the planet, doesn’t know something. And who could strive for “escalation” and win percents over it? Only McCain, which some of our political figures and experts have already spoken out about –as a rule, those who welcome the coming cold war epoch with a joyous song.

Now Putin has joined with them. Taking into account past experience, Vladimir Vladimirovich today acts from the opposite side. It’s as if, in Ukraine four years ago, he had recruited the local people into the ranks of the “Orangists” and twice congratulated Yushchenko with a glorious victory. He accuses the republicans of initiating the war in the Caucasus, knowing full well, that the majority of Americans won’t believe him. Instead, they’ll clearly adopt it: this unpleasant Russian is against our John. That’s why many of those who waver between McCain and Obama, will now vote for the republican candidate. Simply because Putin alluded to him with disapproval.

The time at hand is completely different, after all. It is a very cold time, forcing Americans, with a sigh, to remember the late Ronald Reagan, with his firmness in leading the operation which today can be called “coercion into perestroika.” It is exactly McCain who is conducting his electoral campaign with Reagan’s name on his lips.

In a word, just a couple more of these interviews on American TV channels, and our cunning premier will celebrate a victory with the republicans. Why they are so dear to him is uncertain. But one wants to believe, that coming into power, John McCain won’t forget the efforts of his Russian partner in the cold war, and will reward him with some kind of secret decoration.

The impact of Putin’s “vote” will be revealed in this week’s Republican National Convention.  After all the Republican heat on Russia is going up.  Dick Cheney was dispatched to Georgia to send Russia a message.  Cindy McCain was sent to do some refugee PR.  Some are already suggesting that Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin has national security experience just because her state, Alaska, is close to Russia.  So maybe Russia will be something the Republicans bang on this week.  We shall see.

To think I was half joking when I wrote, “If McCain wins in November he should send Medvedev and Putin a box of chocolates in gratitude.”  Maybe I was on to something . . .