GovMatt’s Person of the Year: Vladimir Putin, Obviously

GVM2014The next installment of GovMatt’s “___ of the Year” series coincides with the TIME Magazine naming the “Ebola Fighters” as the collective “Person of the Year.” Because “Ebola” already “won” GovMatt’s “Panic of the Year,” it will not be my “Person of the Year.”

PoY

If you’ve read the previous posts here, you can likely figure out that GovMatt’s “Person of the Year” is unsurprising. Frankly, it was a runaway.

GovMatt’s “Person of the Year” is Vladimir V. Putin, President of Russia.

axx1Let’s get something clear right at the outset, the qualifications for being named GovMatt’s “Person of the Year” require you to have made the most impact, for good or for ill, on the world in the previous year.

Let’s get another thing clear, GovMatt is no Putin apologist. To the contrary, Vladimir Putin is, in “evil” in the alignment chart/Machiavelli sense of the term. Insofar as this is the case, this post will divide the reasons for naming Putin as “Person of the Year” by quotes from The Prince.

February 7-23, 2014: The Sochi Olympic Games

Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.

Lest we forget how the Year of Putin began, the world was treated to an inside-look at the Russian state as the international community came together to participate in the Winter Olympics.

In the weeks leading up to the Games, there was widespread condemnation of the Kremlin’s policies with regards to gays and dissent in the country. Certainly the West was aware of the consolidation of power in Russia and the deterioration of individual liberty under the guise of protecting the culture and traditions of Russia.

We also must remember that the year started with President Putin already hitting highs on his authority on the world stage. Two important events from 2013 that buoyed this were, first, the defection of Edward Snowden to Russia and the resulting embarrassment of the United States; and second, the outmaneuvering of the United States on resolving the Syrian Crisis without, at that time, the United States authorizing strikes against Bashar al-Assad.

So the world gathered, at least symbolically, in Sochi for the Winter Games. Though a resort, the Sochi failed to impress as many of the world-caliber athletes who came to compete there enjoyed themselves poking fun at the shoddy and obviously hastily-constructed buildings and infrastructure that were provided for the Games.

The state of the Russian propaganda machine was also noticeable. The internet would not let the Kremlin forget that the final ring of the Olympic logo failed to open in the Opening Ceremonies despite the fact that the photo provided by the Russian Government showed all of the rings open behind a triumphant Putin.

The Games with Russia did not continue.

February 22, 2014: The Ukrainian Parliament votes to oust Viktor Yanukovych

The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present

As the Games in Sochi came to a close, there was turbulent unrest in neighboring Ukraine. The Euromaidan protests regarding the apparent shift in Kiev’s policies away from pursuing closer ties with Europe, as well as a myriad of other concerns boiled over. In a matter of days, around 100 protesters were murdered as the government in Kiev attempted to hold onto power. In the end, a pro-Western bloc emerged.

This was the public relations opportunity the Kremlin needed. Already fomenting and stoking the fears of fascism and Nazism that drill into the heart of Ukrainians who suffered mightily in Hitler’s push towards Moscow, Russia had the green light to press its claims “to protect ethnic Russians.”

The International Community, like in the 2013 Syrian Crisis, was too blundering to respond and caught entirely off-guard by Russian aggression towards Ukraine. “This isn’t the way civilized nations behave!” Shrieked the West as Russian troops moved into the Crimean peninsula.

While under the guise of protecting ethnic Russians, the reasons for invading Crimea were twofold: first, to secure a friendly port on the Black Sea in the event Kiev became a hostile government; and, second, to test the waters with the West to see how far Russia could move towards reasserting imperial dominance in its former-Soviet (and even pre-Soviet) territory.

This Russian meddling in Ukraine was a direct contravention of the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. There was no real action taken by the West except for targeted sanctions against individuals.

March 17, 2014 and March 21, 2014: Crimea Breaks Away and Russia Annexes

The best fortress which a prince can possess is the affection of his people

The “Republic of Crimea” voted in what was understood to be an election with a forgone conclusion to break away from Ukraine and become part of Russia. Russia gladly accepted. However, this was not the end of the “separatist” movement in Ukraine.

April, 2014: Unrest in the East

Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception

The Donbass/Donetsk region of Ukraine, composing the industrial center of the nation and also a large ethnically Russian population, spurred on by both Russian propaganda and the success of the Crimean breakaway, moved to do something similar. This “Donbass War” saw the fledgling government in Kiev fighting with both revolutionaries and un-flagged Russian troops. Despite heavy propaganda on both sides, the United States and other Western powers only offered moral support and the war dragged on.

As of the time of writing this piece, there is an uneasy “ceasefire” between the separatist leaders, Russia, and Ukraine. This ceasefire is really just a cold war being kept down by circumstance and Russian convenience. Large swaths of Eastern Ukraine are reportedly garrisoned by Russian troops and supported by Russian armor on the other side of the border.

July 17, 2014: Russia Shoots Down MH17

For, in truth, there is no sure way of holding other than by destroying

A Malaysian Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Malaysia was shot down on July 17 2014 while flying over the breakaway territory in Eastern Ukraine. While separatist leaders were quick to remove any traces of earlier bragging when they believed they had destroyed a Ukrainian jet, the internet was too fast for them. Notably, a picture of a Russian surface-to-air missile truck missing a missile and promptly being hurried back across the Russian border made its rounds on social media.

Despite international outrage over the incident, the reality of the “targeted sanctions” against particular Kremlin-alligned businesses could be of little comfort to those demanding a stern response to the murder of 298 persons.

Beyond this, the Kremlin flatly denied any implication in the downing of the airliner. Along with nonsensical and insulting claims that either Ukraine or the CIA had actually downed the plane, the Russian government showed no contrition for the error and survived the incident relatively unscathed.

Summer-Fall, 2014: Power Projection

A prince must not have any other object nor any other thought… but war, its institutions, and its discipline

Over the course of the Summer and into the Fall, and even presently, Russian military forces have repeatedly violated the territorial sovereignty of both the Baltic States and Russia’s Scandinavian neighbors. Not only did Russian jets stage a mock bombing run against Stockholm (which caught the Swedes completely by surprise), but a Russian navy was also able to penetrate deep into Swedish waters and leave undetected. Consistent belligerence against the Baltic States prompted President Barack Obama to have to reassure the same that NATO stood willing to enforce Article 5 protections should Russia decide to invade. However, given the unwillingness of the United States and the West to engage the Russian offensives in Eastern Europe in any meaningful way, the Kremlin was, doubtlessly, encouraged that most, if any, rhetoric was meant to reassure the Baltic States and not as a threat to Russian ambitions.

Conclusion: This Year has Belonged to a Resurgent Russia

Men sooner forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony

At every turn, Russian meddling in the affairs of its neighbors and projecting its power abroad has been dominant in the world in 2014. This has been, in large part, because of the plans put in place by Vladimir Putin over the course of his tenure leading the nation. Coupled with this is the glut of money pouring into the Russian economy from oil revenues over the last decade. With these profits looking to fade over the course of 2015, the Kremlin is left with the decision to fight or cooperate. Certainly the Russian zeitgeist has moved away from striking a conciliatory tone with the perceptively decadent and impotent West. This perspective has been confirmed repeatedly over the last year as each move made by the Kremlin has only been met with empty rhetoric from Washington and its allies.

Capitalizing on the unimaginably embarrassing foreign policy blunders of the United States and being inextricably linked to the headlines of 2014, from the beginning until the end of the year, Vladimir Putin, at the helm of a new, imperial, Russia, has made the most impact on the events of the year and must be seen to be the “Person of the Year.”

Matt McDaniel

Attorney and Political Commentator

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