The Berlin Wall came down twenty five years ago this week — kicking off the collapse of the Soviet Union, ending the Cold War chapter of world history (or so it seemed), and breaking the heart of Vladimir Putin, then an eager young spy working to extend Russian interests in the KGB’s East German bureau.
Two decades and several pivots after, after tanks in Red Square, after the 1991 putsch that gave the world Boris Yeltsin and sent Mikhail Gorbachev and glasnost Communism packing, that same Vladimir Putin — after the dirtiest kind of backroom dealing — has become the indispensable man at the top of Russian government.
In a big policy speech last week, Putin said America has run amok in the world, and that the world needs the Russian bear for bipolar balance. It’s worth reading, either as something serious the New York Times doesn’t want you to know about, or as a declaration of a new Cold War:
Essentially, the unipolar world is simply a means of justifying dictatorship over people and countries. The unipolar world turned out too uncomfortable, heavy and unmanageable a burden even for the self-proclaimed leader. Comments along this line were made here just before and I fully agree with this. This is why we see attempts at this new historic stage to recreate a semblance of a quasi-bipolar world as a convenient model for perpetuating American leadership.
It does not matter who takes the place of the centre of evil in American propaganda, the USSR’s old place as the main adversary. It could be Iran, as a country seeking to acquire nuclear technology, China, as the world’s biggest economy, or Russia, as a nuclear superpower.
So for nostalgists, Putin has volunteered: he’ll play the podium-thumping, unpredictable Khrushchev staring down the United States. Masha Gessen has him as “the man without a face”: a wolfish spy in the service of the Russian bear, and a frightening thug of the old Soviet variety — and not to be trusted. So: how do you solve a problem like Vladimir? Or do we need him around?