Vladimir Putin, President
Dear President Putin,
In light of current events in Ukraine, I am dropping y you a line to share a few thoughts with you. I know you are s busy man, even on an ordinary day when the sun is shinning, much less today. Even so, sometimes it is good to listen to an outside opinion.
You have said many times that the breakup of the Soviet Union, of which you were a KGB officer, was a great tragedy; and that you want to restore Russia its former glory. Not exactly as it was, but close to it, by gathering back the recently independent states of the former USSR, of which Ukraine is a key player, into the Russian Federation.
That is a very ambitious goal, Mr. President. Every time the Russian Army goes on the march, ears perk up all over Europe and around the globe. Many of us remember when the Warsaw Pact marched into Prague in 1968, on the pretext that the West had overrun Czechoslovakia and Pact troops were being sent in to rescue them. That was a lie, as the soldiers soon found out.
Much has changed in the world since those days. The Warsaw Pact is history, so is Czechoslovakia, so is the Soviet Union. NATO remains, and I know you are uncomfortable with that. Some of the former members of the Pact are now members of NATO, for example, the Czech Republic. You want to draw a line and stop that advance, while, at the same time, trading with Western Europe and the world. What would Russia’s vast energy resources be worth if you could not sell them on the world market?
You don’t really want to own Eastern Europe and accept full responsibility for the individual states. You want to be more like an uncle than a father, Uncle Vladimir, keeping this expanded Russian Federation under a watchful eye. Well, many of us would like to bring back the good old days here at home. We liked Ike and would love to bring back the Eisenhower years. America was simpler back then. The country was move unified. Not perfect, by any means. But those were happy days for many of us despite the onset of the Cold War.
Perchance, did you ever hide under your school desk during air raid drills back then? When the air raid siren sounded the lesson stopped. We got down on the floor and curled into a ball, with our backs to the windows, so that if The Bomb went off nearby, we would not get get flying glass in our faces—not that that would have mattered much, under the circumstances.
You see, there is one word to describe the Soviet Union to us back then: Fear. Fear of all those rockets and bombs headed our way if it came to war. Fear of the apocalypse, of nuclear winter, the extinction of life, as we knew it, on our planet.
Stop for a moment and consider what Nadia wants instead of what Vladimir wants.
Nadia teaches literature in a small school outside of Moscow. She studied English and literature in university. She visits friends in Moscow and once went with a group of fellow students to Paris. In the virtual world, Nadia has many friends around Europe and the world. Right now, she is sending them a snapshot she took of her boyfriend clowning in front of a World War II Russian tank that has been sitting on a pedestal since the end of the war.
Usually, she gets a warm response to her texts and photos—she has a good eye. This time, however, a friend in Budapest adds a few words of concern about politics. Another Web acquaintance in London cancels her planned trip to Moscow in the spring.
Nadia loves Russian literature and language. She can recite poems by Pushkin and Yevtushenko, and listens to certain girl bands. At the same time, she does not wish to be bounded by Russian politics and history. Why should she? With the device she holds in hand, she can communicate with folks around the planet. Nadia is not exceptional, in this way. She is like young people everywhere.
More than you realize, Mr. President, you also live in Nadia’s world, as do your two daughters. You do business with the West, sell energy to the West. Since Peter the Great, Russia has looked to the West. It looked to the West for help in the Great Patriotic War. And the Allies were generous in their response to Mother Russia’s needs.
Business interests must be based on mutual respect not the threat of military force to settle negotiations. You understand force and the costs of force. What did force get Russia in Afghanistan? You could give the command for Russian troops to occupy all of Ukraine and place it under martial law. How many thousands of soldiers do you think would be required to secure the natural gas pipelines that run for hundreds of kilometers through Ukraine? You have an aircraft carrier deal with France. What would you do if France stopped working on your order and froze Russian assets? The French also possess nuclear weapons, so it would not be easy to push France around.
Whatever crimes you might have committed, you are not Hitler or Stalin. Your hands do not drip with the blood of millions. I do not think you wish to visit that level of brutality on the world. Surely, you must realize that by rebuilding the USSR as the Russian Federation, you will trigger a new Cold War. The return of fear. You have the power; you hold the lever of history in your hands. How do you wish to be remembered by history, Mr. Putin? How do you wish to be regarded by Nadia?