International bodies are deliberating, talking heads are pontificating, politicians are politicizing, and only Vladimir Putin is taking action. The dissolution of the Soviet Union may have taken place in December 1991, but the Soviet style of action, negotiation, and bullying did not dissolve with the collapse of the USSR. It is alive and well with Putin: Russia’s number one bully.
Twenty-seven years of experience as a KGB agent, enforcer, and colonel have shaped the character of Putin, and phone calls from world leaders or sternly written letters from international treaty organizations will never change the bully.
My first experience with the Soviet style of bullying took place while on deployment as a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the US Navy. Our ship pulled into Mombasa, Kenya. During our customs brief by local authorities we were cautioned about pirates and warned that even a mighty US warship in the Mombasa port is vulnerable to pirates. They pointed out that only the Soviets were safe from the pirate threat.
When I asked why the Soviets were safe, it was explained: during a visit by a Soviet warship, pirates attempted to board the ship in port only to meet swift death at the hands of the Soviet sailors. The bodies of four pirates were dragged to the end of the pier and stacked up in a message to future pirates. This Soviet style of bullying was condemned by the host nation, and warnings were issued through official diplomatic channels. The only behavior that was changed was that of the pirates.
Twenty-five years later I traveled to Lithuania, Ukraine, and Russia on official military business. Lithuania had recently joined NATO, the Ukraine longed to join NATO, and the Russians despised NATO, calling it a 26-headed monster. Our group toured a KGB museum in Lithuania, which we quickly learned was actually a KGB prison, torture, and execution facility used to bully the Soviet satellite. In the Ukraine we learned the Russians were threatening to cut off oil and gas to the country if they continued their pursuit of NATO membership. In Moscow we met with US diplomats and Russian members of Parliament. The US diplomats told us of how their apartments would be entered by Russian agents (read KGB) while they were out. The agents would use their toilets without flushing and move furniture around. Nothing was ever taken other than the diplomat’s feeling of safety. Diplomatic protests would be made to the Russians. The Americans were bullied and the Russian behavior was unchanged.
Meeting with members of the Russian parliament, it was made clear that leaders longed to reestablish the Soviet Union and that they missed the Party. There we learned of their disdain for NATO, and it was firmly stated they would no more allow Ukraine to join NATO than America would allow Texas to secede from the United States.
The Ukraine contains Russia’s strategic Black Sea Naval Base of Sevastopol. This port has been Russia’s access to the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea since the 18th century and is invaluable to the reach of the Russian navy. The Russians will never be denied access to this port.
Dr. Phil McGraw would say, past behavior is a good predictor of future behaviors. Just as my 35 years in the US Navy have molded my behavior, character, and values, Putin’s 27 years in the KGB have solidified his Soviet style of bullying behavior.
Putin will not let the Ukraine go to NATO, he will not cede control of Sevastopol, and he will not stop in his pursuit of returning Russia back to a Soviet Union-style system like the one he grew up enforcing as a KGB colonel.
So as international bodies deliberate, analysts analyze, politicians pontificate, and world leaders affirm their disgust and disapproval, Vladimir Putin will act. He will act without regard for international concerns or threats of retribution. He will act like the bully that he has shown himself to be.
Now is the time for leaders in the free world to lead, to act, to stop the bully, to put teeth into their disgust and disapproval of his actions in the Ukraine.