Last year, I befriended a lovely Russian woman who lives in Prague, and I asked her what she thought about the situation in Ukraine. She told me that mostly she was worried about her friends back home with sons who were of the age to go into the army and what might happen to them if the situation worsened.
When I asked her whether she was upset about Vladimir Putin’s military actions against Ukraine, she said she wasn’t sure what to think, but she felt that the world was criticizing Russia unfairly. “There are two sides to every story,” she said.
In the case of Vladimir Putin, I suppose that really is true.
For example, on the one hand, many Russians see Mr. Putin as the kind of strong leader that their country needs. They think that without a firm hand at the helm, Russia would fall into chaos. To them, Mr. Putin embodies the qualities that their country requires of a president: intelligence, confidence and toughness. That’s certainly an understandable point of view.
But, on the other hand, based on his behavior, one could also reasonably conclude that the guy is just a total dickhead.
It’s easy to sympathize with Mr. Putin’s perception of Russia as a nation under threat on many fronts – from America’s military superiority, to Europe’s economic strength, to ethnic and regional conflicts within Russia itself. He has seen his once proud and powerful country disgraced and bought low by the collapse of the Soviet Union. He dreams of restoring it to what he considers to be its rightful position as a global superpower. I think we all get that. His feelings are completely natural.
It’s just that, given the fact that he acts like a total dickhead, who really gives a shit how he feels?
We’re all aware of the complex conditions Mr. Putin faces in trying to govern a nation that has yet to recover industrially, politically and socially from its failed communist past. Russia’s dependence on oil and gas exports for its economic survival is a two-edged sword tied to fluctuating energy prices. Oligarchs and the church hold powerful sway over the country’s affairs. Keeping Russia together and trying to chart a brighter course for its future would be an enormous challenge for any president.
So, I’m sure we can all agree that it must be for this dickhead, as well.
Finally, there’s no question that, as Mr. Putin believes, Russia is a great nation. Nearly all of the Russians I have ever met have been intelligent, well educated, kind, and soulful people. Their country has produced some of the most acclaimed scientists, writers, musicians, painters, dancers, and other brilliant and talented individuals.
Unfortunately, as its leaders, it has also produced some of the biggest dickheads the world has ever known.
Yes, there are two sides to every story. And for my Russian friend, for her friends back home with army-age sons, and for all her other countrymen, that’s a fucking shame.