Russia will not soon become, if it ever becomes, a second copy of the United States or England – where liberal value have deep historic roots. – Quote attributed to Putin
Putin is not as difficult to understand as the media attempts to make him out to be. Firstly he is a popular leader, with roughly 80% approval ratings in his home country, which leads to the second point that this is what allows him to act upon his intuitions and brazenly do as what he feels represents best the interests of Russia and the Russian people. In the West it is easy to hear pundits, leaders, and businessmen say that Putin is a dictator, that his actions are not good for Russia or the Russian people; yet the Russians love him, and the rest of the world fears Russia and secretly admires Putin’s bravado.
It is Putin’s bravado that is part of the appeal to the Russian people, who have historically had strong, long-lasting, leaders. Throughout its history, which spans over 1,100 years, the Russians have formed their own Russo-centric universe, one in which the values and morals are slightly skewed in comparison with the liberal West and the more spiritual East. The Russian world is different, and though Russians see themselves as part of the European tradition, their own traditions, ambitions, and worldview in respect to the role of the individual in regards to power and the narod are surprisingly different.
Historically, Russians have been prone to put the communal good and well being above the good of the individual. The concept of the individual never really appeared in the Russian language until the late 19th century, and there is no homogenous term for it in the Slavic language; for the concept was somewhat alien — as it was to many medieval European societies — and remained so as the West grew its liberal philosophies. Russians were more willing to sacrifice so-called “individual” liberties for perceived greatness, common well-being, and the benefits of the community. Russia, after all, was the first nation to fight a revolution and civil war over socialism — in which socialism and a planned economy prevailed.
Russians, on a scale incomparable to any other ethnic group, died en masse for a supposed “greater good;” whether it was while “building communism,” in the 1920s-1940s, or fighting fascism in the 1940s-1950s; or “imperialism” throughout the 1960s-1980s, Russians followed a powerful, at times boot-stomping, leaders who seemed to have the bravado, confidence, and ruthlessness, unmatched to almost any other leader at the time. Russians sacrificed their liberties and their lives for a grater vision of Russia, for a greater Russian Idea, and for a better world (or so they were told).
Today, after decades of weak Soviet leaders (Andropov, Chernenko, Gorbachev) after the death of Brezhnev, and a drunk neo-liberal democrat (Yeltsin) — the Russians have once again found their leader — Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.
Putin represents the new Russian vision — a Russia loaded with the glory of its past victory, with the glory of its langauge, culture, and military prowess, its sheer vast size, and its unflinching willingness to sacrifice its people; this glory, in the new Russian vision, far outweighs the sins and shames of its past; those tragic tales are only the things that make it stronger, they are the things that inspire fear in other nations, they stand as examples of what the Russians are capable of.
This new Russian vision is uniquely Russian. Russia no longer wishes to be like the West, nor does it desire the East. It is once again proud of itself, and its accomplishments, and it believes in itself once more. It sees itself as the last beacon of whatever dream the Russians are falling for in this century — and Putin is the prophet of that Idea.