Earlier this month, England's Prince Charles got in trouble with Russian propagandists when he stated, ¨And now Putin is doing just about the same as Hitler.¨
Putin's defenders blasted Charles for making such a comparison. Among other things, they pointed out that Putin's parents suffered during the WWII siege of Leningrad. They are very touchy because the similarities between Hitler and Putin are actually extensive and depressing.
Most people with a cursory knowledge of history see Putin's annexation of Crimea as similar to Hitler's annexation of the Rhineland, Sudetenland, and Austria. Both Hitler and Putin justified invasion by citing the ethnic makeup of the invaded lands as supporting extralegal invasion.
This similarity is just the tip of the iceberg. I recently finished reading The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen (Not available in Russian, thanks to Putin's control of the Russian media). It reminded me a lot of William Shirer's The Nightmare Years which detailed Hitler's ascendancy to power in the 1930s. Hitler arranged for rivals to be jailed or killed. He eliminated political opposition. He destroyed the free press. He faked violent events, blaming them on unpopular elements to create popular support. He created a cult of personality, presenting himself to the public as a national hero.
Russian journalist Masha Gessen bravely details the many criminal, thuggish, and dictatorial actions taken by Putin in his rise from a junior KGB operative to an accidental president to a dictator in all but name only.
- Hitler was not able to gain power on his own. He came through the back door when he was picked to be the number two leader in Germany after President Paul Von Hindenburg. When Hindenburg died in office, Hitler slipped into power, never to give it up. Russian President Boris Yeltsin picked Putin to be the last in a string of prime minsters. Yeltsin was in poor health and his handlers were concerned that the opposition party would win the next presidential election in 2000 so they convinced Yeltsin to resign on the last day of 1999 and let Putin take his place, giving him the advantage of incumbency.
- Prior to being picked as Boris Yeltsin's successor, Putin was a minor but important official in St. Petersburg (while still a nominal KGB employee). He was in charge of shipping commodities to Europe where the proceeds were supposed to be used to buy food for St. Petersburg. Instead, Putin diverted the money, pocketing millions for him and other local leaders. When government whistle blowers discovered the corruption, his boss Mayor Anatoly Sobchak ignored the report. Once in the office of president, Putin quickly took steps to protect and grow his power. Sobchak, who knew his tainted past, was poisoned to death. The murderer was never found. Many of Hitler's early supporters were also killed.
- In the run up to Putin's accidental presidency, there were a spat of apartment building explosions that killed hundreds of people. Chechen terrorists were blamed, but curious journalists (still around in 1999) uncovered evidence that the bombs were actually planted by the secret police pretending to be Chechens to drum up support for the government. Hitler use a similar strategy when he burned down the Reichstag, blaming it on the communists.
- Freedom of the Russian press during the 1990s came to an end when Putin arranged for all three TV channels to come under government control. Hitler also suppressed media that he could not control. Critical journalists in both Hitler's Germany and Putin's Russia were imprisoned or killed.
- Being successful was dangerous in Hitler's Germany where he confiscated the wealth of Jews and other nondesirables. Putin has found ways for the richest Russian businessmen to be charged of crimes, jailed, and their wealth transferred to Putin and his gang. Gessen estimates that Putin is a multi-billionaire from this scheme.
- Hitler made sure that any elections were rigged so that the Nazis would win. Putin has done the same, putting up legal roadblocks and denying media access to any challengers.
Sixty-one year old Putin will likely stay president of Russia until at least 2024. I am afraid that given his criminal background and character we are doomed to live through more bad times courtesy of Vladimir the Terrible.
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