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Putin as Heydrich

By Bruce Walker
web posted May 23, 2005

When we view Vladimir Putin as the leader of a Russian state with only half the population of the former Soviet Union and with only forty percent the population of the greater Soviet Empire, which included Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Rumania, it requires a thought experiment to grasp how we should view this former bigwig in the KGB.

Vladimir PutinPutin, obviously, is intelligent. He is relatively young and fairly vigorous. He appears, and probably is, sophisticated. President Bush says that he can "talk" to Putin. Perhaps: but before anyone makes that leap of faith which all peace-loving and moral people want to make, it is important to play out in our minds this thought experiment.

The year is 1960. The Second World War, after the Nazis repelled the Allied Forces at Normandy and after the Red Army lost its momentum when Stalin died of a heart attack in July 1944, was just able to build sufficient Me 262 jet fighters to regain a bit of balance in the air war over Europe; Ar 234 jet bombers were able to strike targets in Great Britain which made both a land invasion and a reinvigorated air war difficult.

Although the balance of forces is still strongly against the Germans, the cause is no longer hopeless and political chaos in the Soviet Union is paralyzing political and military decisions. As a consequence, Germany enters into a negotiated peace with the Soviets, leaving them all that they gained through June 1941, plus anything that the Red Army can seize in the Far East along with Rumania and Bulgaria. Germany agrees to return to its pre-1938 boundaries unconditionally, including a withdrawal from France.

When both the Russian and the French accept this, total defeat of Germany never takes place, and there is no "de-nazification," although Germany can, and does, return to a quasi-democratic system.

Reinhard HeydrichPresident Dwight D. Eisenhower, before he leaves office, meets with the man who had been the elite within the elite, but who is polished, brilliant, and talks very reasonably: Reinhard Heydrich, leader of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the elite within the elite of Nazi terror, who has narrowly escaped assassination in Czechoslovakia a few years earlier.

Putin is Heydrich in that counterfactual example: He is the non-Soviet, Soviet KGB sophisticate who once did awful things but now we should trust, because his regime was badly chastened, to be good. Perhaps.

Surely, that is something we should all pray is true. But would you trust Heydrich simply because he was the cultured and cosmopolitan leader of a conditionally defeated enemy who has had little freedom of action, other than behaving as a conditionally defeated enemy? It is a question that needs to be asked very, very carefully.

It is easy to see men like Boris Yeltsin as buffoons, although the world owes that man a great deal. It is easy to see a young, bright guy like Vladimir Putin as a real leader, a tough executive, a smart fellow.

Albert Speer, perhaps, actually saw his life as a leader of Nazi Germany as loathsome. We should all pray that is true too. But one thing is clear: Speer wrote well, talked well, looked sincere, and was very, very clever -- none of which made him a blessing to the human race or right in the eyes of God. I fear that Vladimir Putin is an unrepentant Albert Speer -- a man who saw his empire shrink, but never spent years alone in Spandau Prison -- and I hope that I am wrong.

I fear even more that Vladimir Putin is a Chou En Lai, an articulate and street smart advocate of an amoral universe who never gave repented the fifty million eggs that Mao massacred to make his hideous and inedible omelete. I fear that, but I hope that I am wrong. This, however, I know: goodness is not a function of education, intelligence, efficiency or savvy. Goodness is a function of goodness itself, and that comes from God alone. What has Putin done or said that makes us really believe that he really believes in God? That is a question that all of us should think long and hard about.

Bruce Walker is a contributing editor with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative


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