Against a weird strain of thought, nominally on the political Right, which insists Putin is little threat to the West, the reality remains that Putin’s current Russian state is a menace and a plague.
First, let’s dispense with some of the worst of Putin’s profoundly anti-historical narratives in his nearly interminable lecture to Carlson.
The most outrageous lie Putin told was that Poland somehow deserved the invasion the Nazis and Soviets both launched against it in September of 1939. “Poland cooperated with Hitler,” he said. “It did collaborate with Hitler … and engaged together in the partitioning of Czechoslovakia.” (Huh?) But “Poland went too far, pushing Hitler to start World War II by attacking them. … Hitler had nothing to do but start implementing his plans with Poland.”
Meanwhile, Putin said the Soviet Union was blameless, in that it “behaved very honestly, and it asked Poland’s permission to transit its troops through the Polish territory to help Czechoslovakia.”
Only a lunatic could believe this. More likely, Putin is so evil that he is using this bizarre inversion of reality to excuse the morally inexcusable, which was the vicious partition by the Nazis and Soviets of the sovereign nation of Poland, one where those two most murderous regimes in world history were allies. This is not a matter of interpretation, but of indisputable historical fact.
In that light, every other bit of Putin’s supposedly historical narrative is automatically suspect because anyone willing to tell such ludicrous lies on one front is obviously untrustworthy on everything. This is important regarding his convoluted, tendentious explanation of why Ukraine supposedly has no right to exist independent of Russia. He achieves this by citing developments nearly four centuries ago, in 1654, without regard to Ukrainian or Kiev-centered non-Russian identities long before then and long after. By Putin’s standards, all of Mexico and most of the United States west of the Mississippi would still be part of imperial Spain.
What’s most relevant today is the completely counterfactual story Putin told about Ukraine in the past 20 years. Contra Putin, Ukraine’s people repeatedly have voted to rid themselves of Russia’s domination. Only by force of arms or by rigged plebiscites combined with armed threats had Russia maintained even a semblance of controlling interest before the Maidan movement of 2014. Putin repeatedly referred to that triumph of popular will as a coup, when in reality the Ukrainian parliament voted unanimously, 10 years ago this month, to remove Russia’s puppet from the presidency and return Ukraine to its legitimate 2004 constitution. As all this was happening, Russia illegally and violently “annexed” the Crimean Peninsula.
Russia has consistently been the aggressor, and since its 2022 invasion of Ukraine it has deliberately targeted civilians for rape, torture, and murder — with more than 10,000 civilians dead, along with some 200,000 Ukrainian military casualties (80,000 dead) and 400,000 Russian casualties (nearing 100,000 dead).
And far from Russia being victimized, since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, by an aggressive Western alliance, the West invested hundreds of billions of dollars both publicly and privately in Russia. In return, Russian oligarchs and kleptocrats took the wealth and installed and propped up Putin as he wreaks havoc around the globe while having dozens of his rivals and critics (including a Ukrainian leader) poisoned, imprisoned, or defenestrated or otherwise murdered at an alarming rate. Despite his claims, the West hasn’t fired a single shot to take a single meter of Russian territory or ever threatened to do so.
Putin has propped up Iran as it spreads terror across the globe, supported Syria’s Bashar Assad as he used chemical weapons against his own people, essentially supported Hamas for its assault against Israel, allied itself with communist China, and generally rejected the civilized, Western world at every opportunity. And he still possesses the world’s largest store of nuclear weapons and, unlike the West, has sometimes threatened to use at least tactical nuclear weapons.
Of course there can be prudential disagreements over the nature of U.S. support for Ukraine. But for anyone in the U.S., especially on the Right, to pretend Putin deserves even an ounce of empathy, or that he is anything less than a continuing and evil threat to the civilized world, is to exhibit a transposition of decency and morality that isn’t just ignorant, but monstrous.