Masha Gessen: Understanding Putin

Jewish LGBT activist Masha Gessen wrote a guest column on Metro West Daily News, where she touches on the comparison between Putin and Hitler, and tries to explain what did Merkel mean when she said Putin was living “in another world”

Vladimir Putin has enjoyed a stunning variety of incarnations in the American imagination in his nearly 15 years as Russia’s leader. He started out as an economic reformer and a budding democrat, held those misapplied titles for years – aided by President George W. Bush, who “looked the man in the eye” and “was able to get a sense of his soul” – before the U.S. media and its consumers noticed his authoritarian tendencies.

His graduation to dictator took years. In that time, he dismantled Russia’s electoral system, took over its media, saw many of his opponents killed, jailed or forced into exile, created one of the most ruthlessly corrupt government systems in history, made peaceful protest punishable by jail time, waged a long and brutal war on his own country’s territory and a short one against a neighboring country, Georgia, a piece of which Russia bit off in 2008.

But it was only after he invaded Ukraine last month that Americans’ image of him took another drastic turn. German Chancellor Angela Merkel ostensibly told President Obama that Putin was out of touch with reality. And then former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton compared him to Adolf Hitler.
So is Putin insane, is he Hitler, or is he both? He is none of those things. In fact, he may be unlike any politician the world has known.

Continue reading on Metro West Daily News

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A demonstrator holds a picture of Russian President Vladimir Putin with a beard reading the German word for Crimea during a demonstration last Sunday in Berlin. AP PHOTO BY GERO BRELOER