Dictators are usually short, nebbishy men with a tall Napoleonic complex and an aversion to grace, and height-challenged, hubris-filled Russian President Vladimir Putin fits into the rogue’s gallery like a manhole cover on a sewer.
The poker-faced macho-meanie spent $50 billion on the Sochi Olympics to inform the world that his nation was “klass” (cool), but they made him look like a milksop who had to sit still and clap at prissy ice skaters, instead of a roving badass who engaged in bombastry with state bullies in Syira and Iran, and relaxed by wrestling bears and canoodling leopards.
It only stood to reason then that Vlad would make his sneaky power grab in Crimea on the heels of the Olympics to restore his stature — all the way up to his platform shoes.
Whatever account you believe — whether Putin is looking after his national interests, or he wants to recapture the Soviet heyday, or Ukrainians are fighting for their sovereignty, or armed Nazis are leading the revolution — the crisis is another reminder that ex-Soviet states are hotbeds of calamity, traumatized, infernally under the psychological grip of the former Mommieland Dearest, and without a cohesive national identity.
Their leaders are only marginally better than dictator Josef Stalin, who shockingly remains widely admired in Russia and other ex-Soviet states, despite his oppressive brutalities that killed millions of people.
Their rule of law is a laundry list of horrors:
The blood of activists is cheap in Ukraine, where two unidentified assailants allegedly fatally attacked an environmental advocate last August after he publicized accusations about the illegal dumping of radioactive scrap metal, but authorities haven’t even investigated his environmental concerns let alone find his killers, according to the Human Rights Watch.
Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov runs a merciless ship, too, beating dissidents in the streets, suffocating them, dragging them to mental hospitals to be forcibly injected with drugs, and boiling them to death.
Interrogators in Azerbaijan routinely assault people arrested arbitrarily, crushing their legs in a vice, and using — among other heinous tortures — the notorious “elephant” that virtually suffocates victims by forcing them to wear a gas-mask with a blocked air supply.
Belarus is so removed from its national identity that speaking Belarusian in public is considered a dangerous act of rebellion. And Amnesty International accuses Russia, Ukraine, and some Central Asian states of collaborating in kidnappings and illegal transfers of refugees and asylum-seekers to Central Asia at the risk of facing torture.
Russian historian and novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who spent 11 years in labor camps and exile for criticizing Stalin, lamented that Russians didn’t love freedom enough, and deserved their misery for silently accepting their illegal interrogations, unlawful imprisonment, and assorted state crimes against humanity.
Then again, Vlad might just be trying to erase our memory of his blundering predecessors with his power plays.
Who can forget that ex-president Boris Yeltsin was once found standing outside the White House in his underpants trying to hail a cab to go and buy a pizza? The following night, secret service agents mistook him for a drunken intruder when they found him stumbling around his guest house, sozzled.
“Nazdarovya” (cheers) to a new Russian empire? Make that a resounding “Nyet.”