‘Toxic’ Putin on mission to poison the West

Spook: Before entering politics, Putin worked for Russia’s notorious spy network, the KGB.

Is Putin Europe’s most dangerous leader since Hitler? He stands accused of ordering brutal assassinations and cyberattacks, as well as plotting the downfall of Western democracy.

This Sunday Vladimir Putin will stand for re-election as the President of Russia. In a nation with no credible opposition, and where dissenters can be assassinated, the result is beyond doubt.

And so the West must prepare for another six years of Putin at Russia’s helm. Many expect severe troubles ahead. Yesterday the The Daily Telegraph’s front page bore a warlike exhortation for Britain to “bolster” its defences, while the The Financial Times claimed Putin imperils “peace and democracy in Europe”.

The danger Russia poses was put into sharp relief by the attempted assassination of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Yesterday the leaders of France, Germany, the US and the UK released a joint statement condemning Russia’s attack as a “clear violation” of international law which “threatens the security of us all”.

The statement makes particular mention of the deadly Novichok nerve agent the attackers used, claiming it was the “first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War”.

Despite this incriminating evidence and international outrage, Putin merely smirks and denies everything.

And while he sits on stockpiles of nuclear warheads and chemical weapons, some think Putin’s ability to deny the brazenly obvious makes him even more dangerous.

When Russia invaded Crimea in 2014 (the first forcible land grab in Europe since 1945) Putin rubbished reports of heavily armed Russian soldiers operating in the region, saying they were “local volunteers”.

Russia has also been implicated in a “digital blitzkrieg” of cyberattacks against European nations; the destruction of a Malaysian Airways plane (killing 298 people); and attempts to hack the US presidential election.

For journalist Owen Matthews, Russia’s casual denial of involvement in these acts amounts to an “assault on the very idea that truth itself can exist”. And if nothing is true, then Putin can never be brought to account.

But does all of this make Putin the most dangerous European leader since Hitler?

Vlad guy

Nonsense, some argue. Putin is a personality cult puffed up by cowardly, yet high-profile, attacks on neighbours and rogue individuals. In truth, he is enfeebled by a stuttering economy and dwindling oil revenues — ruling his populace by fear rather than consent. Putin lashes out through weakness, not strength.

He must not be underestimated, others respond. Russia has invaded sovereign nations, tried to destabilise liberal democracies, and been implicated in violent assassinations — all on Putin’s watch. Throw in nuclear brinkmanship and the fostering of violent Russian nationalism, and Putin undoubtedly resembles one of Europe’s greatest threats.

You Decide

  1. Is Putin the most dangerous man in the world?
  2. Did the Cold War ever end?

Activities

  1. As a class list all of the facts you know about Russia. How many did you come up with? Do you think Russia is a misunderstood country? Why, or why not? What impression does Putin give about what Russia is like?
  2. The true danger that Putin holds for the West is hotly debated. Read through the links in Become An Expert to get a sense of different viewpoints. Once you have got to grips with the arguments write a response to the following: “The West worries too much about Putin. Discuss.”

Some People Say...

“Nothing will stop Russia on the road to strengthening democracy and ensuring human rights and freedoms.”

Vladimir Putin

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The UK’s joint statement claims that there is “no plausible alternative explanation” that Russia was behind the Skripal attempted assassination. Prime Minister Theresa May has responded by expelling 23 Russian diplomats from the UK and banning state-level representatives from attending this year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia.
What do we not know?
There are still uncertainties surrounding the Skripal case, including who the would-be assassins were and why the attack was ordered. Russian diplomats have repeatedly denied any involvement. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed that allegations against the Russian government are “all nonsense”.

Word Watch

Assassinated
A high-profile incident was the killing of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in 2015.
Novichok
One of the mostly deadly poisons in the world, developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 80s.
Smirks
Putin was asked directly if Russia was behind the assassination by BBC journalist Steve Rosenberg. See the exchange by following the link in Become An Expert.
Volunteers
Putin later confirmed that Russian forces were involved in the operation.
Blitzkrieg
A military tactic designed to crush the enemy with overwhelming force used in a short space of time. The technique was made famous by Hitler’s generals during the Second World War.
Malaysian Airways
A Dutch investigation confirmed that the plane was destroyed by a missile launched from pro-Russian separatist territory in Ukraine.
Stuttering economy
For more on Russia’s economic difficulties follow the Project Syndicate link in Become An Expert.
Brinkmanship
Earlier this month, Putin claimed that Russia had developed an “invincible” nuclear missile that was capable of striking any target on the planet.

Subjects

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