Russians perceive Vladimir Putin in myriad ways, ranging from savior to sinister. But rarely is he perceived as stupid. Over the past few weeks, to better understand how the invasion of Ukraine is affecting Southern California, we’ve interviewed various Ukrainian and Russian-speaking Angelenos. Although these people may not agree with Putin, they respect his intelligence, most notably Daniel Tegay, a Soviet-born entrepreneur living in Montecito Heights.
“I’m going to tell you straight up, that Putin is the most experienced and wise politician in the world,” Daniel stated. “He’s been reigning in Russia for 23 years. How many presidents you change in America for 23 years? Six? Seven?”
It should be stated that no recent US president has served for more than 8 years because we created term limits to prevent authoritarian rule, like the kind Putin has asserted over Russia for the past two decades.
To Daniel, Putin is justified in this invasion because he is allegedly protecting Russia from a perceived Western threat, specifically that of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, aka NATO. This military alliance of European and North American nations was established in the aftermath of World War II to deter Soviet aggression and has since continued to do so against the Russian Federation. Putin views NATO’s potential inclusion of former Soviet states bordering his country as an existential threat.
“As soon as Ukraine asked to become part of NATO, it was a trigger for Putin,” said Daniel. “Imagine a situation where Putin would put his Russian base in Mexico. What would American government, American people think about it. If any other country, not just Russia would put a base protecting its country from anybody else. Would the United States or any other country be okay with that? I don’t think so. If you putting NATO towards Russian border, this is the only reason Russia decided to protect it.”
There is some truth to Daniel’s analogy. In 1962, the Soviet Union armed its communist ally Cuba, located approximately 100 miles from Florida, with ballistics missiles. This threat to American security nearly resulted in Nuclear War. Today, both the US and Russia possess Weapons of Mass Destruction, creating a detente that has so far staved off the possibility of a third world war. But, Putin’s recent reminders of his nuclear arsenal is creating concern within the international community. Although none of our interviewees believe he would actually use these nukes, Putin’s previous strategy in Syria, targeting civilians and utilizing chemical warfare, worries Eugene Levin, a Ukrainian-American journalist.
“He can do anything,” said Eugene during an interview at the offices of his media outlet Panorama Media. “It’s not just that he is schizo, or something wrong with his mind. Maybe. This person can do anything. He’s really like Hitler.”
This is another apt analogy. Like Putin, Hitler invaded neighboring Poland, alleging persecution of that country’s ethnic Germans, similar to the allegations of Ukrainian violence against Russian speakers in Donbas. Hitler’s invasion exploded into WW2, resulting in the death of approximately 70-85 million people. These parallels are cause for legitimate concern for both Ukrainians and Russians, as well as their loved ones here in Southern California.
And for more on Putin’s Invansion check out the other installments of To Ukraine With Love: