Odd Thoughts About Vladimir Putin

When I’m doing science, I’ve found it’s important to pay attention to the things that seem odd, out of line with expectations. Here are some things about Vladimir Putin, disconnected, no patterns implied, no conclusions drawn, that have seemed odd to me lately.

Putin’s continuing use of the “stabbed in the back” metaphor. It was part of Putin’s first statement after Turkey shot down a Russian SU-24 bomber. He’s used it before.

We have long been recording the movement of a large amount of oil and petroleum products to Turkey from ISIS-occupied territories. This explains the significant funding the terrorists are receiving. Now they are stabbing us in the back by hitting our planes that are fighting terrorism. This is happening despite the agreement we have signed with our American partners to prevent air incidents, and, as you know, Turkey is among those who are supposed to be fighting terrorism within the American coalition.

I quote the whole paragraph to provide context, from which so much could be unpacked, and if you add in Russia’s previous courting of Turkey or even Ottoman-Russian Empire tensions, so much more.

The “stabbed in the back” metaphor originated in Germany after World War I. The basic idea was a betrayal of Germany in the Versailles agreement by parties within Germany and was taken up with enthusiasm by the Nazis. Generic forms can be seen in many countries, including many current accusations within the United States of President Barack Obama.

The metaphor originally referred to an intimate betrayal, within Germany. Does Putin believe that a betrayal by Turkey (or even America, as the paragraph might be read) comes up to this standard? Does he think that Russia was that close to either of those countries?

Then there’s the association with the Nazis. Even those who are hostile to President Obama avoid using those words because of that association. Does Putin really want to associate himself with Nazi thinking? One might think that after a time or two, Putin’s advisors would have advised against its use. Or has he simply appropriated the metaphor as part of his use of World War II metaphors and ideas? He seems to want a World-War-II style coalition to defeat ISIS and Yalta agreements for the modern world.

Or is it just another way to express his feeling that Russia has been victimized by the rest of the world, America in particular?


Putin is ignoring three big things: The shooting down of a Russian passenger jet over the Sinai, a continuing truckers’ strike, and the cutting-off of power to Crimea. The most obvious explanation for Putin’s apparent indifference to these events is that there are only so many things one human, even one who rides bare-chested across the Siberian steppe, can deal with at one time. Perhaps these have been delegated to subordinates.

Russian jet goes down over Sinai. A Metroliner jet leaving Sharm al-Sheikh airport crashed in the Sinai, killing 224 people, on October 31. ISIS, or a branch thereof, claimed responsibility. The Russian government quickly ordered Russians out of Egypt, but was silent about possible causes of the crash. Other governments said that the damage looked like a bomb had been placed aboard, with suspicion of lax airport security. On November 17, the Russian government announced that a bomb had likely brought the plane down, although they presented no evidence.

Putin vowed retribution and stepped up bombing in Syria. His response seems less than might have been expected; his justification for war in Chechnya was the bombing of apartment buildings in Moscow. It’s likely that when the Metroliner jet went down, he was already planning his intervention in Syria and perhaps felt that more emphatic rhetoric was not necessary.

The truckers’ strike. The Russian government put a road tax on heavy vehicles, and the truckers are protesting. The government seems willing to walk back fines for not paying the taxes, but the taxes will go into effect. The manner of tax collection is also in dispute. The predictable accusation of the truckers as being a fifth column working for the United States has been made. Twelve hundred trucks are reported to be on the way from Dagestan to Moscow to tie up traffic. Dagestan is one of the Caucasus states. The truckers have a minifesto (in Russian).

Power, water cut off to Crimea. Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014. Crimea is almost an island, with its only road access through Ukraine. Russia comes closest at the Kerch Strait, between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. A ferry there runs between Russia and Crimea. Russia has promised a bridge across the Kerch Strait; construction began in May 2015 and is projected to be completed by 2019. RT has photos, but it is an unreliable source.

Crimea’s utilities were supplied by Ukraine. Shortly after annexation, Ukraine curtailed water supply to Crimea. Russia responded by building a pipeline within Crimea, but water is still in short supply.

Crimea was home to the Crimean Tatars, a Turkic people, until Stalin deported them to the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in 1942-43 for alleged collaboration with the Nazis. Some of the Tatars have returned, and they are not happy about Russia’s annexation of the peninsula. Russia has been restricting Tatar political activity since the annexation. A group of Tatars has now demonstrated against the Russian occupation by taking down electrical power lines to Crimea. This action seems not to have been sponsored by the Ukrainian government, which is moving slowly to fix the power lines. Russia is saying that an “energy bridge”, probably an underwater cable across the Kerch Strait, will be completed by December 20.

It’s likely that power will be restored to Crimea fairly soon. The people seem to be resigned to the inconvenience. It may be that Putin calculates that this is not a big problem, although at other times he might have been denouncing the “Nazis in Kiev.”


None of these is extraordinary, and it may be that Putin’s attention is elsewhere. Or it may be that he does not want to focus attention on the incidents he is ignoring. He may just pull “stab in the back” out of his memory without associating its historical meanings. But little things can pile up and get bigger.

We just don’t know.


Photo credit.

One comment

  1. The Blog Fodder · November 29, 2015

    Stab in the back is an old expression, far older than its use in Germany. I think Putin meant it as “We considered Turkey a friend and and ally”


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