“Do you believe Vladimir Putin is a killer?” George Stephanopoulos of ABC News asked President Joe Biden this very question in an interview this past week. Biden hesitated while decades of political experience and diplomacy must have raced through his mind. At the end of that moment of presidential, political and diplomatic calculation, his answer was succinct. He said, “I do.”
It may come to pass that Biden’s presidential legacy will be defined as the return to “realpolitik,” a diplomatic term for political realism, practical politics based on practical circumstances rather than ideological notions or the political correctness of wishful thinking. Biden has promised transparency and apparently that means ready imagery into his contemporaneous thinking.
Russia has been caught red-handed (pun intended) trying to interfere in our elections, flooding social media with disinformation in efforts to create chaos in our democracy, stealing our governmental and corporate information as recently demonstrated in their SolarWinds attack on our national security secrets.
There are those who think we have been purposefully playing softball with Putin’s Russia in attempts to find ways to be collegial collaborators. And there are those who think Russia’s every calculation is intentionally nefarious.
But is Vladimir Putin a killer? Perhaps President Biden could have been more diplomatic by responding with, “Let me answer you by asking you a question George. What do you think Aleksei Navalny would say to that question after having been poisoned for his opposition to Putin, surviving only because he made it to a skilled hospital in Germany? What do you think Sergei Skripal, who was poisoned with his daughter with the same Novichok nerve agent by Russian assassins, would say? Anna Politkovskaya was one of Russia’s more famous writers and journalists who was shot to death in her apartment elevator for writing about Russian involvement in Chechnya. What might she say, and conservatively speaking, what might the 21 other journalists killed in Russia since Putin’s rise to power say in answer to Stephanopoulos’ question, is Putin a killer?
In Russia, every Dec. 15, there is a heroic celebration called “Remembrance Day of Journalists Killed in the Line of Duty.” Less conservatively speaking, according to representatives of the Union of Journalists of Russia, between 10 and 20 journalists are killed each year in Russia under various circumstances. Freedom of press in Russia? Sure, unless you criticize the government, especially Putin, and then you live in the shadows until you touch a door nob with Novichok nerve agent on it or drink your coffee or tea with the same poisonous toxin.
All this said in less succinct terms than Biden’s “I do.” But I concede to the same conclusion. Which brings me to the First Amendment of our Constitution.
The “press” is a diverse group of free speaking entities in our liberal democracy. It can be irritatingly sensational and loud at times. We used to call this “yellow journalism.” But mainstream media is a bulwark of our democracy that has a tradition of speaking truth to power, forensic specialists doing their essential daily autopsies of current events, domestic and international, is hardly the “enemy of the people.”
But I digress. Vladimir Putin is the face and corpus politic of Russia today. There is nothing meriting praise in what he has done for the relationship between the U.S. and the Russian Republic, and a multitude of flagrant transgressions, sinister in their deliberate attempts to cause harm to our republic.
Is Vladimir Putin a killer? Putin would never pull the trigger himself. He would never do as Claudius did to King Hamlet and himself pour the poison into the ear. In these regards, Putin maintains distance from his deadly schemes of revenge. So, when Putin recalls his ambassador out of Washington to show his indignation of Biden’s indictment and demands an apology as though he were worthy of such innocence and esteem, the house of Russia drips with baleful irony.
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.