As the proposed July 16th summit with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki approaches, those involved in the historic meeting will find it important to pay attention to what Putin considers the foundational beliefs underlying Russia's domestic and foreign policies.
Those principles are perhaps nowhere more succinctly stated than in the Russian president's speech at the unveiling of a heroic, four-meter-tall statue of Tsar Alexander III in Lavadia Palace Park, Crimea.
During the ceremony, Putin gave a short speech summarizing the basis for his thinking on domestic and foreign affairs – thinking similar to that of the tsar being honored. The location of the statue, on which is inscribed a saying attributed to Alexander III ("Russia has only two allies: the army and the navy"), is an important signal to the United States and Europe, for whom Crimea is an area causing much dispute, but an area that Putin, like Alexander III, sees Russia as having legitimate claims to.
Importantly, the Putin speech celebrating the erection of Alexander III's statue reflects the tsar's exhortation to his successor, Nicholas II, as related, perhaps apocryphally, in the film The Heritage of Love:
I hand to you the kingdom that God has handed me. I acquired it 13 years ago from my father, who bled to death. On that tragic day, I chose my own path. My only interest was the value of my people and the prominence of Russia. Let your faith in God and the sanctity of our royal duty stand as the foundation of your life. Try to always hold an independent position when dealing with foreign policy. Concerning the affairs of domestic politics, first and foremost look up to the Orthodox Church. She has saved Russian numerous times during political distress. Avoid wars by all means and remember to strengthen our country's basic units, for family is at the heart of every state.
The current leadership of Russia is committed to the same principles as those Alexander III often articulated: religiously enlightened authoritarianism strengthened by the Russian Orthodox Church, with an emphasis on nation, family, and faith.
The now decades-old reorientation of Russia from communism back to the traditionally Russian authoritarianism of the nineteenth-century tsars proceeds apace under Putin. Tsarist authoritarianism was inevitably flawed but exponentially more benign than the Soviet system. It was and is based on national identity, faith, and family, so it has not received favorable notice in the mainstream media.
That is because the American and European left support only leftist authoritarianism.
Therefore, the left will never support Putin, as his policies hark back to an era the Bolshevik Revolution and Stalinism committed to total destruction, including the destruction of the Orthodox Church. Whatever purely pragmatic motives Putin may have in endorsing principles of governance articulated by 19th-century tsars and other leading figures in Russian culture of the time, the fact that he is pro-nation, pro-family, and pro-Christianity puts him directly in the crosshairs of America's and Europe's left, who are atheist, globalist, and anti-family. Putin's political stances – and his current devotion to the Russian Orthodox Church – are enough for the left to consider him apostate, as they would still like present-day Russia to be more like the old USSR, which the left still sees as the ideal society.
In sum, leftist authoritarianism, no matter how bloody the inception or the results, is for the left always good – or at least tolerated because of the supposedly noble ideals behind it. But the aristocratic authoritarianism strongly infused with religious faith that was represented by the Romanov dynasty and that harks back to historical precedent and influence by ancient religious traditions is bad.
It's important to remember that when the USSR was in existence, many of the Western left could not praise it enough, nor could they recommend it enough to European and American leaders. As Paul Johnson points out in his classic Modern Times, it's good to remember that Stalin, who had his portraitist shot because the artist's portrayal of "The Man of Steel" was deemed unworthy, was lavishly praised by American clerisy. Joseph E. Davies, the American ambassador to the USSR in 1937, said, "[Stalin's] brown eye is exceedingly wise and gentle. A child would like to sit on his lap and a dog would sidle up to him." The Chilean writer Pablo Neruda called him "a good-natured man of principle." There were many like Davies and Neruda.
Even today, what Johnson terms the "vacuum in the minds of Western intellectuals easily filled by secular superstition" creates a dangerous credulity that lends legitimacy to the most odious leftist regimes, including North Korea. Only a short time ago, the media were obsessing over the sister of NoKo's leader, who was described by CNN as "stealing the show" at the Olympics. She was praised for her supposedly elegantly subdued fashion style, while Mike Pence was scolded for being stony-faced and unfriendly.
The fact of the matter is that whether it is the seizure of Cuba by Castro or the current disintegration of Venezuela, there is no regime repugnant to the left if it adheres to leftist principles in at least some regard.
Meanwhile, some on the extreme right are still caught in a Cold War mentality in which Russia has been and ever will be an enemy of the West. Russia will always be the enemy to old Cold Warriors, no matter how changed she has become since the fall of the USSR in 1989. There were some in the West who fervently hoped for the total disintegration of Russia because of her communist past and the savagery of the Soviet leadership toward their own people as well as their extreme hostility toward the West, which they were determined to destroy.
The lessons in all the above as the summit nears?
First, America's representatives at the forthcoming summit need to know and take seriously Putin's commitment to a political philosophy that includes devotion to Russia as a nation with deep and ineradicable roots in Russian Orthodoxy. He has said Russia cannot be imagined without Christianity.
Next, the ideals of Western leftist progressivism are not looked on kindly by today's Russia, which has felt the full effects of leftist ideology for some seventy years and which no longer wishes that ideology to cause turmoil. Putin is committed to putting down the mayhem the left always brings with it – witness his strong reaction to Pussy Riot's desecration of one of Moscow's most revered cathedrals.
Like Alexander III, Putin is committed to a strong military. He pointed out that Alexander III "believed that a strong, sovereign and independent state should rely not only on its economic and military power but also on traditions; that it is crucial for a great nation to preserve its identity whereas any movement forward is impossible without respect for one's own history, culture and spiritual values."
The above may mean that Putin regards the farthest expansion of the Russian Empire as definitive of today's Russia.
Putin also sees the Soviet Union as an aberration from the continuity of Russian history. Thus, he does not and will not favor the globalist ambitions so many Western and European leaders embrace. Instead, Putin favors a national revival of "Russian art, painting, literature, music, education and science, the time of returning to our roots and historical heritage."
Putin believes in the indissoluble endurance of the Russian Fatherland. As he considers himself a rescuer of Russia from the disintegration that threatened in the nineties, he will do everything possible to preserve and strengthen his nation. Therefore, he will resist with all his strength the siren call of globalist entities: "I am confident that the current and future generations will do their best for the wellbeing and prosperity of the Fatherland, as much as our great ancestors did."
It may be that neither left nor right can accept Putin's foundational beliefs. But as the summit of July 16 approaches, both had better pay heed to those principles and goals, as they are determinative of Russia's domestic and foreign policies – at least while Putin is in power.
In the long run, who knows what agreements may be reached, as President Trump is also a nation-first anti-globalist who believes in a strong military. Trump also believes in religious freedom. So perhaps Putin and Trump have more in common than their presidential predecessors.
It will be interesting to see how these two leaders get along and what sort of deal will come out of the meeting.