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Russian President Vladimir Putin

When Tucker Carlson insists there is no reason for Americans to distrust Russian President Vladimir Putin — and that his reputation for criminal brutality is simply fabricated by the "globalist deep state" controlled by George Soros — his rhetoric conceals the true source of friction between the United States and Russia. Having erupted in the bloody destruction wreaked by Putin on Ukraine, that uniquely alarming conflict will persist even if the world escapes the worst consequences now.

To understand this peril means setting aside the myths and lies promulgated by Putin's enormous worldwide propaganda apparatus and its operatives in this country — not just Carlson but former Trump White House strategist Steve Bannon and a virtual army of the minions of former President Donald Trump.

Let's be clear: No matter what Putin or his apologists may claim, he didn't invade because of fears that Ukraine will join NATO, which he knows won't happen anytime soon. He didn't invade because he worries about alleged Ukrainian nuclear, chemical or biological weapons programs, which he knows do not exist. And he certainly didn't invade because he fears that Ukraine is overrun with "Nazis," since he clearly doesn't much object to actual Nazism or any other variety of fascism. (To take just one example from among the many Nazis supported or tolerated by Putin, he has permitted the main neo-Nazi media outlet in the United States to operate from Russian territory for years.)

What troubles Putin and his ultra-nationalist coterie in the Kremlin is something much deeper. He believes that authoritarian rule in Russia is threatened by the example of Western democracies, whose people are accustomed to affluence and freedom that are enjoyed in his country only by the oligarchs who surround him (who mainly reside in American and European cities). Worse than Ukraine joining NATO, according to his worldview, is its urge to join the European Union — a symbol not only of Western power but of liberal democratic values. That was why he covertly financed the "Brexit" campaign that led to Britain's exit from the EU.

Naturally, Putin regards the example of Ukraine, with its improving economy and popularly elected government, as a menace to his own regime. Although Russia's living standards have improved during the past two decades, its gross domestic product still lags far behind much smaller nations such as Italy and France — and remains less than one-tenth the size of the United States. Russians are well aware that their authoritarian system incubates corruption like excrement breeds flies.

But simply denouncing Western democracy and materialism is a hard sell. So, in recent years, Putin has increasingly depicted himself as a defender of traditional Christian values against the supposed "decadence" of America and Europe, meaning that he persecutes lesbians and gays while proclaiming the mystical superiority of the Russian Orthodox church and a powerful new Russia that reclaims the lost Soviet empire. Although divorced from his wife and reputed to be a hedonist with a harem of younger girlfriends, Putin is well aware of how eagerly right-wing "Christians" accept hate as a substitute for actual morality. Anyone who has observed Trump's embrace by American evangelicals, despite his platoon of porn stars and Playboy models, knows that much.

What does Putin believe? Nobody but him may know and that scarcely matters anyway. His objectives are as clear as his bloody criminality — and his loud-mouthed media apparatchiks regularly enunciate his regime's hostility toward us. They exult in any setback for the United States, they imagine themselves rising with our destruction, they attack us covertly every day, and they persistently aim to divide Americans by race, region, religion, and partisan affiliation.

Vladimir Putin is an implacable and exceptionally dangerous enemy of the United States and of the values enshrined in our Constitution. Those who provide aid and comfort to his regime betray this country and those values.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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