Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons, a novel and a memoir. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.
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.
LONDON (Reuters) -Police detained more than 4,300 people on Sunday at Russia-wide protests against President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, according to an independent protest monitoring group.
Thousands of protesters chanted "No to war!" and "Shame on you!", according to videos posted on social media by opposition activists and bloggers.
Dozens of protesters in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg were shown being detained. One protester there was shown being beaten on the ground by police in riot gear. A mural in the city showing President Vladimir Putin was defaced.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the footage and photographs on social media. Russia's interior ministry said earlier that police had detained around 3,500 people, including 1,700 in Moscow, 750 in St Petersburg and 1,061 in other cities.
The interior ministry said 5,200 people had taken part in the protests. The OVD-Info protest monitoring group said it had documented the detention of at least 4,366 people in 56 different cities.
"The screws are being fully tightened - essentially we are witnessing military censorship," Maria Kuznetsova, OVD-Info's spokeswoman, said by telephone from Tbilisi.
"We are seeing rather big protests today, even in Siberian cities where we only rarely saw such numbers of arrests."
The last Russian protests with a similar number of arrests were in January 2021, when thousands demanded the release of opposition leader Alexei Navalny after he was arrested on returning from Germany where he had been recovering from a nerve agent poisoning.
Some Russian state-controlled media carried short reports about Sunday's protests but they did not feature high in news bulletins.
Russia's RIA news agency said the Manezhnaya Square in Moscow, adjoining the Kremlin, had been "liberated" by police, who had arrested some participants of an unsanctioned protest against the military operation in Ukraine.
Church Supports Putin
RIA also showed footage of what appeared to be supporters of the Kremlin driving along the embankment in Moscow with Russian flags and displaying the "Z" and "V" markings used by Russian forces on tanks operating in Ukraine.
Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, said Russian values were being tested by the West, which offered only excessive consumption and the illusion of freedom.
Putin, Russia's paramount leader since 1999, calls the invasion, launched on February 24, a "special military operation". He says it is aimed at defending Ukraine's Russian-speaking communities against persecution and preventing the United States from using Ukraine to threaten Russia.
The West has called his arguments a baseless pretext for war and imposed sanctions that aim to cripple the Russian economy. The United States, Britain and some other NATO members have supplied arms to Ukraine.
Navalny had called for protests on Sunday across Russia and the rest of the world against the invasion.
About 2,000 people attended an anti-war protest in Kazakhstan's biggest city Almaty, according to videos posted on social media. Reuters was unable to independently verify the posts.
The crowd shouted slogans such as "No to war!" and obscenities directed at Putin while waving Ukrainian flags.
Blue and yellow balloons were placed in the hand of a statue of Lenin towering over the small square where the rally took place.
The Russian state polling agency VTsIOM said Putin's approval rating had risen six percentage points to 70 percent in the week to February 27. FOM, which provides research for the Kremlin, said his rating had risen seven percentage points to 71 percent in the same period.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Catherine Evans, Frances Kerry, William Maclean and Kevin Liffey)
By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church will meet in Cuba next week in what could be a landmark step toward healing the 1,000-year-old rift between the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity.
The Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate announced on Friday that Francis will stop in Cuba on Feb. 12 on his way to Mexico to hold talks with Patriarch Kirill, the first in history between a Roman Catholic pope and a Russian Orthodox patriarch.
There, they will appeal for an end to persecution and killing of Christians in the Middle East, the Russian side said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has aligned himself closely with the Russian Orthodox Church, making the meeting in Cuba not just a religious event but politically charged as well, especially when Russia is at odds with the West over Ukraine and Syria.
Modern popes have met in the past with the Istanbul-based ecumenical patriarchs, the spiritual leaders of Eastern Orthodoxy, which split with Rome in 1054. Those patriarchs play a largely symbolic role, while the rich Russian church wields real influence because it counts some 165 million of the world’s 250 million Orthodox Christians.
The Vatican said the leaders would hold several hours of private talks at Havana airport, deliver public speeches and sign a joint statement.
The meeting was brokered by Cuban President Raul Castro, who hosted the pope in Cuba last year. The Vatican helped arrange the rapprochement between Cuba and the United States.
Such a meeting eluded Francis’ two immediate predecessors, Benedict and John Paul, who both tried but failed to reach agreement with Kirill and previous patriarchs to hold talks on the prospects for eventual Christian unity.
Russia’s ambassador to the Vatican, Alexander Avdeyev, told TASS news agency the meeting showed Russia could play an important role in shaping Christianity.
“In conditions of Western sanctions, the meeting of the two church leaders is a confirmation of the Christian civilisational role of Russia,” Avdeyev said.
Senior Orthodox cleric Metropolitan Hilarion said long-standing differences between the two churches would remain, most notably a row over the activity of the Eastern Rite Catholic church in Ukraine that is allied with Rome.
Hilarion said the Ukraine dispute was “still on the agenda, and it remains an unhealed and a still bleeding sore thwarting normal relations between the two Churches”.
But he said it was being put aside so that Kirill and Francis could work together against the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. They have often decried their oppression and killing by Islamist militants.
The Russians had previously said outstanding differences had to be ironed out before any high-level meeting could be held.
“The situation shaping up today in the Middle East, in North and Central Africa and in some other regions where extremists are carrying out a genuine genocide of the Christian population demands urgent measures and an even closer cooperation between the Christian churches,” Hilarion said.
“We need to put aside internal disagreements at this tragic time and join efforts to save Christians in the regions where they are subject to the most atrocious persecution.”
The Russian Church has accused Catholics of trying to convert people from Orthodoxy after the break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, a charge the Vatican has denied.
One particularly sore point is the fate of church properties that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin confiscated from Eastern Rite Catholics in Ukraine and gave to the Russian Orthodox there. After the fall of communism, Eastern Rite Catholics took back many church properties, mostly in western Ukraine.
(Additional reporting by Dmitry Solovyov and Alexander Winning in Moscow; Editing by Alison Williams)
Photo: Pope Francis holds a skullcap given to him by a faithful as he arrives to lead the weekly audience in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican February 3, 2016. REUTERS/Max Rossi
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