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Prall: Russia’s next victim: its citizenry

BY JACOB PRALL | SEPTEMBER 02, 2014 5:00 AM

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A hungry Russia is upon the world once more, and havoc is sure to come. I am not, however, referring to Russian imperialism in the Ukraine. In the midst of economic sanctions strangling the trade of Russia, Vladimir Putin’s attempt to push back against the international community will serve wildly uneven damage — on the Russian people.

An estimated 40 percent of the Russian people’s food is imported, mostly from the EU and Europe’s eastern frontier. History shows us a powerful correlation between famine for the Russian people and tyrannical dictators looking to destabilize the world.

Stalin’s Soviet Union experienced massive economic development and industrialization in the decades leading up to World War II. These achievements were only realized, however, by exploiting the peasants of Russia, and this central planning resulted in the death of some 29 million  people from starvation. The Russian government hadn’t planned accordingly.

Stalin was notoriously stubborn and uncooperative in the international community. His Cabinet changed constantly, reliant only on the pace of the executioners. Stalin’s grip on the media was iron, and his corruption unstoppable. Putin checks off on all of these traits and more, an unfortunate personality type reading for the EU, the United States, and the world.

Russia might face famine today. Putin has proven himself to be nearly as volatile as Stalin. His calls for referendums in eastern Ukraine and subtle shifts of soldiers fighting against the legitimate Ukrainian government are more nuanced than Stalin ever was. That makes Putin all the more dangerous.

The most topical comparison would have to be Stalin’s Finnish war. A neighboring country much smaller than Russia, attacked for purely economic and imperialistic reasons, invaded despite the backlash of the international community? This generation’s Ukraine is the greatest generation’s Finland. Stalin voiced concern over resources in Finland that Russia “required.” On Sunday, Putin called for an independent eastern Ukraine, the first step to assimilation into Russia, on the grounds that natural gas and oil are needed for Russia’s impending winter. Necessary? Maybe. Clearly manipulative? Definitely.

There is a third dimension. We need to recognize the very real threat Putin presents the world. That being said, it is far too easy to confuse the government and the people of a nation at war. The international community must keep in mind not only the possible damage Russia could inflict on the world but also the devastation that could be wrought on itself.

I refuse to believe we live in a world where something as horrifying as Stalin’s Soviet Union could unfold again. Despite Stalin’s (and Putin’s) best efforts, we have a play-by-play of how this has happened and how it is happening.

Still, though, we must keep in mind the millions of faces behind Putin’s volatile curtain. The Russian people have endured more hardships than most in the 20th century. They are a resilient people, but even the most steadfast have to eat. We are afforded the luxury of compassion through freedom in this country. Yet the responsibility to stand up to tyranny is on all of us. No nation can function peacefully when the largest landmass in the world is at odds with everyone.

Moscow’s actions are despicable, but that can’t cloud our humanity. If we show no compassion for the people of Russia, they won’t survive the coming storm.


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