As the old saying goes, you cannot truly understand a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.
Perhaps Americans, a fortunate tribe, should try to see the world from the vantage point of the Russian people and Vladimir Putin, and, as the poet Robert Burns said, “see ourselves as others see us.”
At 35, Putin was a rising star in the elite secret police, the KGB, of a superpower with a worldwide empire.
The USSR was almost three times as large as the United States. Its European quadrant was half of the Old Continent. The Soviet Empire extended from the Elbe River in Central Germany to the Bering Strait across from Alaska. It encompassed thirteen time zones.
North to south, the USSR reached from above the Arctic Circle down to the Middle East. Beyond the contiguous empire were Soviet bases from Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam to Tartus in Syria to Cienfuegos in Cuba.
Consider, then, what the last dozen years of the 20th century must have been like for proud Russian patriots and nationalists.
First, the European empire suddenly and wholly collapsed. East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria all broke away to join the West. The Red Army came home, undefeated, but also unwanted and even detested.
The Warsaw Pact, the rival to NATO, dissolved.