Only one with a heart of stone could fail to be moved by the spectacle of the leaders of Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic states standing by Saakashvili last week at a rally in Tbilisi. But Putin is not Hitler or Stalin; he is not even Leonid Brezhnev. He is what he is, and that is bad enough. In the 2008 election, he made a joke of democratic procedure and, in effect, engineered for himself an anti-constitutional third term. The press, the parliament, the judiciary, the business élite are all in his pocket—and there is no opposition. But Putin also knows that Russia cannot bear the cost of reconstituting empire or the gulag. It depends on the West as a market. One lesson of the Soviet experience is that isolation ends in poverty. Putin’s is a new and subtler game: he is the autocrat who calls on the widow of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. To deal with him will require statecraft of a kind that has proved well beyond the capacities of our current practitioners.
David Remnick, “Boundary Issues,” The New Yorker, 25 August, 2008.
Surely, many of the archetypes and historical reference points of the last century are no longer germane in this era, which not especially like the 20th century. It is demoralizing that so many writers can only muster up Hitler or Stalin when making historical comparisons.