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Ian Buruma

Why Putin Unites Extremists on Left and Right

The Russian autocrat is adept at playing on the deep self-pity and sense of victimhood that permeates the far reaches of the political spectrum. 

No victim.

No victim.

Photographer: Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images

Two old friends of mine once sat on opposite ends of the political spectrum. One used to be pro-American — a liberal Cold Warrior and defender of the Vietnam War. The other was very much in the leftist camp, a lifelong opponent of “American imperialism” and a committed anti-Zionist. Both are now keen promoters of Vladimir Putin’s propaganda: Ukraine is a U.S. puppet state dominated by Nazis, Putin is a man of peace, Russia must defend itself against a warmongering North Atlantic Treaty Organization and so forth.

One could easily dismiss their blogposts and YouTube performances as the rantings of bitter old men. But that won’t quite do. For their views echo those of prominent politicians on the far reaches of both left and right. And they are amplified in major media such as Fox News as well as, of course, on countless social media outlets well beyond the United States and Europe.