“Throughline: Vladimir Putin”:

(Also available on podcast platforms, it’s the February 13, 2022 edition of NPR’s “Up First”.)

This podcast contains a rebroadcast of an episode from a couple of years previous. There’s a new introduction, but a couple of minutes in the old episode begins and you get the history of Vladimir Putin. You MUST listen to this. It explains who Putin is and how he got to the top. I thought I knew a lot about the man, but I did not know all this. It’s utterly fascinating, and will give you insight into not only Putin, but Yeltsin. Really, you’ve got to listen to this. It gives invaluable perspective on Putin and Russia. I know people are sending you links all day, my goal is not to overwhelm you, but this is the one you should actually pay attention to and listen to. It’s got nothing to do with politics in the U.S., right versus left, Biden versus Trump, it’s just history.


Hi Bob,

I am a Canadian, living and working in Budapest, Hungary. Been here since October, due to leave in June.

On the day of the Russian invasion into Ukraine,  whilst on a walk, I saw a middle aged couple struggling with the parking meters.  They are impossible to use if you are not Hungarian.

I offered to help.  They explained they were from Russia. OH! How very interesting to meet on that particular day.

They explained that had driven to Budapest that day  and they were [in Budapest] looking to buy a home and get the hell out of Russia with that “crazy man leading the country”.  They have twenty something kids, one a male and they were not prepared to risk their son going to war for something that shouldn’t happen.  He went on to say no one he knew supported Putin, and you don’t want to be in Russia if you don’t support Putin.  Their entire life plan changed with this invasion.

It was a surreal conversation, being had in Hungary, between strangers.
My comment is mostly to the suggestions that Russians support Putin.  Don’t think so… they fear him.

Colleen Mitchell


I’m currently in Russia (bad timing…); my friends and professional contacts in the music business are not representative of the population as a whole but probably the percentage of Putin supporters come out quite similarly to those for Trump supporters in the USA; the big difference is that in Russia if you protest, the consequences can easily be a beating from the police and jail, so only the immensely courageous are protesting on the streets – several thousand of them across the country

but the internet is a double-edged sword and currently at least it’s not censored so people are freely sharing Tweets etc. and people can freely access international media – mostly not in Russian of course, but everyone with an education has good English; so many people know exactly what’s going on – if they choose to know, and many do, and they are not Putin supporters, but what can they do about him? Russia is an actual, functioning dictatorship and a military state

perhaps the saddest thing is that what’s happening now in Ukraine has been flagged for years – the wars and suppressions of revolts in Chechnya, Georgia, Crimea, the Donbas in 2014, Belarus and Kazakhstan recently said it all; what’s happening now is simply the next step which Putin in his derangement feels he can take because no-one stopped him earlier

Nick Hobbs


Hi Bob,

Greetings from Warsaw. My Polish wife and I have been living here since 2014. Been visiting since mid-90s. We live in the center of the city. The news media is much like elsewhere regarding Ukraine. But, go stand in line at the bank… hear some things.

There are long queues at the banks. Many of them are running out of cash. They have withdrawal limits in Polish currency equal to $1500. We already took some dollars, but found a short wait at our branch today and took some more. At about 2pm, the cashier told us she would very shortly run out of money for today. *The Russian and Ukrainian currencies are no longer tradeable.

There are also queues with long waits to buy petrol across the country, especially to the east of Warsaw. But stations are not going dry yet.

Our cashier’s son is a career soldier. They will be given instructions on where to deploy within the next 24 hours. The Russians are heading for Lviv. That’s less than 50 miles from the Polish border. You can see the heavy border traffic in Ukraine on Google Maps.

In contrast to Trump, Bannon and the Republican traitors who like spending July 4th in Russia, the Poles know a thing or two about the Russians and have never trusted them (as my mother would say) ‘as far as they could throw them’. With good reason, obviously. When I first came here in the 90s, post-USSR, the Russian mafia was everywhere. You could not park on the street without having your car stolen. On the two-lane roads, we would ease over to the shoulder when one of their black Mercedes with blackened windows would pull out onto the middle line and just floor it. Everyone knew what to do. It was like Poland couldn’t get rid of them after they had already totally wrecked the place for decades. I’ll take the Poles’ opinion on Putin before Trump’s and Pompeo’s, thank you. They have the experience.

The Poles know, Putin and the Russians are cruel and insane…and maybe drunk. They know there is a possibility he could be over that border in a minute. When Putin threatens nuclear weapons, he probably means it. If western leaders do not show some backbone, all bets are off. But Americans will never see Russians bombing and murdering in Ukraine, or the EU, as an external threat.

Six years ago, I went back to school for a Master’s in International Relations from the University of Warsaw. We studied from a European perspective. Interesting. We also had an entire class on Ukraine. I recalled Brzezinski’s book ‘The Grand Chessboard’ from ’97 (His son recently became the US Ambassador to Poland). He named Ukraine as one of five geopolitical pivots with Azerbaijan, South Korea, Turkey, and Iran. Ukraine “is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country helps to transform Russia. Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire. Russia without Ukraine can still strive for imperial status, but it would then become a predominantly Asian imperial state…” Hence Putin’s rantings of national grandeur.

My greatest fear is that the US and western powers have grown so mentally soft over the past 20 years that they are not up to it. Obama gave away Syria and Crimea to Putin. Then Trump was elected president (!!), Fox News turned into RT, a former National Security Advisor (Flynn) was convicted of lying about Russian communications and pardoned by the POTUS, and the US Capitol was successfully attacked while barely guarded, with little punishment/investigation to show for over a year. And Merkel made significant strategic missteps and ignored her weakened military. Then there was Brexit.

Imagine what the cruel and insane Putin sees. A chilling thought. As a Realist in IR terms, he believes states act only in their own interests and the world is in a constant state of anarchy…and he is a player, having the capacity to exercise power beyond his borders.

Putin’s final piece of “luck” was: the Fed having incompetently pumped so much money into the financial system since the Great Recession that inflation is finally accelerating out of control. The credit cycle is turning. Therefore, when both the conflict itself and sanctions drive up oil prices, western consumers are hurting and the stock market may well be retracing. But it wasn’t luck was it? We handed it to him through weakness, greed and incompetence. Why would he stop now?

Someone here said to me this morning, “Either someone kills him or it’s a world war.”

Best regards,

Robert Bond


Hello Bob,

Another great post.

You have nailed it once again. Seems we never learn and are just concerned with our own destiny and welfare. The ominous future is an event that will only happen to others.

Great to see once again how well informed you are about the situation in Europe and the state of the different countries like UK and Italy. Instead of a committed union it keeps falling apart in their own preferred agenda’s.

This war in the Ukraine is another big test. The odds are not looking bright.

Best regards from the Netherlands, where we like to talk from a moral high-ground, but mostly not act accordingly.

Luc Begas



Have spent a lot of time in Poland as you may remember, working with some of its greatest musicians, the brilliant Mietek Szcześniak and his colleagues—all of whom grew up under communism, required to speak Russian, unable to obtain passports, standing in lines for whatever was being offered and finding their way through the new democracy which is exactly the same age as my son, 32 years. The Poles were the first to bring down the Soviet Union, thanks to Solidarity and Pope John Paul II—every one else followed. Poland is not closer to Russia in construct, and historically never has been. If you read history, it’s clear that Poland has been at odds with Russia for hundreds of years: the Poles never go quietly, even during the 132 years when all the surrounding nations partitioned Poland, until 1918. The Poles have the same issues as we do: they had the brilliant Donald Tusk as the head of their government  when we had Obama, and in the same approximate time that we had Trump, they pivoted to Duda and his current stupid presidency.-which is as stupid as ours was under Trump.

But they are very different in every way from Russia-culturally, linguistically, technologically,  and especially in the citizenry’s willingness to march and protest. Now, they are in NATO. We still treat our Eastern European NATO partners as second class citizens, but at least they’re there now. We of course are the ones who sold them out in 1945, but I don’t think we will this time.

It’s a nation with a remarkably high per capita IQ as well as a sizable backwards village population: in other words, a schizophrenic but fascinating place. No one knows better than Mietek’s generation what it’s like to have Russia breathing down your neck and to live under that boot. He warned me years ago that this would happen—common observation among Poles, “nothing new here.”

Poland already has a very close relationship with Ukraine, all of my pals there have family, friends, colleagues, in Ukraine, and all of them have been there many times. As you said, it’s like going from California to Oregon for them. They will have a huge influx of refugees from Ukraine, I expect.

Putin, I hope, will be shut down. He wants the USSR back. As Biden said today, if we don’t sanction them, they will be in Poland next, which is of course a plum prize with its enormous agricultural and labor resources.
Parenthetically, we were in the USSR and Estonia in 1988 before the wall came down.

It was clear the Estonians were over Soviet domination and they told us so openly. And seeing Russia, you could only feel sorry for the poor citizens of that country. Same with Belarus; people under the domination of thugs.
May it pass quickly.

Wendy Waldman

Comments are closed