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Times Writer Steven Lee Myers Unmasks ‘New Tsar’ Vladimir Putin in Channel City Club Talk

Steven Lee Myers spoke at the Channel City Club as a part of the Committee on Foreign Relations Oct. 26, 2015. His talk was titled “The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin,” named after his unbiased and comprehensive book on Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.

Myers is the foreign policy and national security issues correspondent in the Washington Bureau of Tthe New York Times.

He graduated from UC Berkeley with a bachelor’s in rhetoric. Later, he received a master’s degree at the University of Reading, in Reading, England.

Introduced at the Channel City Club as a "correspondent action hero," Myers reported from Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Afghanistan and Iraq, and spent ten years corresponding in Moscow, Russia, for The Times.

The lecture provided the audience with a new perspective on Russia’s mysterious leader, who was appointed Prime Minister of Russia by Boris Yeltsin in 1999.

When Putin was appointed, The New York Times ran an article that was titled “Putin Who?” At the time, Putin was an unknown KGB officer the public thought would pass, similar to the rest of Yeltsin’s appointments.

Myers described the mythology around Putin created by the western opinion of him. “I’m fascinated by this character, but just seeing him in this prism or a political eye doesn’t help you understand the man.”

Myers considers Putin a mirror through which people projected their views of the country; referring to this as a tactic, Myers notes that Putin has deployed this strategy very effectively for his political gain.

Putin has also been known for the depth of his research into the people he meets, which gives him the upper hand and allows him to acquire power through intimidation.

For example, in his interactions with Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, he took his black Labrador with him, knowing that she was afraid of dogs. When the Chancellor showed her unease around the dog, Putin took the opportunity to say, “I know everything about you.”

He also has the ability to look into people’s eyes and tell them what they want to hear. This was exemplified in his meeting with United States President George W. Bush, who said, “I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul.” Putin proved that he had done his research when he had the information to tell Bush exactly what he wanted to hear.

Myers quoted a television interview with Putin in which he said, “…If one would bring strict order with a strong hand, life would become more comfortable and safe. But in reality, this comfort will fast pass, because this strong hand will start choking us very soon.”

He supported an iron fist mentality, which is observable in his leadership of Russia, but Putin knew that it would eventually strangle the country and its people. It is common knowledge that Putin is a strong advocate for totalitarianism, but Myers was able to provide his audience with information that portrayed a completely different side of Putin. 

When an audience member asked, “Does any uncontrolled western media get into Russia?” Myers told us that the radio and internet are open to western influence. He went on to say that the iron curtain serves as a source of media indoctrination, but there are still many private news organizations that maintain an unbiased analysis of the government.

Putin’s administration has tried to shut these sources down by deeming them “extremist” and has been successful in some internet cases. However, these types of media have much less impact on the minds of Russians than the TV does, which is dominated by the Kremlin.

Myers explained that there is freedom of the press in Russia, but hesitantly added that, “Obama would have eighty percent approval ratings if he controlled the media like Putin does.”

Myers's main argument was his emphasis on having an open mind towards Putin, a view without bias. He also highlighted the importance of  listening to Putin in order to get a more comprehensive understanding of what drives Russia’s infamous leader.

In the early stages of writing his book, Myers wanted to get another interview with Putin. However, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press spokesman, did not grant him the interview and told Myers to read Vladimir Putin’s past comments in order to receive the answers to his questions. 

As Myers grudgingly did this, he found enough information to write his biography and gained a new perspective on Russia’s elusive modern tsar.   

When asked if he thought Putin was a thug, Myers outlined aspects of Putin’s personality that are thuggish, but said the complexity of his childhood imparts a better understanding of the man behind the veil.

Myers went on to say that Putin was a wimpy child; he began to take martial arts lessons to protect himself in the school yard. Myers believes that the effects of Putin's background have influenced his decisions as the President of Russia

Towards the end of Myers’ presentation, he drew a parallel between Putin’s childhood and recent Russian history. When the Cold War ended, the United States became the sole world superpower.

In the eyes of Russians, Americans were trying to topple sovereign governments, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, entirely because it was within their capability, causing serious grievances within Russia that sparked a wave of Anti-Americanism within the country.

In their minds, Americans have a clear goal to wipe out President Bashar al-Assad by sending missiles to Syria. Now that Russia has once more become a world superpower, Putin has declared that Russia will not allow the U.S. to bully other nations.

Myers also supplied arguments for the opposition by saying that the hostility was mutual between the countries because President Bush’s administration was very antagonistic towards Russia. 

Steven Myers offered an impartial and unbiased outlook on Putin, and an insight into the man with the iron fist. 

— Elena Alcerro and Morgan Lamberti are 11th grade students at Anacapa School.


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