When inaugurating the Fanny Kaplan Club last year, Dr. Edward Lozansky, president of the American University in Moscow, said, "to qualify you must be known as one of the most outspoken Putin haters."
It may seem strange that I've nominated Putin to a club that exists to recognize Putin haters. But, it appears to me that Putin has done more than any other person to engender Putin hatred. Not by his actions. Mostly by his inaction. His absence of any effective response to the persistent denigration of Russia and its leaders has done more to solidify the near-universal negative images that prevail than the work of any other individual.
The problem is that for too long Putin has allowed his enemies to define him. They've been in control of his image. Over the years allegations have been successfully advanced that he blew up apartment buildings in Russia, used energy as a weapon against other countries, practiced pedophilia, murdered journalists, poisoned Alexander Litvinenko, invaded Georgia, and the list goes on. In each case the allegations have lacked a factual basis. They were fabricated.
In the Litvinenko matter, I've shown in my book, the The Phony Litvinenko Murder, how the media story that blamed Putin was fabricated by his arch enemies. On the Georgian invasion, the European Union's fact-finding mission reported that instead of Russia invading Georgia, the 2008 conflict started with a massive Georgian artillery attack.
Despite such factual revelations, the malicious stories propagated by Putin's enemies remain the mainstream understanding of those situations. Putin has taken no effective action to redefine perceptions along more factual lines.
What's worse, his more recent actions have strongly reinforced that negative imagery. I'm talking about the way he handled media aspects of the crackdown on NGOs in Russia; the prosecution of a so-called punk-rock protest group; and the buffoonish ban on American adoptions of Russian orphans. The result is that Putin is being held prisoner within the villainous image his enemies have created.
It was one thing when he was just a victim of media attacks advanced by others. But it's a different story now that he's foolishly playing into the hands of his enemies. The present situation strongly compels action by those concerned for Russian-American relations. His nomination to the Fanny Kaplan Club is one step in that direction.
By not acting decisively and effectively to the onslaught of negative attacks in the media, Putin is neglecting his responsibility to protect the image of his country. All the negative media coverage isn't doing much good for Russia's position in the world and relations with the United States.
Putin seems oblivious to his own pernicious role in all of this. And apparently no one around him is willing to confront him with his own failing. So, he is left like a guy with bad breath surrounded by friends unwilling to tell him. When it comes to media relations, Putin has bad breath. Someone must tell him before he offends the world further.
Some observers believe that there is nothing Putin can do to stop the malicious propaganda war being waged against him. That may be true. However, it is not predestined how people will interpret and react to those fabricated incriminations. The key isn't how he is portrayed, but how those portrayals are interpreted. I can see vast unexploited opportunities therein.
Putin's and Russia's negative international images do not represent an intractable problem. They are a result of negative media spin that has been nurtured by Putin's enemies. There is a Russian-American private sector countermeasures initiative that I strongly support. It is called "Russia without Spin" (http://www.russiawithoutspin.com). It stands out as a promising solution on the horizon.