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Rotary Happenings: Retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer speaks on Putin

By Staff | Dec 3, 2019

Powerful and timely can describe our Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club speaker, retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer William P. Pope, on Nov. 23. His topic “Who is Vladimir Putin? What is his game plan?” Some background on Pope: He attended the University of Virginia and Georgetown University. He served as a Russian linguist in the U.S. Army Security Agency and attended the National War College and the Department of Defense’s flag officer training course, “Capstone.”

Over 44 years with the U.S. Department of State, Pope had overseas tours as acting ambassador in Rome, deputy ambassador in The Hague and served in Pretoria, Paris and elsewhere. He held senior positions in Washington, including acting assistant secretary for counterterrorism; director of the USG Interagency Sanctions Task Force; and country desk officer for Libya. He was awarded the State Department’s Superior and Meritorious Honor Awards and its Career Achievement Award.

After retiring from the Foreign Service, Pope was called back to the State Department to work on several projects, including a terrorism-related activity in Pakistan and on U.S. cyber policy under the Office of the Secretary of State. He also was the senior advisor for Europe at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations for the 63rd to 71st sessions of the UN General Assembly (2008-16). He was a diplomatic fellow at George Mason University, where he taught graduate courses in bio-defense and counterterrorism. Pope retired to Naples, where he is on the board of the Center for Critical Thinking and a member of the Program Committee of the Naples Council on World Affairs.

So, who is Putin? He’s one tough guy. Putin was a KGB foreign intelligence officer for 16 years, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel before resigning in 1991 to enter politics in Saint Petersburg. He moved to Moscow in 1996 and joined President Boris Yeltsin’s administration, where he served as director of the FSB and then as prime minister. He became acting president on Dec. 31, 1999, when Yeltsin resigned and president in 2000 and in 2004. He is the longest serving president of Russia since Joseph Stalin. Putin is not communist but a hybrid of sorts in the geo-political world. He is religious and the Russia Orthodox church supports him. The church calls Putin’s rule a “miracle of God” – but how does that square with Putin’s strong hold on the country through great autocratic rule KGB-style. He has a sure vision of where he wants Russia to be on the world stage and will stop at nothing to reach this goal. He wants to “Make Russia Great Again.” He is inspired by his belief in the return of the old Russia and its place as a world power.

If you make an enemy of Putin, you are dead to him and he will make sure you stay dead. Murder you say, well maybe. Victims of Putin’s rath: Boris Nemtoor, 2015, critic of Putin; Boris Berezovsky, 2013, tycoon; Alexander Litcinwnko, 2009; Stanislav Maekwloc, 2009, lawyer; Sergei Magnitsky, 2009, tax fraud investigator; Natalia Estemirova, 2009, journalist; Anna Politkovskaya, 2006, reporter, Alexander Litvinenko, 2006, critic; Serge Yushenkov, 2003, former army colonel, and Yri Schekochikhin, 2003, journalist.

“The Russian state began to reassert its authority under Putin, members of organized crime became less important than the oligarchs whom they had helped ascend to wealth and power. Today, Putin controls the oligarchs, and together they control and exploit the criminal world to their mutual advantage,” according to warontherocks.com. Putin believes in strong central authority.

In 2018 Russia-United States summit meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Putin was a breakthrough for Putin. Russia was again being treated as a major power in the world. Russia was showing its strength on the world stage. The Russian economy is weak but military spending is high, developing new weaponry and modern military strength. Russia’s developing cyber capabilities are definite strengths in disrupting political and economic security worldwide. Hacking into military digital infrastructure allows not only the collection of information but the disruption of military actions and well-being. Russia uses malware as the foundation of digital havoc in so many arenas of personal, business, government, and military activities globally.

Putin’s Russia is taking steps to dominate the Artic region in the future. Russia is building and supporting more Arctic bases than any other country. Russia is building the largest and strongest icebreaking fleet in the world. This is particularly meaningful because Russia is strategically positioning itself as ice continues to melt in the Arctic, and additional sea routes are opened. Putin making “Russia great again.” Putin is determined to regain Russia’s strength as a major government power in the world. Putin will not be intimidated and will use any methods at his disposal.

For information about the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club, visit sanibelrotary.org or www.facebook.com/sancaprotary. The club meets every Friday at 7 a.m. at the Dunes Golf and Tennis Club, at 949 Sand Castle Road, Sanibel; visitors are welcome to attend.