- The Washington Times - Monday, August 18, 2008

COMMENTARY:

The violent history of Eastern Europe inspired Irish author Bram Stoker to create his classic horror character “Dracula” in 1897. Stoker based his vampire on a Romanian ruler named Vlad Tepes, who, in the 15th century, committed incredible atrocities like impaling thousands of captured people on felled trees. Nice guy. For this, he was called “Vlad the Impaler.”

Now we have Vladimir Putin, the Russian martinet who is orchestrating the violence in Georgia in order to show the world that the Russian military is back in fighting form. Using the old Third Reich ruse of “protecting” ethnic “Russians” living in Georgian territory, Mr. Putin launched a violent action that has angered most decent people. For this, Mr. Putin should be known as “Vlad the Assailer.”

Why is Mr. Putin doing this? Well, like Dracula, it is in his blood. As a former Soviet Secret Police director, Mr. Putin has no problem using harsh methods to achieve his goals. Under his presidency, Russia became a crime-ridden state where dissenters (and Mr. Putin’s business competitors) were routinely beaten, imprisoned and, on occasion, murdered. There is no question in my mind that Mr. Putin is a thug who as prime minister still calls the shots in Russia despite the election of his protege Dmitry Medvedev as president.

Mr. Putin’s vision is a Russia that dominates the countries on its borders and competes with the United States and China for global influence. He has done everything he can to weaken America - including selling Iran sophisticated weaponry like the Tor-M1 air defense system, as well as 500 surface-to-air missiles. Obviously, Mr. Putin is no friend of ours.



The United States has tweaked Mr. Putin back by supporting Georgia’s entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and that is the crux of the current conflict. Realizing the Bush administration cannot handle another armed conflict right now, Mr. Putin decided to show the world that he could punish America’s friend, Georgia, without a meaningful response. He has succeeded in doing that.

Down the road, either John McCain or Barack Obama will have to deal with Vlad the Assailer. This dour, brutal man senses weakness in both America and Europe, and that will drive him to become bolder. The only thing a guy like Vlad understands is the stick.

But how to wield it is the question. As with Iran, diplomacy is not likely to deter Mr. Putin because Europe needs Russia’s natural gas and oil and is not likely to challenge Russia by supporting sanctions. So it will come down to the United States vs. Russia, mano a mano.

Mr. Putin is one tough customer. It will be interesting to see whether the United States will elect a leader who can effectively neutralize him. If not, old Vlad, like Dracula, will become a scourge on the countryside.

Bill O’Reilly is a nationally syndicated columnist, host of the Fox News show “The O’Reilly Factor” and author of “Who’s Looking Out For You?”

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