The crisis in the Ukraine has dominated the headlines of late, which is not surprising as it is the most serious confrontation between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War. President Vladimir Putin seems determined to make the world see that Russia is again a major world power and a nation to be reckoned with. He's like the loudest guy in the bar, thumping his chest to make sure that everyone else knows just how tough he is.
This was on display today as the Russian military held its annual parade in Moscow to celebrate Victory Day, the commemoration of Russia's victory over Nazi Germany. Tanks, artillery pieces, rocket launchers, and even ballistic missiles rolled through Red Square, thousands of soldiers marched in perfect order, and fighter jets screamed overhead in an impressive display. For those who watched, it must have been hard not to be impressed.
Yet what did the parade really demonstrate about Russia that was all that impressive? They have a lot of tanks and soldiers, but who cares? Does the true greatness of a nation lie in the amount of military firepower it might be able to bring to bear? I don't think so at all, and the fact that any of us think so should be a source of disquiet.
You know what impresses me more about Russia than its T-80 tanks and MiG-31 fighters? The writing of Tolstoy, Pushkin, and Dostoyevsky. The music of Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky. The scientific achievements of Lomonosov and the engineering genius of Tsiolkovsky. What these brilliant Russians achieved will still be spoken of long after the name of Vladimir Putin has been forgotten.
Russia is a great nation, but we don't need Vladimir Putin to tell us that. Rather than push the world towards conflict and show off the war-potential of his country, he would have saved everyone a lot of trouble if he had simply organized a tour of the Hermitage Museum.