By Ray McGovern
December 21, 202:
Information Clearing House
Anti War -
Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and I
have something in common. My big brother, Joe-Ray,
died during the World War II. Unlike Putin’s big
brother, though, mine was done in by meningitis –
not by the Germans.
Putin’s brother Viktor died during the 872-day
German blockade of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg)
from Sept. 1941 to Jan. 1944). It was the most
lethal siege in history. The grief in our home after
Joe-Ray’s slow, painful death was palpable, but my
parents could at least visit him in the hospital;
and I know where he is buried.
Putin’s parents were deprived of even those small
things: 1 year-old Viktor was taken from them to
join other infants/children whose families could not
feed them. Yes, a draconian measure, but their best
chance to survive the siege.
Putin described the circumstances in unusually
personal comments ten years ago:
"My parents told me that children were taken from
their families in 1941, and my mother had a child
taken from her – with the goal of saving him."
Putin’s remarks came at an annual wreath-laying
at the enormous cemetery in St. Petersburg, where
470,000 lie buried in mass graves. Referring to
Viktor, Putin added: "They said he had died, but
they never said where he was buried."
In the book "First Person," Putin wrote that his
mother had been so close to starvation that she lost
consciousness and "they laid her out with the
corpses" until someone heard her moaning. His
father, hospitalized with war wounds, set aside his
rations to feed her. Vladimir was born years later,
on Oct. 7, 1952 in Leningrad.
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Absent Big Brothers
This unusual "foreword" is an attempt to provide
some sense of how if feels to grow up without a big
brother to help protect you – Putin on the streets
of Leningrad, I on the streets of the Bronx. The
point here is that, even as a statesman, Putin has
been way out there, alone, without demonstrably
strong support – until now. With apologies to the
State Farm PR people: "Like a good neighbor, Xi
Jinping is there". (Needless to say, "Big Brother"
in this context has nothing to do with George
Solidarity between Putin and Xi was what both
wanted to underscore at their meeting on Dec. 15. It
was hard to miss, but there are still some
troglodytes around who see China and Russia more as
enemies than friends.
He Who Has Eyes to See …
The sum and substance of what Russia and China
decided to demonstrate at the Putin-Xi virtual
summit on Dec. 15 shines through the video of the
highly scripted first minute of their conversation.
This segment apparently is the only video portion
released so far;
it was picked up by the NY Times, as well
as other outlets. Still, most commentators seemed to
miss its significance, even though the video
included subtitles (and lots of body language) for
anyone truly interested.
Please click on the segment, or read the
transcript (from the subtitles):
Putin: "Dear friend, dear President Xi
Next February I expect we can finally meet in
person in Beijing as we have agreed. We will hold
talks and then participate in the opening ceremony
of the Winter Olympic Games. I am grateful for your
invitation to attend this landmark event."
Xi: "Dear President Putin, my old
friend. It’s my pleasure to meet you at the end of
this year by video the second time this year.
This is our 37th meeting since 2013. You have
hailed on many occasions China-Russia relations as a
model in international collaboration in the 21st
Century, strongly supporting China’s position on
safeguarding its core interests, and firmly opposed
attempts to drive a wedge between our two countries.
I highly appreciate it."
Gratuitous declarations that the U.S. will
officially boycott the Winter Olympics February in
Beijing may not strike most of us as a grave matter
of state; the Chinese, of course, take this much
more seriously. Clearly, Putin wanted to align his
initial remarks closely with China, and at variance
with the US and its knee-jerk allies who have fallen
in line to snub the Winter Games. In any event, for
Putin and Xi, it was a felicitous way into the
It is Xi’s comments that merit particular
attention. Thirty-seven meetings since 2013! Do
the math: 4-plus summits a year, even taking into
account Covid restrictions on travel. What better
way to put flesh on "Dear President Putin, my old
The last several weeks have given the words "core
interests" unusual prominence and importance. Russia
has core interests regarding Ukraine, further NATO
expansion, and emplacement of missiles within range
of sensitive sites in Russia. For China, the "core
interest" is, of course, Taiwan, and Beijing is
determined to deter any action that violates the
One-China agreements that have kept the peace for a
half-century. Xi expresses appreciation not only for
Putin’s help in safeguarding [China’s] core
interests, but also for the fact that Putin has
"firmly opposed attempts to drive a wedge between
the two countries – ending the clip as it began,
with an obvious dig at the US.
The Draft Treaties
The draft treaties given on Dec. 15 to a US
diplomat visiting Moscow are extraordinarily far
reaching in terms of spelling out the kind of
Russian core interests that President Xi can now be
expected to stand behind. And whether Russia and
China have a formal defense alliance or something
short of that became largely moot on Dec. 15 when
Chinese President Xi Jinping stated that “this
relationship even exceeds an alliance in its
closeness and effectiveness.”
The Xi big-brother factor, in addition to what
can assumed to be outspoken warnings from Putin at
his virtual summit with President Joe Biden,
presumably has played a role in Washington’s
willingness to discuss the Russian proposals. In
other words, the White House has decided to reject
those claiming they are "non-starters." They are
starters. And that is a good thing.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a
publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the
Saviour in inner-city Washington. His 27-year career
as a CIA analyst includes serving as Chief of the
Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and preparer/briefer of
the President’s Daily Brief. He is co-founder of
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
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