What if Putin were my neighbour?


Countries neighboring Vladimir Putin are rightfully nervous about current geopolitical affairs. However, countries not sharing a border with Vladimir Putin should be nervous as well.

I live in the United States and my neighbours are ethnic Russians. Nice folks, and the type of neighbours you’d choose if it weren’t for the old adage that says you can’t. The patriarch, first name Vladimir, is a master pianist and we are often provided with dazzling concertos at no additional cost other than opening our kitchen windows. The matriarch is quick with amiable greetings and general pleasantries. The son, first generation American like me (I was born to political refugees from Estonia), pushes his snow thrower across our sidewalk and driveway in the winter, unsolicited. Appreciatively, afterward I’ll typically push him a stout or porter to help shake the winter chill.

So, we have a lot in common with our Russian neighbours – a fondness for classical music, deference for good manners and an appreciation for craft beer.

But I can’t help but wonder, what if he wasn’t Vladimir the good neighbour, but actually Vladimir Putin? Considering the international shenanigans playing out in Ukraine, I’d be afraid. Very afraid.

You see, the far corner of my yard was once part of the greater block. This was before the block was subdivided into individual sovereign lots in the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. It’s a nice corner, but nothing too special – a grassy area, a patch of topsoil and shade from a black gum tree. But it’s where I have my hammock. And Putin really covets this hammock because his ancestors once stole it and really liked having it for their own use. So, he takes the land and the hammock by force.

Of course, annexing the corner of my lot means there is a disconnect from his property line to the newly acquired real estate. Putin would not be able to mount a horse and ride shirtless from his home to his new hammock. The solution? A land bridge across my sovereign lot. Putin, along with several vacationing off-duty soldier friends, marches through my backyard to secure the land bridge.

During the struggle, one of Putin’s goons shoots a round into the air and hits a duck flying overhead. The duck, guilty of nothing more than being in the wrong flight pattern at the worst of times, is obliterated. The feathers from the fallen fowl drift to the ground and lie scattered across the landscape. Oddly, although the duck is a protected species and an illegal shot was fired, jurisdictional authorities are eerily quiet on this matter and don’t raise much fuss. I scratch my head wondering why the broader community is so silent on this brazen act of avicide.

For background, several decades ago my neighbourhood had formed a homeowner’s association in response a nearby nuisance – an animal farm that went by the name of Uncle Stalin’s State-Run Ranch (USSR). The farm has since downsized and rebranded itself, but some fear its return given the current leadership at the ranch. Regardless, the Neighbourhood Association of Togetherness and Order (NATO) was formed by concerned private property owners to counter the spread of the animal farm.

The mayor, understanding my angst, pays a visit to my house. He is a great speaker, but is viewed by out-of-towners as a tiger cut from brittle parchment. Nevertheless, he speaks strongly, says all the right things, and invokes Article 5 from the NATO charter that guarantees group-led protection for any individual member. Meaning, if an animal escapes the farm and bites me, the entire NATO community will respond to corral the animal and help patch my wounds.

But the NATO inclusion boundary is a curious one. It zigs and zags a bit. And unfortunately for the rear corner of my yard, it is not a full member of NATO. So, the rest of the world simply watches as Putin breaks international norms and laws so he can rest in my hammock. The media, while paying attention with one eye, generally lets out a collective yawn. Again, I scratch my head at how this could be.

Luckily for me, further up the property line, NATO protection prevails. Or does it? Near our property border with Putin, we have a little herb garden. In that garden, we had a gnome. But recently, and curiously just after the mayor’s visit, the gnome went missing – abducted from its place of sentry. The master of misinformation, Putin releases dubious information to indicate the gnome had incurred onto his side of the border and was promptly arrested. Currently, the gnome awaits sentencing for crimes unknown.

Along the same property line, there are patches of land where ivy originally from Putin’s side of the border has taken hold on my lot. The ivy from next door and the plants native to my lot coexist and intermingle. In fact, the foreign ivy find the soil a little richer and the sun a little brighter on our side compared to their native land. But the Putin misinformation machine is working overtime. He says we mistreat those that speak ivy, and that he could right that non-existent wrong by invading our land within two days time. With this propaganda, I fear he is laying deceitful groundwork to invade my lot once again.

Is this simply paranoia? Russophobia? Nope, neither. Just the observations of many Estonians that know recent history all too well and don’t want to be doomed to repeat it.

But back here in the United States, my neighbour Vladimir and I continue to chat in the street when we see each other. We live side by side, each making decisions on what is best for our respective households. We wave to each other across our common property boundary, but we respect what that politically recognised boundary means. We are rational and civilised, which shouldn’t be profound.

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