Everyone should see the photograph displayed on the link in the next paragraph. When John McCain looked into Russian President Putin’s eyes, he got a different sense of the man’s soul than did President Bush. McCain said he saw three letters: K. . . G. . . B. He finally stated what is becoming obvious, that Putin is a dangerous man. This has only slowly become apparent, because no single incident proves anything. That is why it is time to back up for an overview of the multiple initiatives launched by the man who could soon rival bin Laden in destructiveness.

Look into another set of eyes here, and remember this face. Maybe you saw this when it was first released, before Putin was a familiar name. This is the scarred face of Viktor Yuschenko, a once youthful and handsome leader in Ukraine who was rushed to the hospital for treatment of massive dioxin poisoning after having dinner with the head of Ukraine’s security services.

An ex-KGB agent and Russian dissident, Alexander Litvinenko, was poisoned in London, apparently by another ex-KGB agent loyal to Putin. Pavel Basanets was an ex-officer who was the first to sign a blunt document damning Putin’s plundering of Russia and his autocratic leadership. Basanets suddenly died in Moscow. And yes, Watson, he was poisoned.

The above links provide abundant evidence that all three of the poisonings were either ordered or condoned by President Putin. They were committed with exotic KGB style poisons, which were difficult to detect and difficult to obtain. (Radioactive isotopes are not stocked next to commercially available rat poisons.) And these attacks were all conveniently conducted against outspoken critics of Mr. Putin.

You don’t hear too much from his opposition now. These abjectly cruel, brutal, sociopathic poisonings sent a clear message to all who would oppose Putin: “Don’t mess with me.” They don’t.

These poisonings were just the beginning. Here is a brief sampling of other incidents that draw an unsettling portrait of Putin’s character and intentions.

Eight Russian bombers probed British airspace, apparently to test the reaction time of the U.K. air defense system. They have done the same thing with Norway and the United States.

Russian missiles will be aimed at European targets, including American antimissile bases.

Russia is exploring the Arctic seabed, claiming its massive oil reserves by planting a flag on it. (Following that line of reasoning, America owns the moon.)

Putin’s government is persecuting independent oil companies and attempting to nationalize the industry.

Putin’s military industrial complex has developed what he calls the Father of all Bombs, a non-nuclear device, deliverable by aircraft, with four times the explosive force of the strongest conventional bombs manufactured by the United States.

Nancy Reyes at BNN quotes credible speculation that the Russians may be the force behind the creation of a powerful computer menace called the Storm Superworm, which may only be a test to lay groundwork for an even more destructive piece of malware for use in cyberwar.

It is by now well known that President Putin recently accepted the resignations of the entire Russian government, has already filled important posts with ex-cronies from his 16 KGB years, and that no matter who wins next year’s Russian elections or whether Putin becomes prime minister, the government will essentially belong to him.

What does all this mean for the United States?

Vladimir Putin is a 21st Century Communist-trained KGB operative who has survived the transition to “democracy.” Putin is not our ally. We are in the early stages of a struggle different from any previous one.

This is not a “new Cold War.” It is not a revival of anything from the past. The Cold War was about the alliance of the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba to supplant democracy with communism all over the world. The current situation is about Russian nationalism and Vladimir Putin’s personal, relentless quest for power.

It will involve new alliances, some of which Putin may form by courting our allies or neutral partners, as he expertly exploits our disagreements. He is using 21st century methods of business, politics, and technology to achieve his aims.

Putin is not stupid enough to embrace the dogmas that bankrupted his country in the first place. He is deftly using capitalistic thinking, manipulation of democratic processes, and road tested KGB Communist terror tactics to further his aims. Vladimir Putin is not Khrushchev, some shoe-banging bag of bombast who looked like the old cartoon character “Henry.” He is smiling, cold-eyed, canny, ruthless, daring, charming, well dressed. He can be subtle, clever, and even humorous. But he learned years ago how to remove the velvet from the hammer and sickle when it furthers his ambitions.

This conflict is not about ideology. It is about oil. It is about alternative fuels. It is about technology, not stolen from America but developed by Russian scientists. It is about modern bombs that approximate nuclear strength without violating the nuclear taboo.

This is about an adroit, vigorous, three-dimensional chess player who is stacking the government with loyal comrades from the old KGB, a man who could be around for 30 years. This is about putting a nation full of desperate people to work, getting them off the vodka and onto the payrolls of what likely will become a juggernaut of economic and political strength. But primarily, this is about power.

Russia, for all its recent poverty, now has newly found oil wealth. It also has a determined, highly popular, vigorous leader who is moving with the speed and agility of a judo expert (he actually is one) to make his nation the world’s premier superpower.

At this point in history, America is preoccupied and vulnerable, and leaders like Vladimir Putin are masters of detecting vulnerability. Our president is unfortunately a lame duck with two broken legs. There is no clear leader in either major political party. Our Executive and Legislative branches are like two wrestlers who have each other in a headlock, and the Judicial branch can do nothing but referee.

We are chasing an elusive enemy, evil, all over the globe, trying to nail the devil’s shadow to the wall with an overextended, exhausted military and paying for it with tomorrow’s money. We are stuck between a counterfeit Muslim–a terrorist with millions of dollars who wants to kill thousands of people and replace Western values with his own twisted brand of morality; and a wily, charismatic Russian who has nuclear weapons that could kill millions. We would be fools to ignore bin Laden. But we would also be fools to ignore the looming threat of Putin.

We are underestimating this man and displaying a puzzling apathy about actions that clearly are alarming and could signal much worse things for us in the future. No one wants to think about more hostilities with Russia. But we have to. Putin has the potential to make the Cold War look like the good ol’ days.

To have an effective foreign policy toward Russia, we must understand the nature of the man ruling it. We must elect a leader in 2008 who has the clear-eyed realism and the guts to see Putin for who he is. We have some very good presidential candidates, but we may not have any who are a match for Putin’s cunning and toughness. He could eat Barack Obama for breakfast and still have room left for Mitt Romney.

Vladimir Putin does not make videos announcing in advance his threatening intentions. Putin does not rattle; he coils and bites. The self-styled “only true democrat left in the world” (!) can still, after decades in government, be best described in three letters: KGB. He is wasting no time as he snakes his way quickly across the global political landscape. In the near future he could become our greatest national security threat.

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