Vladimir Putin may want to capture a little island sitting in Alaskan waters. This has nothing to do with geopolitics and everything to do with his love of a Greek hero.
The Diomede Islands are in the middle of the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska: Big Diomede is a Russian island, Little Diomede is a U.S. island.
It is thought by some that Putin became fascinated with ancient history and Greek mythology while studying law at Leningrad State University (LSU). As a student he had to join the Communist Party. He believed that his interest in these matters might be misunderstood and frowned upon by the Party, so he kept it secret—and it remains little-known to this day.
While reading ancient texts, Putin discovered the legendary warrior and king Diomedes. Among his achievements, as a relatively young man Diomedes won a reputation as one of the great military leaders in the Trojan War. A figure in both Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid, Diomedes is celebrated for his boldness, courage, and intelligence.
Diomedes was also known for his take-no-prisoners attitude. It is reported that once when he was slaughtering Trojans, an old man pleaded for mercy. Diomedes replied, “Old man, I look to attain to honored age; but while my strength yet exists, not a single foe will escape me with life. The brave man makes an end of every foe.” Diomedes killed the old man.
All this may have had a profound effect on Putin. He vowed that one day he would take back Little Diomede Island, the namesake of his hero. Now that Putin’s expansionist program is in motion, could this be the time for him to strike?
There is an apocryphal story about Putin’s response to Sarah Palin’s remark during the 2008 campaign about Russia: “They’re our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.” She was of course referring to Little Diomede. “She will see more than Russia,” he may have said, “she will see Diomedes himself. She will see me.”
April 1, 2014