Blowback: Putin’s Diatribe Against the West

President Vladimir Putin’s recent speech announcing the annexation of Crimea to the Russian Federation was the most important presentation by any world leader since the end of the Cold War. While the speech is being analyzed from the perspective of domestic politics, geopolitics, military strategy, energy strategy, diplomacy and international law, the defining particularity was emotions. No more axis of evil, no more subservience to carpetbaggers telling lowly Russia how to organize its government and society after the end of the Soviet Union, no more pivot to Asia forgetting Russia, no more end of history. Putin announced to the world, “Russia is back,” and it’s back on its own terms.


Why was he so emotional? For over 20 years, the feeling in Russia has been one of humiliation. The once proud country and world power had been reduced to second class status after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Western organizations flocked to its former empire to preach the virtues of western values. Some of its bordering countries even joined western institutions. The “near abroad” started to become very far away. The iconic long telegram of George Kennan of 1946 preaching containment was resurrected at the NATO 2008 meeting when Georgia and Ukraine were offered eventual membership.

The second Orange Revolution in Ukraine was the straw that broke the camel’s back. How close Ukraine and Russia are historically, culturally. Putin had already seen the American Ambassador in Moscow meet with opposition groups from civil society on his very first day in office. Regime change in Ukraine, as in the Arab Spring, was perceived as conspiratorial. The Russian President clamped down on foreign non-governmental organizations fearing that they would interfere in Russia’s internal affairs, potentially threatening him and his vision of what made Russia different from the West.

In his mind, he was trying to be helpful with Iranian nuclear talks, in his mind he was trying to be helpful with the Syrian crisis, in his mind he understood the importance of the reset button. But in all of this, Putin, as the leader of the Russian Federation, still felt that he was getting no respect. Read former U.S. Ambassador Jack Matlock’s article in the Washington Post when he says: “The U.S. has treated Russia like a loser since the end of the Cold War.” Listen to an important Russian, Sergei Karaganov, extremely well-tuned into western institutions, when he writes; “The disintegration of the Soviet Union was not viewed as a defeat by the Russian people, but the west treats Russia as a defeated nation all the same.”

What do you think were the feelings in Moscow when Washington trumpeted “its victory” in the Cold War? Remember all the academics, policy wonks and strategy experts flocking to Moscow post 1989 preaching the virtues of the western system just as victorious Northerners flocked to the South after the U.S. Civil War. I remember a revealing evening in Geneva when Georgi Arbatov, founder and Director of the U.S.A/Canada Institute in Moscow, screamed at Jeffrey Sachs, “You and the I.M.F. are killing my people.”

How many leaders took Russia into consideration when the Baltic States became members of NATO? When Kosovo was allowed to declare independence from Serbia? And don’t try to explain to the Russians that Kosovo’s unilateral declaration and recognition by 110 countries did not set a precedent for Crimea. Don’t try to scream about independent countries deciding to join a hostile military alliance when you almost started a nuclear war because independent Cuba accepted Russian missiles.

One can easily demonize Vladimir Putin. Much of what he has done is not acceptable. But, to demonize is an irrational judgment. It is based on emotions. The Cold War was extremely emotional: Us against Them. We seem to be back in that mode. What makes Putin’s speech so popular in Russia is that is expresses the emotions of a large majority of the population. It is almost a national cathartic moment for hundreds of millions of people. While we cannot redo what was done over a 25 year period, we can, in the least, try to understand the bases of the emotion.





Always been impressed by Mr Warner's commentaries until reading this one.

Écrit par : Peter Tallon | 27/03/2014

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