Staunton, March 18 – Vladimir Putin’s personality and governing style, his domestic and geopolitical agendas and his possession of and willingness to threaten the use of nuclear weapons make him “the most dangerous person in the history of our civilization,” according to Andrey Piontkovsky.
Putin’s background in the KGB and his experiences over the last 15 years in power have convinced him that “the power of a dictator is not based on rational calculations, ratings, the political landscape but on a certain aura, mystery, and will” which gives Russians “a happy illusion” about him and themselves (www1.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=55074AB95E1B2).
That explains, the Russian analyst continues, why Putin gives interviews like the one in which he acknowledged his violations of international law in the seizure of Crimea and why Putin’s aides are always coming up with suggestive phrases from “’drown in the outhouse’” to “’national traitors’” that suggest he has returned Russia to unchallenged greatness.
And it reflects his own statements and those of his around him concerning his willingness to use force and the threat of force not just to subordinate the Russian people to his personal will but also to re-subordinate both the countries which were once part of the Soviet Union and those which were part of the larger Soviet bloc to Moscow.
But before declaring “an Orthodox jihad” against all these places, it would be well, Piontkovsky says, to ask “just how many divisions our Pope of Rome has” because “no state and no regime goes to war firmly convinced that it will lose.” Consequently, the Kremlin leader must believe he can win.
For some purposes as in Ukraine and elsewhere, Putin can make use of soft force and hybrid war, but the only real power he has is his stockpile of nuclear weapons or “more precisely the threat of using” them, the Russian analyst says. And thus, to win, Putin must “convince the West and above all the US leadership that he is mad and ready to use them.”
If he succeeds, Piontkovsky says, then “the West which is not prepared for the destruction of the planet in a nuclear catastrophe will, in Putin’s thinking, retreat step by step. It won’t sell arms to Ukraine even in the event of a massive attack by Russian forces, it won’t defend the Baltic countries when little green men go there, and so on down the list.”
In many respects, Putin has simply taken a page from the playbook of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, Piontkovsky says, someone who has successfully cultivated the image of a madman with nuclear weapons who must be appeased lest he use them. Thus, it is no surprise Kim will be standing next to Putin on the Mausoleum on Victory Day.
While promoting that image in order to frighten and disorder the West, Putin is also seeking to advance his agenda abroad by various kinds of soft power, an agenda that includes in the first instance splitting the EU and the US, dividing the EU, and promoting Russian influence abroad and especially in Orthodox countries.
In an interview with Novy Region-2’s Kseniya Kirillova published today, Aleksandr Sytin, the former analyst for the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies that was set up by the SVR and is closely tied to the Presidential Administration, provides new details about what RISI and its influential director Leonid Reshetnikov are doing to promote Putin’s agenda (nr2.com.ua/blogs/Ksenija_Kirillova/Rossiya-hochet-utverdit-svoe-gospodstvo-vo-vsey-Vostochnoy-Evrope-ekspert-92442.html).
According to Sytin, Reshetnikov is not making the kind of geopolitical argument one would expect from most analysts. Instead, Sytin says, Reshetnikov is pushing for the establishment “under contemporary conditions of a medieval model of Orthodox-imperial civilization which must oppose the ‘anti-Christian’ civilization of Europe and the US.”
The RISI director has been making the argument, Sytin continues, that “the Soviet Union conducted the correct policy of protecting its national interests” by “pushing the defense line far to the west. If we want to be a great state,” Reshetnikov says, “we must bring to the world our variety of economic, political, and cultural development.
Thus Putin’s agenda is “not limited and will not be limited by moves against Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and the post-Soviet space as a whole.” His “chief goal is not simply the restoration of the territory of the Russian Empire” but to impose Russian dominance “over the entire territory of Eastern Europe at a minimum.”
According to Reshetnikov, Sytin says, “the countries of greatest interest” are those with Orthodox populations – Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro – but the RISI director also believes that Moscow must focus on Poland, France, Finland, Hungary and Austria, “everywhere where one can find rightwing nationalists, Christian fundamentalists and anti-globalists.”
RISI is already claiming success in Greece and to a lesser extent in Bulgaria and Serbia, Sytin says.
Kirillova pressed Sytin on the question of whether “the plans of RISI and the plans of the Russian authorities” are one and the same. Sytin responded that the “Novaya gazeta” document about Ukraine, while not in the typical format of RISI documents, completely reflects RISI thinking and Moscow’s actions.
And in support of his contention of RISI’s influence on Putin, Sytin pointed to two other things: the participation of senior Kremlin officials in the recent commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the institute and the role that RISI has played in introducing Kremlin officials to others beyond its ken who may be useful as in the case of Konstantin Malofeyev.
Although Sytin does not, one could add a third, to the extent Piontkovsky’s analysis is correct: Putin clearly sees enormous value in the kind of semi-mythic thought and language Reshetnikov uses and that his former assistant reports. That is yet another reason RISI and its leader should be watched most closely.