Staunton, August 12 – Like Hitler, Vladimir Putin believes that the West will not live up to its commitments, Andrey Piontkovsky says, a view that some in Western governments are unwittingly encouraging by continuing to send senior officials to Moscow to seek agreement with him much as Neville Chamberlain did with the Nazi leader by going to Munich.
The Russian commentator now in exile makes this argument in an essay on the Kasparov.ru portal, drawing on what he suggests are Ekho Moskvy chief editor Aleksey Venediktov’s remarkable statements about Putin’s thinking in an interview given last week to the Polish journal, “Nowa Europa Wscodnia.”
(Piontkovsky’s commentary is at kasparov.ru/material.php?id=57AC956D8BDC8. Venediktov’s interview appeared in Polish (new.org.pl/2659,post.html). A Russian translation of the Moscow editor’s remarks can be found at inosmi.ru/politic/20160804/237432372.html.)
In his interview, Piontkovsky says, Venediktov explained that he sees his task as a journalist not to justify or judge those in power but rather to penetrate, understand and communicate “their internal logic.” That makes his comments about Putin’s intentions even more interesting and valuable because they are really Putin’s rather than Venediktov’s.
Given that, the Russian commentator says, one can conclude that the Kremlin leader has some specific views that the West and Russians as well need to focus on and figure out how they should react.
First, it is now clear from Venediktov’s remarks, that Putin “wants to return to the international arrangements of the Yalta and Potsdam agreements. Such a model makes the world more secure because the powers divide among themselves responsibility and control,” with Moscow having responsibility “for the Donbass and for all Ukraine.”
What is occurring in Ukraine, in this Putinist view, “is creating a disbalance in international relations.”
Second, according to the editor relaying what Putin thinks, Poles do not need “to fear Russian tanks.” If anyone should be concerned about their movements, it should be the Baltic countries because “our main idea is the defense of ‘the Russian world.’” That doesn’t exist in Poland, but it does in Ukraine, Georgia and the Baltic countries.
And third, when his Polish interviewer pointed out that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are members of NATO and thus beneficiaries of the Washington Treaty’s Article 5, “Putin-Venediktov” responded with an updated version of Hitler’s question, “’Are you prepared to die for Danzig?’”
Piontkovsky suggests that Venediktov’s interview represents “an exceptionally concentrated performance of ‘The Triumph of Putin’s Will,’” one that confirms the arguments of others that the Kremlin leader has long been living “in another reality.” And from that interview, the Russian commentator draws three conclusions.
First, he says, “Putin as before is demanding the impossible.” He wants complete control over the entire former Soviet space. That is “impossible not because the West would never agree to that.” Some there, like “the useful bourgeois idiot Trump have agreed.” But it is impossible because the peoples of that region will never agree to such a restoration of Russian dominance.
Second, Venediktov’s words show that Putin’s “insane conception of ‘the Russian world’ hasn’t been discorded by the Kremlin despite its crushing failure in Ukraine,” but only dropped for a time from Moscow’s propaganda arsenal and is ready to be used again this time to justify Russian intervention in the Baltic countries.
And third, according to Piontkovsky, Putin despite all the statements by NATO leaders remains “firmly convinced just as Hitler was in 1939 that the fat, hedonist and decadent West is not ready to die for any Narva” but will yield and seek to force countries on the former Soviet space to yield in the face of Russian nuclear power.
Putin certainly knows that Russian conventional arms are not capable of competing with Western militaries and consequently, as he has said for a long time, he “places his hopes on nuclear weapons considering that his regime has qualities which will allow him to outplay the West in a direct clash of wills and force it to retreat.”
In this, the Russian commentator says, the Kremlin leader “intends to play with the West not nuclear chess but nuclear poker, raising the stakes and hoping that the other side will fold and retreat, surrendering its allies in the process.” And his hopes are based on his willingness to act aggressively and without regard to the loss of human life.
Putin believes this, Piointkovsky continues, because he has seen the way the West has reacted to North Korea which has only a tiny nuclear arsenal and thus believes that as “Krim Put In” with “an enormous nuclear arsenal” he will be able to achieve his goals of reordering the world’s geopolitical arrangements.
Venediktov has thus performed a useful service with his August 4 interview. Now, the West has been “forewarned” about Putin’s intentions to act aggressively a la Hitler and as a leader armed with nuclear weapons. “This is a very serious challenge,” and the West needs to figure out how to respond so as not to allow either a nuclear war or a Putin victory.
According to the Russian commentator, “in the era of Krim Put In, nuclear containment must be personal,” that is, based on the necessity of recognizing what Putin is about and what he is prepared to do rather than assuming that he is a member of the club with whom foreign leaders can negotiate with others who present difficulties.
The constant visits to Moscow of Western diplomatic leaders to seek agreement with Putin are “senseless and tragicomic” because they only serve to convince Putin that he is right, that threats work, and that the West will not stand up but rather be willing to sacrifice almost anything in order to maintain peace in our time.
Of course, Piontkovsky says, the West must talk with the Kremlin leader, but it must do so “very carefully” and in a language he understands rather than assuming that he speaks the same language with the same meaning they do.
Russians also need to draw conclusions from all this, he concludes. They must recognize that once again there country is ruled by “a maniac who is driven by his deviant complexes and who is pursuing absurd foreign policy goals which not only have nothing in common with ensuring the security of the country but also put under threat its very existence.”