Friday, December 8, 2017

The Putin of Today is Not the Putin of 2014, Portnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 8 – Because the tasks he set himself in 2014 have been carried out, Vladimir Putin is presenting a very different face to the world, not the iron man with “a metallic voice” of “’the Crimean spring’” but rather that of a kindly grandfather figure ready to allow Russian athletes to go to the Olympiad despite the IOC ban, Vitaly Portnikov says.

            In a Grani commentary today, the Ukrainian analyst says that “the Putin of ‘the Crimean spring’ would never have acted” like he has in recent days. He would have struck a tough and uncompromising position and never suggested that Russia was in part to blame for what has occurred (

            This new kind and gentle Putin has emerged, Portnikov says, because “the tasks set by Putin in 2014 have been fulfilled.” The Sochi Olympiad was won, Crimea was annexed, the Donbass has become “a polygon of ‘the Russian spring,’” and [Syrian dictator] Asad has been saved.”

            The Kremlin leader didn’t get everything he hoped for: the opposition of Ukraine and the West were too strong for that. But he got enough, the Ukrainian analyst says, that he clearly has decided that he can benefit from “showing restraint and a constructive attitude to the West and to his own population.”

            Putin’s willingness to take part in the South Korean Olympiad despite the IOC ban “is only the first manifestation of Putin’s” new “kind and gentle” face.  Further “surprises” of the same kind are likely to follow “one after another,” Portnikov says.  “And all this will occur not after Putin but rather while Putin is still in office.”

            The reason is clear: it is precisely Putin “and not his heir who needs security and the preservation of his holdings.” He’s shown he can be “an ingatherer” of Russian lands; now, he will play at peacekeeper. In the end, a peacekeeper also can witness great sports victories and have influence in neighboring countries.”

            Indeed, Portnikov says, Putin may now recall that he had more influence in neighboring countries before he invaded Ukraine than he has had since he did so.  And to the extent that he does, he can only win: “the ‘good’ Putin will lose practically nothing, and he will gain the end of sanctions and the handshakes of Western well-wishers from Washington to Budapest.

            “It is indicative that the state propaganda machine simply has not been able to stop: the ruler appears as a peacekeeper,” but Russian state television continues to talk about boycotts and the like.  “Even relatively moderate Internet resources are now distinguished by hurrah patriotic articles” about the need the take a tough line and stand up to the West.

            “But the tsar has decided not to fight. He wants to don the mask of a noble victim of Western attacks. Had Nicholas II in 1914 displayed such enviable restraint, perhaps Russians would not have lived to see Lenin, Stalin and Putin.” And it may be that Putin has concluded that to save himself, he has no choice but to be more careful than he has been up to now. 

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