And it is true of Vladimir Putin who routinely gives “a master class in bluffing” by insisting that Russia can act with confidence because it has surpassed its “partners and competitors” in weaponry even though the arms that he points to exist not in fact but only in the form of video games, Shevtsova continues.
The Kremlin leader, to be sure, she says, “understanding that his accustomed song may cease to be convincing shifts from bluff to blackmail,” threatening to go to war unless the West does what he wants. And until recently, this combination worked, leading the liberal democracies to backdown in the face of Putin’s bombast and threats.
But this strategy isn’t working anymore, Shevtsova argues. The West has had enough, it is organizing, and it is isolating Russia as if it had “leprosy.” As a result, “instead of creating a Non-West and becoming its leading force, Russia is creating a New West in which there is no place for Russia” (emphasis in the original).
“In fact,” she says, “Western society is consolidating around the idea that ‘Russia is the enemy.’” Among those in the West who have made Russophobia the basis of a career is John Bolton, Trump’s national security advisor, who has just been in Moscow to explain to Putin why America is dispensing with the treaty that guaranteed mutual restraint on Russia and the West.
According to Shevtsova, “the most humiliating aspect of this for the Kremlin is that America intends to throw into the trash obligations which are the obligation of our parity with America and consequently are a symbol of our power” not because the US is concerned about our violations but because it needs “a free hand” to deal with China.
In short, “America is destroying the bipolarity with Russia because it needs such freedom of action for the formation of another bipolarity, with China! And in this dance, Russia is no longer a partner in the dance.”
“Of course,” Shevtsova says, “in order to regain America’s attention, we can take part in an arms race.” But given that the West spends almost 20 times what Russia can afford, doing so will lead to “state suicide” as the events of 1991 showed. And no amount of bluffing can change that fundamental reality.
It isn’t even important if those doing the bluffing understand that fact. What matters, the Russian analyst says is that its use of threats in place of bluffing shows that the latter resource has been exhausted, and “the powers that be already cannot foresee the results of the poker game” they had hoped to play and win.
More than that, Shevtsova concludes, “bluffing as we see is destroying the space for the existence of Russia by liquidating the road signs for the secure trajectory of the state.” The game has changed: it is no longer poker: instead, it is Russian roulette.