Sunday, September 6, 2020

Putin’s Foreign Policy Product of Three Deeply-Held but Ultimately Self-Defeating Notions, Kirillova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 5 – Vladimir Putin often appears to be more a tactician than a strategist, but his approach to foreign affairs rests on three ideas that he has never deviated from, Kseniya Kirillova says. Those have allowed him some successes against his opponents, but they guarantee that the Kremlin leader is incapable of understanding the world around him.

            It is certainly true, as Angela Merkel has observed, that Putin “lives in another world;” but it is a world that is rational on its own terms and explains he has been remarkably successful in specific cases over the short term but is doomed to fail over the longer haul (; in Russian at

            The first of these ideas is that Russia faces “an unconditional enemy” in the United States, a country which he believes has only “one goal – in whatever way possible to destroy Russia.” That view justifies his aggressive interference in the US and his “unwillingness to abandon this tactic evenwhen faced with a backlash and sanctions from Washington.”

            “As a result,” Kirillova continues, “this anti-American paranoia becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the enemy is implacable and relentless, it is impossible to come to an agreement with him.” And that in turn means that the US “must be defeated.” But this vision of the world doesn’t correspond to the facts: the US destroy Russia in the 1990s when it could have.

            The second of these notions is that “people and nations are not considered subjects but rather as targets to be manipulated … they can be bribed, intimidated, and in the end eliminated. This approach automatically turns individuals and entire nations into faceless entities that can be gamed as if in a mythical casino.”

            “This causes Putin and his cronies to act with bewilderment when people display natural, spontaneous reactions to external events. Chekists believe that any reaction must be the result of some external influence, rather than individual agency. If the object lacks its own will, it cannot act other than as a result of outside manipulation.”

            But such conspiratorial thinking, the US-based Russian journalist says, means that Moscow is incapable of understanding “the natural reactions of people and the dynamics of spontaneous processes, including irreversible ones” and is unable to reach any agreement with the West even if it would be in Russia’s interest. 

            And third, and arising from the second, is the notion that “everything that was one Russia must remain its” possession.  Reflecting an extension of the logic of serfdom, those who have been part of Russia have no right to choose to be beyond Russia’s control or indeed to make any autonomous decisions about who they are or what they want.

            “The same model exists in relation to entire regions stubbornly denied self-determination by Russian authorities – most notably Ukraine and other post-Soviet republics. In the view of the Russian authorities, everything that was once a part of the Russian empire or the Soviet Union, including the Russian sphere of influence, inevitably must return to this sphere.”

            Putin’s policies reflect these three views and have given him some limited success, “but [his] inability to understand the popular conscience and the phenomenon of genuine civil society has caused many much more serious failures.” While Putin and fellow chekists are looking for conspiracies, societies are developing according to entirely different rules.

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