“More than that,” Pavlova continues, the Putin regime “has learned to use the dissatisfaction of society in its own favor by more sophisticated measures than were done under Stalin, when it was necessary to ‘raise the anger of the masses’” in order to generate support for the repressive regime.
“Today,” she argues, “progressive society in many cases does not even recognize that it is playing into the hands of the authorities and by its rules” and strengthening the authorities by its actions rather than weakening them as it imagines. A clear example of that, Pavlova suggests, is Aleksey Navalny and his struggle with corruption.
The reason is this: the Putin regime is happy to have the population focus on other issues rather than on itself because that gives the Kremlin time “not only to successfully solve its own tasks but also to position the country under its control in the world arena guided by the traditional ideas of the pursuit of great power status.”
Such a power, Putin and his entourage are convinced, is one that “no one yet can oppose not in the country or in the world,” Pavlova says. “Moreover, one can see with a naked eye how the leaders of Western countries step by step make concessions not recognizing to what such a policy may lead.”
Pavlova’s brief comment calls attention to something few people want to acknowledge: the West has pursued a policy designed to restrain Putin that is based on the assumption that he is animated by a concern for his own people and thus will change course if he sees that they are suffering because of what he is doing.
That assumption is wrong: Putin doesn’t care about the Russian people. He cares only about his own power. And consequently, until Western actions strike at the basis of that power – the elites around him with their wealth and children in the West – the Kremlin leader will not only remain in power but will not change his course.
In the years preceding World War II, the British elites experienced exactly the same problem in analyzing Hitler. Many around Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain believed that Hitler and other dictators were despite everything like themselves, leaders who wanted to do in Chamberlain’s words “the best for their peoples.”
Winston Churchill and those around him recognized that Hitler did not care about the Germans but only about his own power and that as a result, the only effective way to oppose him was by building up sufficient force not only to counter his actions but ultimately to defeat and remove him.
There have been some hopeful signs in recent months that in the wake of the Anschluss of Crimea, the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner, and the continuing Russian aggression in the Donbas that many in the West are coming to recognize that Putin is not a leader just like their own but something far worse and that what would dissuade their leaders won’t work with him.
But at the same time, many in the West appear trapped not only by the inertia of continuing to do what they have been doing lest they have to take more dramatic and expensive steps but also by the desire to use their personal diplomatic skills to reach a settlement that will solve the problems they see.
That strategy didn’t work in Munich; it won’t work at Minsk either.