Staunton, March 31 – Over the last decade, Vladimir Putin has “ceased to recognize any rules” in the international system or at home but what is “much more important, Vladislav Inozemtsev says, is that his regime has “ceased even to reflect about the benefit to itself from taking one or another step.”
Many of the steps the Kremlin has taken be they in Georgia, Ukraine, Syria, elections in Western countries or attacks on his enemies abroad, quite clearly have harmed Russia’s interests, prompting the obvious question why has it take them, the Russian commentator continues (snob.ru/selected/entry/135814).
And that makes effectively responding to them more difficult because the traditional or at least non-military responses don’t appear to work with a leader who quite clearly is acting in ways that his opposite numbers cannot understand. In the first cold war, both sides recognized certain rules; in this, the second, at least one side doesn’t.
According to Inozemtsev, “the reaction of the West with the expulsion of Russian diplomats points to a certain new reality, one which reflects the fact that the world has ceased to understand Russia. And this should not surprise anyone: Today: it is really not clear what Putin wants.”
If he wants to be a dictator in his own country, the West isn’t going to interfere. If he seeks to restore the Soviet Union, he will face resistance but less from the West than from the population of the post-Soviet states. If he wants to launder stolen money in Europe, many in the West will go along. But if those are his goals, he isn’t acting in a way consistent with them.
“Not understanding Russia,” Inozemtsev continues, “the West is beginning to send certain signals indicating to Putin that he should reflect about if not becoming less anti-Western at least more rational.” So far, however, “the Kremlin has given the impression that it doesn’t understand these signals” and assumes that it can respond in a “symmetrical” fashion.
“However, what was normal in the years of the cold war does not appear to be now.” The members of the CPSU Central Committee in the 1970s didn’t have villas in the south of France. They didn’t keep money abroad. And Russian companies didn’t owe money to foreign banks. Instead, the USSR was an autarchy.
“Now, however, everything has changed: Russia is much more vulnerable not so much to American nuclear rockets as to European economic sanctions,” Inozemtsev argues.
Symmetrical responses were useful “when the sides were driven by interests;” when they are driven by banal insults, they become counterproductive.” Expelling diplomats doesn’t matter now as much because those in Moscow and Washington not to mention other capitals have less to do.
Those seeking analogies for what Putin is doing shouldn’t be looking at Khrushchev or Brezhnev, he says. They should rather look at “the experiments of Stalinist times when Soviet special forces eliminated enemies of the revolution abroad and the Kremlin insisted German communist not make common cause with the Social Democrats against the fascist threat.”
To Stalin, “it seemed that the greatest possible destabilization of the functioning of democratic countries would lead to their collapse and help the establishment of the universal power of the proletariat. History however showed the mistakenness of that course.” No one suffered more from the collapse of Weimar than did the Soviet Union.
“If European integration fails, Russia will hardly be among the winners,” Inozemtsev continues. All this means that “sanctions against Russia are practically forever” given that “Russia continues to provoke, to lie and to act” in ways that don’t reflect either principles or interests of the kind the West could understand.
The West isn’t going to respond with military force. But it will respond; and consequently, Moscow and the world can expect that signs of this growing suspiciousness of Putin’s intentions will appear “again and again.” Everyone needs to be prepared for that – or to begin to change course, although apparently there is little reason to expect that.”