Putin backed Trump for US president expecting that the latter would make the kind of concessions to Russia that Moscow wants. Putin was right that Trump wanted to do so, but the Russian president failed to understand that the American political system would compel the US leader to behave even more harshly to Russia because of these Russian ties than if he had not had them.
More recently, Pastukhov observes, Putin has promoted Brexit on the assumption that the departure of a major player from the EU will weaken Europe to the point that it will not be able to maintain a common posture on sanctions against Russia, Pastukhov says. Again, short term, that may be the consequence.
But the weakening and possibly demise of the EU will make international relations in Europe and elsewhere more unpredictable, creating crises that Russia will be drawn into in many cases at high cost to itself, a cost that analysts can see but that Putin apparently prefers to ignore in his pursuit of short-term goals.
The Kremlin leader does not appear to recognize that if the UK pulls out of the EU, someone else in Europe, Germany or France will fill its role – and that role will almost certainly be more anti-Russian than either of them is today. Putin believes that divide and rule always works. It may for immediate goals, but it also sets in train forces that lead to resistance.
Those who lived through the collapse of the USSR should remember, Pastukhov says, that it was domestic forces that tore that state apart and that those forces involved not just techtonic shifts along ethnic or regional lines but the struggle for power between Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Indeed, that struggle may have been far more important.
The same thing is true in the US under Trump and in Britain with regard to Brexit, but it is also true within Russia. Putin is pursuing short term goals, such as filling government coffers with new taxes on the population that are helping him achieve that goal but only at the cost of alienating the population and undermining his own position.
The Kremlin leader, he suggests, has either forgotten or never heard the story Carlyle tells in his history of the French revolution. The French king, fearful that revolutionary attitudes would infect his own guard, replaced them with soldiers from Switzerland who, he believed, would not be infected by revolutionary ideas because they did not speak French.
The French king was wrong for, as Carlyle observed, “’if soldiers were made of iron, not a single revolution in the world would occur.’ But of course “they are not made of iron,” and they are affected by forces larger than those the French kind or Vladimir Putin understand. Such leaders achieve their short-term goals but fail because they do not look further into the future.