Staunton, October 28 – Vladimir Putin’s conviction that he could force the West to cooperate with him by aggressive actions against it has generated unintended consequences for the Kremlin both abroad, where the West has united against Russia, and at home, where some believe Putin isn’t being aggressive enough, Liliya Shevtsova says.
The Kremlin didn’t want confrontation but assumed that it could act aggressively and Western countries would not react, the Russian analyst says. But this has proved to be a miscalculation. Increasingly, both governments and peoples in the West view Russia with suspicion and hostility (echo.msk.ru/blog/shevtsova/2732456-echo/).
As its reaction to the Navalny poisoning shows, the West is no longer divided between “supporters and opponents” of working with more closely with Russia. Instead, it has become united in standing up to Russia be in by the rapid and nearly unanimous adoption of new sanctions against Moscow or the build up of new defensive capacities.
Even in the United States, where elites are more divided about most issues than at any time in recent years, they are unified by hostility to Russia because of concerns about Moscow’s interference in American elections and ready to adopt new anti-Russian sanctions in the event more evidence of that surfaces, Shevtsova continues.
Even the remaining “Western circles who call for cooperation with Moscow” are now saying that we must have a dialogue with Russia “but we understand that Russia is for us an alien country.” Such dialogue hardly guarantees “reliable cooperation.” It is more likely to have other and very different consequences.
Britain, France and Germany have all taken new steps in response to what they see as a new Russian threat, and even countries that had traditionally refrained from such moves are doing so. Sweden, for instance, has increased military spending and the size of its army and put units again in Gotland, a strategically important island in the Baltic.
Even more, Sweden has revived its civil defense strategy to involve the population in repulsing any foreign invasion, an action Stockholm has decided upon because of Russian aggressiveness in the region and one that will help to further redirect Swedish public opinion against Russia.
This new Western stance creates a new situation within Russia itself, Shevtsova says; and the shift there may be even more important for what will happen in the future. Up to now, Putin and much of the Russian elite believed they could attack the West at will but continue to exploit the advantages involvement in the West presented.
Now that belief has been undermined if not completely destroyed, and Putin’s stance, which has always sought cooperation despite his own actions that make that more difficult, no longer looks like a winning combination to many Russians. Many blame him for their problems, but others think a far tougher policy toward the West is needed.
For the latter group, Putin looks “almost like a Westerner,” and they’d like to see someone who intends to isolate Russia from the West and stand up against it rather than someone who has isolated the country unintentionally and hasn’t taken the steps needed to be able to counter a unified West.
The biggest problem for these groups and for any in the Kremlin who feel inclined to go along with them is where to find the money for such a policy. After all, as Shevtsova notes, the finance ministry has just called for cuts in the country’s defense budget rather than any expansion in military programs.
Thus, Putin and his team find themselves in a vicious circle with no clear way out. They have provoked the West into unity but they lack the resources to rebuild Russia if it remains isolated and at odds with Western countries who no longer view it as a potential partner but rather as a threat.