Staunton, May 4 – Dashed expectations about how West would react to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are perhaps the most powerful source of hysteria in the Russian capital, Vladimir Pastukhov says. Russian elites had believed that the West is “weak and hopeless” and would always retreat in the face of a show of force. That has not turned out to be true.
Their conviction on this point, the London-based Russian analyst says in a new commentary (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=6271A3CB433FC), reflects six things:
First, Pastukhov argues, “Russian culture is characterized both by excessive worship of everything Western and excessive contempt for it.” Second, Russians typically fasten on to problems in the West as evidence that it is obsolete and will soon collapse of its own weight and pass from the scene.
Third, Russian experience with the West in the 1990s only intensified such feelings, leading many Russian elites to believe that the West could be had and deserved to be because of what it had inflicted on Russia. Fourth, he says, Russians confused the Western weakness for money with weakness in general.
Fifth, the Russian elites thought they could buy off any Western leader because they had had so much success doing it with some: they were shocked when some couldn’t be bought and some didn’t stay bought in the ways they had expected, Pastukhov continues.
And sixth, the West’s reaction to the Crimean Anschluss in 2014 convinced many in Moscow that the West would react in much the same way to the invasion of 2022, with much wringing of hands but no willingness to inflict any punishment on Russia that would entail costs for itself.
According to the London-based Russian commentator, it seems clear that the Kremlin did not include the possible resistance of the West to blackmail in its calculations. It assumed that all Moscow needed to do was to raise the stakes and the West would back down, and that is what Putin has done without success.
After that failure, Pastukhov concludes, hysteria in Moscow began, especially because Russian elites recognized that if their threats now proved meaningless, their ability to use them in the future would be completely devalued. Having failed to consider their preferred strategy might not work, they haven’t any other in reserve.