Factors Driving Putin's Evolving `Anti-Americanism` Pondered

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Factors Driving Putin
Published 19-08-2013, 14:30

Dmitriy Trenin

Dmitriy Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, has been with the center since its inception. He also chairs the research council and the Foreign and Security Policy Program.

Commentary by Dmitriy Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, "based on an article in the Net publication Tablet Magazine": "Goodbye America? Why Putin Has Fallen Out of Love with the United States"

US President Barack Obama has ostentatiously refused to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in September in Moscow. Nor will there be a personal meeting between the two presidents on the margins of the G20 in St Petersburg. There was no such cooling even during the times of Reagan, who declared the USSR to be the "evil empire" but did not refuse to meet with Gorbachev. Experts recall that the last time that anything like this happened was during Nikita Khrushchev's time. Why has Putin fallen so far out of love with America, what is driving him? The New Times asked experts on both sides of the ocean. Dmitriy Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center

During the early years of Putin's time in office his relationship with the United States was distinguished by relative harmony. He began by starting to talk about strengthening ties with NATO, was the first to telephone President Bush after the 11 September tragedy, and offered totally practical assistance during the American operation in Afghanistan. Things started to shift after the "color revolutions" in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan, which Putin assessed as an aspiration on the Americans' part to squeeze Russia out of a zone of its interests. The result was his Munich speech. Although formally speaking he was not even president at that time but still controlled everything, Putin saw the arrival in the White House of the new president, Barack Obama, as an opportunity to "reset" relations with the United States and rectify the previous administration's mistakes. The result was ambivalent: On the one hand, Obama demonstrated that he has no interest in the post-Soviet area and amended the US plans for a missile defense system in Europe -- which was a good thing; while on the other, the bombing of Libya with a view to ousting the regime there was unequivocally a bad thing.


On returning to the Kremlin Putin accused the United States of meddling in Russia's internal affairs and the State Department of funding protests, and lashed out at those whom he described as "foreign agents." Official anti-Americanism became the principal feature of his new presidential term. It can be asserted that in the 12 years that he has been in power Putin has lost all of the good feelings for the United States that he had at the very beginning of his time in office, and likewise his liking for Europe....

From the very beginning of the "Arab Spring" Vladimir Putin regarded American policy in the Near East as wrong, unscrupulous, and dangerous, and, as he saw it, all the attempts by the United States to figure out the situation or intervene in it were monstrous.... For example, in trying to persuade the public that Egyptians were ready to accept democratic rules of the game the United States was mainly concerned to protect its own geopolitical interests, including the peace between Egypt and Israel and shipping through the Suez Canal. Washington refused to recognize the 3 July 2013 military coup as a coup in order to be able to hypocritically circumvent American legislation prohibiting the provision (to a foreign country) in such circumstances of military aid, a key instrument of US influence.... In Libya Barack Obama adopted a decision on military intervention despite the advice of his own military -- this was done in order to save face ahead of the elections in America and also to support the allies in Europe and the Arab world.... In Putin's words, as a result Libya ceased to exist as a state.

But for Putin the failures of American policy were manifested most obviously in Syria. The United States was guided not by a desire to create a democratic Syria -- it was attempting to deprive Iran of its most important ally in the region. Democracy was only a means to achieve this end. And in order to establish democracy in Syria America entered into an alliance with some of the most authoritarian states in the world -- Saudi Arabia and Qatar. For Putin the principles of national sovereignty and noninterference are paramount. "Don't forget Libya," he instructed Russian diplomats at the United Nations, urging them to have no truck with the preparation of yet another humanitarian "crusade."

Bashar al-Asad is hardly one of Putin's close friends: "He has visited Paris and London more often than Moscow," Putin commented poisonously on one occasion. From his viewpoint, the armed Syrian opposition, unlike its weak political wing, is controlled by Al-Qa'ida. Helping these forces to seize power in a most important Arab country will lead to it turning into a springboard for terrorist operations in the region and beyond. In Mali, Putin noted, the West is fighting against the very same groupings that it is helping in Syria.

In May Putin was prepared to join forces with the United States in stopping the Syrian war. For the Russian leader, however, it was not a question of joining forces with the United States in removing Al-Asad from the presidency. His recipe was simple: Moscow and Washington would work hand in hand and as equals, organize a peace conference for representatives of the regime and the opposition forces, and give the Syrians the right to choose the future for their country and the details of regime change. But the United States did not like Putin's proposals. Putin for his part disagreed with Washington's decisions. We should not be surprised that the Geneva-2 conference will not happen. At least in the very near future

Syria is an indicative example of the relationship between United States and Russia. The Snowden affair has dramatized the situation even further. Putin's firm stance was: No extradition of the fugitive to the United States.... Here the Kremlin recalled Russians serving sentences in American jails (the pilot Konstantin Yerashenko and the businessman Viktor Bout -- The New York Times) on dubious charges, and also the former Chechen militants that Russia accuses of terrorist activities and to whom the United States has granted political asylum.

Putin feels that the United States has diverged from the right road while the European Union has never even found it. He sees America and Russia as cultural antagonists and from the viewpoint of basic values Russia is for him more of a European country than the present-day European Union....

One against all

In comparison with the leaders of the majority of leading states, particularly in democratic countries, Putin with his czarist range of powers and experience in world politics cuts an impressive political figure. People sometimes attribute to him qualities that none of today's Western leaders possess -- strategic thinking, a historical memory, and purposefulness. Putin is often portrayed as a grandmaster outplaying other players, even if the situation on the chessboard is not in his favor.

And indeed Putin only benefits from the comparison. Present-day Western leaders in both America and Europe are often extremely mediocre. His personal achievements, particularly in comparison with past Russian leaders from either the times of the USSR or the Russian Empire, make him a real figure. Putin managed to hold Russia together and to this day he has succeeded in winning out over his rivals; he has successfully deployed the oil money and feels that he has found a formula for governing the country -- authoritarianism with the tacit agreement of the population; at the end of the day, he has put an end to Russia's post-Soviet dependence on the West.

But the problems facing Russia are only becoming more complex both within the country and in the international arena. In order to cope with them he has chosen the path of conservatism, even traditionalism, which may mean that he is backing the wrong horse in a rapidly changing world. It is one thing to fall out with Washington against the backdrop of a flood of oil money but another to restrain China's growing hegemony.... Putin once commented sarcastically that after Gandhi died there was nobody to talk to. Every joke is only partially a joke. Czar Vladimir believes in his God-given mission and no longer walks with simple mortals.


The New Times

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