The other evening, I got into discussion over a glass of Sauvignon with an acquaintance I have known for some time. Knowing him as I do, I would regard him as far better informed and more politically aware than the average pedestrian in High Street New Zealand. I was somewhat surprised therefore when he told me that “that evil, ex-KGB corrupt sleaze-bag, Putin” was guilty of all manner of crimes in his oppression of the Ukrainian people and his intervention against their spontaneous and popular revolution. Though the viewpoint being advanced is not uncommon in the Western world as a whole (nor in New Zealand, where 90% of the international affairs commentary in the mainstream media is syndicated from the Washington Post, the London Times and the UK’s Daily Telegraph) I had not expected to hear it from this particular quarter.
Apparently, the Russians adore sleaze-bags. Currently, at over 80%, this corrupt sleaze-bag enjoys far higher domestic approval ratings than do any of those western leaders, who are so eager to vilify him. Perhaps current western economic sanctions designed to lower his ratings might succeed – on the other hand, they might have just the opposite effect.
Reading what I have of Putin, and having watched the occasional video of his public appearances, my understanding of the man is somewhat different. He seems a man greedy for power, rather than for wealth. He seeks that power, as there is something he wants to do with it. After the defeat of the Soviet Union and the Yeltsin-led humiliation and economic melt-down that followed upon it, Putin’s mission has been to restore his Russian homeland to what he regards as its rightful international position of respect and importance.
Putin’s foreign policy is not aggressive in the American way. Putin doesn’t seek to dot the world with military bases, nor to shackle lesser nations with unmanageable burdens of debt. However, as a Russian patriot, he will do what is in his power to protect other Russians in peril, even if they do live outside Russia’s borders. Meddle with the bear’s cubs at your peril! Above all, he will do all in his power to defend his homeland from perceived overseas threats – from both US orchestrated ‘colour revolutionary’ subversion and from overt military aggression.
The last time Russia was invaded, it lost twenty million of its citizens. Battalions of the invading Nazi troops, were recruited in western Ukraine. They were possessed of the same fascist ideologies now being openly expressed in the government, which the West, with blatant disregard for the norms of international law and for the former Ukrainian constitution, has been instrumental in putting into power in Kiev.
The problem for the West is that Putin has come to recognise it as inherently hostile. The USA seeks a unipolar world in which, as the Pentagon would have it, it can maintain “full spectrum global dominance.” To Putin, the EU is unable to resist American pressures and NATO is simply a shirtfront for American military power in which American aggression can be conveniently camouflaged behind collective irresponsibility. Russia’s loss of twenty million citizens to an invading army unsurprisingly has led to a certain paranoia. When the Berlin wall came down and the Warsaw Pact was disbanded, the Russians had received assurances that NATO would not seek to expand its reach into the zone of neutrality that would then remain between the former Cold War enemies.
NATO proceeded to ignore these assurances. It relentlessly expanded its membership into the buffer zone. At the same time, the USA developed its anti-missile technology and commenced negotiations to put these missiles on NATO’s easternmost frontier, Poland. The pretence was that they were to defend Europe from non-existent Iranian nuclear missiles. It was clear to the Russians that this was a feeble excuse – but what was the real intention behind the move?
Given the enormous budget and advanced technology behind the American ‘defense’ industry, it was perfectly conceivable that modest installations, ostensibly designed to counter the odd and imaginary Iranian missile, could develop overnight into a force capable of destroying any Russian missiles that might remain operational after an American first strike. No longer would the MAD rules of mutually assured destruction apply. A Doctor Strangelove, emergent in America, could obliterate Russia. The further East NATO’s anti-missile forces could be stationed, the greater the threat they would pose to Russia. The Ukraine would be a step too far. Despite no end of warnings from Russia, the EU and NATO continued with their plans to subvert and seduce the Ukraine into the Western camp, thereby confirming in Putin’s eyes the reality of their hostile intent.
Putin’s early walk-out from the recent G-20 in Canberra was not a mark of shame, but of disgust. In Putin’s eyes, even if the other European powers and Australia are not, Russia is too great to allow itself to be subjugated into a unipolar world controlled from the USA. In Canberra, as he walked up the steps into his aircraft, he was turning his back on the West. Emerging in the East, there is an alternative pole to that centred on Washington. The multiple members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (more than half of mankind) together with the BRICS nations clustered around the Chinese economy with Russia’s ability to supply it with raw materials and military technology have the potential to offer a formidable alternative.
If the West chooses to erect a trade and financial wall across, or around the Ukraine, it will be interesting to see those on which side of that wall will end up with a feeling of exclusion.