Maintaining Russian Power: How Putin Outfoxed the West

Putin’s ability to ‘outfox’ the West also comes from strong-arm tactics and both a combination of an incompetent American leadership, as well as arguably complicit — hence, more ‘flexibility’ from Obama in his second term.

In one of his many foreign-policy successes this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin has used power politics and blackmail to bring Ukraine back into Russia’s sphere of influence. But what is the Kremlin leader’s secret to success?

“We know,” Kirill said, launching into a hymn of praise for Putin, “that you, more than anyone else since the end of the 20th century, are helping Russia become more powerful and regain its old positions, as a country that respects itself and enjoys the respect of all others.”

President Vladimir Putin has led this country for the last 14 years, but 2013 has been his most successful year yet. Forbes has just placed him at the top of its list of the world’s most powerful people, noting that he had “solidified his control over Russia.” According to the magazine, Putin has replaced US President Barack Obama in the top spot because the Russian leader has gained the upper hand over his counterpart in Washington in the context of several conflicts and scandals.

Indeed, at the moment, Putin seems to be succeeding at everything he does. In September, he convinced Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control. In doing so, he averted an American military strike against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and made Obama look like an impotent global policeman.

In late July, Putin ignored American threats and granted temporary asylum to US whistleblower Edward Snowden, a move that stirred up tensions within the Western camp. The Germans and the French were also outraged over Washington’s surveillance practices.

Since then, Putin has scored one coup after the next. In the fall, when meaningful progress was made in talks with Tehran over a curtailment of Iran’s nuclear program, Putin once again played a key role.

And now, by exerting massive pressure on Viktor Yanukovych, he has persuaded the Ukrainian president to withdraw from an association agreement with the European Union that took years to prepare, just a few days before the scheduled signing at a summit of EU leaders. In doing so, he brought Ukraine back into Russia’s sphere of influence, at least for now.

The pressure Moscow exerted on Ukraine before the EU summit in Vilnius exceeded all of its previous efforts. In the summer, the Russians blocked duty-free exports of pipes from Ukraine, as well as shipments by Ukrainian candy maker Roschen, claiming deficient quality of the goods. The move adversely affected two important Ukrainian oligarchs and was designed to persuade them to talk President Yanukovych out of the planned cooperative agreement with the EU.

In October, not long before the Vilnius summit, Russia suddenly introduced new regulations for the transit of goods, causing long backups of trucks waiting at the Russian-Ukrainian border. Then it suspended imports of meat and railroad cars from Ukraine. Finally, the Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom demanded payment of a €1.3 billion ($1.8 billion) debt for gas that it had delivered at some point in the past.

The Rise of a ‘Non-Liberal Empire’

It’s been a decade since Anatoly Chubais, the architect of the privatization of the Russian economy and still an influential powerbroker in the Kremlin elite, wrote an essay in which he called for a “liberal empire.” He argued that Russia should bring the countries lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union back into its sphere of influence by enhancing its own appeal through democracy, freedom and the rule of law. The same applied to Ukraine.

“Today the European Union is the liberal empire,” says Moscow political scientist Vladimir Frolov. “Putin is offering a different, non-liberal empire,” he adds, an empire that appeals to authoritarian rulers, such as Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose countries, like Armenian and Kyrgyzstan, plan to join Putin’s Eurasian customs union.

Russia intends to use the Olympics to present its unique features to a marveling world, which explains why the Kremlin had 14,000 people carry the Olympic torch along a 65,000-kilometer (40,600-mile) route throughout Russia — both of which are record figures. Naturally, the torch relay began on Red Square, and of course the ceremony coincided with Putin’s birthday. The Kremlin sent a diver with the torch to the bottom of Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest freshwater lake. Cosmonauts carried it into space in a rocket, camel riders took it across the southern Russian steppes, sled dogs pulled it through the Arctic and an icebreaker ferried it to the North Pole.

The Arctic Ocean is another place where the Kremlin is trying to impress the world. To gain access to the mineral resources hidden under the ocean floor, for which Russia is competing with other countries bordering the ocean, Putin instructed his defense minister last week to “expand Russia’s military presence in the Arctic.” This means rebuilding 10 Soviet-era bases in the Arctic Circle and beefing up Russia’s Arctic military presence.

Putin’s strength is only relative because it feeds on the weakness of the West. Europe’s policy toward Ukraine is a perfect example.


Full article: Maintaining Russian Power: How Putin Outfoxed the West (Spiegel Online)

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