Every day the U.S. media are competing in depicting the actions undertaken by Russia’s Vladimir Putin as ones that derailed, if not ruined, the American democratic election process. In Europe, it’s a commonplace now to admit that the Russian leader either puts his men in charge of foreign nations – like recently in Moldova or Bulgaria, or will do it quite soon – like in Germany or France. The British openly declare that the UK army would be destroyed in several days if attacked by Russian military. The experts in the oil market credit Mr Putin for playing the crucial role in striking a recent OPEC production-cut deal. Forbes proclaims the Russian president ‘world’s most influential person’ for the fourth year in a row. And the list of Putin’s successes looks spectacularly endless.
What confuses me here are at least two points.
First, I would argue that the West dramatically overestimates the effectiveness of Putin’s actions. I do not talk at all about his handling of the Russian economy, but even the most obvious achievements may be questioned. Yes, Putin annexed Crimea from Ukraine with little serious international reaction – but one should remember that prior to the Euromaidan of 2014 his intention was to bring Ukraine into the Eurasian Union.
Now he got a small part of the country bitten off with the rest continuously heading westwards: so where is the victory? Yes, Putin derailed some U.S. and NATO plans in Syria – but should we consider a success to be stuck in another Middle Eastern war defending a country that never will regain its former sovereignty?
Even with Donald Trump nothing looks obvious: there is no guarantee that both men will become friends and the U.S. interests will be sacrificed to Russia’s (today the enthusiasm for Trump is vanishing in the Kremlin quite fast). So, if one talks about Putin’s successes, there should be another type of evidence for them except all the bla-bla-bla in the press or inside the ‘expert community’ – but there is none on the table.
Secondly, one should look closer on why and how many events, attributed to Putin’s undercover activity, actually evolved. Many people use to say, e.g., that it was his design to intensify the war in Syria for provoking a migrant flow directed to Europe and in this way to undermine the credibility of the European Union. But the migrants came to the EU in 2016, after the start of the Russian involvement, in lesser quantities (less than 1 million vs. 1.35 million) than before it had begun, in 2015.
Putin is blamed for supporting Brexit vote – but there is no evidence for this. The OPEC oil quotas deal was ripe well before he stepped in the light. He might support (and is supporting) the European ultras on both side of political spectrum – but all these parties would never gain their momentum unless the conditions for them to get stronger were not created by the irresponsible policies of the current European leaders.
Once again returning to Trump’s case, it was in Putin’s reach to get some compromising stuff on Hillary Clinton, but it was not him, but FBI Director James Comey Jr., recently appointed by President Obama and confirmed by all the Democratic senators, who opened a formal investigation against the Democratic nominee days before the election, which has a crucial importance for her campaign.
So my first point is that Putin is not as successful as he is thought to be, and my second point is that his influence is inflated by attributing to him those events that would evolve even without his interference.
If that’s true, why does the whole globe debate what Putin is doing and/or what this person has on his mind as if the world’s politics depends entirely on his deeds or thoughts? My answer would be a very simple one.
Putin is badly needed by many global leaders since in recent years he became a perfect excuse for their own failures. Of course, it’s hard to admit that the French immigration and security policy has failed because it never was designed in an effective way – but it’s much better to say that it was Putin who derailed the European Union (and to label not only Marine Le Pen, but also François Fillon as ‘Putinists’). Of course, it’s better to focus on Putin’s invasion into Ukraine as the source of that country’s problems than to investigate corruption inside Ukrainian government that already exceeds those existing under previous president. And, of course, it’s easier to attribute all the Democrats’ failures to Putin and not to their own faults, including the very promotion of Clinton to the position of the presidential nominee, not to mention others.
The might of Putin comes from the very simple source: he found out many years ago that for being influential one should be mentioned in connection with each and every event, no matter at all, in a positive or in a negative sense. Every time he is praised or blamed, his influence raises – and this makes him even more suitable to serve as an ultimate explanation of whatever happens under the sun. So I would argue that there are the Western politicians and the Western media that made Putin a global leader, as there were the Russian media that long ago made him an undisputed leader of his own country.
Finally, I would suggest that if the West wants to get rid of Putin, it should begin to behave vis-à-vis him as he himself behaves: to wipe out dozens of NGOs funded with the Russian money and operating openly both in the U.S. and in the EU; ban from any elections anyone who gets funding from the Russian banks and companies (Le Pen is the first who comes to my mind, but there are dozens more); and, if investigating his wrongdoings, to do it much less open than it happens now.
Putin assaults other nations but no one in the West even suggests to impose on Russia the sanctions at least equal to those imposed on Iran – on a country that did not at the time invade any other state. Putin kills his enemies not only in Qatar but in London – and there are talks about a formal investigations while it seems much better not to ban potential killers from entering the EU or the U.S., but to arrest them there without notice and then bring to justice – as the Israelis made with Adolf Eichmann back in 1960.
Putin is the world’s most influential person only because the world itself put him on this position. He is strong, because his adversaries behave as they were weak, and find a lot of comfort in such a position. But if the dominant approach changes, his glory would vanish very soon. And it would be quite amusive if the person who sometimes changes the West’s stance vis-à-vis Putin would be the new U.S. president, Trump.