(posted as a comment about putin on the economist)
You’re largely correct but there is a middle position that would be more correct than the one you mentioned.
Putin has done a great deal for his people, and we cannot underestimate, and we must respect and admire him for the change in their quality of life.
He had his vision of restoring 1-the scope of the Russian empire, and 2-orthodox civilization.
But he is also very afraid, not so much for himself, but for his people, and their future. They have not the economy, nor the population to return to great power status in the 21st century. While he has improved order in the country, and he as improved rule of law – enough – he still has an undiversified resource economy, a secret service that runs the drug and smuggling trade, relies upon Chechens as enforcers, and is surrounded (like a mafia godfather) by those that would replace him with glee.
Prior to his invasion of Ukraine he was possibly the most respected and influential politician in the world.
When Ukraine was successful in ousting the puppet president who denied them EU membership – contrary to everyone’s wildest imaginings – there were immediate uprisings in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and chants everywhere that Russia was next to join the western sphere.
But Putin sees American spies and manipulation everywhere, where we Americans see our politicians, state department, intelligence services, and NGO’s as a bunch of largely overpaid incompetent ‘clowns’ that couldn’t do anything right if they tried.
And he believed his puppet. The correct answer, however, was that the young militant men in the streets, having lost relatives and friends, if they found him, would certainly kill him. When the ambassadors confirmed the circumstance, Putin sent Russian special forces to fetch him, loaded the presidential jet with money, sent it to Dubai (I followed it) and he snuck off to Russia – I have no idea how, since it did not appear in an obvious way on radar tracking systems.
So for Putin, he could lose his only warm water port (Crimea) to NATO (not that I can grasp for a moment how anyone would think closing the Bosphorus to Russia would be a challenge. And worse, he’s been trying to repair and modernize the armed forces, but all the manufacturing was done in the Donbas Basin in Ukraine. So in what I see as a panic, in typical Russian fashion, he did not call up Germany, UK, and USA and say: “Folks it is a strategic problem for us face even the smallest chance of losing that port, and we propose that we acquire it from Ukraine on a 99 year irrevocable lease, after which it returns to Russian sovereignty. Because honestly, otherwise, I am derelict in my duty if I let it pass out of our strategic hands. And I am sorry but I must have tacit approval from you on this phone call, and I ask you to use moral judgment in this matter.”
Now it really doesn’t matter what anyone says really, because Putin gets on the air, tells Ukrainians that he’s terribly proud of them, but that this poses a strategic problem for Russia, so we propose 20% discount on market price of gas in exchange for a 99 year lease on Crimea and the Donbas. This will ensure that you are successful, the people in the Donbas can keep their manufacturing and mining jobs, obtain Russian pensions, and the rest of Ukraine will have an easier time financing its modernization program.”
And really, he just then sends in the soldiers HONESTLY, and it’s all done, because (a) Ukrainians see the people in the east as ‘degenerates’ that hold onto the dream of communism, (b) they just care that they can go to Crimea for holidays, (c) the price of gas is a serious burden for such a poor country.
Now part of the reason we have this problem between west and Russia is the Russian inability to admit vulnerability even in such matters.
So just as when Putin approached the USA about nato membership, and the Americans were stupid, he didn’t take his message to the American people and educate them. Just as he didn’t take the Crimean problem to other world leaders and educate them. Just as he didn’t take his message to the Ukrainian people and educate them.
I suspect it is almost incomprehensible to a Russian that Americans are actually naive utopian idealists, but they really do believe they do the right thing – despite overwhelmingly contrary evidence. But as the Israelis have demonstrated, taking your case to the American people via the press if you’re trying to exchange something and be reasonable is a guaranteed win.
So I view Putin in fairly charitable terms, as a man who saw his world fall apart, his people suffer, and himself as the hero who can restore them and their world, and possibly go down in history as an example for them.
He has one problem really: *He doesn’t sell, he only tells.*
And he has no one on his staff that ‘sells’ the Russian position.
Which is pretty damned rational really.
The Propertarian Institute