Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is probably the most famous and recognized politician in the world. Though this fame and recognition is for very different reasons. The west demonizes him as evil incarnate, while much of the rest of the world admires him as some kind of 21st century super-hero staring down the American Empire. The fact is there are two public personifications of the man – and both are largely wrong.
The west’s portrayal of Putin is cartoonish. He is a “dictator,” “a strong man,” and full of “anger and desires of revenge.” He also – we are told – hates democracy and western values. Putin is said to be undermining western institutions and backing plans to destabilize western security. Apparently he is hacking everyone’s emails and subverting America’s presidential election. And even more sinister he wants to undermine the U.S. around the world and recreate the Soviet Union.
Pretty scary stuff!
The juxtaposition view of Putin in many parts of the world is that he is an anti-western (read: anti-American or anti-Western Consensus) crusader. This characterization is also somewhat cartoonish. From this perspective, Putin leads a resurrected Mother Russia designed to slay the American-led Satan. Thus, Russia should probe for western weakness – within their own countries and afar – and then later strike. This mindset thus accepts that what is bad for the U.S. and the west is good for the rest of the world. In many ways this is an exact mirror of those who demonize Russia-Putin, though for very different reasons of course.
It sounds nice and great for many, but is it simply not true.
Having studied the Soviet Union and Russia most of my life and lived in Russia for the last 18 years, I would say without a doubt Putin is a very moderate politician – at home and in foreign policy.
Consider the following:
Russia’s domestic politics reflect moderation almost to the point of boredom. In the recent parliamentary elections the most moderate political party won – United Russia. The Communist didn’t win a great victory, the socialists didn’t, and the despised liberals didn’t either.
Russian media is all over the place. Putin’s government is savaged endlessly for many of its economic and social policies. But there are no calls for any kind of revolution. What is most talked about is how the government needs to be responsible for everyday needs of the average person. There is nothing radical about that – it is actually rather moderate and normal.
Turning to foreign policy: Russians have an intense aversion to war. The U.S. and the EU started the fiasco in Ukraine. Though Russia has been made to pay for that gross miscalculation. Nonetheless, Russia did not and will not invade Ukraine. Putin is intensely criticized for being too moderate at home – many Russians demand he take a harder line. But he hasn’t and won’t. Such an approach is not in Russia’s national interest. Moderation and patience will benefit more than any policy of bombast and resentment.
On Syria, Russia is defending its national interest and international law. Russia really doesn’t want to be in Syria and has very limited and well defined goals in its defense of Syrian sovereignty. Another failed state in the Middle East threatens the EU and Russia. A failed state in Syria would most likely see Russia’s southern Islamic populated republics infected with the same extremists the Damascus government has had to deal with for the past five years. Again Russia’s is moderate and restrained.
What is amiss in the propagandist-infected western media is the fact Russia is a status quo power. Putin’s Russia is all about modernizing at home and protecting itself from aggression from the west. This is why Putin’s moderation at home works and is effective.
The west’s propaganda media machine hates Putin. Little does this machine realize Putin is the best deal the west can hope for. There are ideas and forces within Russia’s power circles and society who would like to take a much harder line. The west is squandering an important lost opportunity.
Peter Lavelle is host of RT’s political debate program CrossTalk. His views may or may not reflect those of his employer.