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Vladimir Putin’s withering scorn for Barack Obama laid bare

Vladimir Putin uses end of year press conference to disclose his personal feelings about US President Obama and the current US administration.

Vladimir Putin’s massive end-of-year press conference saw the Russian President in a relaxed and confident mood.

This is not surprising.  For Vladimir Putin and for Russia, 2016 has been, if not quite an anno mirabilis, nonetheless a good year.

As Putin pointed out at the start of his press conference, the economy is now clearly recovering, with all the productive sectors of the economy now showing growth, with inflation now expected to end the year at 5.5% – lower than expectations – and with the budget deficit also likely to be lower than expected.

In foreign policy, relations with China – the anchor upon which Russia’s international position rests – not only remain strong, but are growing stronger, enabling Russia to leverage its de facto alliance with China to achieve a breakthrough in its relations with the two big Far Eastern powers – South Korea and Japan.

Meanwhile Russia has maintained its traditionally strong relations with the other big Asian powers: India and Vietnam.

In the Middle East there has been a spectacular breakthrough, with Russia’s military intervention in Syria resulting in a conclusive victory in Aleppo, with Russia forging ever closer ties to Iran, and with a major turnaround in relations with Turkey – which at the start of the year had been terrible – and with Russia managing to maintain good relations with countries as diverse as Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Russian success in preserving a dialogue with the Saudis in the face of every possible provocation, and despite the Russians and the Saudis supporting opposite sides in the war in Syria, bore fruit this year in an agreement between the Russians and the Saudis to stabilise oil prices.

I would add that in the event that oil prices remain above $50 a barrel – where they are at the moment – then the wildly overblown claims of a Russian budget crisis, will end up looking even more ridiculous than they already do.  Next year’s budget is based on a conservative assumption that oil prices will average $40 a barrel over the year, so that if the actual oil price over the year remains above $50 a barrel, it is likely that in conditions of growing tax receipts as Russia’s recovery gathers pace that the budget deficit will either disappear entirely or turn out significantly smaller than the government is now predicting.  Either way Russia’s success in raising funds both in its own domestic money markets, and through its two Eurobond issues this year, shows that claims that the country cannot cover its budget deficit are absurd.

Looming over every other issue is however the prospective change of administration in the US.

The single most striking thing to come out of President Putin’s end-of-year press conference this year, was that he no longer felt the need to conceal his lack of respect and indeed his positive dislike for the outgoing US administration and for the current US President.  Though Putin’s comments appeared to address the particular issue of the hacking scandal, his carefully chosen words show that his feelings go far wider

The current US Administration and leaders of the Democratic Party are trying to blame all their failures on outside factors. I have questions and some thoughts in this regard.

We know that not only did the Democratic Party lose the presidential election, but also the Senate, where the Republicans have the majority, and Congress, where the Republicans are also in control. Did we, or I also do that? We may have celebrated this on the “vestiges of a 17th century chapel,” but were we the ones who destroyed the chapel, as the saying goes? This is not the way things really are. All this goes to show that the current administration faces system-wide issues, as I have said at a Valdai Club meeting.

It seems to me there is a gap between the elite’s vision of what is good and bad and that of what in earlier times we would have called the broad popular masses. I do not take support for the Russian President among a large part of Republican voters as support for me personally, but rather see it in this case as an indication that a substantial part of the American people share similar views with us on the world’s organisation, what we ought to be doing, and the common threats and challenges we are facing. It is good that there are people who sympathise with our views on traditional values because this forms a good foundation on which to build relations between two such powerful countries as Russia and the United States, build them on the basis of our peoples’ mutual sympathy.

They would be better off not taking the names of their earlier statesmen in vain, of course. I’m not so sure who might be turning in their grave right now. It seems to me that Reagan would be happy to see his party’s people winning everywhere, and would welcome the victory of the newly elected President so adept at catching the public mood, and who took precisely this direction and pressed onwards to the very end, even when no one except us believed he could win. (Applause).

The outstanding Democrats in American history would probably be turning in their graves though. Roosevelt certainly would be because he was an exceptional statesman in American and world history, who knew how to unite the nation even during the Great Depression’s bleakest years, in the late 1930s, and during World War II. Today’s administration, however, is very clearly dividing the nation. The call for the electors not to vote for either candidate, in this case, not to vote for the President-elect, was quite simply a step towards dividing the nation. Two electors did decide not to vote for Trump, and four for Clinton, and here too they lost. They are losing on all fronts and looking for scapegoats on whom to lay the blame. I think that this is an affront to their own dignity. It is important to know how to lose gracefully.

(bold italics added)

What President Putin is saying here is that the Obama administration is using him and Russia as its scapegoat to explain not just its electoral failures but all its failures, including most especially its foreign policy failures.  The fact that he says that “they are losing on all fronts” shows how comprehensively he thinks the Obama administration has failed.

These comments incidentally show that Putin is very well aware of the way Western governments and media have demonised him, and that despite an outward appearance of equanimity, he is actually deeply offended by it.

As for Barack Obama himself, strikingly Putin never referred to him by name save once, when he pointedly contrasted his policy of not disclosing what foreign leaders tell him in diplomatic conversations, with the way Obama does

As concerns my conversation with President Obama, again, it is my rule to never talk about this in public. I am aware that his aide recently made a public statement regarding that conversation with Mr Obama. You can ask my aide, he will answer. Mr Peskov is here.

Though Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush were very much geopolitical adversaries, at a personal level they were able to get on with each other, though contrary to some claims they were never friends.   All the indications are that Putin and the Russian government nonetheless welcomed Obama’s 2008 election victory, and looked forward to working with Obama and with his administration.

In his mammoth series of interviews with The Atlantic earlier this year Obama himself admitted as much, acknowledging that Putin was invariably polite to him during their meetings, and always strove to find areas of agreement

The truth is, actually, Putin, in all of our meetings, is scrupulously polite, very frank. Our meetings are very businesslike. He never keeps me waiting two hours like he does a bunch of these other folks.  He’s constantly interested in being seen as our peer and as working with us, because he’s not completely stupid.  He understands that Russia’s overall position in the world is significantly diminished.

(bold italics added)

The dripping condescension in the last two sentences (“because he’s not completely stupid”) shows why for all Putin’s efforts the relationship between him and Obama failed so completely, and has become so bad.

In contrast to his words of withering scorn for the Obama administration – and by implication for Barack Obama himself – Putin’s comments about Donald Trump were very warm

It seems to me there is a gap between the elite’s vision of what is good and bad and that of what in earlier times we would have called the broad popular masses. I do not take support for the Russian President among a large part of Republican voters as support for me personally, but rather see it in this case as an indication that a substantial part of the American people share similar views with us on the world’s organisation, what we ought to be doing, and the common threats and challenges we are facing. It is good that there are people who sympathise with our views on traditional values because this forms a good foundation on which to build relations between two such powerful countries as Russia and the United States, build them on the basis of our peoples’ mutual sympathy.

They would be better off not taking the names of their earlier statesmen in vain, of course. I’m not so sure who might be turning in their grave right now. It seems to me that Reagan would be happy to see his party’s people winning everywhere, and would welcome the victory of the newly elected President so adept at catching the public mood, and who took precisely this direction and pressed onwards to the very end, even when no one except us believed he could win.

These words show that Putin genuinely looks forward to working with Donald Trump, and seriously hopes for a sustained improvement in relations between Russia and the US.  However, the totality of his words about US-Russian relations suggest that his dominant feeling is not one of joy at the coming prospect of Donald Trump.  It is relief that Barack Obama will soon be gone.

 

 

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Alexander Mercouris
Editor-in-Chief atThe Duran.

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