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Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered one of his most wide reaching criticisms of the United States to-date, during his Q and A session at the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi.
Putin described a worsening Moscow-Washington relationship that dates back to the 1990s when an ‘untrustworthy’ west took advantage of Russia’s weak leadership in the age of Yeltsin, Gaidar and Chubais. Addressing his multi-national audience, the Russian President said,
“Our biggest mistake was that we trusted you too much. You interpreted our trust as weakness and you exploited that…
What we got in return is well-known: a complete disregard for our national interests, support for separatism in the Caucasus, a circumvention of the United Nations Security Council, the bombing of Yugoslavia, the invasion of Iraq, and so on. The US must have seen the state of our nuclear weapons and economy and decided to do away with international law”.
“They started to openly interfere in the sovereign affairs of countries and to export democracy in the same way as in their time the Soviet leadership tried to export the Socialist revolution to the whole world”.
These statements, like all of Putin’s remarks on the subject are a reflection on events of the recent past, but also wide ranging admonitions directed to the US, regarding Washington’s geo-political behaviour. Putin is clearly saying that when the US saw Russia’s weakened nuclear arsenal and poor economy of the 1990s, Washington was galvanised to not only meddle in Russian affairs but to patently disregard international law. In this sense, Putin is clearly associating a strong Russia with a world with more robust checks and balances on Washington’s disregard for international law which reached its zenith during the 1990s and its aftermath.
Putin then stated that today’s US-Russia relations are even worse than during the 1950s, remarking that during the Cold War “there was at least more mutual respect”. This can be seen as a criticism not only of Donald Trump’s predecessors but also an indictment of just how spectacularly Trump’s alleged Russian rapprochement has failed.
The Russian President then turned to the subject of weapons reductions, stating that because the US refuses to engage in proper treaties on the matter, Russia has had to act unilaterally to disarm. Russia recently destroyed its last chemical weapons stocks while the US refused to do the same. President Putin described the phenomenon in the following way,
“We destroyed everything, and then our American partners said – ‘Not yet, we don’t have money.’ So, they have a dollar printing press, yet they don’t have money. But we, on the other hand, do?”
While Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated quite openly that if the US unilaterally withdraws from the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal), it would merely destroy a good agreement that Iran is in full compliance with, while sending a clear message to North Korea that the US is not a good faith negotiating partners, Putin oped for a broader, more philosophical approach to the same issues, one which carried with it, even more devastating conclusions.
Because the US was willing to abuse the trust and good will of 1990s Russia, a country which still maintained the Soviet nuclear arsenal, the clear implication is that the US could act this way to any country, no matter its size or military strength. Thus, Putin’s solution isn’t one which would encourage the development of geo-political lawlessness, but one where Russia continues to build upon its role as a respected geo-political mediator in conflicts. Russia’s image as a mediator which respects the sovereignty and concerns of all nations, something the US clearly does not do, was also a clear inference in this portion of Putin’s dialogue.
In this sense, Putin’s proposals are not novel. They simply seek to build on the present geo-political realities for Russia and her partners, one implicit on the safe assumption that the US is not about to change its ways anytime soon; if ever.