Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Reasonings, Motives, and Purposes Of Putin: Are They Rational?

Earlier this year, I posted a piece entitled Cold War II (The Sequel). In it, I criticized Russian President Putin for raising the level of rhetoric, for the specific purpose of creating an enemy to deflect attention from the problems he has created within his own country. Well today, we can plainly see that Mr. Putin is content to raise the stakes even more, by threatening to aim missiles at Europe, should they accept the offer made by the U.S. to install a missile defense shield on the continent.

From the Canadian Globe and Mail comes this article:

MOSCOW — In a threat not uttered since the Cold War, Vladimir Putin said that Russia intends to aim its missile systems - potentially nuclear weapons - at targets in Europe in retaliation for the U.S. decision to establish antimissile bases there.

During a lengthy dinner, Russia's President defended his semi-authoritarian style and insisted he is the world's only true democrat. In an interview with The Globe and Mail and a small circle of other journalists, he stressed that his country is not moving away from a market economy, refused to consider extraditing a former KGB agent charged with poisoning a dissident in London, and lashed out repeatedly at the United States and NATO for operating in countries previously within Russia's sphere of influence.

In the last 17 years since the fall of the old Soviet Union, the world has generally viewed the new Russia as irrelevant and not a serious force to be reckoned with (in terms of influence in the world arena). In the big picture, this has not been the best course of action, but that's the way it has played out up to this point.

In many of the former Warsaw Pact countries and former Soviet Socialist Republics, there was (and still is) much resentment over how Mother Russia lorded over them and interfered within their local affairs. If one of the nations was to get too independent from Moscow, force was threatened and in some cases used, if local officials did not comply with Kremlin directives. (SEE: 1956 Hungary and 1968 Czechoslovakia)

Today, the resentment has shifted back to Moscow. At present, most of these former satellites are looking towards Western Europe and the U.S. for the development of their economies and other kinds of support that Moscow could not supply then, and still cannot now. And Putin, being a former Cold Warrior, cannot stand it. It's an ego thing with him and those that stand with him in the Russian government.

How can we reach this conclusion?

Russia lost much influence when they could no longer prop up the various eastern European governments that once stood with them. The Russian government's collective ego was left bruised after coming to the realization that their theories on the fall of western civilization were not accurate, and the theories of a glorious existence of world-wide socialism would never materialize (at least not Soviet style). After decades of predicting the collapse of western capitalism (particularly the U.S. and her allies), their collective tails were tucked between their legs as they pulled out. To add insult to injury, the same nations were elated and looking forward to repairing relations with those nations that had been the subject of an intense propaganda campaign by the Kremlin, despite the fact this has been a gradual process.

In some ways and to some degree, we can certainly understand the suspicions of Russians. One need only to look at history to gain a more in-depth understanding of their attitudes towards the west.

Napoleon and Hitler, two imperialists that wanted to build empires that equaled or were greater than that of the Romans, set their sights on Russia without thought to the serious difficulties that would lie ahead in such an endeavor. Their blatant aggression was bold and specific.

These events, alone, could shed some light on explaining Putin's growing outward mistrust of Europe and the U.S., if it were not for one very important thing. The defensive missile shield is not offensive in nature.

This leads me to question the irrational response Putin has chosen to render.

The Bush administration maintains that the purpose of installing a missile shield in Europe is to protect it from rogue states currently seeking a nuclear bomb, like Iran and North Korea. Putin claims that these counties do not (at present) pose a valid threat, on the basis of the fact that neither country has a capable delivery system. He is right for now, but just how long will he be right?

This leads me to wonder further, why is he so concerned?

If Putin is right, then he shouldn't be worried if the U.S. and the countries agreeing to deployment waste money on it. Right? The only thing that is feasible after this is, Putin's motives are not as pure as he wants us all to believe.

He must want the world to think that his fear and mistrust of the EU leads him to believe that the EU and/or the U.S., both want to attack Russia with nuclear weapons at some point down the road. And by having the missile shield in place, it would embolden Europe to become more aggressive and turn once again to imperialism for expansion purposes, as they have done in times past.

That's all well and good. But if we look at present-day Europe, they certainly are not giving any outward signs that this is the case. In fact, instead of aggressive rhetoric and actions, we see modern-day Europe as a model of passive foreign policy (almost to a fault). In reality, if anything at all, Europe is a pacifist entity that avoids most conflicts due to the ability to look back and see what consequences lie at the end of war. And let's not forget this little tidbit of insight: Europeans still remember the widespread destruction of their continent and certainly have the capabilities of visualizing what their continent would look like if they chose this path again, this time with nuclear weapons being at the center of such a conflict.

The U.S. has even offered to provide a shield that will protect Russia and by them turning it down, it becomes more apparent that this isn't about the danger they perceive will come from the west. In real terms, it demonstrates to me (and many others) that Russia wants to maintain a level of leverage should they once again decide to exert coercive influence, over its former sphere of influence.

If we look at the insanely jealous husband that is always accusing his wife of infidelity, we can usually pinpoint the source of his suspicion and paranoia to the fact that he, himself, is not faithful to her. And in a textbook model of egocentric behavior, he knows that he is not doing right, so he perceives that everyone else must not being doing right either. This case is no different. His accusations of perceived aggression by the west, can also fall into this category.

What else could it possibly mean?


Anonymous said...


The missle defense shield is thoroughly defensive. Putin's incriminations lead one to believe that he thinks Russia should be able to retain the right to send nuclear missles into Europe. What is the problem with a defensive missle shield unless you want to either send missles or retain the threat of sending missles. "The true democrat" is laughable. His foreign policy and blustering makes Bush look absolutely polished. Despite US and European differences, Putin's antics will push them together. What is Russia's oil worth if the US and Europe put together a trillion dollar alternative energy plan?

JPH said...

I could be wrong but there is a kind of nostalgia too. Don't forget Putin was in the KGB. A national proud is coming from Russia. Russia doesn't like to see Kaliningrad in the middle of this new Europe ( ex prussian territory). And, like Iran, they try to resolve their domestic problems with foreign affairs. And European weakness will not help. Best wishes .

LASunsett said...


//Despite US and European differences, Putin's antics will push them together.//

I think so too. The Cold War proved that we did in fact need each other. This too will bear this out, as well.

LASunsett said...


//A national proud is coming from Russia. Russia doesn't like to see Kaliningrad in the middle of this new Europe ( ex prussian territory).//

I think you are right on the money with this. But the thing they fail to consider in this is, these former Soviet satellite nations are approaching Europe for membership, they are the ones aligning themselves with Europe - not the other way around.

Greg said...

Gotta laugh when the leader of the "Peace Camp" calls the US imperialists for placing purely defensive weapons in its allies' territory. Sounds like Putin thinks Russia should be able to dictate the internal affairs of Poland and others. Now who's the imperialist?

He (and most of Europe) thinks the US is the biggest danger to world peace, yet Russia openly threatens its neighbors for daring to defend themselves. It sells nuclear technology to the world's #1 supporter of terrorism. It stifles any dissent within its borders. It is a truly scary beast. Hey, maybe this will wake up a couple of Europeans to the realization that America is not their enemy, and it's in their interest to play nice with us. Maybe.

LASunsett said...


//Russia openly threatens its neighbors for daring to defend themselves. It sells nuclear technology to the world's #1 supporter of terrorism. It stifles any dissent within its borders.//

Hey now!!!

You are forgetting that he is the only true democrat. ;)

BEING HAD said...

// In the last 17 years since the fall of the old Soviet Union, the world has generally viewed the new Russia as irrelevant and not a serious force to be reckoned with//

I think you really hit the nail on the head with this one. Let's say you come from a family who has a lot of money but at the same time, they have decided that you are not worthy to be in the discussion. You think you are smart, you think you have something to say that might even be of help to the family as a whole. But yet, every time you open up your moth to speak, you get swatted away like a fly. Well, this is exactly post 1991 Russia. Exactly before this there was a country and a culture and 300 million people (the whole USSR) who were pretty ok with this thought and then all of a sudden everything crashes and everybody lost their money. And of course, they lost the ability to dictate policy.

Well, they're back. They found a way to take money and they are loving it. And what is more, they, like anyone else who has been through hard times, has absolutely zero interest in giving away what they have. I don't know why this is so surprising to people. Or even more, I don't know why people in the west should be shocked that the Russians not only don't admire them; they don't even like them very much. I mean, what did the west ever do for Eastern Europe when they were down other than use them for cheap sex tours and other such exploitation?

LASunsett said...

Hi BH,

Pat Buchanan has an interesting piece today that I think expands on your points.

One thing to note in all of this is, the U.S. has been guilty of this through three Presidents. Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II, all have not taken into account the sleepy but dangerous nature of Russia since the fall of Communism.

Another thing to note is, it isn't just the U.S. that has been guilty of this. Europe has blown off Russia as an entity that must be reckoned with, as well. Europe has been as egocentric as ever the last several years, with leaders like Chirac and Schroeder playing a game of mixed signals with any and everyone, just to build a bureaucratic mess (also known as the EU).

And the final thing we all must realize here is, despite the mistakes made with post-Soviet Russia, it still doesn't give Putin the right to pull some of the stunts he has pulled over the last few years, either. Respect is a two way street and to saber rattle to get attention, does no one any good. Increasing tensions that are already increased above what they should be, does nothing to resolve anything.

If anything, The U.S., Europe, Russia, and China, all need to find a way to combat Islamic jihad before terrorism reaches epidemic proportions. The last thing we need to do is fight each other (politically or militarily), when there are those that would hope that all of us would fall apart so they can pick up the pieces.

Greg said...

LAS: If anything, The U.S., Europe, Russia, and China, all need to find a way to combat Islamic jihad before terrorism reaches epidemic proportions.

First, you'll have to convince the latter 3 that the US is not the enemy. That should take about a decade of islamic supremacists slaughtering civilians in said countries. Even then, it's a long-shot. I share your pipe dream, however. In fact, I'm inhaling deeply and holding it in. Yeah, man....

Mustang said...

May I for once play the devil’s advocate?

Pretend for a moment that you are Putin. If the “defensive” missile shield provides a “defense from missiles,” doesn’t that render Russia’s entire arsenal of “defensive weapons” ineffective? Given the natural state of paranoia in Russia (and I’m not so sure that I disagree with this), would YOU trust the word of another country’s leader and place the entire security of your own country at risk? I think, “probably not.” Even Reagan advised, “trust, but verify.”

Pragmatically, only an idiot (Napoleon and Hitler) would want Russia to begin with, but remember that so many have invaded Russia that they do not, have not, and will never “trust” anyone to keep their word.

If we are, or ever become true students of history, Putin is not doing anything that we should not expect. To begin with, there might have been a better way to approach Mr. Putin, but Russian leaders are traditionally adverse to being preached at by other world leaders, threatened by anyone, or criticized in the press. Is Mr. Putin dangerous? You betcha – and he is taking a pronounced path toward a totalitarian state. With that mindset, it would seem to me that the West needs better diplomats if we expect to avoid yet another “cold war.”

Mary Ellen said...

Wait a minute,LA, didn't your buddy Bush say that he could look into Putin's soul and ol' Vlad is a good guy? And, wasn't Condi Rice supposed to be some expert in Russian foreign affairs? How did this administration get things so wrong?

Never trusted Putin...ever.

Being Had is correct, after the cold war, Russia didn't seem to be a threat and to be honest, I'm not surprised that they don't trust us. Obviously Bush will lie through his teeth to get what ever he wants, and that includes war.

Anonim said...

Mustang's "devilish" analysis has a point. Defensive versus offensive weapons talk is, for the most part, a distinction without difference. If and when there is a balance power between parties, new defensive weapon installations often become a contentious issue. Apparently, Iran's as-yet-non-existent-but-projected capabilities are the rationale behind the plan. (Btw, when was the last time Iran threatened Europe?) Russia doesn't appear to trust this, and it is hard to imagine them backing down when American threat calculus became suspect (or disingenuous, re: Iraq or Al-Qaeda) or runs at an angle into that of Russian's. Domestic dividends Putin may collect from this collision is another complicating factor, like others have pointed out.

Greg said...

As Bush stated yesterday, there is no way this defensive system could stop a Russian missile attack. It would be like trying to stop the flow of water from a fire hydrant by putting a paper towel over the opening. For Putin to suggest that it's a threat to him shows either he is delusional/misinformed/stupid or that he wants an excuse to pull something. Why do I think it's the latter?

L'Amerloque said...

Hi LASunsett !

In Amerloque's view, Pat Buchanan's piece is excellent: he sums up this situation nicely.

Mustang's Devil's Advocate position is well articulated: "If we are, or ever become true students of history, Putin is not doing anything that we should not expect." Amerloque couldn't agree more.

The Russians won't be trusting the "West" in the foreseeable future, that's for sure.

In Amerloque's view, Putin's actions simply reflect the whole resurgence of Russian nationalism. The Cossacks are back, for example …

//Russia's Holy Warriors

Fervently Orthodox, anti-Islamic, and proudly militaristic, the Cossacks are on the rise in Vladimir Putin's new Russia …/…//