August 2, 2014
Putin’s motives and actions are often deemed either complex mysteries (by US “liberal” intellectuals) or simply an Emperor complex (by the US Conservative wing). Fortunes and fame have been made by so-called Kremlinologists who have financial motives to make their subject as inscrutable as possible and thus their “expert analysis” so valuable. Thus Putin is presented by the Western propaganda apparatus as some sort of Bond Mastermind whose motives are shrouded in layers of Evil and Mystery.
A truly interested reader can read what he freely says (he is quite voluble) on the Kremlin website and the consistency in his thinking and resulting actions and judge for themselves.
Unlike standard Western political speeches which are (expected to be) long on rhetoric, his are long on history and facts and analysis. These type of speeches are especially unfamiliar to US audiences who are used to mindless pablum from their leaders.
Here, for example is what he had to say on March 18th following the Crimean unification (or annexation if you are from the liberal Western media, or invasion if one is from the conservative Western media). It gives a very clear insight into his thinking.
Here is another from March 21st with his Security Council which shows some of the sharp humor that’s typically Russian. And a Security Council meeting on July 22nd five days after the MH17 crash following the Western sanctions reaffirming the need for an complete and thorough investigation and his desire to ensure that Russia has an independent policy free from US interference.
(It’s also illustrative to see the various meetings that he participates in, just as any other Head of a State.)
By far the most interesting are the “manifestos” he wrote prior to the Russian presidential election of 2012.
Here is an analysis for one of his “manifestos” on “Democracy”. (These manifestos were derided for their length and “obvious propagandizing” by Western media pundits who never bothered to read them).
The 2012 Democracy Manifesto
(Written in 2012)
Putin’s “Democracy” manifesto needs to be read with his other six policy documents to more fully grasp his overall thinking, but the following summarizes his main points regarding “Democracy”.
While the style of his manifesto, at 5300 words and divided into 8 sections is long by modern American standards, it’s not uncommon in the “old world” where there was more time and attention for leisurely reading, as well a desire to fully absorb and debate issues. However, this manifesto does allow one to fully appreciate what Putin is attempting to communicate (whether or not he actually thinks or means it) and some of the promises he is making.
Putin begins by stating that “genuine democracy is a fundamental condition for developing a state to serve public interests” a point most liberal commentators the world over would agree with.
He quickly points out though the disastrous consequences that followed to impose “models of civilized and mature democracies in the form of the United States and Western Europe” immediately on a post-Soviet Russia without having well functioning institutions to support this aim. Instead of creating a modern state, they allowed both “anarchy and oligarchy”, twin evils in his opinion that impoverished rather than enriched the majority of Russians. This state of affairs, in his opinion, also encouraged rather than suppressed Russia’s endemic corruption (which he recalls goes back to the days of the Tsars) by forcing clannish, regional behavior and officials to eke out a living using their positions as a means to survive.
He thus defends the priorities he followed in the 2000s which was focused on combating the oligarchs, battling corruption at the regional level (by imposing the federal writ on the appointment of local governors and diminishing the influence of local bosses and fiefdoms in a very diverse, multi-cultural Russia) and improving the living standards of the majority of Russians who he claims cared first for “the right to employment and right to free healthcare and education for children” (something that in another Manifesto he calls the “totalitarian Soviet regime” at least provided). Without being explicit, he thus defends the authoritarian regime that made the decade of the 2000s (as he opines in other Manifestos) so successful, economically, structurally, industrially, militarily and allowed Russia back in the leagues of the key powers.
(Ed: While most Western liberal commentators find this concept of what has charitably been called “managed democracy” deplorable, they often either conveniently or through sheer ignorance forget not only the complex nature of multi-cultural societies that make the transition to democracy from a colonial or totalitarian state, but their own long chequered histories to arrive at this point in time where they are in a position to publicly lecture countries that are embarking on a complex journey, on “democracy”.)
These successes, he opines, have given rise to a vibrant, confident and “more prosperous, more educated” middle class who are now “more critical”, focused “above the narrow objective of guaranteeing their own prosperity”, a development he claims to “we wanted to achieve”.
He thus claims that in the new decade, he will start democratic liberalization since there is now this large middle class that not only demands change but is more equipped to fill the institutions required to manage such change. His manifesto lists out various worthy aspirational goals, from local government reform, to greater use of the internet for monitoring everything from personal issues, to performance of public individuals to submitting bills for parliament to consider (as he says happens “in Britain”). (Ed: For someone who chastises the US and Britain in public for their policies and criticisms, he professes great respect for their institutions).
He also lists out specific promises or proposals to increase the level of transparency and democracy, like “bringing back direct elections of governors” while retaining the right to dismiss them (Ed: a practice that even more mature parliamentary democracies like India have). While believing in a strong federal center “acting as the key stabilizing force and balancing interregional, interethnic and interreligious relationships”, he advocates greater democratic participation at the local city level with them having “greater economic independence” as they are more self-sustaining. About corruption, which he admits “involves great difficulties” he thinks one way is to incentivize both negatively (by punishing corrupt individuals) as well as positively by increasing the salary of civil servants while at the same time demanding that they be transparent about their wealth and sources of income. He also suggests looking at “anti-corruption practices now in force in Europe”. He states confidently “We dealt with the oligarchy and we will deal with corruption”.
Some of these are thorny issues; corruption for example is a slippery beast, that typically takes decades to solve (many middle-maturity democracies in Asia for example still have to fully be rid of it as it involves not just legal but cultural changes) and which transforms itself in different ways. In the West corruption at the petty level, directly visible to the common man (for example in paying off the police to escape a ticket, or the DMV to get a license, or bribing an official for a trip on public transport, or a judge to escape a sentence, selling a piece of land using black money) are relatively rare; but corruption at a federal level with favorable policies being passed that can make multi-nationals fabulous wealthy are more common.
To those die-hard Putin haters, the vocal sizable urban minority in Russia and the majority of the Western establishment, these aspirations and promises ring hollow since they believe Putin is guided by purely totalitarian principles and is just saying nice things while intending to change nothing (a charge incidentally that can be leveled against politicians anywhere in the world). To a majority of Russians and to many educated peoples the world over who are more familiar with the complexities of history and societies, and understand how societies and cultures mature, there are six years to judge how Putin (who, all but his absolutely bigoted critics will agree, skillfully saved Russia from the depths of the despairs of the 90s and thus has shown a capacity to manage a complex society to the overall good of his people) advances these professed goals.
The US government foreign policy towards Russia is driven by what’s often called the Wolkowitz doctrine
Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union.
This thinking has resulted in the US Government doing anything it can to encircle and strangle Russia leading to defensive behaviors by Putin which have been used to justify even more encirclement.
These efforts were noted and denounced as early as 1998 by the architect of the containment policy of the Soviet Union, George Kennan in an interview worth reading.
Putin, and his national security team, of course is aware of all of this. He is aware of the unrelenting US Government aggression to achieve their goals. This is a game of chess, with the US government attacking with White, where we may reached the beginning of an end game.
We’ll see how this ends.