Editorial Notes

Putin's policies proceeding as planned: The Statesman

The paper says President Vladimir Putin has leveraged the dysfunctionalities in a highly polarised America to his undoubted advantage in recent years.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a video conference meeting at Novo-Ogaryovo state residence on Oct 5, 2021. PHOTO: SPUTNIK/ AFP

NEW DELHI (THE STATESMAN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - President Vladimir Putin of Russia has been, in turn, a staunch KGB man, an upholder of unreconstructed Soviet socialism, and a believer in the free market. But it's as a hard-line nationalist that he has found his metier.

His attitudes and policies were shaped by the Cold War and while much has changed over the decades, the adversary for the Kremlin has always been the USA. In recent years, Mr Putin has leveraged the dysfunctionalities in a highly polarised America to his undoubted advantage.

In his July 2018 meeting in Helsinki with his American counterpart Donald Trump, for example, he walked away with all the honours. As a former Trump Administration staffer recently made public, the optics in Finland's presidential palace were to Mr Trump's liking as the two leaders had agreed to get US-Russian arms control negotiations going again and to convene meetings between their respective national security councils.

In return, Mr Putin's team is believed to have conveyed they would expect the US President to make it clear to the Press that the two countries could have a productive, normal relationship, including rejecting allegations the Kremlin had interfered in the 2016 US presidential election on his behalf. Mr Trump delivered.

US officials have described the now infamous Helsinki media interaction as the most cringe-worthy display ever by a serving US President, as Mr Putin revelled in the national and personal humiliation Mr Trump courted.

But this was only the manifestation of what experts believe was a carefully orchestrated Kremlin-blessed campaign which started prior to the 2016 US election aimed at manipulating the American electorate into believing that self-serving elites had hollowed out their institutions, thereby pushing an increasingly frustrated citizenry towards a populist authoritarian.

With President Joe Biden in charge, the Putin playbook has changed but not its aim. The Sino-Russian entente and the undermining of America's role as a dependable, stable world power continues apace.

Afghanistan is only the latest example of Mr Putin's long-cherished ambition of ensuring Russia is accepted as the successor to the Soviet Union at the global high table. The Kremlin inner circle must also be chuckling at the lurch to the Left by an influential section of the Democratic Party that the moderates are resisting and which has left Mr Biden caught in the middle; that's exactly where Mr Putin wants the American President domestically as it circumscribes the latter's ability to undertake any major foreign policy initiatives.

President Putin is often mischaracterised as a populist. It would be more useful to see him as a Russian nationalist.

His authoritarian streak makes many within and outside Russia uncomfortable, but then he has always made sure his actions have been in line with the letter of the law even if he had to change the law. In 2020, he formally amended the Constitution so that he can run for re-election and stay in power until 2036.

So, while referenda and executive orders may have been his go-to governance tools over the past 20 years much to the discomfort of Western liberals, there's not much anyone can do, as things stand, to prevent a Putin win in all senses of the term.

  • The Statesman is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media entities.

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