Russia has established itself globally as an effective disruptive force. The Kremlin has split the collective West and infested it with viruses of division that will ail it for decades. Via “Russia Today” and other media, the Kremlin brought anti-Americanism to every Western home. The West overslept Russia.
Now, as Vladimir Putin warms up for his new term, maybe it’s time to realize: Russia is a new kind of a challenge (both in the form and scope) with which the West has never dealt before and for which he urgently needs an answer.
First, let’s start with the guessing game that is rather popular these days: What does Putin want? The answer is simple: Putin wants what every ex-KGB officer has ever wanted: Revenge for the Mikhail Gorbachev era.
Speaking in American political lingo, he wants to dismantle Ronald Reagan’s international legacy. So far he succeeds. The world is divided again. Russia has a say-so on many plans of the West. The West’s objection is, on the other hand, Russia’s inspiration. Moreover, Europe might be ready to generously finance its own disintegration by getting even more hung on Russian energy. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline in Europe (a new way to supply the European Union circumventing Ukraine) is just one case in point.
Second, today’s Russia is a political project. In a way, it has been one for quite a while. In the West, you can’t make political plans outside your electoral cycle. In Russia, where elections mean nothing and where every society group depends on the Kremlin, you can afford to think (and act) long-term. There are reasons to believe that things like Crimea annexation were planned way before ahead, as part of Russia’s comeback with vengeance. If you wonder what comes next – stop discounting the Russian TV as crazy talk and listen closely! The project has a purpose (reshuffling the global deck, weakening the West), and ways and means to pursue it. Weakening the West turned out not too costly – you just need to get into its head and mess with its elections. Russia is good at both.
Third, the Western mind usually goes: “It’s one big misunderstanding; we need to explain it, apologize for humiliating Russia in the past and make clear we mean it well this time.” Yet reaching out a friendly hand won’t help. Russia measures its greatness in the greatness of its enemies. Its #1 humiliation in the 1990s was NOT having America as enemy. Moscow doesn’t want partnership – it wants its part of the global pie back. Starting with Ukraine, of course. And since Ukraine won’t cave in, the problem will only persist.
Fourth, ask an average Russian, what was so great about U.S.S.R. and you will most likely hear: the whole world feared us. Being feared is essential to them. If you see today’s international atmosphere of fear as a problem and want to soothe it by cooperating with Moscow – think twice. What you see as a problem, Russia sees as accomplishment. Fear means respect – this gets hammered into the Russian heads via the state propaganda. And let’s face it: No one in history has had a propaganda machine more effective than Russia has now. Joseph Goebbels would give his right arm to have Russia’s leverage on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Fifth, things won’t get better “after Putin.” Today’s Kremlin is not only Putin, but a whole “politburo” standing behind him. Initially, it consisted mostly of Putin’s KGB pals from old times. Yet as time went by, younger “comrades” joined in. They are smart, well-paid and often Western-educated. They combine a mindset of a KGB-veteran (staunch zero-sum thinking) and familiarity with the West. Be sure: The “politburo” will lay sufficient ground for the era “after Putin,” when the time comes!
Now, take a moment to contemplate this: The world’s largest nuclear state is a revanchist power, thinking long-term, run by a group of people having all Russia’s resource at their disposal, backed by its own population (ready to suffer!) and not bound by any rules.
All the boundaries of the Western world – elections, money, law – don’t exist for them. They answer to one boss, who remains in power indefinitely, gets more popular with every new war and is obsessed with rolling back the clock. And no, it doesn’t mean restoring the U.S.S.R. The Soviet Union operated within the imaginary “we are good – they are evil” paradigm. Putin & Co, on the other hand, operate within the “they are evil – so we are allowed to be evil too” paradigm. Feel the difference! Therefore: it will get bumpy in the years to come. Russia is way more capable than any other adversary of the West in recent decades – whereas the West seems unprepared.