Creating new perspectives since 2009

Putin wants to turn the clock back and must be reined in

February 14, 2022 at 4:35 pm

Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia on January 19, 2022 [Iranian Presidency – Anadolu Agency]

Since former KGB officer Vladimir Putin rose to power in Russia in 2000, he has dreamed of recreating the Soviet Union with its political and military influence, and rivalry with the US. He is working hard to return the independent former Soviet republics to Russia under his rule. To this end, he seeks to expand his area of influence in central Asia, where many rulers are loyal to — and agents of — Russia. Revolutions almost twenty years ago in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan saw their people rise up against what were still basically communist dictatorships in all but name.

In Putin’s eyes, the US was behind these revolutions and was the first country to recognise the new regimes, followed by many European countries whose interests are linked to those of the US. Many intellectuals, thinkers, and research centres agreed, the most prominent of which was America’s Albert Einstein Centre founded by Gene Sharp, a prominent CIA agent. Sharp suggested strongly that the so-called “colour revolutions” strategy was led by the US through civil society and international human rights organisations, as well as NGOs, to get rid of the dictatorships in a relatively peaceful manner.

The Russian leader did not accept the revolutions in former Soviet states, especially after the accession to the EU and NATO of East Europe countries which were once in the communist camp. Putin supported separatists in the former Soviet countries neighbouring Russia to destabilise them, with Russian loyalists ready to be drafted in to replace pro-Western governments. He succeeded in places such as Georgia, Ukraine and the former republics in the Caucasus, which had ambitions to join the EU and NATO. For Moscow, this is a red line, and a potential threat to Russia’s national security.

READ: UAE, Kuwait, Iraq urge nationals to leave Ukraine amid tension

In 2008, Russian forces entered Georgia and threatened to occupy the capital in an effort to block it from joining NATO. It seems that Putin was surprised by the weak international response to this blatant aggression; it was limited to condemnations and demands to withdraw Russian troops. This whet his appetite to repeat the move in Crimea in 2014, which it invaded and occupied, along with eastern Ukraine and the Black Sea port of Sevastopol; they were annexed to the Russian Federation. Again, the international response was weak. Now Putin wants to swallow the rest of Ukraine.

Ukraine is a democracy loyal to the West, but Putin wants to turn the clock back, and return it to Moscow’s sphere of influence. More than 100,000 Russian troops are now amassed on the Russia-Ukraine border. The threat of invasion is real, despite Putin’s denials.

As Western leaders scuttle around trying to get Russia to back down, Putin is, apparently, making it clear that he wants binding security guarantees from the West that include a pledge to withdraw NATO forces from Eastern Europe and not to accept Ukraine’s membership in the organisation. That’s a similar pledge to that given, it is alleged, by former US President George Bush Sr to his Russian counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev. The Americans deny this, though, and point out that at that time, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev was broken and defeated; it is impossible for the defeated to dictate conditions to the victor.

Nevertheless, the arrogant Putin is defiant and trying to blackmail and intimidate the West, as if he has achieved a great military victory and wants Western leaders to submit to his demands. His latest strange behaviour completely ignored official protocol when he met French President Emmanuel Macron, with the two men sitting at opposite ends of a very long table, as if Macron was a petitioner in the court of Tsar Putin, rather than side by side as men of equal standing. The Russians explained this by saying that Macron refused to do a Covid test, whereas Putin simply wanted to give the impression that he was of greater importance and the French president must comply with his conditions.

It seems that Putin’s threats regarding the gas that he is slow to export, especially to European countries which rely on it, have paid off. The West is still in his good books, relatively speaking, albeit at Ukraine’s expense. Despite the corresponding threats by the West to Putin and US President Joe Biden’s strong words — he described him as a “killer” in one of his speeches — and despite a categorical rejection of Russia’s demands, talk about the Ukraine not meeting the conditions to join NATO suggests that Washington is backing down from its support for Kyiv. It looks as if Biden is back-peddling from a confrontation with Russia before it’s too late. He is cutting it fine if the claim by British newspaper the Daily Mail and Germany’s Der Spiegel, quoting a US intelligence official that deadline day is 16 February, is accurate.

The US has ordered the almost complete withdrawal of its remaining troops from Ukraine, where they are training Ukrainian forces, to redeploy them elsewhere. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby’s somewhat naïve explanation was that, “This repositioning does not signify a change in our determination to support Ukraine’s Armed Forces, but will provide flexibility in assuring allies and deterring aggression.”

READ: Israel studies Ukraine request for military assistance

Germany followed suit in effectively abandoning Ukraine when it refused to send weapons to Ukraine, and was instead content to send helmets while objecting to the idea of it joining NATO. Macron followed his humiliation in Moscow with an announcement of his desire for more communication and understanding with Putin. The gradual but systematic Western pull back from a confrontation with Russia is under way. China, meanwhile, has announced a comprehensive, borderless partnership with Moscow.

It is worth noting that in 1994 the US, Britain and Russia signed the Budapest Memorandum, in which Moscow provided guarantees about the use of force against Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan on the condition that these countries give up their nuclear option. The intelligence fox Putin tore up these guarantees when he occupied and annexed Crimea.

The weak position and hesitation of the West before a belligerent Putin exposes the lack of serious commitment to defend an ally, even as it returns to the Russian sphere of influence. This in itself is a Western acknowledgment of Russia’s permanent right to expand on the pretext of “national security”. The effects of this further afield can be seen with Russia’s involvement in Syria.

Future prospects could be worse than giving up Ukraine, and Putin will become greedier. He will pursue the same strategy with other geographically-close countries. Their people await an unknown fate with trepidation, so if the US wants to retain its credibility in front of its allies, Washington must be firm and decisive towards Russia. The saying that “those covered by the US are exposed” rings true; Putin must be reined in.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.