Friday, August 4, 2017

Putin Doesn’t Understand All Regimes Aren’t Like His – and No One in the Kremlin Will Tell Him, Malashenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 4 – “Vladimir Putin and his entourage confuse Russian-American relations with Putin-Trump relations,” Aleksey Malashenko says, because the Russian president assumes that all leaders have the power to do what they want as he does – and no one in the Kremlin can or will tell him otherwise.

            In an interview with Kazan’s Business-Gazeta, the Moscow commentator says that Putin “apparently considers that all states are the same and that everywhere there is a chief who does what he wants in the same way [the Kremlin leader] himself does in Russia” (

            In Putin’s view, Malashenko continues, “it is sufficient [for him] to speak with Trump and everything will be decided. But he completely fails to consider that in the US there is an entirely different political system, and although Trump can decide about a great deal, all the same, he can’t decide everything.”

            If one enters into “Putin’s logic,” everything becomes clear. Putin “hasn’t gone beyond the limits of his worldview. This recalls an episode during Khrushchev’s visit to the US in the 1950s.  Some women stood on the path of his motorcade with a sign condemning the Soviet intervention in Hungary.”

            “Khrushchev got angry and accused Eisenhower that he had put her up to this,” but the US president replied that “there is freedom in America. Khrushchev didn’t believe that but noted that such hokes would have been impossible without his permission.”  Putin “lives in his own world, [and] each of our politicians is gradually beginning to live” in isolation as well.

            Obviously, there must be people in the Kremlin who do understand, Malashenko says; but what is striking is that “those who are in Putin’s entourage cannot explain this to him or are afraid or do not want to,” given that Putin “loves to have one-on-one meetings with foreign leaders.

            He does not understand that in other countries, leaders and their staffs view these meetings as just part of the normal course of business rather than something always more significant than that. Moreover, they do not view the expulsion of diplomats as something nearly as important as Putin appears to believe.

            According to Malashenko, Putin does not have a lot of good options to respond to US sanctions not only because Russia is relatively weaker – indeed it is strong only in military terms and really only in nuclear ones – but also because Russia is not the Soviet Union. Its population will not tolerate things that the Soviet people did.

            But in several respects, Putin even benefits from the latest round of sanctions. On the one hand, he can use them to justify cutting back spending on various domestic projects and blame the West for that.  And on the other, he can play up divisions between the US and the Europeans, something he is already doing.

            Because of this imbalance and because the Russia of today is not that of the 1990s, relations between the US and Russia are at the lowest point since the Korean war, Malashenko says. “Even the [Cuban missile] crisis was not so critical.” Moreover, the specific nature of Donald Trump and the still unresolved impact of the collapse of the USSR add to this mix.

            Nonetheless, the Moscow analyst says, relations between the two countries have bounced back before; and one can hope that they will again.

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