Vladimir Shlapentokh

Октябрь 25, 2013

What makes Putin’s the strongest card in relations with the USA:

Filed under: Uncategorized — shlapentokh @ 3:38 пп

What makes Putin’s the strongest card in relations with the USA:the lack of geopolitical aspirations.

Vladimir Shlapentokh

The level of geopolitical aspirations are a powerful factor in international relations
The level of aspirations held by an individual or organization, or even an entire nation, has an immense influence on various aspects of their activities and the success or failure of the final outcomes. High aspirations, and the choice of difficult and prestigious goals can provide a very powerful stimulation for individuals and organizations, but can also be the cause of failure and high frustration for anyone, whether an ordinary person or a national leader. In the 1960s, David McCleland showed the difficulties inherent in the choice of the goal. High aspirations, which promise many benefits and public recognition, are also fraught with the likelihood of delivering a humiliating disaster. Low aspirations guarantee modest achievement but, at the same time, prevent people, organizations and nations from having a breakdown. Paul Kennedy’s well-founded theory (1987) about the impact of military overstretch, often a product of the high ambitions of the ruling elite, states that it leads to the decline or even collapse of big powers.
The level of geopolitical aspirations set by a country’s ruling elite is of particular importance. Certainly, the elites of some small countries could include plans to enhance their regional or even geopolitical role in the world in their agendas. Looking only at the world after WWII, we can point to Cuba’s intervention in Angola as an example, when it defied the USA and tried to claim the role of a geopolitical power in the 60s-70s. We can also point to Yugoslavia and Romania, which challenged the supremacy of the Soviet Union in 1950s-80s. At the same time, even the very small country of Albania was ready to defy both Yugoslavia and the USSR. We can also cite an example from post-Communist times: Belorussia behaves like an equal actor in its conflicts with Russia. However, the impact the level of geopolitical ambitions has on international developments is much higher if we look at big countries.
Meanwhile, whatever the objective factors are for determining the character of the geopolitical aspirations of a ruling elite (the importance of foreign successes for the popularity of the regime; the state of the economy and military forces; and the power of foreign rivals), those who control the state have a serious amount of leeway in choosing their foreign goals and, ultimately, their own fate.
It is true that the geopolitical aspirations of the Nazi elite were shaped by many factors. Still, if Hitler had been more flexible in his foreign policy, listened to his generals, and stopped his expansion in Europe after the annexation of Austria in 1938 and Czechoslovakia in 1939, his empire could have existed longer.
How the geopolitical aspirations of the Politburo doomed the Soviet Union The same could have been true of the Soviet Union; it could have continued to exist for many years, or even decades, if the Kremlin had abandoned the Soviet claims of being equal with the USA in the 80s, when it was evident, even to Soviet leaders, just how far behind the West their country was in its economy and technology. Indeed, the most plausible theory explaining the origin of Perestroika holds the view that the Soviet leadership came to the same conclusion in the early 1980s, after its military told them that the country could not sustain the arms race with the USA. Reagan’s “Star Wars” sowed fear in the Kremlin that the USSR was losing military parity with the West because of its technological retardation.
Even the most conservative members of the Politburo recognized that drastic measures were needed to accelerate technological and economic progress if they were to preserve their role as a superpower in the world. Such was the mandate that a relatively young Mikhail Gorbachev received from his older comrades. Gorbachev promised his colleagues that, with some reforms, he would achieve the goals set before him: the Soviet empire, internal and external, would be able to stand up to the USA as a major geopolitical rival. Indeed, the first reform initiated by the new leader was for the acceleration of technological progress, which the army had demanded from the political leadership. The Five-Year plan, which Gorbachev endorsed in 1986, was still openly aimed at preserving military parity with the USA. Then, everything went awry. Gorbachev was unable to move the economy ahead, so he resorted to liberal reforms, which he hoped would permit him to accomplish his initial mission. These reforms, however, destroyed the economy first, and then, the Soviet system.
If the Soviet leaders had lowered their geopolitical ambitions
Let us suppose that the Soviet leadership had realized in 1985 what became obvious only a few years later—that they had no chance of keeping military parity with the West—and so, the USSR and its leaders abandoned their claim of being equal to the United States. Let’s also suppose that the Soviet leadership accepted the formula of Alexander Gorchakov, Alexander the Second’s foreign minister, who proclaimed, after the disastrous Crimean war, that “Russia is not sulking, she is composing herself”; in other words, suppose that Russia had abandoned its external expansion. In a historical context, this would have meant a retreat from not only Afghanistan but also East Europe and Cuba, as well as from all other countries where the Soviet Union had military bases in the 1980s, as the next leaders did soon thereafter. In this case, the Kremlin could have avoided the liberal political reforms (as Deng Xiaoping in China did); could have preserved the Soviet’s very efficient political system, which was not endangered by anybody in 1985 (there were no mass protest movements among either Russians or non-Russians); and could have kept control of all of the Soviet Republics (probably even over the Baltic republics, all of which were docile by 1985). In this case, the Kremlin could have been “composing itself,” much like Deng, with economic reforms that had supporters in the Politburo, and which were evidently favored by Yurii Andropov, who replaced Leonid Brezhnev in 1982.
The fate of Soviet geopolitical ambitions after 1991
In fact, the program that had the USSR withdrawing from its geopolitical ambitions, which would have looked absurd to Sovietologists in 1985, was implemented with gusto by Boris Yeltsin, and hesitantly accepted by Vladimir Putin. (As a matter of fact, it was Lavrentii Beria who, after Stalin’s death, was looking for ways to be the leader of the country. He contemplated the reunification of Germany and the end of the Cold War so the USSR could receive aid from the West) .In fact, after 1991, Moscow not only lost East Europe and its position almost everywhere in the world, but also lost all of the Soviet republics. Indeed, Yeltsin is a historically rare example of a leader yielding a part of his state in order to retain power. In Shakespeare’s play, Richard III offered his kingdom for a horse, in order to win the battle and save his throne from the future king Henry VII; in terms of population, Yeltsin literally gave half of the Soviet empire away to oust his rival Gorbachev from power.
What Yeltsin did to consolidate his position as the leader of Russia was beyond the imaginations of not only the old members of the Politburo but many politicians around the world. Indeed, in order to save his weak liberal regime, Gorbachev himself changed the geopolitical course of the Kremlin, abandoned the confrontation with the West, and practically endorsed the unification of Germany and the liberation of the East European countries from Soviet control. However, he intended to keep the Soviet empire intact and made every effort to save the Soviet Union. Whereas Gorbachev was a man of some ideals, Yeltsin was not. He was ready to take any steps to replace Gorbachev. In August 1991, Yeltsin initiated the famous meeting of the leaders of several national republics in Belovezhskaya Pushcha in Belorussia , where they declared the end of the Soviet empire. In addition, in his continuing fight to strengthen his personal power, he called on autonomous republics like Tatarstan and Chechnya to “take sovereignty as much as possible” in 1992-1993, to stimulate the disintegration of what had become the Russian Federation. Only in 1994 did he reverse his policy and start the war against Chechnya, whose yearning for independence he himself had buttressed. It was only near the end of his tenure—when he feared the threat to his power by Communists and nationalists—that he decided to resort to the anti-Western card. He did so very moderately, assigning aides like Evgenii Primakov to talk about the USA less as a friend (the terminology of the early 1990s) but rather as a partner, with whom conflicts are possible. This reached its peak with Moscow’s angry reaction to the Western assault on Yugoslavia in 1998-9 during the Kosovo war, but did not translate into any serious action.
The evolution of Putin’s geopolitical aspirations
Throughout his reign, Putin has essentially continued a foreign policy based on low geopolitical aspirations. It is true that when he came to power, he not only promised the partial restoration of the Soviet Union but also a radical enhancement of Russia’s general geopolitical standing. However, Putin rose to power as the appointed heir of Yeltsin in 1999 under suspicious circumstances, and no subsequent presidential election after 2000 has been honest. Putin has never been challenged by any serious rival, and has even declined public discussions with the fake candidates. (Yeltsin was in a much better position than Putin, particularly before 1996. He was honestly elected in 1990, and was a symbol of the revolutionary democratic ideology). With general doubts about his legitimacy continuing, Putin has never been completely confident in the stability of his power, which he is determined to keep for as long as possible. Putin submitted his foreign policy only to this goal of retaining his power in the Kremlin. All domestic and international policy actions have been subordinated to this task, whatever the consequences may be for Russian national interests.
The foreign factor has been very important to Putin for the justification of his legitimacy as the Russian leader. It had to be used in propaganda to portray Putin as Russia’s protector against its numerous enemies, both among the former Soviet republics (especially Ukraine and Georgia) and outside of it (especially the USA). However, Putin’s real foreign policy has been always very cautious and far from serving any great geopolitical ambitions. This policy only became really aggressive when Putin saw the behavior of Western powers as damaging to his personal power, like the support of the democratic movement in Russia and in former Soviet republics.
Words and deeds in foreign policy
Indeed, rhetoric and real actions are different in any country’s foreign policy. However, the distance between “words and deeds” varies enormously from country-to-country during any historical period. This distance was relatively minimal for the Nazi leaders, who were as belligerent in their words as they were in their deeds, even if they interspersed their aggressive declarations with empty calls for peace under their conditions. It was the same for the Soviet leaders, who focused their propaganda on the enhancement of the Soviet geopolitical role—in the beginning, it was with the use of slogans of the World Revolution—but also used pacifistic demagoguery. Essentially aggressive in nature, Soviet ideology tended to translate its slogans into actions, not only under Stalin but also under his successors. Garrulous and ready to act, Nikita Khrushchev showed this during the Berlin crisis in 1961 and the Cuban crisis in 1962. Brezhnev’s anti-Prague Spring propaganda was followed by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
The distance between “words and deeds” was also minimal for Gorbachev and Yeltsin, but for a different reason—their friendliness toward the West and the USA were, in general, typical of their public foreign statements as well as their actions. Putin essentially chose another combination, particularly after 2005-2006 (the period of the Orange revolutions, which Putin ascribed to the West). There was hostile anti-Western, especially anti-American, ideology being presented, but a virtual refusal to take any serious aggressive actions against the West. In other words, he accepted Yeltsin’s rejection of global ambitions, closing most of Russia’s military bases abroad, but combined these actions with an acerbic anti-Western propaganda that was mostly aimed at a domestic audience.
The leading role of anti-Americanism in the legitimacy propaganda
In the first years of his presidency, Putin used the country’s stability, which he had, indeed, achieved, as well as society’s increase in material well-being as the major arguments in favor of his legitimacy. However, the ideological resources of these arguments were eventually exhausted, while the threat to his rule, particularly in light of the Orange revolutions, increased significantly. Under these circumstances, the anti-American rhetoric—which had been relatively mild during the first years of his rule, and was even combined with several friendly gestures toward America (Putin’s reaction to 9/11 is one example, as well as the friendly relations between George Bush and the Russian president) turned into acerbic attacks against American foreign policy, and American political and economic order. The intensity of anti-Americanism presented in the official media has not been seen since Stalin’s death. Putin’s Munich speech in 2007, full of harsh denigrations of the USA, was a turning point. Since that time, Putin has piled one accusation after another on the USA. Most of these blame the USA for interfering in Russian political life. The personal insults lobbed at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joseph Biden, along with American ambassador Mike McFaul, would have been impossible during even the harshest period of Soviet-American relations, at the peak of the Cold War. Putin has insolently kept the highest American officials waiting in the lobby for several hours before they were led into his office.
The unprecedented rude attacks again the USA and its politicians became possible because Putin has grown confident that the USA cannot damage Russia in any serious way. Indeed, without global ambitions, Moscow does not have the same concern the USSR had—that the USA can seriously harm Russian interests in any part of the world. At the same time, the commerce between the two countries is modest, as are scholarly and technological cooperation. The collaboration with Russia in the fight against international terrorism and against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is in the interest of both countries, so, in Moscow’s opinion, Washington can hardly use it to chastise Russia.
Modest aspirations in the post-Soviet space
The important fact is that the territory of the post-Soviet republics is not now a hotspot for Russian-American confrontations. Russia is invulnerable to American punitive actions because Putin’s aspirations are relatively low here, still, the Kremlin’s desire to retain control over the former Soviet republics, at least as much as its resources allow, has never been off of its agenda since the middle of the 1990s. The attempts to create The Commonwealth Alliance of Independent States and the Euroasian alliance, similar to the European Union, were projects aimed at increasing Russia’s influence over the former Soviet republics. They failed. The creation of a custom alliance with Kazakhstan, Belorussia, and Ukraine was another mostly failed project in 2011-12. Despite these failures, however, the Kremlin has not resorted to the threat of using military means to subjugate the former republics.
Indeed, Moscow’s aspirations in the post-Soviet space are almost exclusively commercial, although there have been a few exceptions. During the 2003 presidential campaign in Ukraine, Moscow clearly supported Victor Yanukovych, making pro-Russian declarations against Victor Yushchenko, an aggressive Ukrainian nationalist. Despite its clear preference, however, the Kremlin never threatened the use of the military force to install its candidate. Georgia was probably a more serious example of Russia’s political activity in post-Soviet space. Moscow practically annexed two parts of Georgia –Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It was engaged in a war with Georgia (the ambivalent role Tbilisi played in directly provoking the war is another story), yet stopped its troops from seizing Tbilisi and dethroning Mikhail Saakashvili, the Georgian president passionately hated by Putin.
In the last several years, Moscow has not revealed any intentions of sending their troops in anywhere. When Kirgizia formally asked Russia to do so in 2009, to protect the country against Islamists, the Kremlin refused to use this opportunity to expand its military presence in this country beyond its old air base.
In general, commercial aspirations in post-Soviet space have served as the priority interest for Putin’s circle—to accumulate as much revenue as possible by selling raw materials, predominately oil and gas. These revenues are vitally important to maintaining the level of consumption the country has achieved and, with it, the stability of the regime. Of no less importance are the personal interests of Putin’s circle, who, as stockholders and members of the boards of directors, have direct access to the revenues of the companies involved in the export of raw materials. The Kremlin has actively supported such conglomerates as Gazprom and Rosneft, the main sources of income for the ruling elites as they push to acquire local firms in the post-Soviet republics, in order to strengthen their monopoly on the markets of the neighboring states. In commercial conflicts with the post-Soviet republics, Moscow has only resorted to methods used in “normal” trade wars, such as raising gas and oil prices, or impeding imports from these states.
What is remarkable, however, is that, even in the case of commercial conflicts, Moscow will generally sacrifice ambitions of expanding its ties with the ruling elites of the post-Soviet republics for the sake of commercial interests. They risk alienating political allies in as big a state as Ukraine or even Belorussia, the state that is most friendly to Russia in all the world, in arguments over economic issues that are the most important to Putin and his friends.

The low geopolitical aspirations and the army
Even with its low geopolitical ambitions, Putin’s regime has claimed to be very concerned with Russian military capacity in the last several years. Indeed, they have spent a significant part of their oil revenues on increasing military expenditures, which have quadrupled over the past six years. The reforms of the army and the navy, which the Putin regime talk’s about a lot through the media, are also supposedly aimed at enhancing Russia’s military preparedness. However, even if the money appropriated for the army were indeed being used as intended (in 2011, Russia’s chief military prosecutor said that 20% of the defense budget was being stolen or defrauded each year), and the reforms were successful—both of these suppositions have been rejected by most independent Russian military experts—the Russian army would still be far from presenting any ability to confront American military forces, aside from nuclear weapons, to enhance Russian geopolitical status. The war with Georgia in 2008 (not to mention the sad experience of the Chechen war) was a difficult task for the Russian army, and revealed its weakness in many respects. De-professionalization of the officer corps, gigantic corruption in the army and mass hazing, which scares the parents of draftees to death, are among several factors that make the Russian army such a poor tool in fighting for a high geopolitical role in the world. Putin’s slogan that Russia “has raised from its knees” is considered to be absolutely empty by many Russian analysts.
In fact, Putin’s regime has not infused big money into the army so much to enhance Russia’s geopolitical status—which is impossible, given Russia’s economy and scientific community (Putin has practically encouraged the flight of the best minds, which are vitally important for military industry, out of Russia)—as to strengthen the army’s loyalty to the regime. With his preoccupation with preserving personal power against any odds, Putin needs to be sure the army will defend his regime in case of turmoil, and will not help his internal enemies to demote him, as the army did with Nikita Khrushchev in 1964. By pouring a lot of money into the army with a great amount of publicity (it was never done with such a level of pomposity during Soviet times), Putin has shown respect for the generals and officers, whose material standing, not incidentally, has improved enormously during Putin’s regime. He has also demonstrated his preoccupation with the defense of the motherland to the military establishment, which still, despite the universal corruption, contains quite a few military commanders whose patriotic feelings are strong. The huge amount of money sent to the army also caters to the patriotic sentiments of a large part of the Russian population, with its nostalgia for Russia’s past military greatness. It was remarkable when, on the eve of his resignation in 2011, Alexei Kudrin, once the economic tsar of Putin’s regime as his Minister of Finance (2000-2011), publicly cast doubt on the expediency of the big military budget. He was, evidently, alluding to the lack of reasons for increasing military expenditures.

The need for small conflicts with the USA
Putin tries to avoid confrontations with the USA by any means, which can be fraught with serious military tension. However, in order to regularly fuel anti-American propaganda, he needs to have some permanent conflicts with America. The harsh critique of the American missile defense system in East Europe has served this goal perfectly for many years, despite the fact that all of the independent Russian military experts laugh at the propaganda’s thesis that this system presents any threat to Russia. The Kremlin does not miss any opportunity to annoy the USA, and to show the Russian public again and again that it considers Washington to be a committed enemy of the motherland, knowing well that the USA, with its policy of restraint in its relations with Russia, will leave these actions unpunished.
The regime publicized the arrest of an American diplomat in May 2013 as that of a despicable spy, while at the same time praising the Russian agents who were kicked out of the USA in 2010 as national heroes. With great sadistic pleasure, Moscow has treated Edward Snowden as a great human rights defender in 2013, mocking Washington for labeling him a traitor, and assigning the official media to gloat about American concerns about the consequences his actions will have on national security. Even naming a Moscow street after Hugo Chavez, a steadfast enemy of the USA, was intended to pester Washington when it was done in 2013. With the same intention of hurting Americans and giving new life to anti-American propaganda, Moscow banned the adoption of Russian children by Americans in 2012, ignoring the desperation of the American couples who had almost finished the complicated adoption process. At the same time, in order to inflame anti-American feelings, the official media described how badly Russian children are treated in America.
Brandishing American intervention in Russian political life, as well as their support of the opposition, has played a prominent role in anti-American propaganda because it is personally important to the master of the Kremlin. Expelling the governmental organization US Agency for International Development (USAID) from Russia in September 2013 for being directly involved (according to the Putin administration) in anti-Putin activity was a direct insult to American leadership which had profusely demonstrated the American government’s desire to improve the relations with Moscow during Obama’s first term.
Of course, Moscow’s main leverage is Russia’s right to use its veto in the UN Security Council to obstruct many American initiatives, particularly those related to North Korea and Iran.
Syria in 2013 and Cuba in 1962
The issue of Syria is of special interest in the analysis of today’s Russian geopolitical aspirations. After Putin’s intervention in the Syrian conflict, with his proposal to destroy Syrian chemical weapons and its acceptance by the US, the official Russian propaganda, and, to some degree, the Western media, began to talk about Moscow’s return to the role of a major geopolitical actor, equal to the USA. It is a very wrong diagnosis.
To understand the developments around Syria in the fall of 2013, compare it with the relations between the USA and Russia during the Cuban crisis in the fall of 1962. During the Cuban crisis, both superpowers behaved as adversaries who were almost equal in power; neither one of them could easily impose its will on the other. Similar confrontations between the USA and USSR, wherein both countries flexed their muscles, took place during the Berlin crisis in 1961; the Suez crisis in 1956; and the Israeli-Arab wars in 1967 and 1973. In the recent episode, Russia essentially retreated before the United States’ threat of military force against Syria, without even once resorting to a promise of using its own military power to defend its ally. The presence of the Russian navy in the Mediterranean, which Putin has never mentioned during the Syrian crisis, was not viewed by Washington as a viable factor for deterring a US military option.
In fact, while reducing his geopolitical aspirations to a minimal level, Putin has been extremely cautious and often inconsistent in his support of the countries Moscow has regarded as its allies in challenging the USA, like Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela. Contrast this with the Soviet meddling in the affairs of dozens of countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia after WWII!
It is true that Putin decided not to abandon Russia’s ally, Syria, this time. Several factors explain Putin’s behavior. Abandoning Syria’s government—a country very close to the Russian border, and the last bastion of Russian interests in the Middle East, with the naval base at Tartus being the last Russian military facility outside the former Soviet Union—would demonstrate to the military establishment in Russia how little Putin is actually concerned, despite his words, with Russia’s geopolitical role.
Of no less importance is the ideological motive for Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict. The propagandistic campaign in Russian media, showing Syria as a victim of American imperialism—America becomes enmeshed in the domestic affairs of one country after another—helped the Kremlin to sustain and even increase the hatred of America in Russia. However, unlike the episode with Cuba, Putin’s protecting Syria did not rely on Russia’s limited military power but only on diplomatic maneuvers, which, in turn, were only successful because most Americans and American allies were not in favor of military action. This combination of factors helped Putin to almost miraculously gain prominence in the international arena, and to regain some prestige despite his meager resources. Not a bad achievement for Putin, who has only accumulated bad scores for his international policy during his tenure as president.

Conclusion: narcissism as a threat to a modest foreign policy
There are views that Putin’s policy around Syria, together with the growth in Russian military expenditures, are a signal of Putin’s willingness to restore Russia (at least partially) to the previous geopolitical role of the USSR. Not only does this appear in Russian propaganda but many Western observers hold this view. Putin himself is delighted with his Syrian success.
Of course, while he is still in firm control of the country, with his special police units (OMON), he always needs something to fuel his declining prestige inside the country. Putin has hardly forgotten that the slogans during the 2011-2013 demonstrations on the streets of Moscow—still an unbelievable fact in Putin’s Russia—denounce him as a “thief” (“vor” in Russian) who stole the position of president with a dishonest election and a lot of money from semi-state corporations. The successes of oppositional politicians, such as Alexei Navalny’s showing in the Moscow mayoral election and Evgenii Roizman’s win in the Ekaterinburg mayoral election in September 2013, were also ominous signals for the president.
No doubt, like many leaders of authoritarian states from any time in history, Putin suffers from narcissism. There is a long well-known list of Putin’s “exploits,” which show him as a macho man who can embrace a tiger and dive into the sea to search for ancient amphora. The list of Putin’s stunts as a superman is very long. Putin prompted his myrmidons, like his aid Alexei Surkov, to name him as “chosen national leader by God.” He has commissioned one “documentary” movie about his personality after another. He has appeared several times on every official TV news program, being presented in a most flattering way. He has regularly organized meetings with “ordinary” people who, with their pre-arranged questions, make him look like a highly competent and wise leader. Judging by the Russian media, adding the title of “the leader who was able to prevent a war in the Middle East” would be very attractive to him. Putin is definitely yearning to achieve the status of a leader who can operate in the world with the same authority as the Soviet leaders did. However, it is evident, thus far, that Syria’s developments have shown that he cannot deal with an international crisis as Soviet leaders did.
So far, Putin, a former KGB man, has behaved quite rationally from the perspective of his own interests. He does not want to make the mistake of the Soviet leaders in the 1980s, and insist on a high geopolitical role for Russia despite its scant resources. Putin has been able to control his narcissism to this point. He evidently separates “words and deeds” in international politics. He obviously knows that one of the accusations against Khrushchev, when he was kicked out of the Kremlin, was his adventurism during the Caribbean crisis. However, Putin’s narcissism has not been restrained by either the ruling elite or the public, who mock his behavior. Still, even if Putin’s ability to conduct conventional military actions is very limited, the Russian nuclear arsenal is under his full control. With his low geopolitical ambitions, there are two major irritants for him. One is Western assistance to his political opponents inside Russia, which explains his almost hysterical reaction to any sign of disrespect shown to him as the legitimate Russian leader. Second are the restrictions on travel, imposed by Western governments for members of his elite travelling to the West, as well as those on their access to their properties in these places. For this reason, the Kremlin viewed the Magnitsky act, the law adopted by the American congress in 2012 that contains the list of the Russian officials who were involved in the death of the Russian lawyer, as the most painful action taken by Washington. Both of these irritants affect Putin and his plans for the future directly and personally.
As a matter of fact, the leverage of the USA over Putin is much more limited than that which American leaders had over their Soviet counterparts during the Cold War. Without big geopolitical aspirations, and with oil prices at a high level, Putin is almost invulnerable, except for actions that pertain directly to his personal status and his future. There is also the possibility that Russian political and military establishments would have their own leverage over their leader if he were to, in their opinion, cross the border of rationality. For the same reason, the West can hope that, despite the absorption with his personal interests, Putin will keep “the elite factor” in mind, and will continue to cooperate with the US, even in a fitful and inconsistent way, in the fight against international terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, as dictated by the deep national interests of Russia.

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