Putin’s Crimean “triumph” and his new doctrine: nothing common with the West
Putin has always comprehended that he has no democratic credentials for being the Russian president. For instance, he has always refused to take part in public discussions on the eve of an election. To sustain his legitimacy in the eyes of his subjects, he needs ideological arguments that glorify him as a national leader. Despite these unchanging elements of his vision, Putin’s mind is not frozen at all; it is always digesting and processing new information, which he tries to use to perpetuate his personal power. This, and not Russia’s national interest, is the main goal of his activities.
If we can judge his public texts and behavior, Putin has made recently two major discoveries about himself. He knows, of course, that his subjects have been inculcated over centuries with nationalism, xenophobia, and adulation of the empire. However, it seems that he did not suppose that his Russians after the experience of life in a practically open society over 20 years would be so credulous. Indeed, Putin has watched with delight the way in which, without any effort, Russians immediately started to believe in the evident lies, like the harassment of Russians in Crimea, and the absence of Russian troops there, despite the obvious facts. Putin was delighted that his dear Russians were ready to swallow the silliest statements about America, or about the nobility of his intentions toward Ukraine. And he was delighted by the fact that only a few Russians challenged his lies, and that he could so easily, even without direct repression, prompt the most sophisticated Russian intellectuals to show their belief in any of the stupidity of his propaganda.
Even in comparison with the Soviet leaders—with the exception of Stalin—Putin is uniquely free from even the indirect control of any political institution in the country. It is evident that nothing like this is going on in Moscow now. All Russian media and experts are unanimous in saying that only one man makes the decisions for the country. Indeed, there is no one institution in Moscow, not even the Soviet Politburo, which can even remotely restrain him or which he should fear. Nor has he been restrained by fears of international retaliation. When he decided to start the war with Georgia in 2008, he still expected some serious actions against him and Russia from the world community. Nothing like this happened.
The invasion of Crimea was a much more serious aggression against an independent country than the war with Georgia in 2008 , yet the international reaction seemed mild. Putin brilliantly exploited the West’s fear of a global war, which paralyzed the spirit of resistance in the West. Any new successes on the road to the restoration of the Soviet empire guarantees him a new wave of euphoria from his faithful population, and re-confirms that he is, indeed, a great national leader.
Probably even more important and lugubrious than the Crimean invasion was Putin’s jump to a radical ideological confrontation with the West. Until now, the optimists in the West saw some commonalities between Putin’s Russia and the West These were taken as evidence of the essential differences between the Cold war conflicts and the actual conflicts between Russia and the West, because the earlier clashes between the USSR and the USA had a deep ideological underpinning. Now, when Putin offered what the prominent Russian oppositional politician Vladimir Ryzhkov referred to as “Putin’s doctrine,” these differences seem to have disappeared, as can be seen from the official medias leader” does not see his country as having anything in common with the West. Returning to the ideological confrontation, Putin proposed a “new” system of values, with patriotism and concern for the fate of all Russians, wherever they live, as the core principles. This time, Putin denounced the West, not as a class society, as Soviet propaganda used to do, but as a deeply immoral and decadent society. He denounced the Western states and its leaders as those who cannot be trusted in anything, and as having harbored hatred for Russia since the 17th century.
So far, the whole country, with the exception of a tiny minority of liberals, are intoxicated by the ease of the Crimean operation, and view it as a stimulus for the next steps in the restoration of Russian control over post-Soviet space. Many Russian analysts on official TV rant that, having seized Crimea, Russia became much stronger than before and can now follow a new course in international affairs.
The West faces almost the same dilemma now as it did in the past—what to do to stop Russia’s expansion. The radical difference between now and the times preceding WWII lies in Putin’s personality. Unlike many other leaders, Putin only submits his foreign policy, and even the expenditures on the army, as a means of prolonging his stay in power through non-democratic ways. From his viewpoint, the West can easily appease him by withdrawing any critique of his domestic rules, stopping any support of the democratic movement inside Russia and in neighboring countries, ceasing any sanctions against his elite, and greeting him as the high leader when he visits. If the West will not meet these demands, it should be ready to raise the risk of a military confrontation with Russia, in the hope that Putin will see the danger of the military to his own existence as the president, with the possibility of criminal persecution if he were to leave his position.