Americans have some terrible misconceptions about Russia that make any sort of successful relationship with that country impossible. The biggest of these misconceptions concerns the motivations of Vladimir Putin and his goals.
Over the past year large segments of the American news media have been displaying their ignorance of history and Russia with talk of a “new Cold War.” Such nonsense makes the situation worse and conflict inevitable by encouraging Americans to return to 20th Century era thinking and actions.
Worst of all it gets the situation completely wrong because there is no New Cold War. The Cold War was a largely ideological conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, or Democracy and Communism. There can be no New Cold War because the Soviet Union no longer exists and Putin is no Communist.
Sorry Senator McCain, Putin is not a Communist
Yes it is true that Vladimir Putin is a former KGB agent and one-time Communist Party member. Note: he joined those loathsome organizations only to advance his career, once the Communists were out of power Putin dropped out almost immediately.
Putin’s real beliefs can be ascertained by his behavior. Over the past few years Vladimir has staged many photo opportunities with symbols of Imperial Russia. He is often seen posing with the Czarist flag; the double-headed eagle, and with soldiers in Imperial Uniform. That’s hardly the behavior of a Communist, indeed Putin has done little or nothing to honor the Soviet legacy beyond praise World War II veterans.
More importantly, Putin has done absolutely nothing to reconstruct the Soviet state. Industries have not been nationalized, Communist indoctrination not been reinstituted and no serious effort to restore Communists to power has been made.
Nor has Putin made any serious efforts to reconstruct the Soviet Empire abroad. The policy of arming Marxist insurgents and supporting Communist regimes has not been reinstituted. The one foreign intervention Putin has made was to back a fascist oligarchy in Syria, that of the loathsome Assad family.
Note: Putin has preserved a few trappings of the Soviet order such as Lenin’s tomb and allowed the Communist Party to function. One reason for this is to scare average Russians into thinking: “we need Putin’s iron hand to keep those monsters from coming back to power.”
What Putin Really wants
All this indicates that Putin is a Russian nationalist whose politics are closer to those of Tsar Nicholas II than Lenin. As far as I know Putin has never paid Lenin’s body any honors, but he has gone out of his way to honor Nicholas’s memory. Churches in Nicholas’s memory are actually being built in a number of Russian cities including Moscow.
Putin is also a Christian who has given strong support to the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church. He has gone out of his way to put some of the Church’s tenets such as restrictions on gays into law. More importantly Putin has rebuilt much of the church infrastructure destroyed by the Communists and restored its property even in the face of popular opposition.
All this should show people like Senator McCain (R-Arizona) that Putin is not a Communist. He has no plans for Second Cold War or a new Soviet Union. Therefore we need to ask: what does Putin really want?
My guess is that Putin wants to restore Russia to something close to what it was in the late 19th Century. That is a conservative Orthodox Christian state, with a strong central government, powerful military and vibrant culture.
Obviously Putin cannot entirely restore the Russian Empire; he recognizes that many of its basic institutions such as the monarchy and nobility are dead. Yet he thinks that a new Conservative Russia can be built on historic values.
Putin’s New Old World Order
Part of that process is to restore Russia’s dignity and place in the world. Another is to offer the world a conservative alternative to the American/European/Chinese capitalist order. My guess is that Putin would like to go back to something like the European order of the early 19th Century; in which conservative monarchs crushed all revolutions.
This means Putin opposes all revolutions; he’s against Islamic terrorism, but he would be just as likely to dispatch Russian ground troops to fight a Marxist insurgency as ISIS. One potential danger is that Putin views all forms of modernity including Capitalism, Communism, parliamentary democracy and multiculturalism as evils that must be fought.
It also explains why he is so quick to embrace reactionary nationalist politicians; like Donald Trump, in other nations. That should concern us because it invites conflict with the United States, something that nearly occurred in Syria.
We should be worried because Putin is quietly developing the means for Russia to serve as a global policeman. His military is experimenting with potentially game-changing next generation weapons such as robot tanks and drones.
These weapons systems seem designed to deploy against radicals and revolutionaries. IE: robot tanks would have no compulsion against driving over or machine gunning protestors in the streets. The possibility for massive human rights violations and wholesale slaughter is obvious.
Another aspect of Putin’s world order is to discredit the most visible alternative to his conservative thuggery: democracy. He is doing that by trying to undermine basic institutions in the world’s most visible democracy: the United States.
This and not the restoration of the Soviet Union is what Vladimir Putin really wants. It might also make some sort of conflict between his new Russia and the United States inevitable no matter what President Trump desires.