Putin’s not that evil for a nationalist authoritarian.
Amidst all the wars and conflicts today, you can be happy to know that at least one place has become relatively peaceful. As of a few weeks ago, Ukraine, Russia, the Peoples’ Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk and the OSCE have confirmed that hostilities in eastern Ukraine are for now over. Despite reports of continued combat and NATO pessimism, it appears that all belligerents are still respecting a ceasefire. And, despite this, the Western powers still blame Russian President Vladimir Putin for starting the crisis. To be sure, Vlad is not a nice guy. Even if you do not believe that he illegally annexed Crimea, you cannot deny he has done his share of human and civil rights abuses in Russia and Chechnya. Not to mention that calling the collapse of the Soviet Union one of the great catastrophes of the 20th Century isn’t something that would endear you to Western leaders. Nevertheless, I feel that in the case of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has been unfairly criticized for his role in the crisis, even if he bears responsibility for what is happening. Rather, I feel that the West is demonizing him because he hinders the accomplishment of their geopolitical objectives.
He rose from an unknown, thanks to Boris Yeltsin’s inner circle, to Prime Minister and then President. Between 2001 and 2004, Putin aimed to build ties with the West while reviving Cold War-era alliances. Lilia Shevtsova, author of Putin’s Russia, writes that Russia’s westward shift “is based on the desires and wishes of the leader and his understanding of the weakness of other options.” Translation: Putin knew early-on how to play the game of international politics. It requires pragmatism above all else, and not rash posturing. The players of this game are not nice people, but they are not inherently evil, either.
Fast-forwarding to the present crisis, it seems that Putin has adopted a more confrontational policy than before. Clearly, a break has developed between Putin and the West. This break is due to the West’s decision to exclude Russia from the dominant international community. It felt it could not accommodate Russian interests. Even though Russia wanted to improve relations with America after 9/11, Americans could not care less. The Bush and the Obama administrations were dedicated to maximizing American global power abroad first and foremost. Therefore, it is plausible that they could not tolerate any Russian assertiveness. This extended to Ukraine being part of a Russian sphere of influence.
To be fair, Putin did not treat Ukraine well. His support for disgraced Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich is a clear sign that he never cared for the Ukrainian people. However, the US isn’t more caring. It only views Ukraine as a stepping-stone towards the encirclement of Russia. An example of this is a recording of US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, where she is heard saying that America should “fuck the EU” and that Arseniy Yatseniuk, Ukraine’s current PM, was “their man.”.
Ultimately, I see no difference between Russia and America in how they act on the world stage. Incidents like the MH17 crash, where the West almost immediately blamed Russia despite a lack of evidence, fail to make me hate Russia, because I’ve seen this all before. Putin now replaces Saddam Hussein. I know what the US has done in Chile and Iraq, and I don’t want that in Ukraine. I’ve also seen the Orange Revolution and its failure, which led to Yanukovich gaining the political power he was denied through election. In the end, I don’t fear Putin because while he is bad, he is not that much worse than his opponents.