It’s simple: Putin is a grasping dictator

It’s simple: Putin is a grasping dictator, by Greg Sheridan.

No idea is sillier, or more popular in certain mildly deranged elements of the Western right, than the notion that the regime of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is somehow a friend of Western civilisation. Because Putin’s regime has been tough on Muslims in Chechnya, attempted to conscript the Russian Orthodox Church into its political agenda and speaks in bellicose nationalist tones, these folks see Moscow as a force for good. …

The Russian regime is a brutal dictatorship that murders its enemies at home and abroad, and an aggressive invader of sovereign neighbouring countries. It is a lawless regime that has reduced the Russian economy to dismal stagnation even with a ­recovery in commodity prices, and engaged in wildly irresponsible military adventures in support of the world’s worst dictators. It is run by and for the ex-communist Russian elite, many of whom, such as Putin himself, were formed in the KGB. …

The view from Warsaw:

One of the best places for analysis of Moscow is Warsaw. … With their fine analytical and intellectual traditions, Poles devote great effort to analysing Moscow.

Witold Rodkiewicz, of Warsaw’s Centre for Eastern Studies, has a brutally realist understanding of the Putin regime: “Let’s put to rest this unfortunate misperception of Putin by the new right. Putin is taking them for a ride. He plays them, altering his views for left and right. The Polish right is completely devoid of this infatuation with Putin, which is based on PR and make-believe by Putin.” …

What motivates it is not Russian national interest but the narrow sectional interests, often the personal interests, of the class that has succeeded the old Soviet nomenklatura but retained many of its impulses and reflexes. “The Russian elite has been talking about and practising these policies since the mid-1990s,” Rodkiewicz says. “They don’t just emerge from Putin’s mind. Putin represents the organised Russian elite. …

“The basic problem they want to solve is internal legitimacy. The regime seems very stable and secure. But it faces fundamental problems.”

One of these, Rodkiewicz argues, is the need to maintain some kind of notional electoral legitimacy no matter how obviously fraudulent: “From the late Gorbachev period Soviet society was infected by the need for some sort of electoral mandate. The entire effort of the post-Soviet ruling class has been to build ‘facade democracy’ — how to make sure elections produce the expected result.

“This pretence is absolutely necessary. Everyone knows the elections are falsified, rigged on a massive basis. What the regime doesn’t know is how long the Russian people and society will put up with this. …

“The Russians believe in their absolute sovereignty as a great power. They want to be confident that if they need to shoot their own citizens, no one can interfere with this from the outside.

“They see concentric circles of influence. They want a buffer zone around them with limited sovereignty. Even though they don’t practise law internally, they would like these arrangements written down on paper internationally. They want to ‘Finlandise’ this area (central Europe).”

Western Europe is almost defenseless:

One perspective many Poles share with the Russians is an extreme scepticism about west European military power and resolve. Put at its crudest, without the Americans, the west Europeans are all but nothing militarily, though their collective economy is huge. The Russians have no respect for weakness. Indeed weakness is provocative. Yet all that west Europe has projected for the past decade is strategic weakness.

The Russians are encouraged by the mess in Europe, the mess in the EU, the rise of China and the sense that the Americans may be fed up paying for the system they created. They are, however, disconcerted by Donald Trump’s increase for the US military budget, his strategic unpredictability, and the persistence under Trump of US sanctions against Russia. They respect America under Trump, and indeed somewhat fear it.

Nonetheless, Putin is right on some aspects of the culture war.