How Putin is defying the West and transforming Russia to a superpower in contemporary world politics

(This piece is written in response to the article “The World According to Putin” by Simon Shuster published on 16th September, 2013 on the TIME magazine.)

There goes a famous online quote, “whenever Putin walks away from something, it looks like it will explode.” And Putin is now trying to show to the world that he is tough, that he will transform Russia back to a world superpower.

Vladimir Putin

Photo: WikiMedia.

It has become increasingly clear that present-day Russia, under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, is trying to confront the West on various issues. From the granting of asylum to whistleblower Edward Snowden, to the banning of US citizens from adopting Russian children, to the vetoing of all UN resolutions by Western powers on the Syrian regime, it is imminent that Russia has taken a more confrontational approach, unlike that taken by Boris Yeltsin after the Soviet collapse. But why is Russia doing so after all?

In the recent issue of TIME, it is commented that Putin is dreaming of imperial rebirth. After World War II, the former Soviet Union was one of the two superpowers in the world, the other being the US. The Soviet Union had a broad coalition of allies in Eastern Europe and beyond, and was very much influential in world politics. Nevertheless, after Soviet collapsed in 1991, Russia was generally regarded as a large country with lesser influence than before, with some even arguing that the country was going to break down into pieces.

To take one example, in the 1990s, a group of separatist guerillas from Chechnya launched attacks against the Russian military in order to gain independence. To try to calm things down, Boris Yeltsin decided to grant them de facto independence. When Putin took power in 2000, he promised to stop this and retook control of Chechnya. He might want to consolidate control over a larger area of his country.

Besides internal politics, Putin is often unhappy with “Western intrusions” in Russian interests. Putin is infuriated by a number of US-backed revolutions that brought pro-Western leaders to rule former republics of the Soviet Union. Dubbed the “colour revolutions”, there were a number of upheavals in the early 2000s: the Bulldozer Revolution in Yugoslavia, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Putin saw all these turmoil as “US-backed”, describing them as “political engineering in regions that [were] traditionally important for us.” That could be another factor in triggering Russia’s confrontational approach today.

And there are conflicts of interests in the world’s most problematic region, the Middle East. When the Libyan Civil War materialized in 2011 after the spontaneous Arab Spring movement, Western Power struck a deal that they would not kill Gadhafi in exchange for Russia’s abstention in the UN resolution that authorized a no-fly zone in the territory. Nevertheless, in October 2011, NATO forces and rebel fighters killed him in the Battle of Sirte. According to media reports, Putin said that he was “betrayed” by Western powers and expressed his anger by questioning NATO’s authority in killing Gadhafi. Putin was also unhappy with the fact that post-revolution governments are usually aligned with Western interests. He is worried about the shrinking strategic importance of Russia in world affairs.

That explains why Russia is still in support of Assad, denying reports of the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. Putin has even contributed a piece for the New York Times, arguing against the West’s possible military intervention in Syria.

In August, Obama joked while comparing Putin’s slouch expression to a “bored kid at the back of the classroom,” referring to his body language at the last meeting between the two world leaders. And as TIME says in the article, “[Russia’s] leader doesn’t care what anybody thinks of him.” It is becoming increasingly truthful that while the current situation in the Middle East intensifies, Putin will definitely act as he wishes.


Copyright © 2015 Eric Cheung. All rights reserved.

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