The West may have some reasons to dislike Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, but none of them has much to do with the political situation in Russia.
America’s relationship with Vladimir Putin, the top contender in next month’s presidential elections, follows a curious, yet predictable, path. When Putin’s foreign policy prerogatives were in sync with Washington’s, everything was considered fine. But once Putin began to form Russia’s own foreign policy strategy, based more on the realities than any half-baked ideologies, Washington quickly expressed its displeasure.
Consider the “War on Terror”. Then-President Vladimir Putin was the first international leader to phone former US President George W. Bush following the terrorist attacks of September 11 and offer Russia’s condolences and support. The Russian leader’s words were quickly translated into concrete action, and today US forces are permitted to carry supplies into Afghanistan using Russian airspace. Two points for Mr. Putin.
How did Washington respond to the goodwill gesture? Bush announced that the US would withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, a document that has kept a lid on the threat of a nuclear war with Russia for four decades.
“I have concluded the ABM treaty hinders our government’s ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue-state missile attacks,” Bush said.
Putin, as well as leaders of other nations, including France and Sweden, called the decision “a mistake.”
Soon, however, what started as a justifiable war in Afghanistan against Taliban baddies began to look like a nice excuse for putting Uncle Sam’s boots down across the planet.
On March 18, 2003, and against the sound advice of the United Nations, European allies and Russia, the United States launched a military offensive against Iraq. Yet, the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein played no role in the attacks of September 11, nor did they possess “weapons of mass destruction” that bad intelligence (or good propaganda) warned could reach London in 15 minutes.
Today, Moscow and Washington find themselves at loggerheads over the US decision to build a missile defense system in Eastern Europe – and without Russia’s participation. The US refuses Russia’s request to provide legal guarantees that the system will never be used against Russia. Washington has refused the request. So much for cooperation in the War on Terror.
For Vladimir Putin, America’s willingness to use unilateral force to solve every global problem was becoming a dangerous trend.
On February 10, 2007, Putin delivered before the Munich Conference on Security Policy a straightforward and perhaps long-overdue condemnation of US unilateral global behavior.
“Today we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force – military force – in international relations, force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts,” Putin said. “One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way.”
It should be noted that similar concerns were expressed almost one decade earlier by French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, who first defined the United States as a “hyperpower.”
Today, because Vladimir Putin dared question the unilateral trajectory of US foreign policy, he has drawn heavy criticism from Western mainstream media. And now that presidential elections are just days away, foreign observers are attempting to make the most of Putin’s domestic opponents.
Time magazine, for example, is preparing to release a cover story on Putin, which carries the headline, “Russia’s incredible shrinking prime minister,” despite the fact that the majority of Russians support the Prime Minister and his policies.
The deceptive, inaccurate portrayal of Putin has even conjured up a whole new vocabulary to explain the media-generated phenomenon.
“We can say with a great deal of confidence that the author of these words is a huge Russophobe and Putinophobe,” Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary told Kommersant radio. “And this phobia is cloaking [the author’s] eyes, preventing him from an objective assessment of reality.”
“Despite all that, we will continue our work, will explain the actions we make, we will explain this to everyone who needs such explanation – and we will refrain from explanations for those who have no sense in this,” Peskov said.
Unfortunately, the US media has distanced itself from the moment in June 2001, before the United States was shaken by a terrorist attack, when it reported George W. Bush’s sentiments on Vladimir Putin.
“I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue,” Bush told reporters following his first meeting with Putin in Slovenia. “I was able to get a sense of his soul.”