Peter Beaumont: The Bits that Don't Fit

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What Vladimir wants: Part II

I should be going climbing but it’s raining so instead I’m reading foreign policy blogs on holiday. As sad as you can get.  This article by Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre on the meaning of Putin’s foreign policy caught my eye, not least because it confirms my view over the Kremlin’s foreign policy objectives as described in my profile of Putin for the Observer on Sunday.

Putin_Kukli

Copyright:  www.kremlin.ru.

U.S. reactions to President Vladimir Putin‘s op-ed article in the New York Times, from outrage to ridicule, show just how badly much of the Western policy elite are misinterpreting Russia. Trenin writes:

This is largely the product of dashed and unrealistic expectations that many in the West held after the collapse of communism. They thought Russia would reform itself and become a junior partner to the United States in global affairs. Instead, the country was re-established as an authoritarian and fiercely independent state. Putin has been demonized as the symbol of this disappointment, leaving Western elites dangerously ill-equipped to read him.

He goes on:

Putin’s primary goal isn’t a deal with the United States on Syria, but on the international security system as a whole. His central thesis is that a stable world order should be based on the institutions of the United Nations, and in particular consensus among the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council: China, France, Russia, Britain and the U.S. In this vision, nothing serious could be done in the field of international security, especially the use of force, without Russia’s approval or acquiescence. For Putin, this amounts to an essential equality among the major powers, which he sees as a foundation of global stability.

At a minimum, Putin seeks to prevent the Obama administration from striking Syria. He is convinced, and wants to convince Americans, that nothing good will come of it. He recognizes that something substantial is needed to stave off the U.S. attack — hence his chemical weapons initiative, which has led to a reprieve.

Next, Putin wants to convince Americans that using force at will doesn’t serve U.S. national interests. The chaos and uncertain futures of post-U.S. intervention Iraq and Afghanistan are Putin’s exhibits A and B in making this case. Making military intervention routine, in his view, creates a dangerous inertia in U.S. foreign policy. At some point, he must fear, the U.S. propensity to use force as a problem-solver might lead to a collision with China or Russia.

So Putin’s red line – at a minimum – is to prevent a US led strike on Syria. His maximal position – what he calls is equality – is not consensus in the Security Council but preserving the veto as a soft power lever. I’ve argued for a while both with colleagues and in print that it is a mistake to see Russian foreign policy on Syria being about Syria per se, it is about reshaping the balance of power between the global players on the P5 and more widely against the background of Putins view that Russian influence is bound to increase as the US declines.

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This entry was posted on September 17, 2013 by .
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