Putin inauguration: World view of a Russian feeling dissed
As the second presidential inauguration of Vladimir Putin approaches, a former correspondent who once worked for him looks at the world view of the Russian iron man. His theory: The president is feeling dissed by the West and believes it conspires to "destroy" Russia.
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It was a Putin conditioned by decades of suspicion about Western plots who also told Bush he "knew," because his secret services had informed him, that America had special factories producing substandard poultry exclusively for export to Russia.Skip to next paragraph
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Between 2006 and 2009, I observed Putin and his entourage at close quarters, working as a media adviser to his press office. (My task, in which I admit I failed, was to educate them about Western media practices and persuade them to adopt a more open style of government.) In the past three years, in the course of making a series of television documentaries and writing a book about Putin, I interviewed dozens of politicians in Russia and the West who had dealings with him. From these experiences I have detected several factors that I believe are crucial to his personality and behavior.
Regarding his attitude toward the West, it's important to remember that Putin was not always the iron man, the obstructionist we see aiding the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria or ranting about Western "interference" in Russian affairs. What we see here is the anger of a man who feels spurned – and he is not a man to forgive easily.
In his first years as president, Putin went to great lengths to be accepted by the West. He asked NATO's secretary-general, "When are you going to invite Russia to join?" He moved swiftly to forge friendships with the leaders of Britain, the US, France, and Germany – but found that only the latter two treated him the way he wanted. He made overtures, such as offering the US unprecedented help in prosecuting its war in Afghanistan (albeit for the selfish reason that he hoped this would help him fight terrorists inside Russia). He invited world leaders to lavish celebrations in St. Petersburg and Moscow. He introduced economic reforms at home that genuinely impressed the West.
But Putin felt he got nothing in return for all these efforts, and genuinely could not understand why the West – while paying lip service to a new "friendship with Russia" and "the end of the cold war" – routinely ignored Russia's security interests. Despite developing what appears to have been a sincere, if superficial, friendship with Bush, Putin had to watch as NATO took in East European states, expanding right up to Russia's borders, and America abandoned the Antiballistic Missile Treaty and pressed on with plans to build a missile defense shield in Europe. The antimissile system is ostensibly aimed against a potential future threat from Iran, but Moscow is quite convinced – and not entirely without reason – that it could be used against Russia, too, and that at the very least it destabilizes the balance of power that has kept the peace for decades.
On top of these strategic issues, Putin was furious that the US refused to abolish the antiquated Jackson-Vanik amendment, which restricted trade with Russia, and – in Putin's view – kept moving the goalposts for Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization. All these grievances accumulated like bad blood, until, in February 2007, he exploded in a landmark anti-American speech in Munich, Germany.