Russian President Vladimir Putin.
(Photo: Aroop Mishra)
The United States perhaps wants to make Russian President Vladimir Putin into a ‘Saddam Hussein’ and is probably dreaming of effecting a regime change in Moscow. But the crucial difference between Vladimir Putin and Saddam Hussein is this: Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) as falsely claimed by then US Secretary of State Colin Powell at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), but Putin has WMDs.
To prove the point, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN that Russia would use nuclear weapons if its existence is threatened. Of course, Russia would decide when it feels that its “existence is threatened” and when it would resort to the use of nuclear weapons.
Putin is, of course, being seen as the new ‘Stalin’ by Western media. There may be good reasons for it. Putin has been in power for 20 years now, he disposes of his rivals by sending them to prison on false charges (as can be seen in the case of Alexei Navalny), and he successfully manipulates the fragile democratic framework of the Russian Duma, which looks like a meek subordinate of the man in Kremlin. But how can one deal with a dictator – a dictator who commands nuclear weapons?
The American and European response on the ground has been one of restraint, whatever their rhetorical speeches, especially in the European Parliament. There will be no Western military intervention in Ukraine, though military and economic aid would flow. The heroic resistance of the Ukrainians is holding back the Russians. The Western strategy seems to be to isolate Putin and Russia completely. The example of North Korea shows that a country shunned by the West can survive under a dictatorship. Russia under Putin could become another North Korea.
It looks like the US and NATO have pushed Russia into a war in Ukraine to test Russia’s military strength and to try and push Putin out of power. There is no need for a deep conspiracy theory to infer that Americans would want a friendly man in Kremlin. For a while, Russia was admitted into the G8, the rich and industrialised group. But somehow, Putin did not seem an amenable leader to the West.
The reason behind President Biden’s harsh stance against Putin might be the allegations that Putin had campaigned against Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton and for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, something that both Trump and Putin had denied. But there have been serious concerns in the American establishment of Russia’s political interference in the American elections through hackers.
There is, of course, the irony that the Americans have tried to influence electoral outcomes in many countries, and that though they have left many traces of interference, they were never caught. But many Americans across the political spectrum were convinced that the Russians tried to temper with the American political process.
The Democrats’ grudge against Putin drives America’s Russia policy to some extent. But the Americans perceive that the real danger is Russia’s growing economic clout through its control of crucial energy supplies to Europe and the partial economic integration of Russia into the global system. It is only after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine that American oil major Exxon Mobil withdrew from Russia, along with the European oil conglomerate Shell. And Putin turned out to be a haggler on the market front, and he often argued with the Europeans about the prices of oil and gas.
Russia, along with Ukraine, is also crucial for wheat exports to many countries in Africa and other parts of the world. It appears that the Americans deeply resented Putin for leveraging Russia’s economic resources. And the Americans are quite keen to break this vice-like grip of Putin’s Russia. The US may not want to threaten Russia’s ‘existence’, but it certainly wants to break Russian influence in places like Syria, Mali, and Central Asian republics.
Going back to the text of Putin’s speech delivered at Rice University in Houston on 14 November 2001, when the events of 11 September 2001 had seemingly brought Russia and the US together, one would find that the commonalities of economic cooperation, especially in oil, had established a connection. But much water has flowed under the bridge in these 21 years.
(The writer is a New Delhi-based political journalist. He tweets @ParsaJr. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)