Russia and the West Repeating Usual Mistakes of Dictatorships and Democracies about Each Other

via aleksey godin

Paul Goble
            Staunton, April 9 – Russia and the West are repeating the mistakes dictatorships and democracies make about each other, with the former viewing the latter’s slowness in responding as an indication of weakness rather than deliberation and the latter viewing the bold aggressiveness of the former as evidence of a strength the dictators do not have.
            In a commentary for Radio Svoboda, Kyiv commentator Vitaly Portnikov focuses on the Russian side of this equation, on the ways in which Moscow has been misreading the West and operating on the assumption that bold aggressiveness will be sufficient to win out, something that won’t work when the West reads Russia right (svoboda.org/a/29153823.html).
            “The strength of Russia is not in the powerlessness but in the inaction of the West,” he argues, and “the chief error of Vladimir Putin is to view inertness as weakness.” When the Western democracies did not take serious action against his aggression in Ukraine, Putin concluded that they were weak and that he could move elsewhere. 
            But that notion and the related one that Russia defeated the West in Ukraine “exists only in the fantasies of Putin and many of his fellow citizens.” For the West, “the Russian-Ukrainian conflict” was initially something far away and even inexplicable, and thus it acted as it did. But “the Russian president believed that the West is powerless, and he moved into Syria.
            There Putin repeated his mistake of thinking that he was fighting a war with the Americans, Portnikov argues.  In fact, Washington wanted to bring stability to that country and the region and didn’t view the Asad regime as being able to make a contribution to that goal, rather, just the reverse.
            Thus, Moscow and Washington have been fighting for different goals rather than with each other as Putin imagines.  But because Putin read the situation the way he has, the Kremlin leader felt that he could advance in yet another way against the West and hence the poisoning in Salisbury.
            But contrary to his expectations and assumptions, “the West began to respond in a serious way. Without any particular desire or delight and each time stopping and seeking agreement, but to respond.” And that has created a new and uncomfortable situation for Putin: how can he respond when the response involves “not declarations and telephone calls” but “real action?”
            The Kremlin leader had no real response to Trump’s airstrikes in Syria or even to the destruction of a Russian plane by Turkey; “and if the Americans again decide to bomb Asad, there will not be any answer. And in this is the main problem of the Kremlin,” according to Postnikov.
            Moscow’s ability to respond in “mirror-like” fashion to the West is something that exists “only in the Kremlin’s imagination because in the real world and not that which is shown on television, the US and Great Britain are at the center of the globalized world and Russia is on its periphery.”
            The Russian side can respond to sanctions only by taking actions that further weaken it. It can close a US consulate in St. Petersburg after the US closes the Russian one in Seattle but the fact is that “citizens of Russia are the ones who need both these consulates” more than does the United States.
And Moscow can impose sanctions on Western businessmen and politicians, but the situation they are in is not the same as that of Russian businessmen on whom the West has imposed sanctions: the Russians keep their money and property in the West and many want to live there. Few Westerners have villas in Russia or want to live in that country.
As long as the West doesn’t take serious steps, Putin can imagine he is winning by responding; but when the West does decide to do so despite all of Putin’s boldness and aggressiveness, the Kremlin leader’s weakness and lack of choices becomes increasingly obvious to all.