July 8, 2015
By Rostislav Ishchenko
Translated from Russian by J.Hawk
It’s well known that foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy. Therefore since Putin is conducting a policy of national reconciliation, it’s not surprising that foreign policy is also emphatically unaggressive. This irritates many. They are irritated by insufficient radicalism, both internal and external. It has gotten to the point that the president whose efforts allowed Russia to re-establish itself as a superpower is accused of being weak and of willingness to bow before the West.
Is it really so? I think that the Khodorkovskiy, Gusinskiy, Berezovskiy, and other less well known cases of their similarly dangerous comrades indicate that the President of the Russian Federation clearly understands where the line separating compromise from capitulation is located. And every of Putin’s compromises has been to Putin’s benefit. The direction of the changes leaves us with no doubt that the ultimate goal is the state assuming the “commanding heights” in the economy and becoming more active internationally, with the backing by necessary and sufficient military force.
Putin has spent all fifteen years of his rule pursuing a multifaceted strategy which consisted of the following:
Ensuring internal political stability through the pursuit of a national compromise policy (oligarchs, other than the most rapacious ones, were not “de-kulakized”, but were brought into a non-aggression pact which preserved their assets in return for their non-involvement in politics and willingness to unconditionally adopt business policies which serve the national interests, with the violators of that pact harshly punished).
Establishing a favorable international political conditions through a policy of limited opposition to the West (Russia responded to open challenges, but without leaving the norms of “decency”, not permitting itself to do more than France or Germany and in general preserving friendly rhetoric toward the West).
Buying time, about ten years, in order to restore and develop the economy and the armed forces, to prepare for the reorientation of its economic ties (which is why sanctions failed) and disassociating the national financial system from the dollar (if one compares the situation with Ukraine, it’s plainly visible that once hryvnia fell nearly all prices grew proportionately, but in Russia a significant segment of ruble-denominated prices, in other words goods not dependent on imports, remained the same or within the bounds of inflation).
Creating economic and political alliances, and searching for military cooperation partners.
One could add about 10 smaller points, but I think those are the main aspects. Russian strategy’s goal for all these years was buying time in order to strengthen the internal and external position of the state which would inevitably enter into a life-or-death conflict with the US. The majority of efforts of the leadership team over the last 15 years were dedicated toward achieving these goals of winning time and preserving stability.
In principle, those are the ABC’s of politics–if you can reach your objective without confrontation and destabilization, it means that confrontation and destabilization are harmful to you. Nobody likes hooligans and adventurers in either domestic or foreign politics. In the end, we can see how the US, in what chess players would call time-trouble and therefore unable to play a long-term game of hugging Russia to death just as Reagan and Bush Sr. hugged Gorbachev’s USSR to death, initiated a confrontation and promoted instability to the point of becoming a problem for its own allies. The US is feared and obeyed in Europe (though already not everywhere in the world). And, most importantly, they are paying for it through the growth of anti-Americanism in the world. Incidentally, if your allies are mere satellites and are not your friends on the basis of mutual benefit but rather on the basis of your superior power, you have to continually demonstrate that power (which forces the US to overextend its military resources and overstretch its budget), because as soon as you show weakness you will be betrayed by allies who run over to your adversary’s side.
It is not surprising that right now Putin is continuing a foreign policy which has already proved its success. Russia is not seeking confrontation, but is clearly delineating the limits of compromise. Washington understands that such a compromise would put Putin in absolute command of the situation in Europe, North Africa, and in the Middle East, while Russia will squeeze the US out of Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America in partnership with other BRICS countries. Therefore the US are trying hard to provoke a conflict.
They will provoke it sooner or later. But every day won makes Russia stronger and the US weaker.
Under these conditions, the conditions of direct opposition to a strong and dangerous foe, Russia is being stabbed in the back by people who call themselves “patriots” and whom I refer to as “militarists” so as not to confuse them with real patriots. They cowardly blame abstract Russian authorities and equally abstract “fifth column” (they even introduced the term “sixth column” which did not take root), as well as various members of the presidential team of betraying national interests. It’s cowardly because it’s clear they are aiming at the president. He determines the country’s foreign policy, he bears responsibility for it (including for the work of his team), and Putin never denied that in his view the country is on the right path. But they are afraid to say they are in opposition to Putin–his support is too great, the level of popular trust too high.
Therefore they are biting at the legs of the presidential stool while professing their loyalty to the president and the commander in chief. The “militarists” are also conducting harmful propaganda because they are operating from the same positions as the president, except in a more radical fashion.
They, like all the plotters in Russia (starting in antiquity and until our times) are prepared to see destabilization and even a civil conflict in pursuit of a noble goal–“saving Russia.” If they are able to jolt the society, which is not difficult under conditions of a profound international crisis and complex foreign policy maneuvers, they might establish a foundation for a rebellion.
But we can see from Ukraine’s example what happens when people who are certain in their exclusive right to patriotism and the usefulness of executions in ensuring the country’s integrity and welfare come to power. These patriots also believed that the authorities are insufficiently patriotic. They took rifles in hand and chased off Yanukovych. Then, having discovered that not everyone shares their idea of patriotism, they started a civil war. And now they are on the brink of a war of all against all.
However, once you trade law for a Kalashnikov in order to chase the “mistaken” majority from power (because you wouldn’t need a Kalashnikov if you were in the majority), you will follow that path to the end, first shooting your fellow travellers, then your fellow party members, and ultimately your closest associates because there always exist differences of opinion, and the “militarists” have only one method of dealing with problems–whoever shoots first is right.
In that respect the Russian pseudo-patriotic “militarists” are no different from the Right Sector. The only difference is one world. Change Ukrainian to Russian and you won’t see a difference. Their methods–naked violence, the refusal to recognize constitutional freedoms, and terror–are identical, and should Russian “militarists” ever take power, the result will be just like in Ukraine and even (considering Russia’s size and diversity) even worse.
Russian authorities have given no reason in the last 15 years to suspect it of sentimentality, incompetence, or short-sightedness. As I already wrote, Putin has always reacted instantaneously and decisively in response to any actual threats. Liberals today are marginalized and weak. What is more, any liberal pro-US activity actually benefits the militarists because it validates their thesis that harsh measures are necessary. It’s no coincidence the liberals and militarists often turn up at the same events.
At the same time the militarists are laying claim not to power itself but to the exclusive right to dictate to the authorities what they ought to be doing. Willingly or unwillingly, the “militarists” are violating the pact, they are rising against the policy of national compromise whose destruction would lead to a civil war and the destruction of the Russian state.
It’s not hard for me to guess who is in greater danger of being targeted by the government’s stabilization (and, in actuality, anti-Maidan) measures. Because only patriots jump on the Maidan. And everyone is for the national interests. No “fifth columnists” are invited. Everyone else, all those who don’t support the Maidan are the “fifth column.” Incidentally, the students at Tiananmen had the best of intentions.
Something tells me that if Putin is forced to choose between Gorbachev’s and Deng Xiaoping’s methods, he will easily follow in the footsteps of the late Chinese wise man. But Russia dearly needs internal stability, and even a rapid destruction of even the most harmful “militarist” opposition is also a form of destabilization. Therefore it would be preferable to avoid using measures against the “militarists” which the militarists right now want used against their opponents.