On August 19, Strobe Talbott, former deputy secretary of state in the Clinton administration and currently president of the Brookings Institution published a remarkable article “The Making of Vladimir Putin” in Politico, where he expressed his opinion on who is present Russian ruler and what to expect from him. This article is interesting not only due to waste amount of historical facts about Putin’s personality and ambitions, but also because it consists of some conclusions and prognosis regarding Ukraine.
Strobe Talbott writes that Putin wants to turn back the history clock by annexing Crimea and fomenting a secessionist rebellion in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine. From the very beginning of Putin’s rule in Moscow, the West knew that sooner or later the policy of so-called “putinism” will lead to “the resurgence of Russian power”, especially on territories which were part of the Soviet Union or under its control.
As he writes, Vladimir Putin is a representative of the Soviet revisionist elite who hated Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. “For them, the most emotive bloody-flag grievance was not just the loss of territory, but the stranding of some 25 million ethnic Russians in what were now 14 neighboring, independent states. A common phrase — mumbled, growled and sometimes screamed in the debates of the time — was that Yeltsin was guilty of “the mutilation of Mother Russia,” leaving her orphans outside the care of Moscow,” he says.
Mr. Talbott reminds that Putin’s art of lying in favor to grab lands and increase geopolitical influence (like he lied in 2014 about “the little green men” in the Ukrainian Crimea and “weapons purchased by them in any store”) became first visible in June 1999 during crisis in Yugoslavia, when he became a security adviser of Yeltsin. “But what really struck my colleagues and me was the aplomb, smugness and brazenness with which Putin lied,” notes Talbott.
Of course, conflict in the eastern Ukraine is waging by Putin himself, says Strobe Talbott. He reminds that Putin’s reliance on disinformation, as former KGB counter-intelligence operative, reached a scale that has led The Economist to characterize Russia as a mendocracy, particularly during the Ukraine crisis. Russia’s media have done their best to characterize the popular uprising against the previous Ukrainian government as a coup instigated by the West.
Meanwhile, “whoever is at the top [in Russia] is hard to stop, and hard to remove. Which is why Putin himself, and not just Putinism, matters” says Talbott, but questions the longevity of so-called “Putin’s era” which lasts for 15 years.
He calls as a double-edged sword Putin’s heavy reliance on the ultra-nationalist proposition that Russian statehood should be based on ethnicity, which is used in Crimea and eastern Ukraine to expand Russian territory. Talbott predicts that the Russian chauvinism could shrink Russia’s territory, since vast parts of that country are populated by non-Russian ethnic groups who are unlikely to welcome or, over the long run, tolerate a Russian chauvinist in the Kremlin. But under its current leadership, Russia is an immediate threat to its neighbors, including Ukraine.