Resisting Russian authoritarianism

Jonathan Power
Jonathan Power

Jonathan Power

By : Jonathan Power

The state of being vigorously against Russian President Vladimir Putin is becoming out of control. It is in danger of becoming pathological and self-destructive. What does the West gain in the long run if it sees nothing ahead but being anti-Russia? The West is in danger of embarking on a journey to nowhere. Moscow is not going to change significantly in the near future. Putin and Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev will remain in the saddle for a long time.

We are not yet in a second Cold War. Those who say we are do not know their history. The Cold War was years of military confrontation, not least with nuclear arms. It was a competition for influence that stretched around the globe, and it was done with guns. There was the Cuban missile crisis, when nuclear weapons were nearly used.

If Putin is here to stay, we have to deal with him in a courteous and constructive way. Russia is not a serious military threat. President Donald Trump’s proposal for an increase in US defense spending is larger than the whole of Russia’s defense budget.

Neither is Russia a threat ideologically. When the Soviet Union was communist, there was a purpose behind its foreign policies: To spread the type of government of the supposedly Marxist-Leninist workers’ state. No longer.

Today, militant anti-Putinists — including former US President Barack Obama, most of the major media in much of the West, and most EU leaders — believe they are defending the US-led “liberal democratic order.” They believe Russia is intent on undermining it. In their eyes, it is democracy against authoritarianism. But it is not. As renowned Russian scholar Gordon Hahn tirelessly points out, a significant number of democracies are non-NATO.

India is the most important, with its massive population. New Delhi has excellent relations with Moscow, and in no way feels challenged. Neither does Moscow feel that India is engaged in nefarious activity on Russia’s southern flank. Just as the US does not arm itself against Mexico and vice versa, so India and Russia do not prepare to be militarily engaged against each other.

India has neither encouraged nor supported illegal, revolutionary seizures of power in countries neighboring Russia. Moscow has never encouraged Pakistan in its confrontations with India, even when Beijing was a close ally of Islamabad.

We see a continuously improving relationship between India and Russia. BRICS, for example — which joins these two countries with Brazil, South Africa and China — brings the five of them economically closer and develops amity between them.

There is no sign that Russia is bent on subverting democracy. Democracy flourishes all over the world — in nearly every Latin American country, in most of Africa and a good part of Asia. They live happily with Moscow (as does authoritarian China). So why not the West?

Jonathan Power

Moscow has good relations with other Asian democracies: Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. There are few tensions between Tokyo and Moscow, even though they have failed so far to settle a sensitive dispute over ownership of the Kuril islands, a leftover from World War II.

During Putin’s recent trip to Tokyo to talk with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, there was a significant breakthrough on the issue. The two agreed that their countries would engage in joint economic activity on the islands.

South Korea is a firm US ally. Nevertheless, Moscow has not raised the issue of the US deployment of an anti-missile defense system in South Korea, aimed at North Korea. Seoul recently signed some 20 economic agreements with Moscow. Moreover, South Korea plans to sign a free-trade agreement with the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, the very one that the US and EU leant on Ukraine not to join.

There is no sign that Russia is bent on subverting democracy. Democracy flourishes all over the world — in nearly every Latin American country, in most of Africa and a good part of Asia. None of these countries complain of Russian opposition to their “liberal democratic order.” They live happily with Moscow (as does authoritarian China). So why not the West?

It would be enjoying the same benign relationship with Moscow if under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama the US had not, step by step, put Russia under the hammer by expanding NATO, breaking a solemn promise not to. Neither Presidents Ronald Reagan nor George H.W. Bush, who understood Russia, saw fit to expand NATO. Richard Nixon, a Russophile, would never have.

Russia’s own post-Soviet politics have veered from chaotic democracy under former President Boris Yeltsin to half-way-house authoritarianism under Putin. For all their deficiencies, they have been miles away from the repression of Soviet rule. The West is going to have to live with this kind of Russia for a long time. The West must stop being paranoid and vindictive; this is counterproductive.

Jonathan Power is a British journalist, filmmaker and writer. He has been a foreign affairs columnist for the International Herald Tribune for 17 years.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in the Column section are their own and do not reflect RiyadhVision’s point-of-view.


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