German Chancellor, Angela Merkel has rightly described Russian President Vladimir Putin as living in another world; he’s in a different league, in a dialogue with history. The Chancellor’s remark (as written by Joshu Yaffa in New Yorker) quite well sums up the menace Putin has created in the international system. There is no doubt, with the current state, the turmoil which exists in world order; Putin is only to be blamed. It does seem that he is having a tryst with history.
A decade ago, in a speech in 2005, Putin had made it vehemently clear that the collapse of the Soviet Union was "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”. This had set the tone of Putin’s grand plan of rebuilding the lost Soviet Empire, “the New Russia”. And ever since his re-election as President in 2012, Putin has been aggressively pursuing his dream of re-establishing the Russian hegemony within the space of the former Soviet Union.
The occupation of the Crimea was just the first step in showing to the world that both Russia and her leader need to be respected. Putin’s haste in the annexation of Crimea, was part of the larger strategy in not only destabilizing Ukraine sufficiently to prevent it from moving closer to the West, but also to exert Russia’s influence throughout Eurasia and even into the Middle East.
Having not lost touch with his roots, the former duplicitous KGB officer had been using his skills cleverly and tacitly to assert his control and dominance over Chechnya, Georgia, Armenia, Moldova, Central Asia, and over any independence-minded flash points of the former Soviet empire. He has been working belligerently to restore Russian confidence and prestige, and part of that was by getting the band back together with autocrats in the former Soviet bloc.
But with the downing of Malaysian airline, and killing all onboard, Putin’s misadventure of Ukraine has now become a global issue. With all fingers pointing at Putin for the gruesome tragedy, he remains undeterred. Despite being under pressure from Western governments that have accused him of providing pro-Russian separatists with the missiles that brought down the civilian passenger flight, it does not propel the Russian President to stop the carnage taking place in eastern Ukraine. Putin’s Russia continues to provide direct and open military support to the rebels. Many analysts are saying that the crisis has entered into a new stage with Putin appearing more willing to take the risk of open involvement in the war.
As Robert C. O'Brien, a former U.S. representative to the United Nations, argues, "With the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight No. 17, it should now be clear to all observers that Russia is fully intent on subjugating and intimidating its former Soviet constituent states and Warsaw Pact allies, and will do so with the most advanced weapons in its inventory.”
Vladimir Putin’s continued bullying, is therefore a result of the West ineptitude to retaliate in a more strict and coherent manner. President Obama, along with the EU may have imposed “tough” sanctions but it does not seem to have dissuaded Putin. As the leader of a war-weary nation, President Obama has ruled out all military options, including the provision of weapons to Ukraine. Europe too is both divided and too dependent on Russian energy supplies to provoke any lasting rupture in relations.
By imposing economic sanctions and targeting Russia’s energy and banking sectors, Washington seeks to put pressure on Putin and his cronies who feed on the money coming from Russian oil and gas. They feel that the more the Russian elite suffer from imposed sanctions, the more pressure Putin will face to resolve the Ukrainian crisis. But the situation continues to remain grim in Eastern Ukraine. Undeterred by the sanctions, capital fights, and unwillingness to compromise, Mr Putin is going on with his business of accelerating Russia’s undeclared takeover of the biggest country in Europe.
And the Russians are loving what Mr Putin is doing. The Russians, like their leader are undeterred by what is happening in the outside world. As per a Gallup-affiliated poll, it was found that eight Russians in 10 say they approve of the job Putin is doing. With complete backing from his people, Putin is determined not to allow the MH17 tragedy to come in his way of creating a “Eurasian Union.” Russia has under Putin rediscovered the confidence it lost after the Cold War. So, with the US’ hegemonic system crumbling, and Mr Putin’s control escalating, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see the current international order is in a process of major transformation.
The damage has been done. The shadow of Cold War is looming upon us. As Robert Legvold in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs explains, “The crisis in Ukraine has pushed the two sides (USA and Russia) over a cliff , and the collapse in relations between Russia and the West does indeed deserve to be called a new Cold War.”
It therefore seems certain that even if the West eventually do impose tough punitive sanctions, even if NATO does provide Ukraine with lethal weapons, Mr Putin, with a Soviet mindset will only work harder to recreate history. For Putin, its not just political but personal too. He wants to establish his name, his stature, his dominance along the lines of Stalin and Khrushchev.