Recent developments in Ukraine are raising serious concerns about the credibility and trustworthiness of the Russian Federation as a member of the international community. The annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and Russia’s role in forging and escalating an armed conflict in eastern Ukraine have been done with complete disregard for international law. Russia’s actions have posed a direct threat to the post-1989 European security order. Moreover, they’ve already had global implications. Among the multitude of consequences was the downing of Malaysia Airlines MH17 plane in Donbas, which claimed the lives of 36 Australians. The Ukraine–Russia conflict was suddenly an issue of concern to Australia’s elected representatives. As fighting in Donbas continues and Australia supports consecutive rounds of sanctions being imposed on Russia, it’s imperative that we understand Putin’s world view and the logic behind his regime’s actions in Russia, Ukraine and globally.
The following points attempt to present the perspective of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Readers should maintain a healthy distance to it and not treat it in a literal manner.
- Russia first: Domestic affairs are a priority. The wider world is a contrasting and sinister background for Russia’s re-emergence as the only morally legitimate global power, competing in a multipolar world on equal terms with the United States and China. To rule the Russian Federation, subordinated authorities can and should control the minds and actions of the citizenry through any means necessary.
- Democracy is a noble but unrealistic idea: The very concept of democracy has largely been discredited in Russia and abroad. Democracy can’t be fully realised anywhere. The attempts to introduce democracy in Russia in the 1990s resulted in anarchy and downgrading of the Soviet legacy. Today, as in the past, Russians expect to be ruled by strong leaders who implement rigorous legislation. However, the severity of Russian laws is balanced by the fact that their enforcement is optional.
- Soviet Union to be reincarnated: Whoever doesn’t miss the Soviet Union has no heart; whoever wants it back has no brain. The collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster. Tens of millions of compatriots found themselves outside of the Russian state. The Eurasian Economic Union is the Soviet Union’s new embodiment; it will be a Russian dominium.
- West—divide et impera: Western societies (US, EU) are demoralised and shouldn’t be perceived as a model for Russian development. Despite its economic or military attributes, the West lacks strong political and moral leadership. It is thus impotent. This is the image that needs to be reinforced in the minds of both Russians and of those in Western societies. Psychological subversion should be inspired in the West to destabilise its social order and its structures of power, authority and hierarchy. Instigating proxy wars is praiseworthy and should be a common practise—the old KGB practice is to strike first.
- Ukraine is too important to lose: The territory of Ukraine isn’t Russia’s ‘sphere of influence’, it’s a rightful Russian land. Zbigniew Brzezinski was correct to say that ‘without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.’ Reunifying Crimea was a move justified by history, security interests and the need to protect the peninsula’s predominantly Russian population. The crisis in Ukraine is the result of ‘programming’ errors in the past, as well as active Western meddling in the country’s affairs. These errors are compounded by America’s willingness to significantly weaken the Russian Federation through ‘annexing Ukraine’ into the Western liberal democratic order. Ukraine has to cooperate with Russia. If not, it will turn into no man’s land; a new ‘Ukrainian Curtain’ will descend across the continent to separate Russia from the West. Crimea is Ours! /Крым наш!/
- NATO was and will continue to be our enemy: Recent defence doctrine justly identifies NATO as the chief threat to Russian security and claims the right to use nuclear weapons to counter any aggression that “threatens the very existence” of Russia. Cooperation with NATO is tolerable only with a paradigm that win-win policy isn’t satisfying. While a military victory over NATO isn’t possible, a political victory is achievable and should be pursued by weakening the morale of NATO members, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe.
- Oligarchs must be loyal: The tenants of the Russian treasury are useful as long as their loyalty is unquestionable. There are three rules to follow. First, federal policy is the president’s business. Second, oligarchs must pay taxes. Third, each oligarch is subject to investigation. Those who don’t take the first two rules seriously should be confronted with the implementation of the third one.
- Armed Forces must deter: Maintaining one of the world’s biggest nuclear arsenals is less expensive than modernising the entire Armed Forces. However, military expenses should be a priority in the federal budget; they take priority over the social needs of the citizenry. Soldiers are our pride, but their executives should be replaced or relocated regularly so as not to accumulate significant power. Trust, but verify! /Доверяй, но проверяй!/
- Sanctions won’t hurt us: Russian compatriots need to believe that they are citizens of a rising global power; this comes with costs. These costs, such as sanctions, are to be borne by both the state and its citizens. Sanctions will work to make us self-reliant and independent from external markets. As no state is an island in the world economy, China will become a main trading partner. Our common ground is anti-American and anti-Western.
- A free media—free from Western influence: Journalists should be missionaries of ideas, not neutral observers. The Russian media is free to promote the ideal of a ‘Strong Russia’ and the marked stress on patriotism and social solidarity. Individualistic cultures in the demoralised West demand to be fully informed but collectivistic societies value loyalty above all. Information must serve a social purpose. The internet was a CIA project, therefore Russian government is obliged to censor its deleterious effect on society. The media should take into account the challenges the nation is facing now. When the nation mobilises to achieve a goal, the obligations belong to everyone, including the media.