Will Putin fall into Medvedev trap?
The Kremlin in Moscow is full of individuals who have outsourced their opinions to the West European powers, especially Germany, a country that Russians - and Chinese - seem to admire inordinately. Even the ceremonial procession of vehicles taking the newly-elected President of Russia for his swearing-in ceremony comprises of German automobiles, not Russian. What message does the fact that Russian leaders prefer German cars to their own send? That Russian products are inferior to those of West Europe.
Since the time when Mikhail Gorbachev took office as General Secretary nearly three decades ago, Russians have relied heavily on advice from West Europe and the US, almost always with disastrous consequences. However, this has not stopped them from their continued fealty towards views that in fact weaken them, while professing to help the country It was no secret that the NATO powers wanted Putin out of the government, hence the nudge given to their acolytes in Moscow to persuade the then President of Russia to step down from the Presidency rather than get the laws changed to run for office a third time.
The fact is that an unbroken Putin presidency was as necessary for Russia as an unbroken Franklin Delano Roosevelt presidency was for the US during 1933-44,the year when it became clear that Germany would lose World War II because of the pounding that it was getting from the Soviet Union. By appointing the pro-NATO Medvedev as his successor, rather than a nationalist such as himself, Vladimir Putin began to suffer a loss of respect within the Russian people.
The Medvedev presidency was marked by President Medvedev’s effort to please West Europe and the US, by tailoring his policies to win their approval, exactly the way Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin did. It was fortunate for Russia that Putin disappointed NATO by becoming Prime Minister under Medvedev, else the new Russian President would have brought the country to the same pitiable state as it was under Yeltsin. If Libya is bleeding today, and has become a haven for Al-Qaeda and lesser extremists, much of the fault lies with Medvedev, who once again obeyed the call of the NATO powers by supporting the UNSC resolution that was used by NATO to force through violent regime change in Libya. Putin appears to have a strong fascination for the dour Medvedev, for he has once again ignored the latter’s partiality towards NATO and appointed him Prime Minister. By not getting a PM more in tune with his own ethos and goals, Vladimir Putin has handicapped himself in his third term as President of Russia, unless he brushes aside the PM and takes direct charge of the government. That Putin may have learnt his lesson in trusting Medvedev during 2008-12 seems clear from the Russian strongman’s refusal to bend before NATO and allow the UNSC to pass a Libya-style resolution that would give an excuse for NATO to launch a military campaign to oust Bashar Assad in Damascus.
The tenor and direction of the newly-inauguarated Russian Head of State’s discussions with President Hu Jintao of China indicate that the efforts of Medvedev to get the Kremlin to toe the US-EU line may not be working any more.
Unlike his predecessor Jiang Zemin, who was as obsessed with West Europe and the US as Gorbachev was, Hu Jintao has braved the ire of NATO member-states by forging close ties with countries in South America, Asia and Africa. By the time Hu’s successor completes his first five years in office by 2017, China would have displaced both the US as well as the EU in being the most influential voice in all these three continents.
However, President Putin has a formidable task ahead of him. Moscow is filled with bureaucrats and “experts” who sing from copybooks provided by NATO, and they can be expected to try and persuade him to adopt the Gorbachev-Yeltsin-Medvedev policy of appeasement of NATO, despite the fact that all such a policy has brought Moscow is disaster. In the years ahead, Prime Minister Medvedev may emerge as a rallying point for all the forces encouraged from outside to oppose Putin, who may therefore step aside in 2017 and allow Medvedev to once again be President.
Unless Putin places a firewall between Medvedev and himself, he is likely to find the going much rougher than it was during his first two terms in 2000-08.Well-wishers of the dauntless and gifted Russian people will hope that Vladimir Putin will not once again fall into the Gorbachev-Yeltsin-Medvedev trap created for him by NATO’s many admirers in official Moscow.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.