Is Putin an Enemy of the West or is it Just Media Hyperbole?

By Thomas Telford

We seem to hear a lot from America about how Putin is a dictator sacrificing the welfare of the Russian people for his own personal gain. But is it really that simple or are there bigger factors at play?

The Positives First

Born in Leningrad in 1952, Vladimir Putin came to power when Russia was on its knees. The previous year, Russia defaulted on its debts and couldn’t afford to pay Public Sector workers. Really, the only way was up for the Russian Federation.

Putin immediately got to work trying to restore Russia’s standing in the world. Gone were the days of a drunk and frail Boris Yeltsin representing the Motherland on the world stage. In his first speech to the Duma, he spoke of how Russia’s international reputation was not what it should be and that Moscow should be a place to be reckoned with. That’s not a to0 dissimilar attitude that the Americans have when it comes to Washington.

Last time I checked, it was America placing troops and military equipment in countries that border Russia. Or getting countries like Austria to join NATO even though America promised it wouldn’t. Surely if Russia was placing troops in Mexico or Canada, Washington would feel threatened in the same way Moscow does.

He also has the highest approval ratings of any Kremlin leader with it currently in the mid-80s%. Many in the West believe that the Russian people are too afraid to give their real opinions to polling companies even though many Western poll takers get very similar results.

There were also constant food shortages when he first took to power, so he introduced new policies that would provide “serious assistance to the agrarian sector and in the final analysis to millions of peasants who have just one concern – to feed the country with quality Russian produce.”

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What goes on behind the eyes of Putin?

But it’s Not All Positive for President Putin

There’s no denying the fact that he isn’t a fan of freedom of the press or journalists in general. Countless opposition leaders have been forced to flee for fear of persecution. But the US is also critical of journalists who leak information about the US spying on its own citizens as well as its supposed allies. Neither side is innocent.

It’s no secret that Putin sees the break-up of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.” He believed that “A transformation was possible, including of a democratic nature.” There’s no denying that Russia suffered tremendously when the USSR collapsed while America finally got rid of the one country that could challenge its position in the world.

Media Control

Since Putin began his re-election campaign in 2011, 12 prominent newsrooms have battled resignations, restrictions and closures.

Which is why he has sought to control the Russian media. In 2013, the already government controlled Ria Novosti was dissolved by Putin because of its coverage of the protests that began when he announced he was running for President again.

He set up a new station called Rossiya Segodnya, which is run by the pro-Kremlin commentator Dmitry Kisleyov and is completely uncritical of Putin and his policies. “In the remaking of RIA Novosti – once the most innovative and independent of Russia’s state media – most of the correspondents left, many of the agency’s news projects shut down and layoffs swept the newsroom.”

Re-establishing Soviet Programmes

Throughout his terms as Prime Minister and then President, he has brought back numerous programmes that were established in the Soviet era. They include The Military Fitness Programme and the Intervision Song Contest.

When it was originally introduced in 1931, its main aim was to get schoolchildren and university students ready for joining the Red Army, but with the collapse of the Soviet Union, each school was left to their own devices with regards to the well-being of students.

Putin said that “Russia needs to pay more attention to physical training because it lags behind other countries. He said that Russian children now are in significantly worse physical shape compared to a few decades ago.”

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What next for post-Soviet Russia? All pics sourced from Pixabay

Arming the Military for the 21st Century

In 2015, Putin ordered an increase in military spending of 7.5%. However, even with this increase, they are not in the top 3 military spenders with the US spending more on their military than all other nations.

He has also begun to modernise the outdated Russian military because of what he sees as NATO aggression. He may have a case when it comes to NATO aggression. It is clear his plan to rid his borders of NATO troops seriously backfired after the annexation of Crimea. Instead, the US increased its military spending in Eastern Europe as well as creating a Rapid Task Force of 4000 soldiers that would move between Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.

Cult of Personality

Putin has carefully fostered this idea of himself as a strongman over the last 15 years. Not since the days of Stalin has there been such glowing praise by sections of the Russian public.

Putin and his propagandists set about getting pictures of the leader bare-chested on horseback, as a judo fighter, a jet pilot and a devoted church goer. Because of Putin’s tough stance on supposed “Gay Propaganda”, the Russian Orthodox Church has firmly supported every manoeuvre that Putin has made. Even the head of the Church is a former KGB agent and has even dedicated a church to the KGB.

Putin’s Expansionist Policies 

Putin’s annexation of Crimea (even though the overwhelming majority of Crimeans backed joining Russia) appears to have terrified Eastern European leaders that they could be next to suffer the same fate. Even countries like Sweden who don’t share a border with Russia have become allied to NATO without becoming an official member.

He continues to pressure the current Ukranian government about not joining the European Union or risk losing their supply of gas.

Conclusion

It will be interesting to see how the relationship that was so fraught when Barack Obama was President changes once President-elect Trump assumes office. Surely it can’t get any worse or at least that’s what the rest of the world hopes.

 

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