The Dialectic is a signature podcast of Fair Observer. Editor-in-Chief Atul Singh and retired CIA officer Glenn Carle examine key global issues. The two have unique backgrounds and together they form a formidable duo. In this episode, they turn the spotlight on Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On December 24, 2021, Singh and Carle published a deep dive on the philosophical ideas, historical roots and strategic goals of Putin’s foreign policy. Here, they discuss this issue in their podcast.
The precarious opportunist v. the strategic opportunist
Many former MI6 and CIA officers argue that Putin is simply an opportunist. Singh and Carle differ. They think Putin is a strategic opportunist who has consistently followed clear long term goals.
As in their article, the hosts detail the roots of Russian resentment. They explain how Russia has never really accepted the US-led normative international order. Moscow prefers realpolitik and wants to control its sphere of influence, particularly its near-abroad.
The Harvard boys do Russia
The hosts detail how Harvard economists gave ruinous economic advice to Russia, leading to the cratering of the economy. Shock therapy was an unmitigated disaster.
Hyperinflation hit 2,500%, middle class savings evaporated, poverty increased and life expectancy fell. In a system without rule of law, privatization turned out to be loot on a grand scale. The advice Jeffrey Sachs gave Russian leaders was delusional and many Russians still think he deliberately torpedoed their economy.
The hosts examine how NATO expanded, Putin turned into a modern tsar and Russia became a second-rate power. Russians imagine the US conspired to make Russia a rump state and a vassal. The reality is that American ignorance, not intention, led to terrible advice. Hubris more than diabolical plotting was to blame.
Nevertheless, Putin believes the collapse of the Soviet Union to be the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century. Therefore, he now follows an extremely aggressive foreign policy.
Culture trumps ideology
The Russian Revolution of 1917 has turned out to be a mere 70-year experiment. Communism is passé. Russia has reverted to tsarism now. Orthodox Christianity is back with a vengeance. Culture has proved more resilient than ideology.
Fundamentally, Russian foreign diplomacy has remained unchanged for the past 400 years. Russia has challenged the domination of the West. As a Eurasian power, it seeks to have global top power status. A peculiarly Russian belief in what is known as passionarnost drives the quest for expansion. The individual can be sacrificed for the state.
Russia sees the world as a zero-sum game. It sees the US expansion in Eastern Europe as an immense blow. No longer is this part of the world under Russian influence. Members of the extinct Warsaw Pact are now members of NATO. The US has expanded its arc of influence to Russia’s borders.
As if shock therapy was not bad enough, ideas of individualism, cosmopolitanism and American-style democracy threaten Russian identity itself. Therefore, Moscow now sees its struggle against the US as existential. It is not just territory in Ukraine that is at stake. Putin sees himself as waging a war for the Russian soul.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Your hosts, Atul Singh and Glenn Carle, dive deep into an analysis of Vladimir Putin in this episode of The Dialectic. Read their article on this topic here: https://www.fairobserver.com/politics/making-sense-of-vladimir-putins-long-game/