He nevertheless remains a powerful player in the game of global diplomacy; his paranoia hasn’t lessened his importance. Russia’s reach stretches far behind the former Soviet republics — think China and the Middle East, for example — and the KGB-trained Putin sits in control of that influence.
The United States and its allies need Putin to empower their efforts to stop the bloodshed in Syria, where activists say more than 14,000 have died in government-sponsored violence since March 2011.
But Putin, as a New York Times story detailed Thursday, is caught between his Soviet-era viewpoints and the reality of what’s occurring daily in Syria, a nation with close ties to Russia. Putin stands today almost catatonic, disinclined to aid the West’s efforts and unwilling to abandon his longstanding political beliefs.
At the heart of those beliefs, The Times explained, is the Kremlin’s position on the Arab Spring uprisings seen in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere. Putin and other Russian leaders have viewed them “not as a product of social change, but of interference by the West, intended in part to damage Russia.” Syria, apparently, is no different. (Remember that Putin vehemently disagreed with NATO’s decision to use airstrikes in Libya last year.)
Likewise, Putin is wily enough to understand his nation — roiled by economic struggles, political stresses and a strong class of discontented young Russians — may one day be ripe for street-level political movements stronger than those already seen there. A former Russian journalist told The Times that Putin hasn’t joined the West’s call for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down because it would create “a very serious precedent” for those who don’t agree with the Putin Kremlin. It’s an odd case of political survival, Russian-style.
Or, as The Times wrote, “In short, Syria has provided Russia with an opportunity to say no — to Western intervention and to the specter of revolution.”
The script of Putin’s second go-around as Russia’s president has largely been written. His distrust of the West and its style of diplomacy oozes from his every move. It seems too late, as well, to believe this former KGB man will set aside his political suspicions and do what’s right for humanity’s sake.