Putin 3.0

A man alone

A man alone

I don’t, alas, have time to give it a proper consideration, but my initial response from watching Putin’s Crimea speech is that this is another of those watershed moments. To me, we are seeing in foreign as well as domestic politics, a new Putin, let’s call him Putin 3.0, an idea I first developed in the most recent Power Vertical podcast. Putin 1.0, in his first terms in office, was characterised by assertive, sometimes ruthless, but essentially pragmatic policy. Putin was no fan of the West and its ideals, but nor did he regard himself as being at odds with it in any fundamental way, only when it tried to impede his own ambitions. Putin 2.0, after the “castling”, his return to office and the unexpected rise of the “non-system opposition”, was increasingly interested in foreign policy precisely as a way of assuaging or diverting domestic pressure. He genuinely seemed — and seems — to lack any real sense of how to build legitimacy in a time of increasing economic trouble, except through well-trumpeted triumphs, from Syria to Sochi. Even so, despite often-bruising rhetoric and such acts as the wilful persecution of US ambassador Mike McFaul (a man whose transparent well-meaning commitment to building bridges and spreading amity was akin to a “kick me” sign on his back in these days of bare-knuckled Moscow), anti-Westernism was a tool, a means to an end, deployed when useful, ignored when not.

Now, though, I can’t help but feel we have Putin 3.0, a man casting aside cerebral notions for a more gut sense of where next to go. A man whose self-image of himself as Russia’s saviour, as well as a growing belief in what we could call Russian exceptionalism, a belief that Russian civilisation has a distinctive and unique place in the world and must be protected from homogenising Western influence, have come to the forefront. From being a means to an end, anti-Westernism becomes an end in itself as is is just the flip side–to him–of preserving and exalting Russian civilisation. The way the usual litany of grievances now seems to have even sharper edge, the sense that Russia must act the way it acts not because it is right but because others did it wrong, a commitment to “re”taking Crimea in absolute contradiction to common sense and, to be blunt, Russia’s real best interests (as Ben Aris has pointed out, even before any sanctions, this crisis has already cost Russian over $400 B, or 8 Sochis…), all of these show a real change.

No, it’s not madness. It’s not even a global danger (remember, Russian civilisation, like the Russian Orthodox Church that buttresses it, is not an aggressively and pan-ethnically evangelistic religion). But as he signs the decree annexing Crimea, it does begin to recast Russia’s relations with the outside world, in a way that will be hard to manage, tough for Russia’s neighbours and also, I suspect, ultimately disastrous for this regime.

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19 Comments

  1. The women loved him, the men looked as if they were playing poker.

    Reply
  2. Sarge Cheever

     /  March 18, 2014

    There are some interesting parallels between Putin’s annexation of Crimea and our annexation of Texas (and the West a few years later), which Mexico has never really accepted. It didn’t seem to hurt us . . . fsc

    Reply
  3. It would be interesting to know how exactly Putin sees and defines “Russian civilization”. He is from Piter, so he cannot possibly be ignorant of the Western influence of the Empire period although he might be inclined to belittle it being a Soviet apprentice from a humble background. What exactly is this Russian exceptionalism? I think Novgorod certainly was Russian exceptionalism: it was quite exceptional in the middle ages for that sort of a proto-democracy to be in place and literacy to be common among the population. This metropolis also had lively contacts with the West through the Hanseatic league. But the tsar of Moscow with his “khanate” ways put an end to this Russian exceptionalism. What is “Eurasianism” but leaning towards the east. Is this really “Russian”?

    I

    Reply
  4. Reblogged this on rovitothis201 and commented:
    The third evolution of Putin’s policy.

    Reply
  5. jgleisner@freeuk.com

     /  March 18, 2014

    Come on Marki boy, Sochi was a triumph. Even if it was extremely pricey, the various ceremonies were a mesmerising advert for Russian creativity and aesthetic sensibility. The games lifted winter sports, esp paralympics, to a different level. The speeches, especially by the chairs of the international cttees, put those of most politicians in the shade. Sochi should not be mentioned in the same breath as Iran.
    Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone on O2

    Reply
    • Mark Galeotti

       /  March 22, 2014

      Sochi was a triumph, as I’ve acknowledged elsewhere – but at the same time, something can be an aesthetic triumph but also a calculated measure to distract domestic audiences and also attempt to assert a soft power message abroad (as _all_ Olympics are!)

      Reply
  6. jgleisner@freeuk.com

     /  March 18, 2014

    Oops Syria !
    Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone on O2

    Reply
  7. Dear Mark Galeotti,

    Thank you for your – as always – interesting analysis. Only one thing: I don’t believe that there is a succession of different Putins over time: Putin 1.0, Putin 2.0, and Putin 3.0., (of which the first is a pragmatic leader, the second the foreign policy man, and the third a ‘guts man’, wanting to be Russia’s ‘saviour’).
    As a matter of fact Putin is a kind of matryoshka: all three Putins were present from the beginning, including the man with the saviour syndrome. He was only obliged to adapt his external ‘persona’ to the circumstances of the moment – in particular to the international power relations. However, his vocation to revive the empire was there from the beginning. It was the reason why he thought it necessary to remain in power for at least twenty years. The Medvedev Presidency was planned as a means to guarantee his continued personal rule. We are now in the last phase of Putin’s rule: it is the phase of ‘harvesting’. The moment for the reconstitution of the empire has arrived at last and will be continued in the coming years if the West does not give an adequate answer.

    Marcel H. Van Herpen
    Director
    The Cicero Foundation

    Author of “PUTIN’S WARS – THE RISE OF RUSSIA’S NEW IMPERIALISM”
    (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014)

    Reply
    • Mark Galeotti

       /  March 22, 2014

      Dear Marcel
      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I see your point, and he certainly always had that “saviour complex”, but I can’t help feeling that this is not the obvious time for any ‘harvesting’ in that Russia is weaker than in the past. I also add that a lot of the insiders I speak to in Moscow definitely feel that something has changed with Putin; now, it could be that he kept them in the dark, too, but ultimately that doesn’t quite work for me. Ultimately, though, we are all just trying to guess what’s going on inside his head, though, and we’ll have to see!

      Reply
  8. ===The way the usual litany of grievances now seems to have even sharper edge, the sense that Russia must act the way it acts not because it is right but because others did it wrong, a commitment to “re”taking Crimea in absolute contradiction to common sense and, to be blunt, Russia’s real best interests ===

    Here is the result of brainwashing. When the Americans and the Western world, learn to think for themselves? Want to know who the Russian? Come to Russia and stay for 5-10 years. Knowledge of Russian is desirable. And if you understand – you never want to go back in a big McDonald called the United States.

    Reply
  9. Pretty well thought out & articulated, but Putin can sustain more blitzkriegs, especially as there is no opposition. Putin could be delayed by Nato, but Obama seems to be blocking any serious aid!

    Reply
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