Putin blowing hot air with nothing to back it up
UAlberta historian busts media myth of Cold War 2.0.
By GEOFF McMASTER
Alarmist media reports warning of a renewed cold war between Russia and the United States are largely unfounded, says a University of Alberta expert on Russian politics.
"I don't buy this Cold War 2.0 thing—I think it's a lot of bluster,” said U of A historian David Marples. "It's all posturing on the part of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, and the West is hoodwinked by the bluster.”
Earlier this week The Guardian reported that western politicians, diplomats and analysts have been reassessing Russia in recent weeks, especially in light of its hardline support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the ongoing frozen war in Ukraine, and Putin’s refusal to adhere to a 20-year treaty with the U.S. to reprocess excess plutonium so it can’t be used in nuclear weapons.
When you add the recent cyber-attacks on American Democratic Party emails and Putin’s threat to reopen military bases in Cuba and Vietnam, it might start to look like he has some sort of nefarious master plan.
But according to Marples—who has written some 15 books on Russia, Belarus and Ukraine—Putin is simply blowing hot air with nothing to back up his idle threats. He’s playing to frustrated Russian nationalists who feel the country has been retreating for too long and now needs to reassert itself in search of past glory.
In other words, though Russia may fancy itself a key player in the international balance of power, it is far from the intimidating bear it once was, says Marples.
“Russia’s economy—a petrostate 14 times smaller than the EU—is in shambles,” he said. In puffing up his chest on the international stage, Putin is “hitting about three leagues beyond his batting average…. It's hard to imagine how Russia could sustain a period of military growth or even development of weaponry if America took the lead.”
What Putin has done successfully is take advantage of a certain political paralysis in the West, says Marples, with the U.S. focused on its own election, American Secretary of State John Kerry soon to leave office, upcoming elections in Germany and France, and a changing of the guard at the United Nations.
But Putin’s real motives likely extend no further than creating a mess wherever he can, mainly to undermine America’s attempts to spread democracy, says Marples.
“The United States has been so tentative and so ambivalent that Russia has basically done what it wants,” he said, pointing to, among other things, the refusal of the U.S. government to act decisively in Syria. “And now with the American election coming up—and I don't think Russia cares who wins the election—it wants to discredit the American system as a model to follow.”
But Putin’s gambit may be coming to an end, he said.
"(American presidential candidate Hillary) Clinton has shown no sign whatsoever of trying to improve relations with Russia, and if she comes to power, Russia's games will be over. Putin just won't be able to do this any more, because she's quite prepared to revive nuclear and sophisticated weapon construction.”
And when it comes to expanding its own borders, “Russia is going to have a great deal of difficulty moving further than Ukraine if the West resists, and I think it will.”
However, if Trump comes to power, Marples said all bets are off when it comes to America’s relationship with Russia—but Putin’s power is nonetheless limited.
"I could see little steps (in Russian expansion), such as Russians moving into Belarus more,” said Marples. “At the moment (President Alexander) Lukashenko is in firm power, but if he ever dies or something, Russia could be very interested."
He says Russia might also continue pushing to see just how far the West will protect the Baltic states.
On relations between Canada and Russia, Marples took issue with Canadian Foreign Minister Stephane Dion’s intention to negotiate with Putin over Arctic sovereignty. That strategy, announced to media last week, is a fool’s game, says Marples, because Putin is simply incapable of negotiating. Canada would be much better off taking what it wants in the Arctic by force, with American backing.
"The only thing Putin respects is aggression. He smacks you in the nose, you smack him back, as opposed to negotiating or finding a real solution."