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Russia returns Putin to hot seat

 Arun Srivastava |  2016-09-28 22:22:57.0  |  New Delhi

Russia returns Putin to hot seat

Despite spreading canards and projecting him as the modern Stalinist tyrant, the USA and particularly the Obama administration has to cut a sorry figure as it miserably failed in its design to inflict damage and ensure the defeat of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin at the recent election to the Duma, the Parliament of the Russian federation.

Following the takeover of Crimea and war in Ukraine, there was a growing perception that Putin’s version of Russian nationalism had to be defeated. The Obama administration and his NATO allies put their best efforts to mobilise the world opinion against Putin. But they did not succeed. The West and especially the NATO had to bite the dust. What was really remarkable was that the past one year has changed the geopolitical construct of the West. America has continuously been making conscious the erstwhile members of the Soviet in Eastern Europe about the dangers of the resurgence of the Russian nationalism. In fact, raising the bogey annexation of Crimea, the Obama administration was resorting to a psychological offensive against the Soviet Block.   

The Obama administration was quite hopeful that its economic sanction against Russia would force Putin to prostrate before the capitalist West and seek their help for survival. But it did not happen. On the contrary, Russia smashed the American hegemony and exposed its vulnerability. Russian role in the Syrian war projected it as the world power. The USA made Europe ranged against Russia. The Obama administration was working on the thesis if Putin could not be made to quit in the face of resurgent Russian nationalism, then the West must checkmate Russia economically. The strategy provided an explicit possibility of distinct revival of the Cold War rhetoric.

Despite suspicions in the White House, the Russian President has won serious concessions from the Obama administration on joint efforts to end Syria’s civil war. This undoubtedly underlines the new found strength and global clout of Putin, notwithstanding the US and Russia nursing diametrically opposite approach over the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Americans accuse him of war crimes and say he must go, but Russia continues to support him because Assad is Moscow’s most reliable friend in the region.

The frequency and volume of Western criticism of Russian policy have gradually subsided, and regular Foreign Minister-level dialogue, as well as some working-level military contacts between Moscow and Washington, have been restored.

Though the US Republican nominee Donald Trump is accused of being inconsistent, it is the emergence of Russia as the new world power that has made Trump change his approach towards Russia and Putin. He has threatened to undermine NATO from within and recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Surprisingly, Trump’s campaign manager once worked for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a man many Ukrainians considered Putin’s man in Kiev.

Putin’s United Russia won 54.28 percent of the vote. The party will win 343 seats of the 450 on offer. The result signals an improvement for United Russia, which won 49 percent of the vote and 238 seats during 2011. A gain of 105 seats means United Russia has inflicted heavy losses on its opponents, and particularly the USA Administration which had launched disinformation campaign. The Communists have lost 50 seats.

The United Russia party of President Vladimir Putin has dominated the political landscape ever since it was founded in 2001. The elections were held in the backdrop of a protracted economic crisis, tensions between Russia and the West, and a war of attrition with the neighbours. Lower oil prices and western sanctions have hit hard the common Russians. In such a situation the Russians should have voted against Putin. Instead, the Russians overwhelmingly voted for United Russia.

Notwithstanding a vile propaganda against Putin by the West, Russians reposed their faith in him. The people credit him with fixing the economy and providing a stable political leadership to the country. Under his watch, Russia has come out of the crisis and started playing an active global role. This is a significant achievement for Putin. Putin’s domestic approval ratings stand at more than 80 percent, with Russians supporting his action in Crimea and military efforts against the Islamic State in Syria. However, Putin’s critics accuse him of systematically purging political dissent and indulging in human rights violations. His ratings, in fact, were on the decline since 2011, in the wake of a protest movement against Putin. But taking over of Crimea in 2014 pushed it back in the eighties. Undeniably the nationalist sentiment helped Putin to fight back setbacks

Unfortunately, this massive mandate to Putin has failed to have any positive impact on the USA. It still continues to stick to its old line of decrying Putin. In July, US secretary of state John Kerry announced a tentative agreement, without much detail, that would coordinate US-Russian military strikes on Al-Nusra Front, Saudi-backed fighters who target Assad. But the Obama administration lacks sincerity and on the contrary blaming Russia for targeting its men. However, one development is quite discernible; the West has recognised legitimacy to Russia’s military role in West Asia.

In yet another significant development Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after the failed coup and suspicious of western intentions toward his government, has turned toward Putin, who is glad to have a crucial NATO member who needs his political and economic support.

Ever since the Crimea crisis in 2014 the Obama administration has been giving the impression that the ordinary Russians were against Putin. They were desperate for a change; to install a new leader. But the election results go against this US rhetoric. For the first time since Moscow took hold of the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014, residents there voted for Russia’s Parliament, in a poll slammed by Ukraine as illegal. Putin, in fact, can claim credit for the most successful assertion of Russian power since the end of the Cold War.

The irony is that instead of accepting the ground realities and reconciling the prevalent situation the USA continues to adopt hostile posture towards Russia. The United States does not recognise the legitimacy and outcome of the electoral verdict given by the people of Crimea.  The USA claims that its position on Crimea is clear: the peninsula remains an integral part of Ukraine. Crimea-related sanctions against Russia will remain until Russia returns control of Crimea to Ukraine. The Obama administration has made it clear that it would continue to be deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Crimea, including the status of the ethnic Tatar community. IPA

(The views are strictly personal.)

Arun Srivastava

Arun Srivastava

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