Poutine in overdrive | The Kingston Whig Standard

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Russia today is a deeply troubled country. The standard of living of its people has fallen sharply in recent years and discontent with the government is palpable. But the Russians are not only unhappy with the country’s poor economic performance, but also with its policies. The leadership of President Vladimir Putin is being called into question every moment. Over time, Putin went from a democrat with authoritarian tendencies to an autocrat with little respect for democracy. In fact, he is nothing more than a full-fledged dictator who manipulates the country’s periodic elections to ensure the perpetuation of his regime. And it is a rule characterized by widespread corruption, in which the president’s friends and associates have made immense fortunes while ordinary Russians continue to suffer from grossly inadequate public services.

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Putin used a variety of tactics to stay in power. Demonstrators who regularly fill the streets of Moscow and other cities to protest against the government are suppressed with brutal force by the security services. Not only are they badly beaten, but they are also arrested and imprisoned by the thousands. Putin also used rogue tactics to undermine the purely political activities of his opponents. So, the main opposition figure Alexei Navalny was first poisoned by members of the security services, and when he managed to survive this he was jailed on trumped up charges. . And members of the Navalny movement have been declared terrorists and have been tracked down to the point that many have fled overseas. As it stands, Putin faces no real political opposition.

Another of Putin’s tactics is to exploit Russian nationalism to gain the support of his regime. Wearing the mantle of “Mother Russia” and associating with the Russian Orthodox Church, he seeks to present himself as the embodiment of the country’s history and culture. And in the process, he seeks to portray Russia as a country threatened by outside forces bent on its destruction. His favorite target in this campaign is the West. Whether it is the United States or its European allies, all are described as hostile to Russia. And Putin’s propaganda machine is making the Russians understand that only he is able to resist threats. And these appeals to Russian nationalism frequently resonate with many citizens. For Russians steeped in the country’s history, they make sense. After all, Russia has been thrice invaded and occupied by Western forces: by those of Charles XII of Sweden in the 18th century, by those of Napoleon Bonaparte of France in the 19th century, and most traumatic by those of Adolf Hitler of ‘Germany in the 20th century. century. Given this history, it is not difficult for Putin to construct images of a hostile Western bogeyman even though it is totally unwarranted in today’s world.

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NATO’s eastward expansion has contributed to Russian paranoia. After the collapse of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe, NATO granted full membership to three former Soviet satellites: Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. And it continued to advance eastward, eventually encompassing the three Baltic countries: Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. This had the effect of bringing an armed Western alliance to the very borders of Russia. Rightly or wrongly, many Russians saw it as a threat to their security. And Putin did not back down in exploiting these Russian fears.

It is in this context that some of Putin’s recent initiatives must be considered. After invading and occupying the Crimean peninsula in 2014, Putin has continued to operate to destabilize Ukraine. He provided political, economic and military support to separatist forces operating in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine. This includes the presence in their ranks of Russian servicemen. And Russian aid has allowed the separatists to continue their campaign to this day. In what is generally described as a low-intensity conflict, some 14,000 people have been killed so far. And despite the diplomatic efforts of a number of actors, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, this conflict is not in sight.

In April of this year, Putin decided to raise the ante in his confrontation with the Ukrainian government. He has deployed some 100,000 Russian troops to the border with Ukraine in a clearly threatening gesture. Various countries expressed concern and disapproval, and Putin eventually withdrew the troops and returned them to their barracks. More recently, Putin has again deployed some 94,000 troops along the Ukrainian border, accompanied by 1,200 tanks, armored personnel carriers and 350 warplanes. This latest move has left Western experts wondering if Putin is seriously considering an invasion of Ukraine or if he is simply trying to strengthen his negotiating position in a bid to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO or the EU. . Whatever the response, alarm bells have started ringing in NATO capitals, where debates are ongoing on how to deter this new Russian aggression. According to media reports, discussions are currently taking place in Ottawa on whether to increase Canada’s military contribution to its training mission in Ukraine, where some 200 Canadian troops are already deployed. And, of course, the situation is much more worrying for NATO countries like Germany and Poland, which are much closer to action.

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Putin’s vendetta against the West is also evident in his support for the actions of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko. The latter deliberately invited refugees from the Middle East and Asia to his country and then sent them to the border with Poland. The Poles have resisted the entry of these refugees into their country and most remain stranded in a kind of no man’s land, where they suffer from extreme cold and food shortages. Lukashenko’s very obvious intention is to create a refugee crisis within the European Union. For him, it is revenge against the EU, which has imposed sanctions on Belarus for Lukashenko’s fraudulent electoral tactics and his brutal crackdown on demonstrators protesting against them. But Lukashenko continues to enjoy Putin’s full support. The Ukrainian Foreign Minister summed up the situation in these terms: the stalemate at the border between Belarus and Poland and the Russian military build-up around Ukraine are two fronts of the “hybrid war” that Putin is waging against Russia. ‘West.

When combined with the periodic cyber attacks against Western targets emanating from Russia, it is quite evident that Putin is getting carried away in his campaign against the West. Putin’s national propaganda machine provides the backdrop for this. There are two reasons for this. The first is to reaffirm Russia’s role as an important player on the world stage and to reclaim its status as a great power. Second, he bowed to Russian nationalists, whose political support he needed in the face of the widespread discontent among ordinary Russians. It is a potentially dangerous game in which, if he is wrong, he could provoke an all-out confrontation with the West.

Louis A. Delvoie is a retired Canadian diplomat who served abroad as Ambassador and High Commissioner.

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