The American political class and corporate press professed itself shocked, shocked, when Russian President Vladimir Putin declined to order the arrest Edward Snowden, marooned in a transit lounge at the Moscow airport, or his return to the United States.
Among Putin’s major projects has been making Russia a Great Power, recovering some of the stature Moscow enjoyed in the days of the Soviet Union and the Cold War. It is not fair, however, to see Putin through a Cold War lens. Although he was a KGB (Soviet intelligence) field officer, he broke with the KGB in 1990 and supported Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin in turning against the Soviet Union and its sclerotic police state. Putin does not want the Soviet Union back, and his policies are quite distinct from its– he is not a communist but a Russian nationalist comfortable with an important role for the Orthodox Church and a capitalist economy.
In the 1990s under Yeltsin, Russia was reduced to an American satellite, and Putin clearly still resents that period. Russia’s economy collapsed under the tender ministrations of the ‘shock therapy’ urged by Washington and London. It lost 10 million people, declining from 150 million to 140 million, as young couples ceased having children out of fear of the economic crisis continuing, and as older people drank themselves to death in despair. In the past decade, in part because of Russia’s energy sector (oil and natural gas), the country’s economy returned to strength (its GDP is the 9th largest in the world).
Here are the signs that Putin, who presided over Russia’s comeback and who wants the respect owed a superpower, might not be on Washington’s side:
1. Russia has been supporting Iran in the latter’s struggle against US sanctions.
2. Russia built three nuclear plants for Iran at a time when the US was trying to force Iran to give up its nuclear programs, which appears to be peaceful but which the US believes is aimed ultimately at production of an atomic bomb.
3. Russian banks have been helping Iran export its petroleum, despite the US campaigning against these sales
4. Russia supports Bashar al-Assad and his Baath Party in Syria. The US is on the other side, backing rebel forces.
5. Russia seeks to deliver S300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, over Washington’s strenuous objections.
6. Russia opposed the NATO intervention in Libya and points to that country’s post-revolution disarray as a sign that it was an ill-advised failure.
7. Russia is in competition with the United States for the affections of countries such as Uzbekistan in Central Asia, where Russia fears that the US wants to reestablish a military base– a step the Kremlin opposes.
8. Russia views the US plan for a missile defense shield to be impractical and destabilizing
9. The US congress’s ‘Magnitsky act” set off a new cold war, with Russia smoldering with resentment over US sanctions against 60 Russian officials..
10. Russia was absolutely furious when the US fingered it in the issue of human trafficking.