between Russia and countries on its borders. The newspaper
concluded that Russia was in conflict with virtually all of its
western neighbours and enjoyed good ties only with Armenia and
former Soviet republics in Central Asia.
Hero journalist Yulia Latynina, writing in the Moscow Times, paints the dire picture of how dictator Vladimir Putin has alienated the entire world around him, just as Russia’s leaders did in Soviet times.
When French President Jacques Chirac hands over power to Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin will lose the last European ally with whom he had built a strong personal friendship.
Putin’s foreign policy has been based on the concept of strong personal friendships, which entailed recruiting the leaders of other countries like spies. Having recruited George, Jacques, Silvio and Gerhard, Putin expected them to support him through thick and thin. They were his friends, after all.
The Kremlin’s domestic policies are based on exactly the same principle, by the way. It makes no difference how much money the president’s friends have embezzled, how many Beslans they have bungled or how incompetent and self-interested they are. In the Kremlin people are judged not by their actions, but by how close they are to Putin. His friends are forgiven everything.
There are two big problems with this type of foreign policy. It may have worked fine in the 17th century for establishing friendly relations with Louis XIII of France or Gustav II Adolf of Sweden. In the era of democracy, however, elected leaders serve for a fixed period and then hand over the reins to other politicians who chewed them up and spit them out in a grueling election campaign.
More importantly, in Putin’s inner circle friendship trumps every other consideration. Friends are the people who can always be counted on to support you. And this works up to a point. Friendship exists in the West as well, of course, but it is less unquestioning.
If you’re eating with a friend in a restaurant and he puts his feet on the table, you let it go. If you’re eating out with a friend and he decks the waiter, you might let this go, too. But if you’re eating out with a friend and he whips out a pistol and starts blowing away other diners, the Western leader will scream and high-tail it for the exit. And his friend who’s doing the shooting will, in all sincerity, consider this a betrayal. We’re friends, after all.
After gunning down a few diners — that is, after Beslan, the elimination of gubernatorial elections, the Munich speech and sending riot troops against peaceful demonstrators, among other highlights — Putin has no friends left in the West.
From the Kremlin’s perspective, the West is to blame for this turn of events. After all, these people rig their own elections. Any KGB lieutenant colonel knows that. They’re prepared to befriend any petty tyrant as long as he’ll do what they want him to do. Any KGB major knows that, too.
To the Kremlin’s way of thinking, these are the people who poisoned former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic in his prison cell in The Hague; who had Yasser Arafat killed; and who allowed their crony, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, to poison his prime minister, Zurab Zhvania.
And these back-stabbing Western leaders have the gall to criticize the good people in the Kremlin for doing much the same thing and — unlike their Janus-faced Western colleagues — never firing anyone no matter what they’ve done.
Putin’s foreign policy failed in the West a long time ago, at the moment when his friends began to get up from that restaurant table with a pained smile and sidle toward the exit. Now those friends have stepped down or been voted out of power one after another.
Putin has no chance of getting another group of European leaders to join him at the table. The only thing left is for him to head east and make friends with the guys who will never be voted out of office — the kind who only leave office in a coup.