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What the West gets wrong about Putin He has always understood the power of terrifying adversaries

He's about to implode. Credit: Antoine GYORI/Sygma via Getty Images


January 13, 2022   5 mins

In 1999, Vladimir Putin suddenly sprang from bureaucratic obscurity to the office of Prime Minister. When, a few months later, Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned and Putin was voted in as President, governments around the world were taken by surprise yet again. How could this unknown figure have amassed national voter support with so little media attention?

I had first met Putin seven years before and was not surprised by his rapid domination of the new Russia. We were introduced by Yevgeny Primakov, widely known as “Russia’s Kissinger”, who I had met in Moscow multiple times during the Cold War years when I advised Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford. Primakov was a no-nonsense thinker and writer. He was also a special emissary for the Kremlin in conducting secret discussions with national leaders around the world.

When Yeltsin tasked his advisor Anatoly Sobchak with identifying and recruiting Russia’s best and brightest, Putin, then a local politician in his hometown of St Petersburg, was top of his list — so Primakov took Putin under his wing to tutor him in global power and security issues. Eventually, Primakov introduced Kissinger to Putin, and they became close. That both Primakov and Kissinger took time to coach Putin on geopolitics and geosecurity was a clear demonstration that they saw in him the characteristics of a powerful leader. It also showed Putin’s capacity for listening to lengthy lessons on geopolitics — as I was soon to learn.

In 1992, I received a call from a meeting organiser at the CSIS think tank inviting me to join a US-Russia St Petersburg Commission to be chaired by Kissinger and Sobchak. The purpose would be to help the new Russian leadership in opening channels of business and banking with the West. Most of the Western members would be CEOs of major US and European companies, as well as key officials of the new Russian government. I would attend as an expert. I was told that a “Mr Primakov” had personally asked if I could make time to participate. I could hardly refuse such a request, and I was intensely curious about the emerging Russian leadership, especially about Putin.

Arriving at the first meeting, I saw several people gathered around Kissinger and a man I was told was Putin. An official identified himself to me and said he had been asked by Primakov to introduce me to Putin. He interrupted the conversation with Kissinger to announce my arrival; Putin warmly responded that he was looking forward to chatting with me about how I see the world from inside Washington.

We spoke on several occasions between meetings, and he arranged to sit next to me at a dinner, accompanied by his interpreter. At that dinner, he asked me: “What is the single most important obstacle between your Western businessmen and my fellow Russians in starting up business connections?”

Off the top of my head, I responded: “The absence of legally defined property rights — without those there is no basis for resolving disputes.”

“Ah yes,” he said, “in your system a dispute between businesses is resolved by attorneys paid by the hour representing each side, sometimes taking the dispute to the courts which normally takes months and accumulation of hourly attorney fees.”

“In Russia,” he continued, “disputes are usually resolved by common sense. If a dispute is about very significant money or property, then the two sides would typically send representatives to a dinner. Everyone attending arriving would be armed. Facing the possibility of a bloody, fatal outcome both sides always find a mutually agreeable solution. Fear provides the catalyst for common sense.”

He used his argument in the context of disputes between sovereign nations. Solutions often require an element of fear of disproportionate responses if no deal is struck. The idea of forcing adversaries to face horrific alternatives seemed to excite him. In essence, he was describing to me the current Ukraine impasse between the US and Russia. Putin knows Russia cannot afford a prolonged ground war with Ukraine. He also can see Biden is facing crucial midterm elections with a domestic congressional impasse, and cannot afford a major foreign crisis distraction. The two sides have no choice but to strike a deal.

On a different occasion, Putin asked me how decisions are really made in Washington, with its complex division of Presidential and Congressional powers. He said Kissinger could explain the broad parameters of a Presidential policy decision, but could not clarify how political consensus was achieved between the House, Senate, and the Executive Branch.

It was evident he had been given a deep intelligence brief on my career. He said Kissinger enjoys the public theatre of powerful people meeting in elaborate dinners or meetings with many aides ready to guide them. And he told me he had been informed that I preferred backroom meetings to shape consensus and provide room for negotiating details.

I tried to explain the elaborate process of balancing the interests of the many players in Washington, including Congress, the major agencies, and the intricate business arrangements that might be affected by any decision. I told him of my first personal meeting with Nixon, who had said he was impressed that I had strong personal support from leaders of both major parties. However, he added, this raised worries among his staff in the White House — so he really needed to know whether I was a Republican or a Democrat. To which I replied: “Yes.”

When Nixon asked what that meant, I explained that I was not a partisan warrior, but rather a problem solver. To get a solution I would always be ready to work with key players of both parties depending upon the specific problem. This seemed to amuse Putin.

The impression of Putin that I was left with was of a man who was more intelligent than most of the politicians I had met in Washington and in other capitals around the world. I was reminded of my childhood: I grew up in a predominantly Sicilian neighbourhood, with a mafia maintaining order. No disorganised crime allowed. Putin did seem to have the instincts of a Sicilian mafia boss: quick to reward but quick to pose mortal risk in the event of non-conformity to the family rules.

Looking back to those times of growing disarray in Russia’s leadership, I can recall the prolonged, multi-year paralysis of the Brezhnev Presidency, which was followed by the brief Presidencies of Andropov and Chernenko. Gorbachev was not strong enough to impose his will. Yeltsin had good ideas but was easily distracted and lacked follow through. Russia was in urgent need of a strong leader — and so Putin stepped in.

As for how Putin sees himself, he did bring up several times his admiration for Peter the Great, so much so I was convinced he sees himself as his incarnation. I have not been a guest of the Kremlin since 1988, but I am told Putin had portraits of Peter the Great hung in several important meeting rooms there — rather than portraits of himself, as would be more customary. What this means for Biden, Nato and Ukraine is slowly becoming clear. There is more to Putin than meets the eye.


Harald Malmgren is a geopolitical strategist, negotiator and former aide to Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford
Halsrethink

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Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago

The author has written an excellent insightful essay on Putin which is very rare. What is ignored is that the American’s forced a privatisation on the USSR which resulted in assets being sold for a minute fraction of their their true worth resulting in mass poverty in the 1990s. This has created hatred for the West and fuelled massive support for Putin from the Russian people. The Americans humiliated Russians after 1990. The American political class lack’s the astuteness to realise that one either kills or leaves animals alone; as wounded ones are more dangerous, especially bears. It has also meant the Chinese Communist Party realising it would allow economic freedom but not politcal. The CCP has no wish to be removed from power like it’s Russian counterpart.
Suggested reading, “Putin’s People” by Catherine Belton. Putin is largely inspired by Peter The Great.
Putin is a physically tough astute cultured Russian patriot. Most of the Western leaders are neither tough, astute,cultured or patriotic. Putin’s desire is to restore the power and prestige of Russia and the West, by default, is doing a good job of helping him.

Julie Blinde
Julie Blinde
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Do Russian people respect Putin on the whole ?
The few I have met did.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Julie Blinde

A friend who speaks fluent Russian and visits there on business says Putin has the support of the broad mass of the Russian people and that is my experience as well.

There is no toleration for weakness in Russia. Life under the Mongols for hundreds of years, the enslavement of hundreds of thousands of Russians by Muslim Tatars and invasions by Napoleon and Germany twice has taught them that only when one is strong, is one secure.

Julie Blinde
Julie Blinde
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

The engineer from Vladivostok told me Putin had professionalaised the army. This caused a dip in strength but an increase in skill and motivation

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Julie Blinde

Decrease in numbers but increase in capability. When the price of oil was $150/barrel money was spent on improving dence and increasing gold reserves. Russia supplies how much of Germany and the EU’s energy needs ?
The problem for the West is that on the Ukrainian border is the Russian professional volunteer army comprising 90,000 troops with some of the best equipment in the World, who know how to fight in the conditions.What does the West have ?

Julie Blinde
Julie Blinde
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

The West has…… Greta Thunberg ?

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Julie Blinde

They would know what to do with her in Russia

Wim de Vriend
Wim de Vriend
2 years ago

How dare you!

Alex Tickell
Alex Tickell
2 years ago
Reply to  Wim de Vriend

:0)

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

And when is our defence seriously discussed in the media, and at elections? No, the favourite topic is ‘the vulnerable’.

Malvin Marombedza
Malvin Marombedza
2 years ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

My God!!.What an unkind, racist, sexist brute you are !!!

Last edited 2 years ago by Malvin Marombedza
Noel Chiappa
Noel Chiappa
2 years ago

I’m not sure that everyone will realize that you’re being ironic, not serious. At least, I assume you are.

Noel
ï»ż

Brad Halfacre
Brad Halfacre
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

We were all suckers for the Russian propaganda back then . Why did we believe it?

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  Julie Blinde

On the whole, I would say yes. I have been doing business in Russia for twenty years and was last there in 2019 . Pandemic has prevented further travel but still doing business and talking/emailing to Russian clients frequently.
Things have become much more orderly (for want of a better word) over those twenty years, civil infrastructure improved, roads and streets safer etc etc. I’m not just talking about Moscow – I’ve also been to SPb, Sakhalin and Siberian cities within the last 5 years.

Julie Blinde
Julie Blinde
2 years ago

Thank you .
I am looking for a good Russian langauge course, do you know of any ?

Hugh Marcus
Hugh Marcus
2 years ago
Reply to  Julie Blinde

My Daughter in law is Russian. Her view is that a lot of the older people who lived under communism see him as a strong leader. She says the young people want him & the corruption gone but most are afraid to speak up. Those of us wool I’ve in the west have no idea what its like to live in a State where dissent isn’t tolerated.

Michael K
Michael K
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Excellently put! Your comment has helped me understand the situation much better. Thank you.
I believe many in the West would be happy about a patriotic leader. We don’t necessarily need the monarchies of old back, but mainstreaming oldschool Enlightenment would be a good start.

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Just where do you see “cultured” associated with Putin?
Going to the ballet a couple of times a year is not cultured.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

He has a great knowledge and respect for Russian culture. Do any Western leaders have greater knowledge and respect for their nations’s culture? I do not expect a book by Blair on the works of Tallis, Shakespeare or Milton though I believe Foot wrote on the Civil War.

Chris Eaton
Chris Eaton
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

That is one of the most insightful comments I have read online in quite a while. The West runs away from their culture…the Russians fully embrace it.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Eaton

Thank you. This is a post WW2 development. From the Renaissance to WW2 we had tough leaders who were cultured for example, Wellington, Robert Graves, Stirling, Mayne and lewes of the SAS . Painting of Lewis by Whistler.
Jock Lewes – Wikipedia
The late Lt Colonel Worsley of the SAS taught needlework to prisoners .
We know have effete leaders who try to show their toughness by aping the manners of the ghetto in order to gain ” Street Cred “. Cameron claimed not to know what Magna Carta meant and Corbyn did not. Both Cameron and Corbyn are products of professional upper middle class families but where is their love of British culture?

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

I think you exaggerate the ‘culture’ of Wellington, Stirling & Mayne. Perhaps you meant patriotism?

You are perfectly correct about such worthless dross as Cameron, May, Blair etc etc. Traitors all in their own despicable way.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago

Stirling wanted to be a painter and Mayne a poet. Lewes assocoated with Whistler. Wellington considered being a gentleman his most important asset and honesty, Britain’s. There is nothing coarse, crude or vulgar about the gentlemen I mentioned despite being warriors.
Putin is now slashing EU gas supplies. European politicians will now try to explain why gas prices are rising and fear the anger of the electorate. The politicians cannot admit to their stupidity in giving power over energy to Putin, so he will make demands that will not hurt them. No politician will risk losing an election, hence money and status over Donetsk and we do not have the armed forces to repel Putin. Kruschev moved Crimea into Ukraine from Russia in the 1950s.
Putin is KGB not army, so he is trained in subversion not assault. Expect absorption of Donetsk into Russia. I expect the gas to be turned off prior to cold spells and before any election on the EU which can be influenced . I expect Putin to have dossiers on all people and their families who can be blackmailed- Biden’s sons’ activities in Ukraine? The sexual/ health records may be of great use. All that is needed is politicians to be absent at crucial votes to benefit Russia.
Gradually borders will be created, food will come from Russia and goods exported there. Russian currency will be accepted and perhaps Russian passports issued . Only Russian will be spoken. Those Ukrainains unwilling to accept Russian rule will be persuaded to leave. Over as little time as five years Donetsk will be assimilated.
In the 1850s Donestk was very sparsely populated. The discovery of coal and development of steel works by a Welshman created the heavy industry. Most workers came from Russia, hence the Russian influence.
The below map shows Ukraine the 20th century
Ukraine-growth – Ukraine – Wikipedia
What happens if Poland and other countries asks back territory from Ukraine? By weakening EU/NATO and showing them to be ineffective, Putin strengthens Russia. What happens when the 25% or so of Russians start whispering in the ears of the Balts saying NATO/EU cannot or will not protect you? Does any Balt believe Biden or Harris can withstand Russian subversion.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

I did not say these men were “ coarse, crude, or vulgar”, but rather doubted their cultural credentials. “Wanting” to be a painter or poet is not enough.

Bar allowing Mark Drakeford to annex the Donetsk, would it not be sensible, in view of what you have said, to cede it to Putin?

Finally as we have only 13 Nuclear reactors to France’s 56, we have only ourselves to blame if Putin wished to ‘squeeze’ us over Gas.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago

Promote Shale gas and oil plus Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors in the USA and EU and bring the price down $20 barrel for four years.
Liquid fluoride thorium reactor – Wikipedia
Methane can be converted to Hydrogen. Russia can be described as a petrol station with a country. This will break Russia, Iran and Venezuela financially and those arabs who support Taleban and Islamic terrorism will not have the money. If Russian does not have money to maintain the military equipment for four years it will be in bad condition. Condensation of water will promote corrosion.
Cheap oil and gas will benefit developing countries who lack these resources and help bring back energy intensive manufacturing to the West from China by lowering costs.
Offshore wind power means electrical cables which can be cut in war, as can pipelines.
If vehicles are made to run on methane, even better hydrogen, it will clear up cities and reduce lung disease.

Andrew F
Andrew F
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Why would Poland ask for any territory from Ukraine?
My father family is from Lvow but no one of my generation, never mind younger one dreams of returning there.
It is Ukraine now.
Does any Balt believe that Biden etc can withstand Russian subversion?
Most do, that is why they joined NATO.
To avoid being terrorized by “cultured” Russians you so admire.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew F

I should have explained more. The boundaries of the Ukraine have changed in the course of the 20th Century. The West has not considered the implication that political pressure may be brought to change boundaries, as Putin has done.
I do not support what Putin has done but I respect his abilities: he has played a weak hand well by playing his few strengths against the The West weaknesses It is an assessment of his character and his ability to gain support from some, perhaps a majority of the Russian people. As Professor Stephen Hicks has pointed out Hitler, Goebbels and other Nazi leaders were highly knowledgeable on German culture and Germany was the most educated country in the World. The Nazis created an ideology which was supported by three Nobel prize winners, Spengler and Heidegger. if one wants to defeat Putin then one needs to know his strengths and weaknesses and our own.
I have suggested how to reduce Putin’s power: it is simple, quick and cheap and does not require force. I should say $18/barrel as this onshore production costs of Russian oil.
It is now obvious that the EU will not support Russian expulsion from Swift as Germany and Italy appear to be in Putin’s pocket due to The Green and Socialists making these countries rely on Russian Gas.
As Germany will not increase defence spending I suggest The UK and USA increase taxation on all German goods to increase expenditure on defence to make up for all monies not paid. We could supply Ukraine with anti tank and anti aircraft missiles.
We could say Putin is a small man who knows how to win a fight against larger and stronger men because he is a brawler; well he is winning at the moment.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago

Wellington played the violin, but made a deliberate decision to follow a military career, which, ironically, he started on by going to a French academy.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

Does playing the violin make one cultured? Wellington’s father was rewarded with an Irish Peerage for doing so, but that hardly proves the point.

Wellington seems to have suffered from a gross inferiority complex due to his Irish origin, and thus became a most unpleasant snob.
This does not detract from his military prowess but is hardly evidence of ‘culture’.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Oliver Letwin did his PhD on Kantian ethics, I think, for what it’s worth. Christ, why did I mention that bozo.

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Personally I found Oliver Stone’s four-part film The Putin Interviews to be fascinating. I know it was a love-fest and one-sided but, as with QVC Shopping after so many hours, I couldn’t help but buy it…

Last edited 2 years ago by Justin Clark
Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

He has changed Russia so much; everyone has quit smoking, drinking and taken up fitness training.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

“Putin is a physically tough astute cultured Russian patriot. Most of the Western leaders are neither tough, astute,cultured or patriotic. Putin’s desire is to restore the power and prestige of Russia and the West, by default, is doing a good job of helping him.”
Admittedly, Putin is at the very least an admirable example of personal restraint and dignity.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

“What is ignored is that the American’s forced a privatisation on the USSR which resulted in assets being sold for a minute fraction of their their true worth resulting in mass poverty in the 1990s.”
Is that so? With the demise of the old system former members of the communist party and especially the KGB were queuing up to loot state assets, either selling industries to themselves at knock down prices or through phoney privatizations, and they needed no encouragement from the US.
Ultimately it was the Russian oligarchs that cleaned up and curiously these very significantly came from one group.

Bruce Haycock
Bruce Haycock
2 years ago

This links back to the writer’s comment about the lack of property rights protection under Russian law

Western advocacy of privitization was undoubtedly correct (state industry was more than moribund).

What gave the apparachiks their opportunity was, along with Western naivety about rule of law in Russia, their honed power mentality plus privileged positions and connections to operate without fear of redress or legal accountability.

Strength in Russia exists at the top of the tree, most everyone else is quite powerless, reduced to being grateful for the provision of the basics. And hence the romanticist clingings to the icons of their past culture and the huddled solidarity of being Russian

Whereas in the West strength is much more distributed, enabled by the rule of law, protection of transaction and ownership rights in property and the standings of our civil society institutions to protect personal and social freedoms.

These standings are under serious progressivist revision, we need politicians to stand up for the institutions and presumption of freedom, this is far more important than trying to find our own ‘Marlboro Man’ versions of a bare chested Putin on a horse

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Bruce Haycock

But Blair and even his successor have fundamentally undermined our institutions

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago

Read Putin’s People. There are two phases of oligarch formation, the first one was supported by the KGB and started prior to collapse of USSR, the second one forced by the USA post collapse. It was the second phase which angered the Russian people and the KGB, leading to the rise of Putin.

Leto McAllister
Leto McAllister
2 years ago

The collapse of the USSR ushered by the US and seen as the ultimate victory in the Cold War brought mass chaos and complete destruction of the property and legal systems. The government sector doctors, educators, civil servants, pensioners were particularly hit with the implosion of the state finance. The republics were breaking away wrecking havoc across all areas of economics. At the same time that ruble continuously collapsed through a period of hyperinflation, US and Europe made it particularly easy to emigrate causing a massive exodus of middle aged and young people, almost all well educated to pastures more “green and free”. The eruption of free market business in the face of a collapse of nearly all standing institutions resulted in the “Wild 90s”, the period of compressed initial wealth acquisition, comparable to the US Wild West or European Feudal period put on fast forward: new elites emerging as they may across the no-rules landscape. All shite went loose, and the neo nazis were on the rise with a big new anti-semitism wave, inspired by the mass immigration of Russian jews to Israel and the US.
In the 90s in addition to all above Russia was engulfed in a terrorist civil war with Chechnya, a Southern province in the Caucases, which manifested in horrendous violence in militarised zones down South as well and awful terrorist situations like Beslan school hostages or Nord-Ost musical in Moscow and attacks on the capital underground.
What does it have to do with Putin? As the other commenter posted,
– Russia has settled with Chechnya, and Grozny has become a town in which both men and women can feel safe in,
– the cadastral system of land ownership is fully digitised and, I promise you, waaay clearer than the hand noted scribbles you sometimes find on the Land Registry, UK
– educational sector and medical sector have reformed, resulting in new private offerings. However the core of the system remains free by default and high quality.
– doctors’, teachers’ and civil servant salaries are quite good and there’s a scope for maneuver. Not like the super inflated GP salaries which result in almost no GP working full time, but they are on par with the private sector.
– there is no sign of anti-semitism in any meaningful way beyond the individual idiots. Sadly, the same can not be said about the official state policies of Poland and modern Ukraine, establishing new hero-cults for characters like Stepan Bandera to bolster the nationalist Rusophobic sentiment
– although geographical disparity remains an issue (just remind yourself of the size of Russia when you next spin that Google Earth), the quality of life has been improving throughout, though nowhere as markedly as in St Peterburg and Moscow
– Moscow is one of the cleanest, most welcoming, yet functional cities in Europe. The night life, cultural offerings, design and architecture, food, working opportunities, sports, public transport, modern conveniences are among the best globally.
I have travelled a lot, from Tokyo to New York and seen or lived in nearly all European capitals, but don’t take my word, go check it out for yourself.

Personally on Putin, he speaks as a highly intelligent person with a good memory and deep knowledge of relevant subjects whenever he speaks. He is always very well briefed and prepared, and can think on his feet. He can occasionally make a good joke, although his public image is generally sombre. In the late 90s early 2000s he engaged in a few stunts, like the rest o’them (think topless Obama and pig-patting Boris). Putin preferred to dive for amphoras (always successfully!) and fly with the cranes on a single seat glider.
He makes me far less embarrassed-by-association than most Anglo-Saxon leaders of the recent years.

Andrew F
Andrew F
2 years ago

Yes, such a great leader that he jails his opponents like Navalny instead of facing them in free elections.
You claim to traveled widely but think that food in Moscow is one of the best globally?
Since real journalists are murdered regularly in Russia, clowns like you attempt to do their job…

Andrew F
Andrew F
2 years ago

Great post.
All these admirers of “cultured” Putin and his gangster crew forget that he just extorted some stolen wealth from the previous gang.
Sensible ones reached accommodation with new gang and are still around.
Others like Khodorovsky ended up in prison and others, like Berezovsky, dead.
But why acknowledge real reasons why Russia is “shithole with nukes”.
So much easier to blame West.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

George Borrow, the 19th English travel writer put it thus:
“ the Russian people are the best-natured kindest people in the world, and though they do not know as much as the English, they have not the fiendish, spiteful dispositions, and if you go amongst them and speak their language, however badly, they would go through fire and water to do you a kindness.”

Last edited 2 years ago by SULPICIA LEPIDINA
LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Thank you, Mr, Hedges, for adding, so effectively, to Mr. Malgrem’s message above. Please continue with your insightful input here on UnHerd.

Sam Brown
Sam Brown
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

What is this thread? A Putin love in? The man is a monster, a tyrant; a dictator. A cold-eyed, cold-blooded predator. He and his cronies have raped Russia of its wealth for themselves, the oligarchy.There is no excuse, none, for what is happening right now. Admire him if you must but don’t lose sight of who is the criminal in the current situation and I trust that the ICC will open a case against him shortly.

Sam Brown
Sam Brown
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

What is this thread? A Putin love in? The man is a monster, a tyrant; a dictator. A cold-eyed, cold-blooded predator. He and his cronies have stolen the wealth of Russia for themselves, the oligarchy.There is no excuse, none, for what is happening right now. Admire him if you must but don’t lose sight of who is the criminal in the current situation and I trust that the ICC will open a case against him shortly.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
2 years ago

Thank you for this article. Many analyses of Russia / Putin seem to regard him as a simple thug, in deep and way over his head. Given his success, this has always seemed to me to be very unlikely.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 years ago

Putin does a better job than Boris, Biden, Trump or any EU leader, and that is not saying much… How I ache for a Swiss situation where no one knows, cares, or needs to know who the PM/President is… because the country actually functions, and the populus is content…?

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago

Thanks off course to copious Referenda! The land of ‘William Tell’ makes a mockery of the land of ‘Magna Carta’, does it not?

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago

I guess your definition of a better job is different to mine. Russia’s wealth flows to a small number of the rich, and into their armed forcea. He has a higher approval rating than Johnson, but of course strange things would happen to people like Nick Robinson in Russia, and, for that matter to Keir Starmer, who might find himself being prosecuted for, say, tax fraud, while organisations seen as hostile are accused of working on behalf of foreign powers (true, come to think of it).
Once upon a time, we managed to be democratic and patriotic, but now have great difficulty with the latter. It makes us vulnerable, because weakness makes it more likely one will become involved in war not less; si vis pacem, para bellum.

Jean Sweeny
Jean Sweeny
2 years ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

Putin will be studied long into the future. When will the UK learn even Mt. St. Helena can’t isolate those rarest of leaders of humans who understand reality is not for the mob to control. Bribery and blackmail doesn’t buy movements/migrations that unfold organically at the grass’ root. Imperial rules of conduct have been more judicious in past decades with less exposure of the total hubris behind our scripted fate. I guess the artificial price of cheap credit is the “gift” the West offered to everyone and now expects everyone–no matter one’s refusal–to pay the price for accepting that fantasy which will bankrupt reality. Enlisting those vying for fantasy found in all hyerarchial spheres of influence: state, federal and local. Bribery, fake morality media and hard-ball blackmail (railroading the enemy) is the grease that glides up and down the ranks to create the impression of “grass roots” reality. Film crews, necessary media clips and trick camera shoots change reality in real time based on NATO/US intelligence and their control of enough separate blades (most unaware the other blades mixed in are also fake) of grass to appear as if the organic sight of reality.Qwirky and unpredictable, but always moving towards one inexorable goal: unknown and unwanted with no regard for democracy.
When will they get out has now become, where can we go.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago

We can also be thankful to Mr Putin for saving Syria from the clutches of America & her ‘allies’. Had he not done so, Syria would now be wracked by the internecine terror that we see in Iraq.
All this from a man only a fraction of the size of Peter the Great*.

(*Peter the Great: 203cm
Mr Putin : 170cm.)

D Glover
D Glover
2 years ago

That’s an interesting point. Ashraf Ghani was a protege of the US. When they left Afghanistan he fled, and can never return. Bashar al-Assad is a protege of Moscow. The Russians have bombed the rebels to hell and kept him in power.
Now, if you were a dictator, whose patronage would you rather have?
I’m not being politically partisan here; Joe Biden enacted a policy that was already intended by Trump. He just brought it forward a bit, and didn’t give his allies much notice.

D Glover
D Glover
2 years ago
Reply to  D Glover

I wish people who downvote would leave a comment. Factually wrong? true but regrettable? other reason?

Penelope Lane
Penelope Lane
2 years ago
Reply to  D Glover

I wish Unherd would radically overhaul its whole system. Why cannot we have something forward-looking and creative, instead of this bipolar divisive incitement to conflict?
We don’t have to have a binary yes/no, let alone a system which makes minority ticks disappear into one amalgamated “score”. This is the product of immature jock-boy thinking, brought up on an undiluted diet of competition and online war games.
I would like to see something where readers have a choice between constructive alternatives such as “made me think”, “lots of useful facts”, “insubstantial puff piece”, “my heart weeps”, “confused and confusing”, and so on.
Why can’t we have the system thrown open to reader input and creative suggestions about response options, then come up with a better program? Why not stand out from the rest and lead the field?
Unfortunately, Unherd seems to be incapable of thinking outside the box of clickbait enticement, thereby demonstrating its own herd mentality!

Tom Jennings
Tom Jennings
2 years ago
Reply to  D Glover

There are four ways I know to leave a party after a fight. You can be carried out, you can run out, you can be thrown out, or you can walk. Ghani was going to be carried out dead so he ran. Biden ran. Trump would have walked.
Biden told us he would leave no Americans behind-but he did.
Putin watched it all.

Iris C
Iris C
2 years ago

It is frequently forgotten that our Coalition government voted to stay out of Syria but as soon as the Liberals were ousted, the Tories joined forces with the USA to devastate another Middle Eastern country. It was only when that happened that Russia responded to a request for help from Assad’s government.
Being pals with the USA has served us badly this century and continues to do so..
We would be better off (and more stable) if we found common ground with Russia..

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago

So Syria is better off than iraq?

Jean Sweeny
Jean Sweeny
2 years ago

Putin will be studied long into the future. When will the UK learn even Mt. St. Helena can’t isolate those rarest of leaders of humans who understand reality is not for the mob to control. Bribery and blackmail doesn’t buy movements/migrations that unfold organically at the grass’ root. Imperial rules of conduct have been more judicious in past decades with less exposure of the total hubris behind our scripted fate. I guess the artificial price of cheap credit is the “gift” the West offered to everyone and now expects everyone–no matter one’s refusal–to pay the price for accepting that fantasy which will bankrupt reality. Enlisting those vying for fantasy found in all hyerarchial spheres of influence: state, federal and local. Bribery, fake morality media and hard-ball blackmail (railroading the enemy) is the grease that glides up and down the ranks to create the impression of “grass roots” reality. Film crews, necessary media clips and trick camera shoots change reality in real time based on NATO/US intelligence and their control of enough separate blades (most unaware the other blades mixed in are also fake) of grass to appear as if the organic sight of reality.Qwirky and unpredictable, but always moving towards one inexorable goal: unknown and unwanted with no regard for democracy.
When will they get out has now become, where can we go.

M. Gatt
M. Gatt
2 years ago

According to American media, Putin is the most powerful man in the world. He controls American presidential elections. For years the Americans repeated this on a daily basis. Russians are very proud of their omnipotent leadership.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  M. Gatt

Given the history of the US interfering in other peoples elections I assume they do not have a problem with it

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago

What a name-dropping waste of an excellent topic. The author is essentially saying–Look at me, look at how old I am, look at how many presidents I’ve advised…..and somehow he forgets that the US has been in continuous decline on his watch. The author lost me when he referred favorably to Kissinger in the second paragraph? Really? Kissinger was and is a moron or worse–war criminal?– for his entire career, which he recently capped by being a Theranos director AND consultant–in other words, a highly paid “name” from yesteryear. Incompetent in every job he ever held, including Theranos director and consultant.
Putin is indeed a tough guy. He is widely respected by the average Russian and Baltic Russians for standing up for Russia, for reminding them of Russia’s greatness.
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. When Putin talked to Biden over videolink, Putin was sitting at the table. Biden was also sitting at a table–with four advisors! Bad optics as the political operatives say!
Putin is today’s definition of RealPolitik. If the West doesn’t understand him it’s because of doddering, demented dotards like Biden and the author. Look at how great I am–I met Putin once, decades ago–look at how important I am….
Pathetic!

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

After all these comments I get to one that reflects my own reaction to the piece. I I I all over the place.

Putin isn’t fit to tie the laces of Navalny’s shoes. There is real courage and real patriotism.

Leto McAllister
Leto McAllister
2 years ago

Because power hungry people across the world haven’t played opposition game since forever, complaining about everything and everyone, living off the sponsorship from competing geopolitical powers?
By the way, whatever the context, Putin never flirted with micro nationalisms, for which there are plenty of opportunities in the multicultural Russia. While Navalny’s career is founded on the base of “Russia for Russians” neo nazism. He has been trying to explain it away domestically, yet in the wider world it is never mentioned.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago

I have read many of the comments with incredulity, but a number of questions occur to me; too many, so I’ll just select two.
How many people find Russian life so attractive that they’ll go to great lengths to immigrate?
Putin has been in power for.over 21 years. When will he resign, retire or be voted out of office? (Maybe the Duma will pass a vote of no confidence one day?) And what will happen when he does relinquish power?

Antony Hirst
Antony Hirst
2 years ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

Just think of the chaos Russia will be in if Putin were to disappear. This maybe this explains why he has held on to power so easily, nobody wants to deal with the aftermath.

Last edited 2 years ago by Antony Hirst
Tom Jennings
Tom Jennings
2 years ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

Two good questions.
To the first, very few westerners would immigrate to Russia. I am sure there are a few wealthy cosmopolitans who keep an apartment in St Petersburg and visit when Gergiev is in town. For most of us, no.
As to question two, I am confident that Putin either has a plan, or is working diligently on a plan, to ultimately retire and stay alive. My guess is that he has a few things he really wants to get done first.

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago

Another piece from someone who doesn’t know Putin–or Russia– very well.
Putin’s problem (and Russia’s) is that he wants to be Peter the Great. But all of the latter’s reforms failed–as has every succeeding attempt by Russia to modernize. Putin now resides over a country entirely tied to fossil fuel extraction. He’ s just suffered1 million excess deaths during the pandemic–in a country with a declining population. All his overseas gambits in Syria, Libya and the CAR were designed to somehow frighten the West into giving back Ukraine–very much as a mob boss harasses a store owner to get him to pay ransom. All have failed–which shows why mob bosses rarely become anything more than mob bosses.
To think that a St Petersburg slum kid who was coopted into the KGB (not exactly the most cultured group on the planet!) is a “genius” is simply delusional.
We are dealing with a slightly smarter version of the siloviki who have over the years bungled countless assassination attempts overseas, and even cluelessly told Navalny the details of his own assassination (!). They also accidentally shoot down airliners
Every gambit Putin has tried in the last 7 years to get Ukraine back has failed. The only reason Ukraine even wants in NATO is because of Putin’s misguided attempts to get it back.
An intelligent Russian leader would have built up his own nation, and thus try to woo Ukraine back in its orbit–for Ukraine’s own self interest.
This Russian leader is neither intelligent nor successful–except in bamboozling naive westerners into believing ridiculous fantasies.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

Noone said he was a genius, I said he was a physically tough astute cultured Russian patriot. Someone who has knowledge of Russian music, ballet and literature is cultured.Growing up in a slum instils survival instincts which cannot be learnt from a book and in particular a sense of other peoples weaknesses. Putin inherited a very weak hand and has played it well. Putin has the degree of control over Georgia, Crimea and the Russian part of the Ukraine he wants. The Baltics fear Putin. In 1990 the USA could afford to ignore Russia. Now due to the increased power of China and failure in the ME, it cannot.
The overseas section of the KGB were astute which is why they were able to recruit so many spies in the West. West Germany was riddled with Soviet assets( Schmidt’s secetary). The overseas section of the KGB was the one of the few parts of the USSR which did work, along with aircraft design.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

So was the UK. The truth is that the famous cases we know of were mainly eccentrics and fantasists (the Cambridge Five, the Portland ring, Karl Fuchs, Elizabeth Bentley etc.) who largely incriminated themselves with their need for attentions and/or recognition. Usually because the KGB overlooked their risks because they had something very useful to pass over.
There were probably ten, twenty, even a hundred times their number who were clever enough to keep themselves under the radar. I remember reading an account by John Simpson of how he was nearly (at least according to him) entrapped in a honey pot in the USSR in the 80s, and he wondered how many of the politicians and businessmen who would offer a kind word in public towards the Soviets may have been compromised. We probably will never know, and we seem to have tacitly agreed to forget about it all out of the collectively premature relaxation that came in 1989 (Putin, as Salisbury shows, notably hasn’t).

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago

The obvious point about that is, despite all of the KGB’s efforts, the SU fell.
And if you put spies in charge, everything seems like a spy movie–not reality.

Which is why Putin is living in a separate reality.

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

If he has played it so well, why doesn’t he have Ukraine? Why is his economy stagnant? Why does he have to silence all dissent in the country?
If he had simply accepted Maidan, he could very quickly have used the Pro-Russian forces to get Ukraine once again on his side. Instead he launched a “special operation” a la KGB, which weakened his hold still further on Ukraine.
This is his last chance to get Ukraine. HIs economy wont collapse. But no one will voluntarily become a Russian, and he doesn’t have enough forces to imprison even a part of Ukraine.
He’s a great tactician but an abysmal strategist–which is why he–and Russia–will fail.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

Tolerating dissent in Russia is a sign of weakness, look at it’s history. The duty of any leader of Russia is to make it secure from attack and increase it’s prestige. Compared to 1990 or even 2000, Russia is in a much stronger position which gains support for Putin.
He does not need Ukraine, just the parts where they speak Russian and have coal fields and heavy industry which is the Donetsk Region. Germany taking Russian gas by passes Ukraine and reduces it to a large farm. Putin does not need any more agricultural land.
Talking about the economy carries little weight with the average Russian.The poverty suffered by the Russians from 1990 to 2000 was so bad, any improvement, gains support for Putin. In China the Cultural Revolution killed 40M and people were duced to eating insects and grass grass. Consequently any improvement, even as something as small being able to eat meat daily, gains support for the CCP.
Iran has attacked British and American ships, do you think they would risk such stunts with Putin?

Brooke Walford
Brooke Walford
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

I agree with your eyes-wide-open assessment of Putin and would recommend Bill Browder’s detailed experience of the utter ruthlessness of Putin’s desire to maintain his kleptocratic hold on power and wealth.

Jean Sweeny
Jean Sweeny
2 years ago
Reply to  Brooke Walford

What a lame example: Browder and Navaldy. If used to highlight Putin in a negative light, I skip over ur opinion as it’s clear ur bogged down in propaganda and have no access to credible sources of info.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jean Sweeny
Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
2 years ago

Many of the comments on here sound like the old men in the cafe in ‘Im Westen Nicht Neues’ discussing jingoistically how exciting war is as long as they don’t have to fight it. I’m in my sixties and the first in three generations nit to have to fight in a major war. I’m certainly not now going to pontificate about war or engage in proto fascist chuntering about how marvellously ‘cultured’ and admirable Putin is. Ye Gods- the evil dwarf only just finished using a toxic nerve agent on British soil! Enough supine admiration for the dwarf in giant’s clothing. As Navalny said, Putin wakes every morning wondering if the Russian people will finally see through his gangsterism and find a mob is outside his door. Make no mistake, this isn’t about patriotism- he hates his own people- it’s about providing constant distractions by blaming the West in a country with a pathetically low standard of living, run by local mafiosi and a fast decreasing population. He’s frightened. China will dominate Russia politically very soon, reliance on hydrocarbon exports will catastrophically decline and they’ll be stuck in their historic schizoid state of ‘Asiatic savagery’ as Russian writers put it whilst constantly aping and envying Western culture. The West appears broken because we argue and disagree often furiously. Funny then that the rest of the World desperately wants to live here or envies and is jealous of us. Why no Russian or Chinese Microsoft or Uber or Salesforce or Tesla ( I don’t mean later copies of these) or the Internet itself? You need freedom to think of new ideas that’s why. Putin knows Russia’s time, in its current form , is up.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

It worries me that so many comments here seem to express admiration for a dictator; ok, there are “elections” but I think one can be a wee bit sceptical about their fairness when the opposition is imprisoned or force to leave for their own safety. So, the Russian people “love” him – do they feel free to express any view that want about him (my experience is no)? Do they really know what he is up to over seas? Do they know how bad their economy is? He does express patriotic feelings, which goes down well in all countries outside the Anglo-phone areas, but “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” and Putin is a quintessential scoundrel.

Last edited 2 years ago by Linda Hutchinson
Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
2 years ago

Agree Linda. That supine desire for ‘the man on horseback’ to sort it all out. Russians, being Orthodox, actually see suffering as ‘good’ ( Dostoevsky!) or inevitable. Add on to that historical triggering as a result of the 200 yr or so Mongol yoke and invasions- Poland/ Lithuania, Swedish Empire, Napoleon, Two world wars etc and always their response is paranoia and suspicion. Constantly schizoid about being European or not; constantly fearing chaos across a huge expanse so desiring a ‘little father’ to put it right even in blood and savagery.. Even the first rulers- Viking Rus were invited in to stop their own squabbling. The West missed a trick after the collapse. I believe Russia even enquired after joining NATO. Instead, gangsterism took over. Problem is now Putin the richest ruler on the planet has told the Big Lie for so long to fess up and say the West has no desire to take over Russia (imagine!) is for the whole facade to collapse.

Leto McAllister
Leto McAllister
2 years ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

“Russian writers… constantly aping and envying Western culture”, seriously?

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

One thing is for sure. We don’t seem to have true statesmen like Mr. Malmgren anymore.

D Glover
D Glover
2 years ago
Reply to  Warren T

I was a bit puzzled by Kissinger’s statesmanship. Why was he keen to find and enhance Russian talent? Did he just enjoy playing chess with real people?

George Kushner
George Kushner
2 years ago

I think the West gets it right – Putin/Russia is trying to play their own game, which totally unacceptable for the global Pax Americana.

Hugh Marcus
Hugh Marcus
2 years ago

The most enlightening part of this article is the bit on resolving disputes.
The article is entitled What the West gets wrong about Putin.
What they fail to appreciate is who he is. Putin cares little about a few frozen bank accounts in London or his mates being told they’re not welcome in countries they never fly to.
What would have deterred him would have been a western leader looking at him sternly over that long table & saying in simple terms, “Mr Putin, if one of your soldiers crosses into Ukraine I will order a drone strike on the Kremlin, and then making sure he understands through diplomatic channels that they meant every word.
The problem is that all of our western leaders are ‘soy boys’ & there’s not one with the back bone to do it.

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
2 years ago

Re: “Fear provides the catalyst for common sense.” . . .
From watching Coppola movies, we Americans know (haha) how fear operates in Sicilian neighborhoods.
Now we understand, Mr.Malmgren, a little more clearly perhaps, how Putin strategy, including fear of Russian might, may be in operation in the eastern European “theatre.”
Or at least we would like to think we understand. More importantly, Mr. Malmgren, than presenting your perspective here at UnHerd, would be your historically-based counsel to our present military leaders, including also the British ones.
I do hope you are still in a position to lend some well-seasoned advice in the State Department and our Defense Department.
Keep up the good work, and thank you for lending your perspective to us armchair quarterbacks on Medium.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 years ago

A nation of utterly ghastly people and living tribute to the ruin that communism inflicts on a people: one only has to witness the appallingly dressed, vulgar, rude, style, charm and elegance devoid Russians throwing money about in places like The South of France, that even exceeds Arabs ….

Leto McAllister
Leto McAllister
2 years ago

That you would find it remotely acceptable to post such a comment on this platform, is indeed rude and vulgar beyond belief.