It may have been a coincidence, but Vladimir Putin’s visits to India and Turkey in recent days did look like an effort to remind the West that Moscow has plenty of friends worldwide. The Russian leader took advantage of the occasion to go on the offensive over Ukraine. “Our position is that only the people of a given country, and this includes Ukraine in its entirety, can decide their fate. One can play the role of mediator but one must not meddle and apply pressure,” he said.
President Putin suffered something of a personal defeat in Ukraine because he chose to give his backing to pro-Moscow candidate Viktor Yanukovich. His response to the crisis has been to lash out at the West for interfering in regional affairs. Analyst Dimitri Trenine from the Moscow Carnegie centre argued Putin’s policy was badly thought through.“It would have been in Russia’s interests to play a more complex game, so that it wouldn’t lose out whatever the outcome of the vote,” he said. “But Putin followed an unsuccessful path and I think having failed he certainly won’t be an easier and more flexible partner, for either the US or Europe.” It is not just at the presidential level that the sparks are flying. Russian members of parliament are equally indignant. Duma deputy speaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky complained: “It’s belittling for us, they come from Brussels to teach us.” Most analysts expect the current cooling of East-West relations to be temporary. Putin is expected to take a pragmatic approach in his dealings with Kiev, whoever eventually wins the election.