Russia: back to super power?

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Russia: back to super power?

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Here is a glimpse into Russia’s view of geopolitical influences.

At an international defence conference in 2007, its president dumped diplomatic ice over the Americans in the front row.

Vladimir Putin told them to quit playing god with other countries’ decisions.

He shocked the audience for the next 20 minutes.

US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates was non-confrontational. He acknowledged Putin’s straight talk but afterwards said one Cold War had been enough for him.

Gates said: “One of yesterday’s speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time.”

Putin condemned US notions of supremacy, saying that since the end of the Cold War, saying, “the US has overstepped its national borders in almost all spheres.”

The next year, in the Caucasus region, Russia bombed Georgia.

Gates said: “The prime minister (by this time) is interested in re-asserting Russia’s traditional spheres of influence.”

Many westerners felt Putin was trying to turn back the clock and correct what the once-proud ex-superpower felt had been a humiliating decline in international credibility since 1991.

Today, a Russian parliamentary supporter of a tough foreign policy – Head of the Duma’s International Committee – said warning the West against unilateralism is one thing, but, Alexey Poushkov insisted: “…Restoring superpower status is not Russia’s goal. There’s only one world superpower now, and it has huge problems with the responsibilities that go with that status.”

Even Putin’s critics say he has succeeded in telling key global players: ‘Russia’s not going to lie down and roll over as NATO expands eastward, Europe considers an American anti-missile shield or the international community arms Libyan rebels and the UN moves to censure Syria’.

Political analyst Fyodor Loukyanov said: “Fear of Russia has seriously grown in the world, but on the other hand Russia is considered a strong factor in international politics, which was not the case when Putin became prime minister and later president.”

President Medvedev calmly told President Obama that Russia expected its security interests to be taken into account.

Putin had begun to use the country’s oil and gas riches, while he was president, doubling defence spending and then redoubling it – reloading, so to speak.

Medvedev said: “We are open to dialogue, and we expect our Western partners to take a reasonable and constructive approach.”

At the end of Medvedev’s presidential term, Moscow sounded increasingly confident to speak critically about the world’s remaining ‘superpower’.

Alexey Poushkov said: “Every time you say something negative about an action by the Americans, someone calls it ‘anti-Americanism’. That surprises me. Imagine, you learn the US is bombing someone, and you say: ‘That’s an outrage!’ You’re labelled ‘anti-American’ for that!”

A lot of unease or misunderstanding between Russia and the West is rooted not just in history, this analyst told euronews – a big part of the problem is Putin’s personal convictions.

Fyodor Loukyanov said: “His distrust for the United States is very deep. He thinks about it all the time. It is not based on abstract ideas but on his experience of relations with the US during his two first presidential terms.”

Europe is historically more alert to Russian politics than the United States, some would argue. And yet Putin has also increased his share of tough criticism in the EU. The European Parliament debated a resolution which demanded a re-run of the latest Duma elections. A German Green party MEP initiated the move.

Werner Schultz said: “If Russia develops in a democratic way it might once more become a centre of gravitation. But if it tries to be a superpower again, in a way that traps other nations into dependency on it, that might be dangerous.”

It is the old argument about soft power and hard power. Moscow’s objections to others’ use of hard power may signal willingness to strengthen soft, with civic society demanding new pluralism.

Putin’s tone at campaign rallies remains resolute: “We won’t allow anyone to meddle in our affairs or impose their will on us, because we have a will of our own.”