Is Vladimir Putin's Russia a threat to the liberal west? Our contributors duke it outby Kendall and Lieven / September 25, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
Bridget Kendall: Yes
If by “Russia” we mean President Vladimir Putin’s government and not the Russian people, and if “we” means western liberal democracies, then yes, I think it would be wise to fear the Russian bear.
I am not saying that Russia is a bigger threat than Islamic jihadists or North Korea. But nor do I accept that Russia is benign. It could be an important collaborator. Instead at the moment it seems bent on being a dangerous disrupter.
You know why Russia matters. It is the world’s biggest landmass, with a large nuclear arsenal. It is a major exporter of hydrocarbons, agriculture and weaponry, and a major power at the United Nations.
Yet Putin seems intent on using his influence destructively. He often wields his UN veto. He bullies his neighbours and plays on western weakness to make Russia look stronger. He proclaims that he no longer intends to play “by the rules of the game”—I think we were both there at the Valdai conference in 2014 when he first said it.
So, Crimea is annexed, Ukraine’s east is still at war, Georgia’s provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are Russian satellites, and Russia is suspected of meddling in both the American and French elections. Plus there is an alarmingly long list of murdered opposition figures, which looks suspiciously like a policy of targeted assassinations.
The Kremlin dismisses this as the exaggeration of a Russophobic western press. But shadowy operations are designed to be denied. And anyway why believe denials? Remember how Putin insisted no Russian soldiers were involved in the Crimean takeover, only to give them medals shortly after?
Might it not be prudent to keep up our guard?
Anatol Lieven: No
I agree that many of the internal policies of the Putin administration must be strongly condemned. On external policies, however, I must point out that most western criticism of Russia assumes that Russia should behave as members of the European Union behave within Europe. But Russia will never be a member of the EU. This being so, it seems only fair to compare Russia’s behaviour not to that of Denmark, but to that of the US, or China.