Vladimir Putin and the State of the West and its Democracy

The 2016 annual meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club took place in late October 2016 during the closing weeks of the 2016 American presidential election.  At this three day event which had the time “The Future in Progress: Shaping the World of Tomorrow“, 130 experts and political analysts from 35 different countries examined issues concerning international relations, politics, the economy and demography among others.  The meeting was attended by such political notables as Tarja Halonen, President of the Republic of Finland from 2000 to 2012, Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa from 1999 to 2008 and Heinz Fischer, President of the Republic of Austria from 2000 to 2016.  The main speaker of one of the sessions was the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, who commented at length about the current geopolitical state of the world and what lies ahead for the world.  Here are some of his more interesting comments, particularly given that the United States was about to elect its most controversial president in recent history under the threatening skies of the possible Russian interference in the Clinton campaign.

In the first part of his speech, Mr. Putin looks at the current unipolar global political situation where a single world superpower imposes its will on the entire globe.  Please note that all bolds in the following quotes are mine:

The tensions engendered by shifts in distribution of economic and political influence continue to grow. Mutual distrust creates a burden that narrows our possibilities for finding effective responses to the real threats and challenges facing the world today. Essentially, the entire globalisation project is in crisis today and in Europe, as we know well, we hear voices now saying that multiculturalism has failed.

I think this situation is in many respects the result of mistaken, hasty and to some extent over-confident choices made by some countries’ elites a quarter-of-a-century ago. Back then, in the late 1980s-early 1990s, there was a chance not just to accelerate the globalisation process but also to give it a different quality and make it more harmonious and sustainable in nature.

But some countries that saw themselves as victors in the Cold War, not just saw themselves this way but said it openly, took the course of simply reshaping the global political and economic order to fit their own interests.

In their euphoria, they essentially abandoned substantive and equal dialogue with other actors in international life, chose not to improve or create universal institutions, and attempted instead to bring the entire world under the spread of their own organisations, norms and rules. They chose the road of globalisation and security for their own beloved selves, for the select few, and not for all. But far from everyone was ready to agree with this.

He then discusses the current global military situation where NATO and the United States view the Russian threat as an excuse for arming the nations immediately adjacent to the Russian border:

At the same time, some of our partners demonstrate no desire to resolve the real international problems in the world today. In organisations such as NATO, for example, established during the Cold War and clearly out of date today, despite all the talk about the need to adapt to the new reality, no real adaptation takes place. We see constant attempts to turn the OSCE, a crucial mechanism for ensuring common European and also trans-Atlantic security, into an instrument in the service of someone’s foreign policy interests. The result is that this very important organisation has been hollowed out.

But they continue to churn out threats, imaginary and mythical threats such as the ‘Russian military threat’. This is a profitable business that can be used to pump new money into defence budgets at home, get allies to bend to a single superpower’s interests, expand NATO and bring its infrastructure, military units and arms closer to our borders.

Of course, it can be a pleasing and even profitable task to portray oneself as the defender of civilisation against the new barbarians. The only thing is that Russia has no intention of attacking anyone. This is all quite absurd. I also read analytical materials, those written by you here today, and by your colleagues in the USA and Europe.

It is unthinkable, foolish and completely unrealistic. Europe alone has 300 million people. All of the NATO members together with the USA have a total population of 600 million, probably. But Russia has only 146 million. It is simply absurd to even conceive such thoughts. And yet they use these ideas in pursuit of their political aims.”

He then provides us with his opinion on the 2016 American presidential election and the alleged Russian meddling:

Another mythical and imaginary problem is what I can only call the hysteria the USA has whipped up over supposed Russian meddling in the American presidential election. The United States has plenty of genuinely urgent problems, it would seem, from the colossal public debt to the increase in firearms violence and cases of arbitrary action by the police.

You would think that the election debates would concentrate on these and other unresolved problems, but the elite has nothing with which to reassure society, it seems, and therefore attempt to distract public attention by pointing instead to supposed Russian hackers, spies, agents of influence and so forth.

I have to ask myself and ask you too: Does anyone seriously imagine that Russia can somehow influence the American people’s choice? America is not some kind of ‘banana republic’, after all, but is a great power. Do correct me if I am wrong.

Lastly, he looks at how democracy has been weakened and how there is a growing dissociation between what voters want and what they get:

Yes, formally speaking, modern countries have all the attributes of democracy: Elections, freedom of speech, access to information, freedom of expression. But even in the most advanced democracies the majority of citizens have no real influence on the political process and no direct and real influence on power.

People sense an ever-growing gap between their interests and the elite’s vision of the only correct course, a course the elite itself chooses. The result is that referendums and elections increasingly often create surprises for the authorities. People do not at all vote as the official and respectable media outlets advised them to, nor as the mainstream parties advised them to. Public movements that only recently were too far left or too far right are taking centre stage and pushing the political heavyweights aside.

At first, these inconvenient results were hastily declared anomaly or chance. But when they became more frequent, people started saying that society does not understand those at the summit of power and has not yet matured sufficiently to be able to assess the authorities’ labour for the public good. Or they sink into hysteria and declare it the result of foreign, usually Russian, propaganda.

Mr. Putin actually does a very good job of summing up Western, and in particular, American democracy and the current state of the single superpower global reality.  Certainly, as a man who grew up during the Cold War, he has an interest in seeing Russia regain some of its lost glory, however, we have to keep in mind that his Russian mindset comes from living in a nation that lost tens of millions of its citizens during the Second World War.  As well, as we have observed from our Western political perspective, while both President Obama and President Trump made moves that appeared to be populist in nature during their election campaigns, their actions once they took office showed that the office of the President of the United States is not as powerful as the interest groups that actually get Washington to see things “their way”.  While we may think that we are voting for a particular brand of politics be it left- or right-leaning, in fact, our votes merely end up electing a figurehead who represents the ruling elites from Wall Street, the mainstream media, the military-industrial-technology complex and Corporate America as a whole.

From what those of us who live in the West have experienced over the past decade and a half (in particular), it is becoming increasingly apparent that governments no longer represent the interests of the voting public, rather, their interests are self-serving as they do whatever they feel is necessary to win the next election by distracting us with a few “shiny trinkets and baubles”.


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