For most of my life I’ve been told that Russia has never exactly been the nicest of countries. Until the fall of the Soviet Union they’d never had any taste of democracy. And Putin wasn’t made out to be much of a fair and”democratic” leader. I’d been led to believe that Russia was a land of corruption, cruelty, poverty. A land where anyone could be bought, where the mob ruled and where Vladimir Putin was every bit as cruel as Stalin. And with the recent invasion of Georgia, the international community has risen up in anger at Russia’s actions. But let’s step back a bit. What has Russia done to deserve this vitriolic reaction? What have we done to Russia?
America, I suppose, are the primary antagonists towards Russia. The American government under George Bush have cast Putin as a “Man we love to hate”. But let’s look at the facts. By pretty much every standard available, Putin is the most successful conservative in the planet. Since he took over in 2000, Putin has pulled Russia back from the edge of Oblivion. He’s halved poverty, increased the GDP six times over, seen a 150% increase in monthly wages. And finally, with the recent invasion of Georgia he has shown the world that we can no longer abuse and humilitae Russia.
During the Cold War, America drove Russia to the brink of total economic collapse. Even with Gorbachev’s attempt at Perestroika Russia collapsed. And did America rush in to help? Nope. Not even a little. They dropped in some aid and then left Russia to limp on and die. Russia was, at that time, a country with no experience in Democracy, and America expected them to simply pick up capitalism and privatize. America expected Russia to turn into another clone of the wonderful U.S. of A. We’re seeing something similar with the Middle East. Never mind that these countries have completely different ethnic backgrounds. If they’re not democratic, they’re evil.
But despite all this, Russia pulled through. Putin single handedly rebuilt the country to near-superpower status. And what has America done during this? It’s made enemies. It invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. Now it looks set to invade Iran. What has Russia done? Nothing. It has not done anything to anger foreign powers. It’s most dangerous enemy at the moment is China, who could at any moment realise Russia could offer huge amounts of resources and decide they want it. But Russia’s kept quiet. While America was blowing up cities in Iraq, Russia was quietly rebuilding itself.
And that’s where it’s been for the past decade. In the background. They have contributed hugely to America’s “War on Terror”, a fact many Americans (and indeed Europeans) remain ignorant of.
America went into all the ex-Warsaw Pact countries and ex-Soviet republics in the name of Democracy. They’ve advanced towards Russia’s borders, a fact that no country will ever take lightly. But for the most part, Russia can’t do anything. But they let us know they didn’t like it. They always have. Just like in the Cold War, they gave us plenty of warning that we were annoying them. Humiliating them. But America shrugged it off, and now Georgia has paid the price.
America went in offering Georgia membership in NATO, essentially baiting Russia. But they could never back up their promises to the small country. And then, unforgivably, American encouragement of Saakashvili’s delusions of democracy and NATO membership got ordinary Georgians killed for nothing. They pissed off Russia and now innocent Georgians have paid the price.
Putin is a man who knows exactly how valuable patience is. He also knows it is not a limitless resource. It was easy to demonize him because he was ex-KGB. But that doesn’t change the fact he is a far more competent leader than George Jr., without a doubt one of the worst Presidents ever in American history, who has used fear of an invisible enemy to maintain power. Putin? One simple fact: The Russians love him. But America would have us believe otherwise.
In TIME magazine’s interview as the Man of the Year, Putin was shown to be phenomenally courteous, if “sardonic but humorless. In our hours together, he didn’t attempt a joke, and he misread several of our attempts at playfulness.” Even when faced with abject and obvious rudeness he maintained a cold, steely and polite mannerism. When asked if he believed in a Supreme God, Putin simply replied, “Do you? … There are things I believe, which should not in my position, at least, be shared with the public at large for everybody’s consumption because that would look like self-advertising or a political striptease.”
Demonise him all you want, Putin was a fantastic politician. And Russia is no longer content with being humiliated by having Americans militarising their borders and enroaching on their territory. If America has any sense it will grow up and see Russia as it is. An opportunity.