The real lessons from Vladimir Putin’s re-election

Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of RT TV channel. Image credit: RIA Novosti

I don’t pretend to know what the Russian voters think, or even what Vladimir Putin thinks (although a lot of media commenters seem to claim they do). But given the overwhelming record-breaking support President Putin received in last Sunday’s election, the question of why he has so much support is an important one.

This article by Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of RT TV channel, helps me understand what has happened. In part because as someone who always considered himself a “liberal” I found it difficult to understand why apparently “conservative” forces are so popular in the Russian Federation. Margarita’s description of how political hysteria and Russophobia in the west has caused a reaction among Russians. As she says: “you’ve pushed us to rally around your enemy. Immediately, after you declared him an enemy, we united around him.”

I can understand that – after all, I no longer like to call myself a “liberal” – precisely because “liberals” have, by the actions, made the term meaningless (see “Fire and Fury” exposes the fundamental problems of the anti-Trump movement).

The article was published in RIA Novosti  but a translated version is available at The Saker and at Russian Insider.

Why we don’t respect the West anymore

Essentially, the West should be horrified not because 76% of Russians voted for Putin, but because these elections have demonstrated that 95% of Russia’s population supports conservative-patriotic, communist and nationalist ideas. That means that liberal ideas are barely surviving among a measly 5% of the population.

And that’s your fault, my Western friends. It was you who pushed us into “Russians never surrender” mode.

I’ve been telling you for a long time to find normal advisers on Russia. Sack all those parasites. With their short-sighted sanctions, heartless humiliation of our athletes (including athletes with disabilities ), with their “skripals” and ostentatious disregard of the most basic liberal values, like a presumption of innocence, that they manage to hypocritically combined with forcible imposition of ultra-liberal ideas in their own countries, their epileptic mass hysteria, causing in a healthy person a sigh of relief that he lives  in Russia, and not in Hollywood, with their post-electoral mess in the United States, in Germany, and in the Brexit-zone; with their attacks on RT, which they cannot forgive for taking advantage of the freedom of speech and showing to the world how to use it, and it turned out that the freedom of speech never was intended to be used for good, but was invented as an object of beauty, like some sort of crystal mop that shines from afar, but is not suitable to clean your stables, with all your injustice and cruelty, inquisitorial hypocrisy and lies you forced us to stop respecting you. You and your so-called “values.”

We don’t want to live like you live, anymore. For fifty years, secretly and openly, we wanted to live like you, but not any longer.

We have no more respect for you, and for those among us that you support, and for all those people who support you. That’s how this 5% came to be.

For that, you only have yourself to blame. And also your Western politicians and analysts, newsmakers and scouts.

Our people are capable to forgive a lot. But we don’t forgive arrogance, and no normal nation would.

Your only remaining Empire would be wise to learn the history of its allies, all of them are former empires. To learn the ways they lost their empires. Only because of their arrogance.

White man’s burden, my ass (in English in the original text – trans.)

But the only Empire, you have left, ignores history, it doesn’t teach it and refuses to learn it,  meaning that it all will end the way it always does, in such cases.

In meantime, you’ve pushed us to rally around your enemy. Immediately, after you declared him an enemy, we united around him.

Before, he was just our President, who could be reelected. Now, he has become our Leader. We won’t let you change this.  And it was you, who created this situation.

It was you who imposed an opposition between patriotism and liberalism. Although, they shouldn’t be mutually exclusive notions. This false dilemma, created by you, made us choose patriotism.

Even though many of us are really liberals, myself included.

Get cleaned up, now. You don’t have much time left.

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9 responses to “The real lessons from Vladimir Putin’s re-election

  1. This alleged Russo-phobia of which you claim the West is guilty, is more a product of people like Margarita Simonyan and her media outlet. It isn’t the West that is guilty of driving the emotions of the Russian people who have made decisions shown to be self harming, it is these very op ed pieces like Simonyan’s, which point fingers at the West. She is more guilty of Russo-phobia, of slapping the faces of the Russian people themselves, of harming those people which she hypocritically claims to defend, than the West is capable.

    Ian Bremmer has written about the shortsightedness of the Putin victory, the long-term consequences of his policies, and the very real harm to the Russian people themselves. These are the people who matter. And these are the people who have become victims of this blatant type of political emotionalism:

    “Vladimir Putin may have been re-elected president of Russia on March 18, but he’s far from the grand master of geopolitical chess portrayed in the Western media. Whether bragging about Russia’s “invincible” new missile, playing coy over accusations that his hackers play games with foreign elections or that his spies murder opponents in faraway places, the Russian President seems intent on restaging the Cold War–but without the military reach or global ideological appeal that made the Soviet Union a formidable foe.

    What has Putin really won? Today’s Russia has an economy smaller than that of Canada. Its entire military budget is less than the extra money President Donald Trump wants Congress to spend on U.S. defense. It has no NATO allies, and it counts countries like Venezuela, Cuba, Sudan, North Korea, Syria and Serbia among its few reliable friends. China makes occasional deals with Russia but only at a Chinese price.

    While Putin wants the world to see him as a strong, decisive leader, he often fails to understand the full impact of his actions. Looking at the foreign policy fights he has picked, it’s clear that he is a shrewd short-term tactician and a lousy long-term strategist.

    Let’s begin with Ukraine. In response to the public protests in 2014 that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych–Russia’s man in Kiev–Putin ordered Russian troops into action. Seizing Crimea gave Putin a trophy at the West’s expense and boosted his tough-guy reputation. But freeing Ukraine of its most pro-Moscow region eased the way for Ukrainian nationalists to win the country’s elections and left Russia responsible for paying pensions in a place full of pensioners. Meanwhile, the Russian navy gained nothing of strategic value in Crimea; it already had a base on that peninsula. For all this, Putin invited sanctions from the U.S. and Europe–which contributed to a drop in Russia’s GDP from 2014 to 2015 that the World Bank put at 35%.

    Nor did Putin win the hearts and minds of the people he tried to subdue. His move to destabilize Ukraine’s eastern regions led an entire generation of Ukrainians–too young to remember life in an empire governed by Moscow–to believe that Russia was their country’s bitter enemy. Ukraine may not move quickly toward the E.U. or NATO, but there is now a deep determination among many Ukrainians to never again serve as Russia’s junior partner. Putin may well be remembered as the Russian who lost Ukraine.

    What about other former Soviet republics? The Baltic states–Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia–have long since turned to the West; NATO troops are even stationed there now, a direct result of Russia’s continued antagonism. Azerbaijan and the Central Asian states are more interested in long-term ties with rising China than with rusting Russia. If there is a dominant power in central Asia today, it’s strategic and hungry Beijing–to Moscow’s increasing chagrin.

    In his quest for influence, Putin can look to Syrian President Bashar Assad, Russia’s only reliable Middle East partner, to claim victory over former U.S. President Barack Obama. Russia will now get to keep its one Mediterranean naval base. But to what end? Deeper involvement in the Middle East is not a good thing for a country with a stagnant economy that already spends too much on its military.

    Putin’s worst decision was the green light he gave his intelligence services to play with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It wasn’t a surprising move; manipulation and sabotage are art forms in which any former KGB lieutenant colonel will take pride. Putin wanted to bring the U.S. down a peg, and he hated Hillary Clinton. No evidence has yet emerged that Putin made Trump President, but the U.S. intelligence community and lawmakers of both parties are now focused on threats posed by Russia. Yet in spite of Trump’s fascinating refusal to criticize Putin, Russia’s President has gained nothing of value from the U.S. President. Only Putin’s failure to understand the checks and balances at the heart of the U.S. political system explains his apparent belief that Trump could override all objections to his would-be Russia reset. Sanctions aren’t going away. Now that Russia’s secret services stand accused of brazenly poisoning Sergei Skripal, a former double agent exiled in the U.K., more may be coming.

    Putin’s adventurism has so far helped divert the attention of the Russian public away from endemic corruption and economic stagnation at home. There, his one lasting achievement is ensuring the independence of the country’s central bank and stashing away money in reserve funds during good times for use in bad times.

    Russia is slowly emerging from two years of recession, mainly because oil prices have enjoyed a modest recovery. But as Putin begins his fourth term as President, he’ll face a stark reality: Russia remains as deeply dependent on oil prices as when he took office a generation ago. Ten years ago, the oil price climbed to $147 per barrel, and Russian living standards and self-confidence rose with it. Since then, the price has fallen to less than half that amount and looks set to remain there for the foreseeable future. And the U.S. is at the heart of a revolutionary shift in energy markets: technological innovation in crude oil and natural gas production has helped the U.S. rival Russia and keep prices much lower than during the commodity boom of the past decade.

    There’s no evidence that Russia will adjust to this new reality by finally diversifying its economy. Even today, about 80% of Russia’s exports are directly related to oil and gas, according to the Carnegie Center in Moscow. It will slowly become harder for Russians to maintain their standard of living, and the state will have less money to spend on both guns and butter. Recent efforts to create a Russian version of Silicon Valley have produced little. That’s in part because Russia’s smartest and most talented minds have every reason to leave the country in search of better opportunities.

    Putin should enjoy his victory celebration while it lasts. He and his country don’t have much else on the horizon.”


  2. Sour grapes, David. It was a historic victory, wasn’t it?

    But also an example of what Margarita Simonyan was referring to.


  3. Sour grapes? Irrelevant to my comment, but nice diversion.


  4. Sour grapes implies that I am somehow disappointed. In order for me to have been disappointed, a result would have necessarily occurred which I did not anticipate, causing said disappointment.

    There is not one person on the face of the Earth who did not anticipate or expect that Putin would have won that election. This means there could have been no unexpected result, which means there could have been no disappointment, and therefore your comment, “sour grapes,” is not only irrational, it has not been well thought out.


  5. David, the article you cite is pure sour grapes.

    But you ignore the content of Margarita Simonyan’s article.

    She, as a liberal, is lamenting the very poor showing of liberals in the presidential election – less than 5%.

    This is an incredible result – and perhaps a bit misleading given the recent history of the Russian Federation and the role Putin has played in the recovery of the country and improvement in the condition of the population.

    I actually think the next election will be more important as none of the candidates will be so closely connected with the recovery of the nation and the vast improvements since the end of the disastrous nineties.

    The poor showing of “liberal” candidates possibly suggests they may be unable to make much of a run in 2024. (Hell, they couldn’t even overcome their childish infighting long enough to field a strong candidate they could all support – the public bickering and insults between Sobchak and Navalny are an example of that.) On the other hand, the Communist Party candidate came second and although he was perhaps not very impressive and came under some harsh criticism for financial dealings and that party has had some big organisational problems with new blood coming through it may be the communists who are seen as legitimate successors of Putin. The demotion of the Liberal Democrats by the Communists may well be important for the next Duma elections – we could well see the communists return to their former role as the major parliamentary party.

    In a sense, they may offer the sort of things liberals historically have stood for in terms of support for the individual, economic progress, social welfare and freedom to develop. They may be just what the country needs.

    Another factor was the disaster the country went through that is widely blamed on liberal politicians, the western backers and interference (politically and economically) from the west. People just don’t want to return to those horrible times – even though some of these politicians like Boris Nemtsov remained personally popular (look at the public grief over his murder) they just haven’t been getting much electoral support.

    I can identify with her comments because I too, as someone who once considered themselves “liberal,” find that the term is now meaningless – the “liberal” have discredited themselves with their fixation on identity politics, opposition to free speech and a hysterical political approach.


  6. Come off it David. You know Putin only won becuase of stuffed ballot boxes and not allowing anyone to stand against him – No effective opposition. If Navalny had stood Putin would not have had a chance.

    Well, that is what I have been picking up from some of the “official” mainstream media.


  7. “David, the article you cite is pure sour grapes.”

    Actually, the article I cited is focused on the sorry state in which the Russian people find themselves; a result of botched policies and bungled geo-political engagement. However, your odd interpretation, which completely ignores the Russian people themselves, is noted.

    Your second comment is irrelevant to anything that I have said or cited. Your straw-man deflection is also noted.


  8. It’s quite a hopeless view that Simonyan holds: blaming others for her beliefs.

    On another note: It appears to me that David and Ken strangely choose to argue even though they agree. : )


  9. Can you please explain or justify your statement, Zylstra?

    I appreciate you may not like her points but I just cannot see any logic in your criticism of it.


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