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What Drives Putin?



Back in 2012, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney brought up Russia as a geopolitical threat to the United States, a testament that Barack Obama, then seeking re-election, put down pretty starkly, saying, “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”

Fast forward a little over four years and suddenly things have changed dramatically. With a wealth of business ties and possibly things a bit sketchier than that, Donald Trump stumbled his way in to America's presidency with the tacit support of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. While it's unclear how deep that relationship really goes, Putin's recent response to Trump's rejection of the Paris accords, something that he himself has affirmed his compliance with, shows that the former KGB intelligence officer wants Donald Trump to be president.

Why would this be? Let's look at it by trying to be third person observers, away from our own biases as much as we can. Back during the 1990s, Russia and its former empire was a mess. Genocide and balkanization occurred from former Yugoslavia to Chechnya. The United States openly boasted of its maneuvering to get Boris Yeltsin in to a leadership role. Russia was now a second tier power, not really playing the world power game any longer.

That changed with both Syria and the seeming power decline of the United States. Unlike during the 2000s, when Bush found little concrete intervention from other countries in his invasion of Iraq, Putin's Russia reaffirmed its relation with Bashir Assad (who, like Hussein, is a Baath Party member and secular nationalist who modeled himself roughly over a Soviet model) through routine interventions in the Syrian civil war, even sending battleships there when Obama campaigned for a strike like Bush had done in Iraq.

This quickly changed the relationship back in to something like the Cold War. Only the situation forward is quite different than that period. Russia is a capitalist country, with healthy subsidies and a leader that paradoxically is halfway between a dictator and an elected president but, by the end of his next elected term (if he has one, which we'll assume he will), will be one of Russia's longest reigning leaders. Russia was a vocal participant in China's One Belt, One Road infrastructure initiative. If there is an iron curtain, America, with its decaying infrastructure and disconnection from global initiatives like One Belt, One Road, wherein China is assisting in building new infrastructure from Europe all the way to Central Asia and in East Africa, may be the country behind it.

All of this works for a man like Putin. Revenge for the Berlin Wall's collapse will sound a bit spiteful if he were to admit, so instead when pressed on he trolls and tells Americans to "not worry, be happy." He is "not on our team," as Obama put it, just as we were not on the Russia team when we intervened there in the 1980s and 1990s. The world is changing and the days of America prescience might just be over for good. With the building up of an economically interconnected Central Asia, we're entering a world a bit more like the tail end of the first millennium. To find a place in whatever is coming next, this country must decide what it wants that place to be.

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Michael Orion is a blogger, writer, artist and photographer based in the Bay Area. Besides his maintenance and promotion of Radical Second Things, he contributes to the San Francisco newspaper SF Western Edition, where he writes about local non-profit organizations.

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Radical Second Things is a liberation theology themed blog that has clear cut goals - we see the structural decline of the United States and much of the west and hope to present alternatives that will offer "a preferential option for the poor" as more become vulnerable.

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