Edward Luttwak writes that, for practical purposes, Russia is Putin, except for deep strategic (by which he means geopolitical) considerations. Ralph Peters agrees on Putin’s primacy, but stresses that this latter-day Tsar has tapped into the Russian people’s perennial dark, envious character. Kiron Skinner notes that the Obama Administration is giving Putin’s Russia a geopolitical role in the Middle East on a silver platter. All quite so.
In my view, another facet of reality deserves our attention: Putin is doing his best with very limited resources (a sullen, dysfunctional, decreasing population) to play the Soviet Union’s role in the world, and our bipartisan foreign policy establishment is helping him do it.
The Bush Administration, only a bit less eagerly than Obama’s, enmeshed the U.S. in a series of arms control deals that do nothing to limit Russia’s weapons and do everything to reduce American strategic forces–above all heading off domestic pressure for building serious anti-missile defenses. But while some in our establishment are less enamored of arms control than others, none are willing to admit that history has discredited it univocally.
The Obama Administration’s gift to Putin of geopolitical influence in the Middle East looms small in comparison with our bipartisan diplomacy’s acquiescence in Russia’s primary, immediate, geopolitical objective: re-conquest of hegemony over Ukraine.
In sum, contemporary Russia’s role in the world is due substantially to many influential Americans’ seemingly immortal desire to treat Russia as the partner in global governance that their fathers and grandfathers wished that the Soviet Union had been. Responsibility for that role is ours as much as it is Putin’s.