[…] It appears that with the Arab Spring countries, as with Iraq, Russian companies are losing their decades-long positions in local commercial markets and are being deprived of large commercial contracts. The niches thus vacated are being filled by the economic operatives of the states that had a hand in the change of the ruling regime.One could reasonably conclude that tragic events have been encouraged to a certain extent by someone’s interest in a re-division of the commercial market rather than a concern for human rights. Be that as it may, we cannot sit back watch all this with Olympian serenity. We intend to work with the new governments of the Arab countries in order to promptly restore our economic positions.
But there is a more serious issue. Putin worries about a new kind of ideological/political form of American power projection.
The notion of “soft power” is being used increasingly often. This implies a matrix of tools and methods to reach foreign policy goals without the use of arms but by exerting information and other levers of influence. Regrettably, these methods are being used all too frequently to develop and provoke extremist, separatist and nationalistic attitudes, to manipulate the public and to conduct direct interference in the domestic policy of sovereign countries.There must be a clear division between freedom of speech and normal political activity, on the one hand, and illegal instruments of “soft power,” on the other. The civilized work of non-governmental humanitarian and charity organizations deserves every support. This also applies to those who actively criticize the current authorities. However, the activities of “pseudo-NGOs” and other agencies that try to destabilize other countries with outside support are unacceptable.I’m referring to those cases where the activities of NGOs are not based on the interests (and resources) of local social groups but are funded and supported by outside forces. There are many agents of influence from big countries, international blocks or corporations. […] We believe that any influence on domestic policy and public attitude in other countries must be exerted in the open; in this way, those who wish to be of influence will do so responsibly.
From Putin’s point of view, American- and European-backed NGOs have played a destabilizing role in a number of countries. Looking back to the final decade of the Cold War, when Americans and others worked to support groups like Poland’s Solidarity Movement that ultimately helped take communism down, security-oriented Russians like Putin have feared that Moscow will be targeted for this kind of political action. Putin believes American soft power projection is part of a conscious policy of aggression and expansion as “democracy movements” bring more and more countries into alignment with the United States. From Poland in 1989 to Libya and Syria today, including revolutions in Lebanon, Ukraine, Georgia and many others: Putin now fears that the US will find a way to exploit his own political vulnerability and the new energy in the Russian democracy movement.Putin links these fears to concerns about what he considers America’s fundamentally unjust and destabilizing quest for “absolute security.” He looks at US missile shield plans through the Cold War paradigm. By moving ahead on missile defense, the US is working to make itself invulnerable to nuclear retaliation. In the Cold War context, if either the US or the USSR tried to do that, the other power would consider this to be a destabilizing threat to the “mutually assured destruction” concept that stabilized US-Soviet relations and kept the Cold War cold. Putin wants the balance of terror maintained; Americans may dismiss this as nostalgia for the days when the USSR was a superpower and ignore Russia’s concerns about nuclear equality, but Putin and those around him continue to regard this as one of the main problems in the world today.Americans may say that they don’t plan to use this military superiority in any hostile or aggressive way, but Putin is not alone in seeing the growing margin of US military power as a danger to international equilibrium. America’s quest for absolute security will, Putin warns, make everyone else insecure:
The Americans have become obsessed with the idea of becoming absolutely invulnerable. This utopian concept is unfeasible both technologically and geopolitically, but it is the root of the problem.By definition, absolute invulnerability for one country would in theory require absolute vulnerability for all others. This is something that cannot be accepted… Russia will always call things as it sees them and do so openly. I’d like to emphasize again that violating the principle of unity and the inalienable right to security – despite numerous declarations committing to it – poses a serious threat. Eventually these threats become reality for those states that initiate such violations, for many reasons.
If America is invulnerable, it has the ability to attack every other country in the world without fear of serious retaliation and sooner or later a country with America’s expansionist instincts and global ambitions will be tempted to push this power too far. Yhis is the core of Putin’s message, and this vision of an invulnerable America on an ill-considered, ill-judged democracy campaign is what Putin wants to persuade the Russian people and leaders around the world to oppose. Putin no doubt is using concerns about the American threat and the “danger” of NGO-led revolution to rally nationalist opinion behind him in an electoral campaign that is much tighter than he had expected or hoped. But it would be a mistake for American observers simply to dismiss these concerns as campaign rhetoric. These ideas represent a serious current of thought in Russian foreign policy circles — and Russians are not the only people around the world who see things in these terms.The Libyan war is very much on Putin’s mind. He feels that Russia’s failure to veto the Security Council resolution that permitted NATO’s air campaign was a mistake.
A number of countries did away with the Libyan regime by using air power in the name of humanitarian support. The revolting slaughter of Muammar Gaddafi – not just medieval but primeval – was the manifestation of these actions.
Russia will not be fooled again, Putin asserts:
No one should be allowed to employ the Libyan scenario in Syria. The international community must work to achieve an internal Syrian reconciliation. It is important to achieve an early end to the violence no matter what the source, and to initiate a national dialogue – without preconditions or foreign interference and with due respect for the country’s sovereignty. This would create the conditions necessary to introduce the measures for democratization announced by the Syrian leadership. The key objective is to prevent an all-out civil war. Russian diplomacy has worked and will continue to work toward this end.Sadder but wiser, we oppose the adoption of UN Security Council resolutions that may be interpreted as a signal to armed interference in Syria’s domestic development. Guided by this consistent approach in early February, Russia and China prevented the adoption of an ambiguous resolution that would have encouraged one side of this domestic conflict to resort to violence.In this context and considering the extremely negative, almost hysterical reaction to the Russian-Chinese veto, I would like to warn our Western colleagues against the temptation to resort to this simple, previously used tactic: if the UN Security Council approves of a given action, fine; if not, we will establish a coalition of the states concerned and strike anyway.
Putin doesn’t say that Russia will oppose such measures by force; there is little that Russia can do. But he thinks that both the Americans and the Europeans will come to regret any Syrian adventurism; he warns that the result of all this is more likely to be fanatical Islamism and chaos in and beyond Syria rather than some kind of liberal democratic revolution. Russia has little option for now but to look to its own defenses and warn America and its allies of their folly in the Middle East — whether in the case of Syria or of a conflict with Iran.Putin’s manifesto is partly a propaganda exercise, partly a signal to the US about Russian priorities and red lines. But for Americans who want to understand world affairs, it’s an important document on which to reflect. Like a mirror in a carnival fun house, Putin’s picture of American policy and purpose caricatures and distorts. But seeing ourselves the way others see us — or in this case perhaps the way in which others wish us to be seen — is a necessary step in getting a feel for the opportunities and the obstacles facing American policy in these interesting times.