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Russian Soft Power
China Admires "Putin the Great"

Americans, and especially the liberal internationalists among us, often don’t understand the passionate, burning desire that many people around the world have to see us cut down to size. In accordance with a sort-of “enemy of my enemy is my friend” principle, those people generally learn and draw inspiration from one another. For a perfect example, look no further than today’s Wall Street Journal article on how Russia’s recent actions are playing in China, where people have taken a shine to the man they dub “Putin the Great”:

Books on Mr. Putin have been flying off shelves since the crisis in Ukraine began, far outselling those on other world leaders, sales staff say. One book, “Putin Biography: He is Born for Russia,” made the list of top 10 nonfiction best sellers at the Beijing News newspaper in September.

China’s fascination with Mr. Putin is more than literary, marking a shift in the post-Cold War order and in Chinese politics. After decades of mutual suspicion—and one short border conflict—Beijing and Moscow are drawing closer as they simultaneously challenge the U.S.-led security architecture that has prevailed since the Soviet collapse, diplomats and analysts say.

The former rivals for leadership of the Communist world also increasingly share a brand of anti-Western nationalism that could color President Xi Jinping‘s view of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Beijing accuses Western governments of stirring unrest there, much as Mr. Putin blamed the West for the pro-democracy protests in Kiev that began late last year. […]

The Pew Research Center says China is one of the few countries where popular support for Russia has risen since Moscow’s confrontation with the West over Ukraine—rising to 66% in July from 47% a year earlier.

Putin is inspiring hard liners, anti-democrats and anti-Americans everywhere, much as Mussolini inspired others with the hope that the British lion had lost its teeth. Soon Japan and Germany, much more serious powers (and, frankly, much uglier regimes) set out to follow the trail blazed by Il Duce, who invaded Ethiopia in defiance of Britain and the League of Nations.

Washington has not yet found an effective way to counter Putin’s gambit in Ukraine that hasn’t been discredited by history (the British and the League tried weak sanctions and moral lectures against Italy when it attacked Ethiopia). China’s admiration for Putin points to grim times ahead for the world — the stakes in American foreign policy are getting higher by the day, but there is precious little sign that Washington has woken up to the dimensions of the problems we face.

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  • Andrew Allison

    False parallel: It’s not just Putin who blames the West for the Ukraine mess; TAI, among others has (rightly) done so.

  • alexjo

    I am impressed with the negligent and ignorant way in which words like “democracy” are thrown around. E.g. “pro democracy rallies in Kiev”. How does a coup to oust a
    democratic elected government and replace him by a EU and US manager considered

    Also there seems to be a strong ignorance about geo politics to talk about the need for Washington to counter “Putin’s gambit in Ukraine” is even more senseless than Russia
    discussing how to counter “Obama’s gambit in Mexico”. Ukraine and Russia are historically tied in a deep way the “gambit” in this case being done by the U.S.

    Another term being used in a reckless way is “Anti American” to be pro or Anti American I thinkthere would need to be a consensus as to what are really the American values.

    Is endless spying, torture as state policy, promoting coups in other countries, starting unfounded wars and promoting a state the claims absolute power over the world qualify as
    American Values???? No I don’t think so.

    Right to self-determination, promoting free trade are American values, the founding fathers rejected the notion that the british crown should rule over them.

    So it is the U.S. government who is anti-American. They are running
    over other people’s right of self-determination, they are destroying the notion
    of free trade with the senseless sanctions.

    Me as an individual, I am pro freedom, pro free trade and anti war, does that not make me
    Anti-American, quite contrary, i am pro American.

    • Loader2000

      You do, I think have a point in that the Russian military involvement in the Ukraine isn’t as black and white as many in the West would like to think. However, I would consider this: A coup is when a faction within the government and/or military, regardless of popular support, takes over the whole thing. A revolution is when the population rises up en masse and ousts an extremely unpopular government that it feels no longer represents them. If a population can do this peacefully, then more power to them. I think what happened in Ukraine, at least with regard to how Eastern Ukrainians feel (and many Western Ukrainians), is more along the lines of a revolution than a coup. That doesn’t necessarily mean the US gets involved. However, it does mean that I have sympathy for the Eastern Ukrainians (and many Western Ukrainians) who sincerely felt that their government did not any longer represent them and, instead, represented Putin’s interests.

  • S.C. Schwarz

    As alexjo’s and Andrew Allison’s posts illustrate, many in the world, and in the US, believe that US interventionism is a major problem in world affairs, if not the major problem. Luckily for them they now have a president who agrees with them. Obama may have been forced into action against ISIS by American outrage and the looming elections, but you can be sure he will do as little as possible. As for eastern Europe, the South China Sea, or Hong Kong, well, I think those who long for American retreat will be happy. In addition, by wrecking the US economy and drastically shrinking the US military, Obama has made it very difficult, if not impossible, for future US presidents to reverse this course.

    Now we can see what the world will look like without the US. I suspect alexjo will be pleased. Others less so.

    • Andrew Allison

      I’m not opposed to interventionism to protect American interests, just that attempting to impose democracy upon societies which lack the social and legal basis to support it. The latter is not merely a futile waste of time, money and American lives but, as Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya demonstrate, imposes a terrible price upon the societies concerned. I should add that I am appalled by the staggering ineptitude of the current Administration’s foreign policy, among other things.

      • S.C. Schwarz

        I would argue that action in Eastern Europe, for example, would not be to impose democracy on anyone but rather to oppose and, hopefully, deter Russian expansionism.

        • Andrew Allison

          Me too! There’s a world of difference between imposing and deposing democracy (but Ukraine is a democracy in name only).

  • It Came from the Desert

    The Comrades have infected these fields to i see.

  • Alex K.

    I believe the US and EU sanctions are rather likely to harm Russia’s oil output in a year or two, but I also suspect that Moscow only cares about short-term consequences. The bear may be bleeding profusely but it will keep advancing until it drops unconscious – or dead.

    On the subject of Chinese glee, Xi must be delighted to take in Russia as a junior partner willing to sell oil and gas at discounted prices.

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