“Welcome to Putinland” is an in-depth series based on Episode 5 of the PME podcast, which will be released in early April 2017. The episode is an interview with New York Times columnist Steven Lee Myers, and it focuses on Myers’s biography, The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin. In the first part of this series, the early life and rise of Vladimir Putin is explored. The goal is to draw out important facts and insights from Myers’ biography for learning and study.
Distrust and Fear of the West
On March 24, 1999, NATO launched air strikes against Serbia and Montenegro, which was under the leadership of Slobodan Milosevic. America and European powers considered the actions Slobodan Milosevic against Albanian Muslims in Kosovo to be ethnic cleansing. After seventy-eight days, Milosevic agreed to withdraw Serbian forces from Kosovo and allowed for international peacekeepers to return to the region. Myers writes that this event “inflamed Russia’s wounded pride over its deflated status since the collapse of the Soviet Union” (Myers 143). In my conversation with Myers, he emphasized that Russians saw this as an act of NATO aggression that posed a threat to Russia. Nevertheless, at a Hague trial, Milosevic was charged with “genocide, deportation, murder and persecution on religious, political and racial backgrounds but he died half way through his trial” (Source: Balkan Transitional Justice).
Russia launched a military assault against Chechen rebels beginning in August 1999. The war was a bloody, brutal conflict in which Vladimir Putin promised to “bang the hell out of the bandits.” The war drew a lot of international attention and criticism. Russia was heavily scrutinized by European nations and America for human rights abuses and suspected war crimes. Western criticism of Russian actions in Chechnya drove a divide between Russian and Western leaders. Check out the documentary on the Second Chechen War below:
After 9/11, Vladimir Putin called President Bush to offer Russia’s support and condolences. In spite of a moment of solidarity after America was attacked on September 11, 2001, the good relations between Russia and America quickly diminished over the issue of the American led invasion of Iraq, which took place in March 2003. Furthermore, Russian animosity toward America grew over the U.S. decision to withdraw from the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty in June 2002.
In 2004, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine occurred after the disputed election results between Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych. Yushchenko was poisoned during the re-election campaign and his face bore the scars of the assassination attempt. His opponent, Yanukovych, was heavily backed by the Kremlin. Yanukovych later served as President of Ukraine from 2010-2014. He is known for backing out of an agreement to move Ukraine into the European Union. He later sought asylum in Russia, and has been charged with high treason by Ukraine. The prospect of Ukraine joining NATO and the European Union was something that Putin could not stand. Myers explains that the Ukraine holds significant historical and cultural significance to Russia.
At a 2007 Munich Conference, Putin gave a critical speech against the United States. Putin claimed “the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way.” Myers explains that Russia thinks in terms of “spheres of influence.” As a result, they see the influence of the European Union and NATO as a direct threat to their sphere of influence. Here is the full transcript of Putin’s speech from 2007.
In 2008, Russia launched an invasion of Georgia. Russian and Georgian relations have been strained over Georgia’s desire to join NATO and move closer to the West. One of the more notable events that took place in the conflict between Russia and Georgia was the use of cyberattacks in the war.
As the events of the Arab Spring developed, Putin was critical of the U.S. intervention of Libya, which led to the toppling of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime in 2011. As Myers explains, “there existed a dark association in [Putin’s] mind between aspirations for democracy and the rise of radicalism” (Myers). Putin also continues to oppose any attempts to overthrow Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, from power.
- Myers, Steven Lee. The new tsar: the rise and reign of Vladimir Putin. London, England: Simon & Schuster, 2016. Print.