U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov speak during their meeting on the sidelines of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), in Stockholm, Sweden December 2, 2021. Jonathan Nackstrand/Pool via REUTERS
The West Needs a Russia—Not a Putin—Policy

Even before the latest phase of the war in Ukraine, the narrative surrounding Western policy toward Moscow has focused on Russian President Vladimir Putin. Such an approach ignores the reality that Putin acts rather as the adjudicator, and ultimate stabilizer, of the country’s fractious political elite. Nevertheless, recent reporting on Russia has remained fixated on Putin, effectively dismissing the rest of society and institutions as inept and insignificant.

In March 2014, following the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger wrote in The Washington Post that “the demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one.” Unfortunately, this assessment has become only more pertinent since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February. As a result, the very possibility of a policy based on and directed toward Russia, not Putin, has seemingly faded from Western public “debate.” This approach, beyond skewing our perception of the more fundamental problems we face vis-à-vis US-Russia relations, allows the West to march blindly ahead without considering its own role in the current state of troubled relations.

Washington has a history of adopting confrontational foreign policy stances toward individual leaders (admittedly often less-than-savory characters), rather than toward strategic objectives that support or defend US national interests. This has been the case with Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Moammar El-Gadhafi in Libya, and Bashar al-Assad in Syria. These three countries continue to suffer political, economic, and humanitarian challenges, which therefore raises the question: What has Western policy achieved?

While many in the West like to believe that the values we hold dear and that form the basis of our societies are universal, the reality is quite different. As such, by demonizing leaders who don’t adhere to our principles, we often end up misunderstanding different cultures and how their societies produced such individuals and elevated them to positions of power.

Read the full piece in The Nation.

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