When it comes to imperialism — i.e., “the policy, practice, or advocacy of extending the power and dominion of a nation especially by direct territorial acquisitions or by gaining indirect control over the political or economic life of other areas” — the United States and Europe are quick to label Putin as a rabid practitioner who must be stopped or else he will conquer the world.
This is lazy propaganda on the part of the West and it is a bullshit accusation. Putin is an old school nationalist and an Eastern Orthodox Christian who eschews the Soviet Communist legacy. Since taking power in 1999, Putin has not led unprovoked conquests of adjacent territory. Russia’s military engagements with Georgia in 2008 and with Ukraine are a direct result of U.S. and NATO interference in the region.
But the U.S. and Europe persist in describing Putin as Stalin reincarnated and a man hell bent on imposing Russian sovereignty over the world. This just a 21st century version of the Domino Theory. It is Domino 2.0 and Putin is the new Vietnam. The truth of the matter is that the U.S. and Europe are bona fide imperialists and are ignoring Putin’s actual record. Instead, the West is engaging in gross hypocrisy and psychological projection — attributing to Putin what they themselves have done and are doing.
Here are some recent examples of the imperialist meme the West is pushing with regards to Putin and Russia:
Many observers quickly picked up on one of Putin’s more provocative lines, in which he compared himself to Peter the Great, Russia’s modernizing tsar and the founder of St. Petersburg – Putin’s own birthplace – who came to power in the late 17th century.
“Peter the Great waged the Great Northern War for 21 years,” a relaxed and apparently self-satisfied Putin said. “On the face of it, he was at war with Sweden taking something away from it… He was not taking away anything, he was returning. This is how it was.”
Foreign Policy magazine, an establishment mouthpiece, pushes the same meme:
Above all, it means viewing contemporary Russia as the heir to the Soviet empire—a highly centralized state in which the Russian core determined the internal and external policies of the non-Russian republics—and the product of that empire’s sudden collapse.
Mikhail Mamedov, an Azeri by birth who fled Russia in 1996, offers an unintentionally ironic perspective on Russian imperialism:
How did Russia become an imperial power? Not how other European powers did, by crossing seas and oceans to colonize parts of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Russia’s imperial growth was largely land-locked: expansion stretched continentally across Eurasia. The empire went west into Poland and Lithuania; east towards Siberia; and, in the south, towards the Caucasus region and Ottoman and Persian empires. . . .
“Russia’s concept of empire was different from that of the Western powers. Russia did not possess ‘distant colonies’ but expanded across its borders into the depths of Eurasia. It had a better opportunity for the closer integration of native and Russian nobility into one body.”
Did you catch that last paragraph? Mamedov apparently has not studied American history. If Russia is an imperialist because it “expanded across its borders” and exerted authority over adjacent territory, then what is the United States? Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California were not independent free states who voted to join the U.S. They came under U.S. control thanks to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which officially ended the Mexican–American War and “required Mexico to cede 55 percent of its territory including the present-day states of California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and most of Arizona and Colorado. Mexico also relinquished all claims for Texas and recognized the Rio Grande as the southern boundary of Texas.”
After sixty years of failed foreign military expeditions, the political class in Washington, D.C. clings tenaciously to the childish notion that if you can just get rid of the “bad man” you can usher in a political utopia. Just consider the list of villains the United States has targeted in repeated bids to change governments and create “democracy or eliminate terrorism, etc. How have those worked out? Did it make the world safer? Is the United States more secure?
- Mossadegh, Iran
- Arbenz, Guatemala,
- Castro, Cuba
- Diem, Vietnam
- Mao, China
- Noriega, Panama
- Saddam Hussein, Iraq
- Bashir Assad, Syria
- The Shah, Iran
- The Ayatollah Khomeni, Iran
- Osama Bin Laden, ???
- Vladimir Putin, Russia
I am amazed that so many so-called foreign policy experts adhere to the magical belief that eliminating a leader will provide a political solution that favors the West. Just listen to Hillary Clinton pleading for the Russian elite to eliminate Putin:
The notion that getting rid of Putin will neuter Russia and make it an obedient serf of the West is profoundly stupid and myopic. Just because people like Clinton and Biden insist that Putin is a dictator in the mold of Stalin, it does not magically transform delusional belief into reality.
The Latin American Information Agency (ALAI) shares my scorn for the West’s double standard when it comes to portraying modern Russia as an amalgam of Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union:
The main Western governments and media outlets question Moscow’s incursions while justifying similar actions carried out by their own camp. The deployment of troops in Ukraine, Georgia or Syria is presented as an unacceptable act, but the occupations of Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya are interpreted as routine events. The annexation of Crimea is categorically repudiated, but the appropriation of land in Palestine is warmly welcomed.
This hypocrisy is combined with implausible allegations that seek to frighten the population. They describe a gigantic Russian power with immeasurable capacity for harm. Moscow’s manipulation of the US elections through infiltrators and algorithms has been the most absurd accusation in this campaign.
Every diabolical conspiracy is attributed to Putin. The media often portrays him as the embodiment of evil. He is depicted as a despot rebuilding an empire that rests on brutal methods of internal totalitarianism (Di Palma, 2019). Comparisons are never made with the lauded plutocracies of the United States or Europe, which enforces validation of the domination exercised by ruling elites.
Why should you care? If the West persists in demonizing Putin it is creating potentially insurmountable obstacles for future negotiations. This approach makes a diplomatic solution virtually unattainable and is likely to increase Putin’s doubts that the West can be trusted to uphold any agreement short of unconditional surrender.