After the recent annexing of the Crimea by Russian President Vladimir Putin, speculation has been arising that the old Soviet days could return once more. But if this is Putin’s desire, what is he doing to make it come about and what will that mean for the rest of the world?
When Putin was sworn in as the new Russian prime minister in 1999, it was thought that he would last a few scant months, before retiring from view. The country, after all was in dire straits, having defaulted on its debt, with its most basic infrastructure collapsing and Boris Yeltsin had been through five prime ministers in his 16 months in office. However, Putin had other ideas. His speech given before the cabinet has been a “blueprint” for everything he has done since, including the recent developments in the Crimea. He called Russia a “great power” and one that would remain as such. He also spoke of Russian interest in “former Soviet” regions, stating that their guard should not be dropped in this respect, neither should their “opinions be ignored.”
Once in office, Putin set about resolving the financial crisis and restablizing the country. He took every opportunity available to him to strengthen the nation and work on restoring Russia to its former glory. The September 11 attacks came along at a convenient time, as the former KGB agent could claim that his ruthless pursuit of Chechen opponents was in aid of hunting out terrorists. At home he restored the old Soviet symbols such as the five-pointed star and the national anthem from his childhood. He has also brought the triumphs of the second world war back into the spotlight to show Russia’s might in times of great crisis.
Vladimir Putin has proved his desires towards returning Russian to its former Soviet days over and over. But he has been ruthless in his pursuit of his Russian dream. This is seen through the way he manipulates situations to his advantage. He invoked principles to cover his decisions, only to leave them by the wayside when it suited him better to do the opposite. Last year he pleaded caution with regards to events in Syria, even going so far as to write an article published in the New York Times as an open letter calling out the US for their strike against Syria and claiming to be concerned about the resulting violence and terrorism that would be unleashed. He outlined Russia’s peaceful stance with resolution through dialogue and questions how the world will follow in the wake of US actions. He even goes so far as to state that the use of “language of force” must be stopped and instead there should be a revival of “civilized diplomatic and political settlement.” However, actions in Crimea are now defined as just and “legitimate.”
This could be a demonstration of his views on the West, rather than a constant shifting of principles. His desire is to snub the West and increase Russian power at home. Putin’s stance on the West has always been muddied. In a speech recently he called out the West for trying to keep Russia suppressed with the analogy of a spring, once “compressed” it will always spring back. He views Russian as independent and is desirous to maintain such a position, where the values, politics and economics can be rejected. Yet in spite of this, there is much value based on Western comforts, many of his political friends in top positions have children and grand children living in Western Europe.
Having taken over the Crimea, Putin could be looking to lay claims on the North Pole. Currently, the Pole has regions of control by Denmark, Canada, the US, Norway and Russia, but as sea ice melts and new possible cargo lanes open up, Russia has ben contending for a larger slice. In order to gain this piece, Russian must prove that its continental shelf extends as far as the pole. On the day he announced Russia would take back the Crimea, he was also granted dominion over another region, the territory of Sea of Okhotsk off the southeast coast of Russia. This could be the extra weight needed to lay a claim to more of the North. In addition, the area is known as an “Ali Baba’s cave” of natural resources and coveted materials.
Earlier this week president Obama stated that he was unconcerned about Putin’s recent actions. Despite this, it does appear that Vladimir Putin’s original desires for the days of the Russian Soviet Union could return. However, if history is likely to repeat itself, then the eventual collapse of this era is also in his future.
By Sara Watson