Putin to Western Elites: You Flunked!

by Dmitry Orlov, Russia Insider:

Putin: "Instead of working together to deal a real blow to terrorism ... some of our colleagues are doing everything they can to make the chaos permanent."

By far the most popular article I ever published on this blog was titled Putin to Western Elites: Play-time is Over.

It came out almost exactly three years ago, after that year’s Valdai Club conference, and was based on the speech Putin gave at that conference.

It garnered close to 200,000 page hits—more than twice more than the next most popular one—because it pointed out something very significant: a sea change in international relations had occurred, heralding the end of America’s unipolar moment when it could dictate terms to the entire world.

Essentially, in that speech Putin signaled to Western elites that they were no longer qualified to play the game of international relations of today and had to go back to school for retraining. And now, three years later, Putin has issued them a final report card, giving them an F in every category: they have learned nothing.

The following excerpt from my article of three years ago details how the rules had changed:

Previously, the game of international politics was played as follows:

politicians made public pronouncements, for the sake of maintaining a pleasant fiction of national sovereignty, but they were strictly for show and had nothing to do with the substance of international politics;

in the meantime, they engaged in secret back-room negotiations, in which the actual deals were hammered out.

Previously, Putin tried to play this game, expecting only that Russia be treated as an equal. But these hopes have been dashed, and at this conference he declared the game to be over, explicitly violating Western taboo by speaking directly to the people over the heads of elite clans and political leaders.

There is still a chance to construct a new world order that will avoid a world war.

This new world order must of necessity include the United States—but can only do so on the same terms as everyone else: subject to international law and international agreements; refraining from all unilateral action; in full respect of the sovereignty of other nations.

Although Putin’s unfavorable appraisal applied to the West as a whole, much of his criticism was directed squarely at Washington, whose European “vassals” (his own term, uttered on another occasion) were “driven by fleeting political considerations and their desire to please—I will put it bluntly—their big brother in Washington.” 

Seated between Hamid Karzai, the former president of Afghanistan, and Jack Ma, the billionaire head of the Chinese giant Alibaba, Putin emphasized that the modern world is a mind-bogglingly intricate and complex place, full of unsolved problems and contradictions.

On the one hand, there are virtually medieval, tribal societies such as Afghanistan, with their own traditions of tribal democracy and not amenable to positive change from the outside (what Karzai termed “John Kerry’s democracy”); on the other, the ubiquity of the internet, of instantaneous global communications and rapid progress in areas such as robotics and machine learning, epitomized by Jack Ma, offered both dangers and opportunities. But Putin the stern taskmaster emphasized that:

“All disputes must be resolved in a civilised manner… We are firmly convinced that even the most complex knots… must be disentangled rather than cut.”

This requires intricate local knowledge, the capacity for patient diplomacy and a reputation for fair dealing—all of which Washington has either sacrificed on the bonfire of its own vanity, or has never had to begin with.

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