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Putin: Strike First and Strike Hard

Putin: Strike First and Strike Hard

Friday, 25 March, 2022 - 12:15
Mamdouh al-Muhainy
Mamdouh al-Muhainy is the General Manager of Al Arabiya and Al Hadath.

Today, as his military fights a bloody war, President Putin has not ceased to give speeches that mix political and cultural criticism of the West. In one angry speech, Putin said the West was an empire of lies and vowed that the Russians would not bow their heads.

However, this is not the first time such statements have been made. For years, Putin focused in his rhetoric on criticizing not only the Western liberal order, whose demise he repeatedly declared, nor NATO, which he views as a threat, but also Western cultural values in which he sees the scourge of this age. At times, Putin appeared as if a cultural theorist seeking to impose a model of thinking that is anti-Western. This appears to be part of a trend of leaders who have achieved internal political and economic success for years, enjoy broad popular support, and then pursue military expansion (such as in Syria) to promote their ideological and cultural worldview.

It is unlikely that Putin will achieve his ideological ambitions on a large scale, at least not in the foreseeable future. However, this helps us understand that the war on Ukraine is not only aimed at preserving Russia’s strategic security, disarming the “Nazis” in Kyiv and transforming Ukraine into a neutral country, as the Russian narrative claims. Its actual, further goal is to usher in an entirely different political and cultural system.

President Putin appeared indifferent to harsh Western sanctions and was on occasion seen making jokes, surrounding himself with a group of flight attendants, and dismissing the idea of meeting with Ukraine’s President Zelensky. Perhaps the only explanation for these actions is that they are a mere attempt to show fortitude and cohesion in difficult times. Rather, it reflects a real conviction on Putin’s part to isolate Russia from the West and obstruct its political and cultural influences. This is similar to the Chinese formula, which seeks isolation from external influences, maintenance of economic growth and the political system’s stability.

President Putin seeks to create a new global pole taking after the Chinese, who are politically isolated, culturally fenced, and economically connected insofar as this serves China’s interests. In Putin’s words, one discovers how embittered he is at the colored revolutions, which he sees as Western involvement, maintaining the belief that the ultimate goal of Western states is to overthrow his regime. At some point, Putin wished to test the waters and asked that Russia join NATO, but his request was quickly rejected, which was expected as Putin’s goal was to undermine the alliance, his closest enemy, from within.

Recently, Putin said that Russia’s demands had been ignored for years and accused the West of attempting to stifle Russia as a resurgent global power. These words express Putin’s current vision of the world order that besieges Russia and threaten its existence with revolutions, calls for democracy, as well as support for anti-Russian activists and turning them into heroes. All this, Putin claims, must be changed in order to allow Russian power to re-emerge, stating in an article he wrote about the reason for the collapse of the Soviet Union: “Only once we lost confidence in ourselves, but it was enough to change the balance of power in the world.” Putin does not seem reluctant to achieve his goal, repeating that a unipolar system is unacceptable. Perhaps, he views this as the second ideal moment to restore lost Russian glory and create the parallel world of his dreams.

We are seeing today the elements of cultural isolation, smearing Western social values and deeming them as decadence, even in sports. Recently, Putin discussed the participation of transgender athletes in women’s tournaments, saying that this means eliminating women’s sports. Putin is not only talking about sports here but something broader. We can see, recently, in the context of the war, Putin’s efforts to contain the West’s influence on his people by blocking social media sites in a recent blanket ban. Certainly, following the Chinese model, domestic platforms for the Russian people will be created, and we have already seen alternatives to Instagram, Facebook and Google – whose news services have been blocked.

Putin seeks to create a culturally fortified Russian pole, one that is now facing economic difficulties due to the sanctions. However, the rhetoric coming from Russian officials suggests they are creating a new economic system, one that does not depend primarily on the West and is unaffected by its political positions. Despite Western pressures, many countries did not suspend their trade or cooperation with Russia, while China and India have also refused to acquiesce to pressure to isolate Russia economically. The Kremlin’s spokesman pointed out more than once that the world is too big for US and EU sanctions alone to ensure Moscow’s isolation.

The claim that Russia will continue to annex other countries after Ukraine or repeat the German scenario of World War II is perhaps far-fetched. This situation is different, and we can see the world taking shape and changing its features. In his book, “First Person”, Putin says: “In dealing with your enemies, there is only one thing to do when confronted, and that is to go on the offensive. Strike first and strike hard, and then your opponent can do nothing.” Putin wanted to strike first and hard to restore the glorious Russia he had deeply ingrained in his mind, to avert the loss of confidence vis-à-vis the West that caused the collapse of the Soviet Union. Will he succeed in his endeavor?

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