July 30, 2021

Putin interview an exercise in deflection - as Russia remains a 'nuisance' the US cannot ignore

June 14, 2021

The Vladimir Putin interview is an exercise in deflection.

Challenged about his campaign against political opponents such as Alexei Navalny, he brings up the shooting dead of an American protestor during the Washington Capitol riot in January.

Asked whether he believes there was actually a bomb on board the Ryanair plane forced to land in Belarus, he suggests the journalist ask the pilot.

Accused of carrying out cyber attacks against the US, Mr Putin queries where the evidence is.

Far from accepting that he is the cause of international tensions (and you would hardly expect him to), the Russian president instead suggests it is the United States that has created global instability, not Russia.

He uses the examples of Afghanistan and the confusion over US withdrawal, the NATO intervention and then abandonment of Libya and the West's desire to remove Syrian President Bashar al Assad from power.

"You want Assad to leave? Who will replace him? What will happen when somebody - he's replaced with somebody?" he asks.

"The answer is odd. The answer is, 'I don't know'. Well, if you don't know what will happen next, why change what there is?"

The reality is that Russian troops, be they official or mercenary, are involved in foreign conflicts across the world every bit as much as the US military.

Although the upcoming meeting in Geneva on Wednesday was instigated by US President Joe Biden, his language at the G7 over the weekend and at NATO on Monday focussed heavily on China rather than Russia: the underlying implication being that China is the real threat, Russia is just a nuisance.

Be that as it may, Russia is still a "nuisance" that cannot be ignored. Peace in Syria cannot be achieved without Moscow; a new nuclear agreement with Iran cannot be negotiated without Russia; European security will always hinge on the actions of, and relationship with, Russia; and future co-operation in the Arctic will have to include Russia.

When Reagan and Gorbachev first met in the same Swiss city in 1985 it was the start of a working relationship, that became an unlikely friendship - they met again the following year in Reykjavik and helped bring about the end of the Cold War.

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But those two Leaders had something I don't think their current-day successors do: mutual respect.

On that was built trust, and out of trust came change.

How much trust exists between Mr Putin and Mr Biden today?

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