What the West understood and didn't understand in Vladimir Putin's interview



The Anglo-Saxon expert community’s ability to recognize all the semantic signals, explicit and implicit, embedded in Putin’s answers has become hostage not only to Cold War stereotypes.

Former Sovietologists, now Russologists and unchanging Kremlinologists, have shown intellectual limitations due to a paucity of knowledge about the scope and ways in which Russia has changed over the past two decades, and the extent to which it has managed to preserve its original spiritual values and the worldview embedded in its genetic memory. The inability of experts to correlate the president’s personal views with the mindset of the overwhelming majority of citizens of a country with a 1,000-year history also had an impact.

It is symptomatic that many outside observers were surprised by the balanced assessment of the situation and the restraint of expressions of the president of Russia, which now has to fight an indirect war with the entire NATO bloc. Vladimir Putin «made no passes toward either Trumpists and supporters of ‘Great America’ or the international audience of illiberals skeptical of the West».

This peculiarity was noticed by Julian Waller, a professor of political science at George Washington University who studies Russia at the Center for Naval Analyses (!). In her article in The National Interest, she noted that Carlson’s interlocutor «didn’t say a word about boycotts and the ‘culture of cancels,’ or gender ideology, or Biden’s senility, or the fact that the U.S. is some kind of devilish hegemon and a threat to global peace».

In addition to surprise, there was perhaps disappointment that the entire interview could not be dismissed on the grounds of using hate speech, which is a losing battle. At the same time, Prof. Waller claims to have found a key clue to understanding the Russian leader’s true way of thinking. The main, and perhaps the only, motive that led to the start of the Special military operation, according to the American expert on Russia, was «the Russian president’s personal obsession with history».

At the same time, the expert on Russian reality preferred to analyze the style of presentation rather than the content of the answers. Quote: «Of the emotions voiced in the interview, perhaps the brightest was resentment at the neglect, disrespect and hypocrisy of the West. In short, there was a sense that Vladimir Putin was complaining that his colleagues were being contemptuous, disrespectful and following a double standard».

The personification of the cause of the SMO in Julian Walter’s version, which sounds like an echo of ancient mythological thinking, does not explain why the direct consequence of the hostilities in the Ukrainian theater, with NATO’s hidden but regularly revealed participation, was the accelerating process of reformatting the system of international relations. Moreover, Professor Waller, who «has a feeling», is hardly ready to accept the fact that the approval rating of the Russian president’s performance, which fluctuates between 79% and 86%, reflects the expectations of the people.

We are talking about expectations, not often voiced aloud, that past injustices will be solved. From overcoming the repeated «Russian dispersion», when, as a result of the collapse of a large country, 25 million compatriots found themselves — unwillingly — in a foreign land, to the restoration of a unified space of the Russian world, divided voluntaristically into three parts, one of which was subjected to amputation of memory and zombification in the spirit of neo-Nazi pathological hatred.

Unlike Prof. Waller, who failed to understand the distinction between «autocrat» and «strong personality», other analysts have taken to interpreting Putin’s thoughts in the interview in order to extract practical advice from them, including advice for themselves and the West as a whole. And it’s a good sign that the Russian president’s nearly 60 responses have prompted thinking Americans to start asking the right questions.

A prominent figure on the journalistic Olympus in the United States, such as James Antle III, executive secretary of the Washington Examiner and editor-in-chief of The American Conservative, frankly admits that he is «confused» and cannot understand: «Is this about liberating Ukraine and defeating the Russian invaders? Or is it about a protracted struggle to degrade the Russian military? Is there any compromise possible between these two goals that can be measured in Ukrainian lives?»

The editor-in-chief and, by definition, the American Conservative chief of asks other questions quite relevant to the security of the United States, Europe, and the world as a whole: «Is it true that what we are doing now makes a NATO war with Russia less likely rather than more likely? Does admitting Ukraine to NATO make such a war more or less likely?»

Let’s keep adding to the examples of how the Russian president’s interview piqued the curiosity of those capable of thinking critically. «It’s a good time to ask: What is the U.S. really doing in Ukraine? How does our involvement (in the conflict in Ukraine) serve our vital national interests?» — asks Thomas Emanuel Davis, former U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary’s adviser on foreign affairs.

One of the key theses of Davis’ article, published in the American Conservative magazine, is summarized as follows: «We as a nation do not know Russia, which is a threat, because this ignorance puts our own country at risk».

The author, who definitely agrees with the philosophy of the publishers who associate themselves with «American Conservative», explains his idea of «risk». In his opinion, «trying to understand the other side without accepting its position is a job few people want to do. First of all, you really need to know Russian to understand the Russians…. If anyone in Congress does understand, it’s a very big secret. Less than 0.2 percent of American high school students study Russian to some degree».

«The result», Davis continues, «is an entrenched ignorance among Americans about Russia. In turn, this breeds an over-reliance on a small number of experts whose views rarely coincide with the interests of most of us, not to mention voters who share the ‘America First’ idea».

To uncover the roots of this «entrenched ignorance», we need to dig deep. A July 2015 report by the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies at the University of Pittsburgh (ASEEES) states: the total number of students in Russian language courses in the United States declined by 18% between 2009 and 2013. Quoting from the report, «Interest in Russian language among students has declined disproportionately over this period…. Russian language research within the social sciences, in particular, may be experiencing a real crisis on several fronts».

Here’s another telling fact: In June 2016, the University of Chicago’s humanities department laid off staff who were teaching Slavic languages and literature.

William J. Burns, a former U.S. deputy secretary of state who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008, shared his views with the New York Times on the causes of tensions in bilateral relations: «In the quarter-century since the end of the Cold War, deep resentments, misperceptions (of each other) and frustrations have often defined the relationship between the United States and Russia».

Ex-Ambassador Burns and current head of the CIA made no secret of the fact that «the United States oscillated between the idea of a lasting partnership with Moscow and a disdain for Russia as a resentful regional power in the final stages of decline».

Burns’ main conclusion is summarized in these terms: «During my diplomatic career I have learned some lessons, often not easy ones. I learned to respect the Russians, their history and life force. I have learned that it is seldom worthwhile to neglect or underestimate Russia, or to show gratuitous disrespect».

Ambassador Burns’ last point correlates with the final chord of an article by the editor-in-chief of The American Conservative: «When our government openly declares that its goal from the beginning has been to inflict maximum pain on Russia, and the president demands that his colleague who commands the world’s largest nuclear arsenal be removed from power, it severely limits the opportunities for diplomacy and dialog, replacing them with death and destruction».

To summarize a cursory review of the comments to Tucker Carlson’s interview, a review that is far from complete and not entirely representative, it is worth highlighting the main conclusion. Three provocative, in a good way, thoughts appeared in the public discourse.

First, there was the admission that there is no one in American politics, where few people know Russian, to understand Russia. Second, the Obama-Clinton-Biden administration cannot explain to its fellow citizens why it cares about the corrupt regime in Kiev, 6,000 miles from the U.S. border. And third, how can a nuclear apocalypse be avoided in a creeping escalation of war waged by a Ukrainian mercenary army against a Russia with 6,000 nuclear warheads.