Why Vladimir Putin Thinks We’re Out to Get Him

The regime Putin fears we'll change isn't Assads. It's his own.

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Iliya Pitalev / handout / Getty Images

President Putin at the G20 Summit on Sep. 6, 2013 in St. Petersburg.

Why is Vladimir Putin so hostile towards the United States? His Thursday New York Times op-ed struck a superficially friendly tone, but it had the overall effect of undermining Barack Obama and chastising America’s sense of itself. But that was no shock, coming from the man who enraged Washington by granting asylum to Edward Snowden and who recently barred American adoptions of Russian children, among other affronts.

So is Putin just a jerk? Maybe, although there are numerous reasons that might explain his antagonism: the lingering Cold War mentality of a former KGB agent; insecurity about Russia’s post-Soviet global status; his sometimes comical machismo.

There’s likely another, potentially more important factor driving Putin’s animus, however. He thinks we’re out to get him. And in a sense, he’s right.

(MORE: Taking Lead in Syria Talks, Russia Works to Preserve Assad Regime)

To understand why, start with the Russian president’s belief that America has a general habit of meddling in the affairs of other countries and trying to change their governments. Iraq is just the most obvious example, but Putin sees many others. He was furious that a United Nations military mission in Libya sold by Washington as a limited humanitarian mission became an extended bombing campaign to topple Moammar Gaddafi. Putin fumed that Russia’s then-president, Dmitry Medvedev, had supported the resolution: “It allows anyone to do anything they want—to take any actions against a sovereign state,” Putin said in March 2011.

Putin has also argued that America’s confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program is the pretext for a grander plan. “Under the guise of trying to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction,” Putin said early last year, “they are attempting something else entirely and setting different goals—regime change.”

Sound familiar? Putin sees much the same in Syria, which is why he has adamantly refused to support a U.N. authorization of force against Assad. It’s not a totally unreasonable suspicion. Barack Obama has called for Bashar Assad to leave power, prominent members of Congress like John McCain are urging regime change, and although the White House denies it officially, there have been hints that any U.S. military strikes could indirectly serve that purpose.

Less widely understood than Putin’s concerns about Iraq, Syria and Libya is his anger over U.S. actions closer to his borders. Putin believes America helped defeat a Moscow-backed candidate in Ukraine’s 2004 presidential election, partly by sending millions of dollars to pro-democracy activists there. He hated George W. Bush’s courting of the former Soviet republic of Georgia, where a U.S.-backed president was defying Moscow’s longtime influence. (After a 2008 military clash between Russia and Georgia, McCain declared that “today, we are all Georgians.”) And he surely remembers well the U.S.-led NATO bombing campaign in the 1990s—which Russia also bitterly opposed—that led to the ouster of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

“If you look at events over the past 20 years from the Kremlin’s perspective, you see a consistent pattern of U.S. and western behavior amounting to a policy of regime change across Eurasia,” says Matthew Rojanksy, director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center. “Putin asks, if Washington can use force to topple regimes in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya, and can sponsor regime change by other means in Serbia, Georgia, and Ukraine, why wouldn’t Belarus or Kazakhstan or even Russia itself be next? Putin has to draw his own red line, and Syria is a good place to start doing so.”

(MORE: Obama and Syria: Stumbling Toward Damascus)

“It’s not the whole story,” says Rojansky. “But it’s a big part.”

Most galling for Putin is evidence that America’s regime change agenda has crept into his own country. When mass anti-Putin demonstrations erupted in Moscow in late 2011, Putin quickly accused the U.S. of encouraging the protests. He lashed out specifically at Hillary Clinton for encouraging pro-democracy activists. “She set the tone, gave the signal,” Putin said in December 2011, charging that the U.S. was spending tens of millions of dollars “to influence our internal political process.”

Soon after, Russian state media accused the new U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, of being a subversive revolutionary agent. Pro-Putin commentators noted that McFaul is a longtime democracy advocate who has written of “Russia’s Unfinished Revolution,” and argued in a 2007 article that “even while working closely with Putin on matters of mutual interest, Western leaders must recommit to the objective of creating the conditions for a democratic leader to emerge in the long term.”

And then there was Putin’s gleeful nemesis McCain, who responded to the protests by taunting Putin via Twitter: “Dear Vlad, the #ArabSpring has arrived at a neighborhood near you,” the Arizona Republican Senator tweeted in February 2012, linking to a Times article about a mass demonstration.

Last year Putin responded by kicking the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) out of Russia; a foreign ministry spokesman charged that USAID had been trying to influence the political process, including elections at various levels and civil society.” That move was part of a wider crackdown on “foreign agents” with alleged political agendas for Russia.

Putin is undoubtedly posturing some—playing the old autocrat’s trick of blaming foreigners for internal problems. But he also clearly feels that Obama has, at a minimum, tried to undermine him within Russia. His Times op-ed may have been a small way of returning the favor.

MORE: Syria, a Defining Test for Obama’s Foreign Policy Vision

SEE ALSO:  The Big Surprise of Martin Luther King’s Speech 

173 comments
kcmoplc1
kcmoplc1

This another example of posturing by a CIA/NSA stooge.  The writer labels Putin as being paranoid and jerky without making/giving even elementary examples of the basis for his blatant smear campaign.  If Time and the writer want to come to our defense, then let them do it about something that is substantial like legal privacy invasion ala national defense or the failure to disclose governmental improprieties by use of codings and classifications.  I think everyone would gladly divulge a few secrets if the U.S. executive department would master its agencies in return.  It is not the case, we are told once again to be loyal to a leadership that does not have any faith in us. We are given an article by an uninformed messager as a prophecy.  The article is telling the reader and the public to "SHUT UP"...do not ask questions...reject any  opinion that is not sanctioned by leaders or their minions at Time magazine.

capsteverogers02001
capsteverogers02001

Vlad the Impaler aka The Shirtless One, seems to be somewhat insecure...nothing some Vodka and anti-gay legislation can't fix.

marybobyy
marybobyy

how many rot in your words dear citizens of America and not only! Bless you all, God, that you understand what you write and what kind of slander you post here.

eagle_blue
eagle_blue

No one is undermining Barack Obama, and chastising America´s sense of itself.  

Quite the contrary!

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

And why should Putin fear America ? He is on the ascendant. we are descending. As long as the spineless, dithering, cowardly indecisive Obama is President, he has nothing to fear.

AdamRoate
AdamRoate

Why does nobody pay attention to the fact that our government in the United States is giving weapons to militants in Syria, just as we did in Libya?  (Including Soviet-Vintage heavy weapons.)  There is no doubt that a chemical weapon was used, but where is the proof that it was used by the Assad regime and not militant rebels?  THERE IS NONE!  Just because the president says so?  Anyone else remember we had a former president tell us there were WMDs in Iraq too?  Educate yourselves as to why it was in the best economic interests of the United States to remove Hussein and Gadhafi, and why it is in the best interests of Turkey and Israel to have an ongoing instability in Syria.  It is all about oil money at the end of the day.  Mr. Putin is far from a saint, but he is right about the damage we are doing by thinking we are so "exceptional" compared to the rest of humanity.  We should not keep acting without the backing of the UN Security Council.  Germany had an issue with "exceptional-ism" when they decided to impose their way of life on the world once upon a time too.  I am concerned we too will create a global conflict, and for what?  It is not our job to police the world!!!  Spend that money here in our own country!!!  If countries like Iran, Russia, China, and the multitude of other anti-American groups get together and start WW3 against the US and her allies, we will lose!  IT IS JUST NOT WORTH IT!  If Syrians want to kill their own people, its called natural selection.

EdithCutler
EdithCutler

Putin's posturing is expected.  But it has a basis of reality and self-preservation.  If the rebels have the CW they will get back to Russia easier than to here.  And we have seen how well our interventions in Iraq have gone (never-ending bloodshed) in spite of Bush claiming things are great there now.  When there is a malignant family taking over a country, as in Syria, Iraq, Libya and many other countries, the people will rise and try to right things.  Russia should not be interfering for Russia's self-interest, as they are doing.  It is evident that Assad is not liked by his people when over two million have left their homes and millions more would like to.  A reasonable, rational leader would figure this out but, like Hitler, Stalin, Kim Jong Un and all the others, they will go the full course and reduce their country to rubble.   

eagle_blue
eagle_blue

Ye of little faith. 

But the world is moving, and I remain optimistic. 

We have no other choice.

We have got to move into the same direction.

We have got to move into the right direction before it is too late.


IanBortner
IanBortner

Putin just proved himself as the greatest hero so far of the 21st century.  The fact that he stopped the the neocons, "humanitarian" democrats and the rest of DC's war machine dead in its tracks is unbelievable and inspiring.  Putin should be awarded the Nobel Peace prize instead of Obama.  Now every other country on the planet is starting to turn against our ruthless agenda in the Middle East and are following the lead of Russia against our imperialistic ambitions.  Even Britain, France, and Germany are starting to jump ship.  What a miraculous day for world peace. 

branchltd
branchltd

I put as much credence in Mr. Putin as in any other KGB operative.

StephenSwain
StephenSwain

Mr. Putin, bless his heart, remains an infamous hypocrite.  If he is jealous of the United States, it's only because given the same resources, his demonstrable mania for control would impel him to do the same or even worse.  Putin is an old-fashioned crypto-totalitarian ap·pa·rat·chik, left over from the old Soviet nightmare.  George W. Bush may have looked into his eyes, but he surely could not have begun to imagine the darker corridors of dear old Vlad's Scythian soul.  

Vlad would be well advised to be careful with his stone-throwing, lest some other power covertly encourage the restive Muslims in his territories to rise up against him again.  Let's face it, these people have even greater reasons to hate and fear him than they have heretofore shown to us.  

Wait up, Vlad:  Your turn is coming.  And maybe it could be arranged for the Uighurs in China to rise up against their masters, making your borders even more tense than they currently are.  Oh, and one more thing:  your erstwhile Chinese "partners" covet not just your oil and gas, they covet the lebensraum you currently possess along your mutual border.  The way they see it, Vlad, if you keep fooling around in Syria and the chaos spreads, and they (the Chinese) get cut off from Persian Gulf oil supplies, they are bound to have to bend over to meet your demands for higher prices.  They are not going to like this.  Neither are the Western Europeans you are prepared to gouge for oil and natural gas to keep their homes and public buildings heated and their vehicle fleets running.

Oops!  You thought nobody could figure this out?  Wrong!  We have seen right through you, you old Cossack pirate.

SarahNYC
SarahNYC

Putin may be wary of the U.S., but it appears President Obama feels pretty darned secure in Putin's arms. According to a report this morning, President Obama was so impressed with Vladimir Putin's ability to save him from having to bomb Syria that he's asked Putin to help him pass immigration reform through congress. http://goo.gl/4DATMA

wangjinnan.1992
wangjinnan.1992

please most america get to china .watch the development of it .not speak ill of it like most america media.please please

RobertSilverman
RobertSilverman

as far as Snowden was concerned the USA and The Uk have granted asylum to any number of people the Russians want to put on trial

so they have just done the same /would of been odd if Russia had put Snowden on the next flight to the USA as the UK and Europe would of done 

Russia in the past has out terrible crimes against their own people massacres deportations and so on

but USA sponsored anti Democratic dictators because they were right wing and anti communist

There will always be competition between world superpowers and Russia really does have weopens of mass destruction

ВалераЕфимов
ВалераЕфимов

Многие граждане России, Путину и его правительству не доверяют,внутренняя и внешняя политика разваливается,кругом лож и обман,народу внушают, что Америка это враг. 

MaggieSchurmann
MaggieSchurmann

I've always said.. be afraid.. be VERY afraid of Russia.. Let's pray to God this doesn't go further.. Unfortunately, this is honestly the "breaking bad" point of Russia. No they are not having a seat and watching the US little by little take over the the Eurasia territory. Don't blame them. I'm pretty scared... RUSSIA IS NO JOKE!!! THIS IS THE COUNTRY THAT IS A VERY SILEN T AND EXTREMELY DEADLY WEAPON!!!!!!

pma950
pma950

The West are poor losers, surprising really, as the US/UK axis loses most of its wars in the long run, even though they prefer weak targets. The Russians know we can't lob Nuclear Missiles for obvious reasons so why fear our stupid thinking on conflicts such as the Syrian one.

Get over it, the 21st Century does not await your every word on anything. If Obama makes a televised speech he's doing what is his right, but, when Putin uses the NYT he's running scared of us! No, he's simply outsmarted the arrogant West who, it seems, can only respond to any threat, perceived or true, by drones, death and destruction - such cowards we are.

The US is on the wane, never mind its vast overspend on remote warfare - start thinking in smarter ways (not drone-think) because we have to adapt positively and not merely react negatively by raining death and destruction on those who get in the way of our desire for oil.

ibtlius
ibtlius

Micheal,

The United states of america is a oligarchy/plutocracy which has an outward facade of 'democracy', a concept  which was long cuckolded to the Corporate Military Industrial Complex with the US media ably guiding the process and makes sure that it stays that way by keeping the country divided over artificially created issues and skillful side-tracking with nonsensical jingoisms.

There is a reason why US citizens are only  shown/allowed to process limited information (usually trivia) about the rest of the world. To deliberately keep them mis-informed, ill-informed and dumb and sedated to the point where they would have no idea how their lives and standard of living are drastically reduced every passing day.

Keep pushing the 'Putin/Russia is evil' and 'we are the angels' propaganda. People are steadily becoming sick and tired of drinking this kool-aid while the sheer horror of reality starting to set in here at home.

Imagine, Russians supplying weapons to the tea party/militias and the occupy people to rise up against the US government to enjoy 'real freedom and democracy'. Imagine if they setup theater missile defense systems in Cuba pointing against us. Imagine if Russia or China patrols our East and West coast with their warships. What would our reaction be? .... Not so palatable isnt?  Why would we do that to them and not except displeasure in return?

Putin is a patriot and their elected guard as he and Russia haven't forgotten how the 'Chicago boys' wrecked their economy after the fall of the Soviet Union. 

Other countries will be prohibited under the WTO and IMF rules from getting rich in the way that the United States got wealthy in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Only the United States will be permitted to subsidize its agriculture, thanks to its unique right to grandfather in its price supports. Only the United States will be free from having to raise interest rates to stabilize its balance of payments, and only it can devote its monetary policy to promoting easy credit and asset-price inflation. And only the United States can run a military deficit, obliging foreign central banks in dollar-recipient countries to give it a free ride. In other words, there is no free lunch for other countries, only for the United States. Other countries do indeed give up their national sovereignty. The United States never has adjusted its economy to create equilibrium with other countries. 

There is a reason why we need to bulk up our military that equals the next 20 countries put together. To keep the current economic hegemony and aggression (a.k.a  "spreading freedom and democracy") going with the support of the military. 

Tracking our military history, we top the charts by a wide margin on diabolical and cowardly acts against other nations (even tiny ones) and their peoples (especially with unarmed civilians).

Lie all your want but the rest of world is fully aware of our acts. 

Sooner or later like all bullies, things are not going to play out well for us.

valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

WRITTEN IN CAPS SO THE OLD AND INFIRM MAY READ BETTER....I CARE FOR THE POOR, THE WEAK, THE DEFENSELESS.....

"PUTIN IS AFRAID OF AMERICA"........AS THE UPPER CLASS BRITISH WOULD SAY IN AN UNDERSTATEMENT......"WHO IS THE BLOODY GENIUS  WHO THOUGHT OF THAT ONE?.".....

AS AN AMERICAN....I WOULD SAY.....WHO IS THE IDIOT WHO SAID THAT  !!!!!

AS A WORLD HISTORIAN, MILITARY HISTORIAN AND POLITICAL HISTORIAN......PUTIN.....IS NOT SCARED OF THE UNITED STATES.......AS A FORMER KGB......AND A WARRIOR IN THE MOLD OF THE OLD TSARS OF RUSSIA.....

PUTIN IS A LITTLE BIT MORE CAREFUL WITH HIS WORDS AND ACTIONS......BECAUSE.....HE KNOWS.....THAT ANY MISCALCULATION ON HIS PART......OR THE UNITED STATES......THAT RESULTS IN A BATTLE BETWEEN OUR FORCES......MAY TRIGGER.....WORLD WAR III......

OBAMA, THE MOSLEM WHO IS IN THE WHITE HOUSE, DESTROYING THE US ......FROM WITHIN......AND HIS MOTLEY CREW OF JOHN KERRY, THE CATSUP KING,,,,,,,HILLARY CLINTON......THE TRAITOR OF BENGHAZI WITH DEAD AMERICANS IN HER WAKE AND OBAMA'S......ARE NOT AS GOOD CHESS PLAYERS ......AS THE RUSSIANS.

WHEN PUTIN ACTS.....THERE ARE NO WARNINGS......JUST THE DEAD.....WITH NO WITNESSES TO SAY....WHO DID IT?

VALENTINE, WORLD HISTORIAN, MILITARY HISTORIAN, POLITICAL HISTORIAN....COMEDIAN....LOL

"KNOW YOUR ENEMY......A HUNDRED BATTLES ......A HUNDRED VICTORIES......BEFORE THEY ARE FOUGHT"

        by SUN WU TSU....."the Art of War"....old chinese classics




RahjaofTennoh
RahjaofTennoh

@kcmoplc1 " I think everyone would gladly divulge a few secrets if the U.S. executive department would master its agencies in return." 

HAHAHAHAHA. Let's see what China has to say about divulging secrets...

eagle_blue
eagle_blue

@kcmoplc1 As unbelievable as it may seem or dangerous that it could be, probably nobody is really purposefully trying to inflict injury or been slanderous,  but at the same time we are in our right to purposefully set the record straight. 

RahjaofTennoh
RahjaofTennoh

@ReneDemonteverde He's not indecisive, he's just making the wrong decisions. And to answer why Putin fears America, we are considered a warmongering country from previous actions and sanctions against Russia. That's just my opinion, but it would be a good idea to answer that question by walking in Russia's shoes and ask "Why does America fear Putin?"

siesmann
siesmann

@ReneDemonteverde Why don't you enroll in the army and go fight for USA for a change,or your son or daughter

sengaasil
sengaasil

Yeah, well... if you are trying to get the CIA off of your back, an old KGB operative might be useful.

woodstock_lady
woodstock_lady

@SarahNYCReaaal smart people out there. Another person that can't tell parody and satire from real life. LOL

RahjaofTennoh
RahjaofTennoh

@wangjinnan.1992 I have many friends who live in and speak well of China's developing industry. Though i have never been, I have no reason to think them to lie, and I would be certain to enjoy visiting China.

But I must point out the technology that led that industry in which China hit the ground running to prosper with actually came from America. American industry is being suffocated by our own government regulations, and is a problem we as Americans should be aware of. I am uncertain if that is something your media may display among the many factors that cover why we are on a downfall in economics.

woodstock_lady
woodstock_lady

@wangjinnan.1992 America is too busy watching their own downfall to be bothered with paying attention to the developement of foreign countries. China and India are developing at a tremendous pace.

woodstock_lady
woodstock_lady

@ВалераЕфимов Google translation:

 Many citizens of Russia, Putin and his government do not trust, domestic and foreign policy is falling apart all around lies and deception, people are taught that America is the enemy.


LutzBarz
LutzBarz

@MaggieSchurmann oh dear. I am afraid of Amerika. Wasted landscapes, cities in rubble, rise of terrorisism all due to Amerika's sense of biblical exceptionalism. The world needs ppl like Putin for sanity and balance.

ameer.jabril
ameer.jabril

@pma950 Not like russia has one any wars post ww 2 either of course. Lost in afghanistan. Lost most influence in eastern europe after losing cold war. Is eventually gonna lose its colonial possesions in the caucasus.


And u want to talk about military spending? Russia has tripled its military spending for the last 10 yrs. Its also the world largest weapons exporter overtaking the US back in 2008. So to try and make out russia as some noble white night just goes to show u and other ignorant obama hating red neck americans don't know wtf ur talking about and have fallen victim to tea party and russia today propaganda bs.

ameer.jabril
ameer.jabril

@ibtlius actually puttin has reestablished nuclea capable missiles in cuba to counter the missiles shield in eastern europe. Look it up to see for yourself.

Tim63
Tim63

@ibtlius Very well said. The truth needs to said and you could not have put it better.

siesmann
siesmann

@valentine.godoflove 

Bush is the real Muslim.Obama administration has been trying to hard to get us out of the mess,that dictator-style Bush put us into.Just so he can more money from his oil investments and and get his share of the loot from his Saudi family, Bush pushed us one war after another.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@RahjaofTennoh @ReneDemonteverde  If you do not see the rapid growth of ISIS as `to the indecision of Obama you are beyond hope. America does not fear Putin. What it fears is the constant pushing of the envelope by Putin could lead to miscalculation of America`s resolve, hence a nuclear war. You know the story. Ask Japan. MAD. Remember the word ?

wangjinnan.1992
wangjinnan.1992

@woodstock_lady @wangjinnan.1992 china development is from peace environment .why america government cannot pay attention to development of it own .in fact only peace  .it can development .please not war to syria .keep peace .

RahjaofTennoh
RahjaofTennoh

@LutzBarz "Wasted landscapes, cities in rubble, rise of terrorisism all due to Amerika's sense of biblical exceptionalism."

I can tell you have never visited the United States.