No matter how counterintuitive it may seem, Washington needs to stop lecturing Russian President Vladimir Putin if it wants to resolve problems with him.
In George Kennan’s celebrated 1946 “long telegram,” the diplomat and scholar explained why Russia’s conduct was so often duplicitous. Kennan might well have been writing about Putin when he laid out the West’s problems with the Kremlin leaders’ behavior. Being annoyed with them wouldn’t help, Kennan advised, since their conduct was based on a fierce Russian nationalism complicated by a serious streak of insecurity about Moscow’s position in the world, evident whenever Joseph Stalin felt the Soviet Union was not receiving the respect he believed it was due.
We see this pattern in Putin’s conduct today. He insists that the United States “treats Russia like the uninvited guest at a party,” freely interfering in his country’s affairs, which he won’t tolerate — no matter the cost. Confronted with his outright hostility, the West seems at a loss as to how to deal with the bellicose Kremlin.
The United States is incensed that Putin is lying to achieve his goals. The most recent example, and a masterful exercise of ad hoc logic, is Putin’s claim that Russia’s annexation of Crimea last month has been justified by Ukraine’s renewed military actions against the pro-Russian militants in the its eastern regions.
The Crimeans, Putin said, “otherwise would have witnessed the same events as eastern Ukraine and surely even worse… If Russia had not rendered real support…, it would have been impossible to organize a civilized process of the expression of people’s will there.”