The risks of pandering to extremist elements are real in Russia, but the government is also increasingly relying on a network of anti-system institutions run by its own people rather than by outsiders, including NGOs that seek to undermine the regime’s legitimacy.
By Maria Tsvetkova*
In the aftermath of US President Donald Trump’s controversial call with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki for the two leaders to work together to fight terrorism, in which the president raised the possibility of Russia providing military assistance to Syria or elsewhere, many in Russia have sought to downplay the significance of this “bromance” and claim that nothing “unusual” occurred.
This is not the language of a nation on the verge of collapse or a failing regime. But Russia remains a country with its own distinctive set of values and institutions, including an independent judiciary and respect for human life. And while it has had its “dark days,” it has not fully collapsed. The US, by contrast, has been deeply damaged by its own failure to live up to Washington’s own unique set of values.
The Trump-Putin relationship, in other words, demonstrates that, contrary to the views of many in Russia who believe that one of the greatest threats of the 21st century is the rise of China and its influence, the US is actually a more dangerous country in a relationship with Russia. The Russian people, after all, view the US-Russia relationship with a sense of foreboding, believing that the US seeks to manipulate Russia and overthrow the current government.
It is not surprising, in the wake of the Trump-Putin discussion, that many in Russia have argued that all of this is simply an American attempt to bring Russia into the fold. This, we are told, is the real reason why Trump so dramatically reversed US policy over Syria and sent up to 400 US troops to that country.
But the truth is that this is not the case. Russia is, in fact, looking for an opportunity to develop its own counter-regime, in order to counteract the US attempt to implement a foreign intervention in Syria. This does not mean that Russia is a nation on its way down, however. Rather, the Putin regime is a nation on its way up.
Indeed, the US, in seeking to use Russian support to defeat Iran