Tragically, the Western leaders and diplomats who are right now trying to stave off a Russian invasion of Ukraine still think they live in a world where rules matter, where diplomatic protocol is useful, where polite speech is valued. All of them think that when they go to Russia, they are talking to people whose minds can be changed by argument or debate. They think the Russian elite cares about things like its “reputation.” It does not.
In fact, when talking to the new breed of autocrats, whether in Russia, China, Venezuela, or Iran, we are now dealing with something very different: People who aren’t interested in treaties and documents, people who only respect hard power. Russia is in violation of the Budapest Memorandum, signed in 1994, guaranteeing Ukrainian security. Do you ever hear Putin talk about that? Of course not. He isn’t concerned about his untrustworthy reputation either: Lying keeps opponents on their toes. Nor does [foreign minister, Sergey] Lavrov mind if he is hated, because hatred gives him an aura of power.
Their intentions are different from ours too. Putin’s goal is not a flourishing, peaceful, prosperous Russia, but a Russia where he remains in charge. Lavrov’s goal is to maintain his position in the murky world of the Russian elite and, of course, to keep his money. What we mean by “interests” and what they mean by “interests” is not the same. When they listen to our diplomats, they don’t hear anything that really threatens their position, their power, their personal fortunes. [Continue reading…]