GeoPolitical Forecasts

Forecasts of international political events

Putin and Western double standards

This is not an analysis of Russian foreign policy, or an attempt to argue for or against any actions that Putin has taken. It’s fairly clear that Putin doesn’t trust the US/EU/NATO, and this is a list of specific facts and interpretations of those facts that would lead him to distrust the West and accuse it of applying double standards. I’m not evaluating the truth of his claims, only trying to understand his viewpoint. If I can’t understand his viewpoint, I can’t make predictions about his actions. Understanding his viewpoint necessarily means being able to express it in a way that he would agree with. Obviously, this is my attempt to understand and express his viewpoint, not his expression of his viewpoint. I’m pretty sure that I don’t completely understand his viewpoint and am not likely to express it entirely correctly. If you see where I’ve made an error, or if I’ve left something out, feel free to let me know.

On 4 March, Putin named three examples of what he considers Western double standards: Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya[1]. I’ll start with those.

1. Afghanistan

The US-led military action in Afghanistan wasn’t authorized by the UN Security Council.[2] The UN Charter requires the US and other signatories to settle differences peacefully, except when they are defending themselves. A bombing campaign that culminates in the overthrow of a government is not part of the usual definition of self-defense. Under the US constitution, a treaty becomes the law of the land when the US ratifies it. A more limited definition of self-defense that excludes bombing and regime overthrow implies that the US broke both US and international law.

2. Iraq

I think Putin would agree with Kofi Annan’s summary of the legality of the Iraq invasion. Quoting Wikipedia, ‘Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations, said of the invasion, “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN Charter. From our point of view, from the Charter point of view, it was illegal.”‘[3]

Russia supplied arms to Saddam Hussein and probably helped him get rid of his WMD after the First Iraq War.[4] If Iraq was not an ally, it was certainly an important relationship.

3. Libya

The UN resolution authorizing the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya also authorized protection of civilians by any means except a “foreign occupation force”. The military coalition acting in Libya eventually put special operations troops in the country.[5]

In this case, I can quote Putin: “When the entire so-called civilized community falls upon a small country with all its might, destroys infrastructure created over generations — I don’t know, is that good or not?”[6] And on the killing of Gaddafi: “Drones, including American ones, delivered a strike on his motorcade. Then commandos, who were not supposed to be there, brought in so-called opposition and militants. And killed him without trial.”[7] (There are a number of other quotes along the same line from Putin in the articles cited.)

Libya was an important ally for Russia, possibly the most important of its allies in North Africa and the Middle East.[8]

4. NATO expansion

When West Germany was planning to reunite with East Germany, Gorbachev told US Secretary of State James Baker that “any extension of the zone of NATO would be unacceptable.”[9] The next day, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl told Gorbachev ‘”naturally NATO could not expand its territory” into East Germany.’ The West German FM told the Soviet FM “for us, it stands firm: NATO will not expand itself to the East.” Gorbachev made no deal with Baker and the West Germans could only speak for themselves. Nevertheless, Gorbachev understandably thought that they had an agreement not to allow NATO expansion. He later complained that he had been trapped.

From Putin’s speech at the 2007 Munich Conference on Security Policy:

I would like to quote the speech of NATO General Secretary Mr Woerner in Brussels on 17 May 1990. He said at the time that: “the fact that we are ready not to place a NATO army outside of German territory gives the Soviet Union a firm security guarantee”. Where are these guarantees?[10]

From a 2010 interview Putin gave Kammersant Daily (via RIA Novosti):

At time of the withdrawal from East Europe, the NATO secretary general promised the USSR it could be confident that NATO would not expand over its current boundaries.

And where is it? I asked them [NATO officials] about this. They have nothing to say. They deceived us in the rudest way.[11]

5. Kosovo

In 2008, Kosovo declared itself independent of Serbia. Serbia’s Constitutional Court ruled the declaration illegal and its National Assembly voted it null and void.[12] The Russian government called on the UN and NATO to take steps to prevent Kosovo independence, “including the annulling of the decisions of Pristina’s self-governing organs and the taking of tough administrative measures against them.”[13] Putin said that “Europe has double standards on territory issues and small states do not feel safe in the world arena.”[14] Serbia was a Russian ally and remains close. Whether or not Kosovo’s independence violates international law is a matter of controversy.

6. Georgia

Eduard Shevardnadze, who had been the Soviet Union’s Foreign Minister, was Georgia’s president until 2003. He gradually lost support and his political party split up.[15] After an election that many viewed as fraudulent, mass demonstrations forced Shevardnadze to resign. NGOs partially funded by foreign sources were important in organizing the demonstrations. When Saakashvili was voted in as president, Georgia turned away from Russia and became a Western ally, seeking NATO membership.

7. Ukraine

Ukraine in 2004 experienced an Orange Revolution similar to Georgia’s Rose Revolution. Election fraud, followed by demonstrations partially organized by groups trained and funded in part by Westerners, led to a new government oriented to the West, along with talk of joining NATO.[16]

8. Ukraine again (Maidan)

(In describing right wing groups and government actions, I’m limiting myself to the things I believe Russia objects to. I’m not giving a complete or accurate description of groups or government actions.)

One of the organizers of the Maidan is the Svoboda party. In the past, it’s leader has made anti-semitic statements, and has used derogatory terms for Russians. The party’s original name was “Social-National Party of Ukraine”, a reference to National Socialism. The party honors Stepan Bandera, who many Ukrainians view as a Nazi collaborator. The party has eliminated racist statements from its platform, but it still contains statements many would consider discriminatory against non-Ukrainians.[17]

Right Sector emerged as an important part of the later, more violent Maidan protests. During the protests its leaders encouraged the production of Molotov cocktails and bombs, and it claims to have an arsenal of weapons. It claims to reject the more racist beliefs of many Svoboda members, but it uses neo-Nazi imagery and rejects multiculturalism.[18]

Right Sector and Svoboda were among the nationalist groups that dominated the Maidan self-defense units. These were the units that provided security for the Kiev parliament after the police disappeared. Under the protection of these units, Ukraine’s parliament removed Yanukovych from the presidency without following the constitutionally mandated procedure for an impeachment, in a vote that lacked the constitutionally mandated super-majority needed to remove a president.[19] The parliament voted to repeal the law that allowed Russian to be declared an official language, although the acting president didn’t sign it and it didn’t become law. Five of Svoboda’s members are part of the current government in Kiev.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called the toppling of Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, in the capital Kiev an “anti-constitutional coup and a military seizure of power”.[20]

The Russian foreign minister said the interim government in Kiev was “not independent because it depends to a great extent on the radical nationalists who seized power by force of arms”.

Right Sector, the main radical group, was “calling the tune” in Kiev, he said, and using “terror and intimidation” as its methods.[21]


Quoting the Putin’s speech at the 2007 Munich Conference on Security Policy:

Along with this, what is happening in today’s world – and we just started to discuss this – is a tentative to introduce precisely this concept into international affairs, the concept of a unipolar world.

And with which results?

Unilateral and frequently illegitimate actions have not resolved any problems. Moreover, they have caused new human tragedies and created new centres of tension. Judge for yourselves: wars as well as local and regional conflicts have not diminished. Mr Teltschik mentioned this very gently. And no less people perish in these conflicts – even more are dying than before. Significantly more, significantly more!

We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. And independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state’s legal system. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations.[10]

In the 2010 interview with Kommersant Daily, Putin said his speech was still relevant.[11]

Update: This was edited on 8/3/14 to add more quotes from Putin and replace my summary of his views with quotes from his Munich speech.


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