Vladimir Putin, the KGB spy turned Russian president and potentially the richest man on the planet, doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to go looking for advice when it comes to international relations. In fact, a common criticism levied at the world leader from Russians is that his attention all too often lies beyond the Russian borders rather than within them, prioritizing a delicate balance between aggressive rhetoric and shrugging his shoulders innocently whenever a global body mentions things like Crimea over the wellbeing of his own citizens.
When I was younger, or maybe just less mentally engaged in the relationship the United States maintains with Putin’s Russia, it was always easy for me to disregard his behavior as that of a villain. It’s an easy enough mental separation to make – I never really understood why Rita Repulsa had it in for the Power Rangers either – I just chalked her giant monsters and his foreign policy both up to “bad guys doing bad guy stuff,” and happily went about my day. The thing is, fiction can be so simple; reality tends to be a lot more complicated.
We’re each the protagonists of our own stories, and although we tend to think of Putin as a totalitarian leader with nothing but world domination on his mind, can’t that be attributed, at least in part, to the fact that he’s the captain of the opposing team? In Putin’s mind, he’s not the Joker, but rather the Batman, using his strength and influence to make the world a better place for his own Gotham city – which is a nation that has experienced a rather dramatic fall from grace during his own lifetime. I think we can agree that to a certain extent, Putin genuinely wants to see Russia return to his globally feared past – an outcome that he sees as a victory for the “good” guys.
So if we can safely establish that, despite all the murder and corruption, Putin believes he’s an actor for good against the likes of his nation’s enemies (namely us) — why would he choose to go about it in the manner he does? Why constantly bait other nations with provocative military demonstrations, continuously side with those that commit human rights violations, and take military action to claim new land for his country at the expense of innocent lives? If he thinks he’s a good guy, why does he so aggressively make an enemy out of the West?