Russian President Vladimir Putin meets Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 17 February 2016 near Moscow. Photo: kremlin.ru
Two days before Donald J. Trump became president of the United States, Politico’s Paul Taylor wrote a prescient piece that encapsulated the long-term gains Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes for a greater Russia.
“The U.S. (at the time) is rightly alarmed at the possibility of a Yalta-style deal that would redraw the Continent’s geopolitics with dire consequences for the European Union and its eastern neighbors,” wrote Taylor. “They should use early contacts with the new administration to warn of the bear traps into which an inexperienced leader in a hurry could fall. To make that message more credible, they should also respond constructively to Trump’s demand they spend for their own defense.”
In essence, Taylor warned of Russia’s endgame, which clearly exhibits a desire to restore hegemony over former Soviet countries.
Interestingly enough, as Taylor’s article went to print, Hungary’s president met with Putin, two autocrats meeting mano a mano. “We all sense, it’s in the air, the world is in a process of substantial realignment,” said Viktor Orban in his joint press conference with the Russian leaders. “We believe this will create favorable conditions for stronger Russian-Hungarian relations,” he said.
This should give the world pause, as populism is being normalized. While Dutch voters rejected its populist candidate last week, Putin’s tough guy approach to all things, and shunning diplomatic channels, appear to be mainstay.
Haven’t we seen this movie before? Three years ago Ukraine’s then pro-Kremlin President Yanukovych shunned an expected European Union deal to help his country out of debt. The ex-president looked to Putin’s Russia for its 15 billion dollar bailout. As a result, young idealists led massive protests throughout Kyiv, and ultimately blood spilled when the soon-to-be ex-president called in snipers.
Putin’s popularity in Budapest, as well as by right-wing governments, is cause for concern, since his autocratic model appear more and more En Vogue. Trump fashions himself in that vein, and sees himself as another in the long line of stalwart leaders protecting his country from lax borders.
This may result with a modern day Yalta Conference, of sorts, in which Putin will be viewed as a savior, and his country’s leadership serves as the antidote to western liberalism. In July 2015, Putin hosted the BRICS summit of emerging economies in UFA. There, leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa addressed billion-dollar initiatives. According to those who attended, healthcare, education, and labor issues were addressed, as well as ways to combat illegal drug trafficking and terrorism. The countries also discussed the creation of a development bank. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
“There is a real danger that a deal with Putin would accelerate the unraveling of the political West and play into Putin’s strategy of making Russia great again – indeed greater than it was under the czars and commissars,” concluded Taylor. Nuanced soft diplomacy is needed in these tumultuous times, and the Putin-Trump style of governing must be monitored, particularly by those who value the learned approach to diplomatic stagecraft.