Putin’s Russia defies simple interpretation

Source:Global Times Published: 2016-4-15 0:18:01

Russian President Vladimir Putin has become the focus of global attention again Thursday by holding his annual live call-in session. Just one day before, the Pentagon released a video of Russian warplanes flying close to a US guided missile destroyer, an act described as a "simulated attack" by the US.

According to the Pentagon, Russian aircraft buzzed the USS Donald Cook as the guided missile destroyer was conducting flight operations with a Polish helicopter in the Baltic Sea Monday and Tuesday. At one point the jets were as close as nine meters. The US has accused the Russian military of being unprofessional.

The Russian pilots have demonstrated high professional skills to conduct such extremely dangerous maneuvers. The US military, which intends to provoke Russia in the Baltic Sea, was humiliated by its Russian counterpart instead. The US must feel furious.

To some extent, the fighter jets that flew over the US destroyer are an embodiment of Putin, who for many years has repeatedly posed challenges to Washington adeptly. His response to the arrogant US pressure has helped reach an asymmetric strategic balance between Russia and the US.

But toughness is not enough for Putin to fulfill his presidential role. Russians submitted more than 3 million questions to his call-in, which ranged from consumer prices, housing, corruption to transportation. The Russian economy and public livelihood are more daunting tests for Putin. They have cast a shadow notwithstanding the Kremlin scoring diplomatic points.

The Russian economy is at its worst since Putin took office. Negative economic growth has led to decreasing living standards. While some conjecture that economic difficulties may eventually strike Putin's reputation and jeopardize Russia's political stability, others believe that Moscow is strong and resilient enough to go through the hardships.

Military power, which has long been a pillar for Russia's comprehensive strength, is now playing a more significant role. Compared to its military strength, Russia's economy has dropped out of the top 10. While China-US trade volume is $550 billion per year, the annual trade volume between Russia and the US is less than $20 billion. Without many economy chips, Moscow can only make full use of its military cards.

Though both China and Russia face strategic pressure from Washington, their specific ties with the US are different. The Sino-US relationship is gigantic in scale, featuring both cooperation and competition. As in practicing taichi, China has many flexible ways to tackle issues with the US.

It is difficult to fully understand Russia and Putin. Russia is a mystery to both East and West. Its real strength is far different from what it appears. Whether it is Putin that shapes today's Russia, or the other way round, is an interesting question.

Posted in: Editorial

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