Is Vladimir Putin pro-American?
The re-election of Vladimir Putin as president of the Russian Federation in March has been negatively reported in the United States. Yet, what many forget is that Putin can be seen as the most pro-American leader in Russian history. This is not an ironic statement. In the last 18 years, Putin has done more for the US and NATO than any other Russian politician or leader.
One only needs to look at NATO and how it has changed drastically over the past several years. Previously, politicians treated the organisation with caution and various European societies were opposed to any attempts at strengthening NATO’s military presence. Today, however, Eastern European states are more willing to accept, and even praise, the fortification of the Alliance. This shift in attitudes can be attributed to the actions of the Russian Federation. By declaring itself in opposition to NATO, Russia has provided a collective enemy.
A critic’s sudden death
In March 2011 the Russian communist Viktor Ilyukhin died. His party comrades saw a “political component” in his death. A month before he suddenly died, Ilyukhin sent a letter to Dmitri Medvedev, then president of Russia. He stated that “Vladimir Putin has possibly committed a crime as described in section 275 of the Russian Criminal Code [Treason felony]” and called for a committee to check these allegations. Before the answer arrived, however, Ilyukhin had died.
One of Ilyukhin’s accusations against Putin read that “between 2002 and 2004, by his very order and at the persistent request of the Americans, three unique PT-23 strategic missile rail divisions – the most modern complexes inherited by Russia from the Soviet Union – were destroyed”.
Soviet “missile trains”, which were mobile missile systems on rail and referred to as “Scalpels” by NATO, were liquidated according to the START II (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) Agreement signed in 1993. The disposal of these formidable weapons began in 2001 and was intended to last through 2010, but in 2005 the last complex was liquidated.
Determining whether Putin himself desired the destruction of these weapons or whether US officials were pressuring him to dismantle them is impossible. What is worth noting, however, is that the ratification of the START II Agreement was unsuccessful in Russia prior to a Putin presidency. It was Putin, who at this point had been elected but not yet inaugurated, arrived at a closed meeting with the State Duma and convinced the Duma members of the necessity to ratify the agreement. The evasive “missile trains” had successfully survived the times of Gorbachev and Yeltsin only to be destroyed during Putin’s rule.
For American money
Most of Russia’s nuclear weapons were also destroyed during Putin’s reign. According to the Independent Military Observer, over Yeltsin’s eight years as president, Russia lost 505 nuclear weapons; during the same time with Putin as leader, the loss was at 2,498.
The media at that time had published stories that made Russian patriots tremble with indignation and also named the sources that financed the liquidation of Russia’s nuclear capabilities. Articles published included: “Russia to close three plutonium reactors for US money”, “US Congress to finance liquidation of Russia’s nuclear shield”, “Putin to entrust control of 25 Russian nuclear heads to Americans”. The Nunn-Lugar programme that the US used to finance Russia’s disarmament was also called “disposal under US patronage”.
Later, Russian media would report that the Nunn-Lugar programme implemented in 1992 had damaged Russia’s defence capabilities. It is not commonly known, however, that until 2002 the American taxpayers’ money was largely used to finance the security of nuclear objects. If we compare the results of the programme for the first 12 years of its implementation and the following eight (under Putin) we would see that 65 per cent of ballistic submarine missiles, 94 per cent of intercontinental ballistic missiles and 92 per cent launching tubes were liquidated. This was all done during Putin’s time.
In 2017 Putin complained that Yeltsin and the Nunn-Lugar programme gave Americans access to Russia’s covert facilities. What he did not say was that the US military inspectors had access to Russian nuclear missiles manufacturing sites until 2009, when Putin was also in power. In 2014, Russia announced its plans to deny US inspectors entry to strategic nuclear sites. Yet, in 2015 American inspectors were allowed to visit these locations.
Soon after his inauguration, Putin took another step by inviting the US military to Moscow and allowing them access to data on Russian ballistic missile launchings. That fact passed unnoticed by Russian society as the document did not require parliamentary debate. Putin’s signature was enough. The very idea of American military officials receiving classified information in Moscow was so wild at the time that the document had a separate provision to hide the fact that Americans were on the site: “Neither party will place state symbols on the exterior side of the fence that surrounds ЦОД [the Data Exchange Centre]. All writings on the exterior side of this fence will be in Russian only.”
Faithfulness to priorities
Perhaps, “the previous Putin” and “the current Putin” are two different men. RT, a pro-Kremlin media source, claimed that 2007 saw a sudden about face in Putin’s relations with the West. This change in direction began with Putin’s Munich speech which signified the end of the Yeltsin era in Russia’s foreign policy. That speech was a clear message to the West that Russia is no longer willing to play the role of the country that had lost the Cold War and is determined to restore its confidence on the world stage.
However, soon after this speech, Putin ratified an agreement with NATO which determined the status of NATO forces on Russian territory. The military powers given to NATO by Putin would be astonishing to many Russian nationalists. NATO forces are allowed not only to carry guns in Russia, but also use them if necessary. At the same time, compliance with Russian law is not required. Rather, “taking into account the requirements of the host state” is enough. Moreover, crimes committed by unknown persons against NATO servicemen and civilian personnel are transferred to the jurisdiction of the state that had sent its soldiers to Russia.
A year before the Munich speech, in 2006, Russia began transporting NATO cargo on a regular basis throughout the world, using not only civilian airliners but also airplanes under the 224 flying unit – a branch of the Russian air force. In 2009, Russian railways also transported goods for the NATO Alliance.
After strong rhetorical confrontation between Russia and the West began, Russian military airplanes continued flying over the skies of NATO countries. They were seen in Lisbon, Budapest, Milan, Hamburg, Hannover, Munich, and other European cities.
Another example of Putin’s pro-America policy could be seen in the agreement he signed in 2003, allowing the US and several other countries to finance the disposal of Russia’s nuclear weapons. Thanks to the colossal amount of funds from the US and NATO countries, Russia cut 203 nuclear ships and submarines over ten years. A subsequent phase of US funding began in 2013.
Vladimir Putin has claimed that the US intervened in the Russian presidential elections at least twice; once in the year 2000 and then in 2012. Even if this were to be true, if the US really wanted to influence the outcome of the election it should have supported Vladimir Putin. At the very least, despite all the rhetoric and sabre rattling, the abovementioned facts might indicate that Putin is the right choice for the US.
Yury Lobunov is a journalist and analyst at Gulf State Analytics.