Who wants to live in a world designed by Vladimir Putin? The number of people who answer “yes” to that question may be rather higher than American and European officials might like to imagine. The Russian president has crafted a narrative about his nation’s revitalization as a global power that many of his countrymen clearly appreciate. Chauvinist nationalist leaders elsewhere, such as Marine Le Pen, the head of France’s National Front party, admire his success. But Western policymakers typically comfort themselves that Putin’s mainstream appeal remains limited. Moscow has not been able to offer a positive vision of a new international system that can compete with, let alone surpass, what the West offers.
Yet over the past week, Putin and his advisers have done a rather good job of outlining the fundamental principles of the world they would like to live in. In this world, sovereign states would not have to deal with irritants such as Western sanctions or international justice. Leaders willing to turn to Moscow for protection could bank on Russian support in moments of crisis. China would bankroll Russia’s geopolitical goals, rather than restructure the international system on its own terms.
Russian officials have been pushing these principles in New York, Vienna and the central Russian city of Ufa. In New York, Russia vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Moscow’s man at the U.N., Vitaly Churkin, argued that the text drafted by Britain would stir up renewed political tensions in Bosnia. Both Bosnian Serbs and Serbia itself had asked Russia to block the resolution, and Churkin could hardly let down Moscow’s most significant remaining allies in the Balkans.