First becoming Prime Minister of Russia in 1999, Vladimir Putin has not yet relinquished power. The Russian political system allows him to alternate between President and Prime Minister whenever his term is up. Putin has always been difficult but his most recent Presidential term has seen Russian-EU relations plummet. He has gained the scorn of the western world for his foreign and domestic policies but is it all justified?
Putin’s most notorious domestic policies are his treatment of the LGBT community. In June 2013 a federal law was passed criminalising information of LGBT relationships to minors, leading to the rise of hate crimes against LGBT members being justified by the new laws. This legislation has earned him international criticism from human rights groups. Putin’s stance on LGBT is not unique to Russia and his foreign policy has made him far more infamous; especially his actions against Crimea and Ukraine in 2014. Annexing Crimea and stirring up trouble in eastern Ukraine has led David Cameron to compare Putin to Hitler. Some of his actions can be perceived as startlingly similar to Hitler’s in places like Czechoslovakia, and he deserves this criticism.
Western media constantly condemns Putin but they rarely try to see his actions from a Russian perspective. In modern history, Russia has been invaded from Europe by Napoleonic France, Imperial Germany and Nazi Germany. Stalin’s policy of establishing Communist governments in Eastern European countries was purposely carried out to create a buffer zone against possible future invasion. By no means is a Stalinist, Putin is a product of the Cold War. He served in the KGB from 1975 to 1990 and has described the fall of the USSR as ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe’ of the 20th century. His policies against Ukraine, while comparable to Hitler, follow the past attitude of creating a buffer zone.
His foreign policy in Europe has been widely condemned but his recent military support of Assad’s Syrian government has garnered mixed reactions. Ex-Soviet states border places like Afghanistan and there is a legitimate land route through these areas to Russia. Containing the spread of ISIS is more an issue to national security in Russia than the rest of Europe.
Furthermore, Russia is the only one fighting a legitimate war by siding with Assad. Putin has supported him since the beginning of the Arab Spring and for all Assad’s tyrannical actions he is now being seen as the lesser of two evils. NATO members like Turkey have given arms to ISIS and attacked groups opposing them like the Kurds while Putin and Assad are actually combating ISIS and, worryingly, perhaps the legitimate Syrian opposition. Russia’s unwavering support for him has, in the eyes of many, legitimised the Russian actions far more than the USA and its allies.
Putin is immensely popular in Russia with an approval rating of 87% as of 2015. As deplorable as his anti-gay domestic policy and his actions in Ukraine, he is largely a reflection of the people he represents, whose world view is modeled by recent Russia history. Most nations disagree with Putin but if you consider his actions through a Russian spectrum they do have a degree of legitimacy despite mostly being outdated for the modern world.
Featured image by Kayleigh Sharp.