Charles Krauthammer

Putin's bitter complaint is that today there remains only one superpower, the behemoth that dominates a ``unipolar world." He knows that Moscow lacks the economic, military and even demographic means to challenge America as in Soviet days. He speaks more modestly of coalitions of aggrieved have-not countries that Russia might lead in countering American power.

Hence his increasingly active foreign policy -- military partnerships with China, nuclear cooperation with Iran, weapon supplies to Syria and Venezuela, diplomatic support as well as arms for a genocidal Sudan, friendly outreach to other potential partners of an anti-hegemonic (read: anti-American) alliance.

Is this a return to the Cold War? It is true that the ex-KGB agent occasionally lets slip a classic Marxist anachronism such as ``foreign capital'' (referring to Western oil companies) or the otherwise weird adjective ``vulgar'' (describing the actions of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which infuriated Putin by insisting upon a clean election in Ukraine). He even intimated that he might undo one of the unequivocal achievements of the late Cold War era, the so-called ``zero option'' agreement of 1987, and restore a Soviet-style medium-range ballistic missile force.

Nonetheless, Putin's aggressiveness does not signal a return to the Cold War. He is too clever to be burdened by the absurdity of socialist economics or Marxist politics. He is blissfully free of ideology, political philosophy and economic theory. There is no existential dispute with the United States.

He is a more modest man: a mere mafia don, seizing the economic resources and political power of a country for himself and his mostly KGB cronies. And promoting his vision of the Russian national interest -- assertive and expansionist -- by engaging in diplomacy that challenges the dominant power in order to boost his own.

He wants Gromyko's influence -- or at least some international acknowledgment that Moscow must be reckoned with -- without the ideological baggage. He does not want to bury us; he only wants to diminish us. It is 19th-century power politics at its most crude and elemental. Putin does not want us as an enemy. But at Munich he told the world that vis-a-vis America his Russia has gone from partner to adversary.


Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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