OPINION

Commentary

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Athens revealed several aspects of a peculiar phenomenon which exploits Russia’s political capital (and that of the Soviet Union, as a stage in the course of the Russian empire) in order to secure a place in the global market based on the country’s two competitive elements: Energy and military equipment. In an age ruled by economics, Putin is not exactly a paradox but there are considerable differences between the Russian president and the other Western leaders who, at least rhetorically, stand for the same principles. When, for example, US President George W. Bush or British Prime Minister Tony Blair refer to the role of the free market and businesses, they are expressing a long Anglo-Saxon tradition which is in harmony with the political system and which has been shaped to support this tradition. For this reason, they are always more convincing than their European partners, who have long fought to introduce a model which has entangled political with business interests, to an extent unprecedented by European standards. Putin, rather, is the offspring of an authoritarian tradition – which neither emerged nor exhausted itself during the interim of communist rule – and whose behavior, despite appearances, reflects mainly political rather than economic interests. His aim is to restore Russia’s political power, with the free market as a means rather than an ideological panacea. The Russian president may have expressed his satisfaction with the elimination of ideological dividing lines but his long and warm meeting with Archbishop Christodoulos and his plans to visit the Russian-speaking monastic community on Mount Athos (canceled due to bad weather on Saturday) aimed to underscore the new ideological identity of post-Communist Russia, a country which needs a strong ideological underpinning. Putin is not a newly converted liberal, as are most of Europe’s socialist politicians. He is a conservative politician who emerged from the traditional conservative system of Joseph Stalin, the collapse of which was due to internal political arteriosclerosis. Putin has avoided confrontation with the United States in order to consolidate Russia’s international prestige, but the terrorist assault of September 11 has rendered Moscow a valuable partner of Washington. A century ago, when the great European war destroyed the old regime which had ruled Europe for centuries, a new regime was surfacing in Russia which intimidated Europe and the world for more than seven decades. With World War II and the end of the British Empire, Stalin’s Soviet Union emerged as a superpower with influence in the heart of Europe. Putin is looking for ways to reconfirm the role of his country in the new international environment which emerged after 1989. His visit to Greece was a step in this long-term strategic plan.