What Does Vladimir Putin Want?

Jul 28th, 2018 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

The curious, confounding and provocative Helsinki news conference involving President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin begs the question, what exactly does Putin want?  As one commentator argued, Helsinki “was a summit [Putin] has dreamed of for 18 years.”  His Russian advisers used terms such as “fabulous,” “super,” beyond “our fondest hopes” to describe the recent Helsinki meeting.  Putin quickly embraced Trump’s invitation to a second meeting in the United States this fall.  Putin is finally getting what he wants—and Donald Trump is delivering it to him.  But what is it that Putin wants?

  • First, review of some history. Russian communism (and the Soviet Union) collapsed in the early 1990s; it was replaced by a system headed by Boris Yeltsin.  Historian Brian Taylor describes this system as “a political system with elements of both democracy and authoritarianism, . . . elections were generally competitive, television was not controlled by the Kremlin, regional governors had real, independent power, . . . and nongovernmental organizations had plenty of room to organize, including in opposition to the state.”  But Yeltsin was an ineffective leader, struggled with public drunkenness and got Russia involved in the bloody, regional war in Chechnya.  Vladimir Putin was Yeltsin’s successor and he promised a more competent and effective government; he was aided by the unexpected rise in oil prices in the early 2000s, which helped in his consideration of power.  Over time, Putin gained control of the television networks of Russia through his oligarch friend Vladimir Gusinsky.  Next, Putin secured control of the civil society that had emerged under Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s and Yeltsin in the 1990s.  “The assault on pluralism and free expression included targeted killings—on whose orders is an open question—of outspoken journalists and political figures.”  Under the guise of creating a “sovereign democracy,” as one member of Putin’s government called it, “Putin imposed an increasingly authoritarian regime.  Today he controls the country’s political institutions and leads a loose alliance of clans that manage Russia’s natural resources and its outwardly private major companies.”  Putin’s support within Russia, argues historian Joshua Rubenstein, “also derives from Mr. Putin’s opposition to the West for its seeming antagonism toward Russia—e.g., the decision to expand NATO to Russia’s borders—and its aggression elsewhere: e.g., the invasion of Iraq and the projection of military force to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.  Putin’s recent moves to intervene in Ukraine, annex Crimea and meddle in the US presidential election have given him the image of triumphal power.”  But at what cost to Russia?  Continuing sanctions by the West, crippling economic corruption and a stifling political culture, do not bode well for Russia’s future.  In Rubenstein’s words, Putin “would rather mistrust his people than invest in them . . . as things are going now, he seems ready to leave it—sooner or later—as politically backward and as economically behind as it was when he assumed power.”


  • Second, what then is Putin’s fundamental goal? It has become clear that Putin seeks to discredit democracy, the West and America as effectively as he can.  As Andrew Higgins and Neil MacFarquhar argue, “Anything that stokes division within the United States, or between America and its allies, is viewed by Moscow as a victory.  Deploying hackers, disinformation campaigns and support for far-right populist forces in Europe, Mr. Putin has long sought to fracture the West and upend the established geopolitical order.”  For that reason, the Helsinki meeting with President Trump was a godsend for Putin.  Putin envisions a new world order in which traditional diplomatic alliances (e.g., NATO) do not really matter and big powers act out of their own self-interest, above all else.  That order “includes Russia playing a central role, instead of being treated like a pariah or a second-rate has-been.”  One of Putin’s clear goals for Helsinki was “to get an equal footing with the American president as a respected equal . . .  [H]e’s started to achieve this major goal  . . . He finally got to present himself as this global statesman floating above petty politics and present himself and Russia as this great mediator for peace and humanitarian aid.”  In light of this goal, Putin is understandably enraged by Magnitsky Act passed by the US Congress in 2012.  This law allows the US to freeze the assets and withhold the visas of people who are violating human rights in Russia.  The act was named for Sergei Magnitsky, who was murdered in a Moscow jail in 2009 after uncovering a massive $230 million Russian government corruption scheme, one clearly connected to Putin and his cronies.  Putin has made it clear that he wants to US to rescind this law.  He so argued to President Trump.


  • Third, what specifically does Putin want President Trump to do?
  1. Putin wants President Trump to recognize Russia as a global power and endorse his denials about meddling in the 2016 presidential election. He also wants Trump to help in his political rehabilitation in Europe—e.g., he wants to rejoin the G-7.
  2. Putin has accomplished what he wanted in Syria—he salvaged the regime of Bashar Assad, fortified long-term military bases in the Middle East and has replaced the US as chief power broker in this region. Putin wants Trump to validate these gains and have the US withdraw from eastern Syria.
  3. Putin wants Trump to accept his annexation of Crimea and stop giving Ukraine weapons to defend itself against Russian aggression.
  4. Putin wants Trump to lift the sanctions stemming from the Magnitsky Act and also spearhead the removal of sanctions from Europe.
  5. Putin seeks to further undermine the importance of NATO by feeding Trump’s frustration with NATO.


  • Finally, all of this begs a series of questions about our president. As columnist Michael Gerson has astutely observed:  “The president remains in total denial about Russian intentions and actions. This is unexplainable in strategic terms. Why would an American president so regularly praise and excuse a dictator dedicated to the overthrow of American influence? It is also unexplainable in political terms. Why wouldn’t a president facing an investigation of Russian influence on his campaign find opportunities to distance himself from Russian aggression? There is no rational explanation for Trump’s surrender to Russian designs.”  The Bible speaks of the growing power “to the north” (Daniel 11:40ff) that will eventually threaten Israel as Christ’s return approaches.  The growing power and influence of Vladimir Putin and his remarkable intervention in the Middle East with impunity, fits this description perfectly.  We are watching the denigration of American influence and the rise of a pernicious, nefarious dictator in the person of Vladimir Putin.  It is astonishing and truly unbelievable.

See Joshua Rubenstein’s review of Brian Taylor’s book, The Code of Putinism in the Wall Street Journal (16 July 2018); the Andrew Higgins and Neil MacFarquhar and Andrew Higgins and Steven Erlanger reports in the New York Times (16 July and 17 July 2018); the editorial “What Putin Wants from Trump” in the Wall Street Journal (13 July 2018); and Michael Gerson in the Washington Post (16 July 2018).

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One Comment to “What Does Vladimir Putin Want?”

  1. Peter Wiebe says:

    What do Americans want? I believe there needs to be some balance when we evaluate policies and people, including President Trump. So many find it easy to be so one-sided when it comes to President Trump, his policies and his effectiveness. Your hatred or affection should take a back seat in any evaluation. Due to President Trump’s insistence that all participating countries pay their fair share is actually benefitting NATO. This is not to Putin’s advantage. President Trump going after Angela Dorothea Merkel for Germany’s pipeline to Russia is certainly not to Putin’s advantage. Some 200 sanctions against Russia is certainly to Putin’s advantage. Keeping your friends close and your enemy closer would be hailed as brilliant had Obama done so. However, when it comes to Trump, well, we just join the media and lambaste the President, after all, it’s so popular to do so. When it comes to Russia, well, President Trump used Russia to help win the election. The fact this this whole collusion theory would never have been raised if the DNC had not manufactured it and the fostered it against all common sense in a way that goes against the constitution. The Democrats sought desperately to get any outside help they possibly could. Have any charges been laid against George Soros or any outsiders who assisted the Democrats? The Clintons certainly benefitted from the Russians but that isn’t discussed. The US desperately tried to influence the election outcomes in numerous countries including Israel. Somehow, that’s acceptable. Various countries paying money to influence elections favouring the Democrats seems perfectly normal. However, when it come to the Trump-Russia collusion, based upon Hillary’s people fictional information assisted by a foreign spy appears to be acceptable. After all this time and nearly $20 million, with numerous law firms helping Mueller, either finding or manufacturing something to hang on Trump, has been unsuccessful so far. Anyone reading this, if that much effort was spent on hating you and therefore finding something, anything on you, dear reader, through going through all your communication, financial records, your friends and hearsay, something would be found untoward to hang on you. Would you find that acceptable? Anyone listening to Peter Strzok, John Brennan, James Comey, the FISA court applications, etc. has to know and, if honest, acknowledge that there are very serious wrong doings by the top people in our justice system who have broken the very foundations of honest investigation. God is in charge and God can use whomever He wants. The Bible says that all authority comes from God. Sometimes we get what we need, sometimes we get what we deserve due to our rebellion. In this case, I believe God gave us what we need, this outspoken, unorthodox, sometimes rude person who almost everyone loves to hate – a hatred that comes, not from God- but from the other source. Dear God, bless our President with wisdom beyond himself, help him to yield to Your leading, help him to yield to advice from those who listen to Your influence, bless him so he can guide this nation in the direction You want him to, in spite of ourselves. And thank you that Hillary did not win the election. Amen