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3/4/16

Russia, EU and Britain: What to make of the Putin fan club? - Thomas E. Ricks

US and European far-right party leaders praising Putin
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump recently went out of his way to praise Vladimir Putin as a man “highly respected in his own country and beyond,” and “a leader, unlike what we have in this country.”

Trump is not alone. Trump’s views echo those of a number of other political figures in the United States. In 2013, former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan asked on his blog, “Is Putin One of Us?” Putin has a point, he wrote, when he asserts that the “’destruction of traditional values’” has been “imposed undemocratically.” Putin, he wrote, “may be seeing the future with more clarity than Americans still caught up in a Cold War paradigm.”

Putin also has many admirers on the right in Europe. Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, cites Russia (and China and Turkey) as models of the “illiberal state,” based on “national foundations” and achieving economic success. Nigel Farage, leader of Britain’s UKIP party, called Putin the world leader he most admired, “as an operator, but not as a human being.” French National Front Leader Marine LePen, Geert Wilders of the Dutch Freedom Party, and other leaders of European far-right parties have condemned the European Union and the United States for “encircling” Russia. LePen’s party has acknowledged receiving a $10 million loan from Russia, suggesting that her sympathies are requited.

Russian oligarchic funds have also been lavished on allies in Greece and elsewhere. What’s in this for Putin? Russia’s efforts to cultivate support among Europe’s anti-EU fringe movements are not part of an effort to propagate a “Putinist” ideology, but rather are aimed at weakening and dividing the European Union.

But more is going on than geopolitics. Many on the right project their idealized conception of leadership onto Putin: decisiveness, ruthlessness, pragmatism, manliness. In truth, Putin does have many skills as a political leader.

He is extremely well informed on a wide range of subjects (indeed, he would put many American candidates to shame) and he is capable of explaining difficult issues to the public in a simple and persuasive way. He has a quick, acid wit, and immense self-discipline. He is a skillful tactician, maintaining ties with the multiple factions competing for power and wealth (as they say in Russia, “the Kremlin has many towers”) and keeping opponents off balance with unexpected initiatives.

Read more: What to make of the Putin fan club? | Foreign Policy

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