Six months ago, Andrey Piontkovsky, in the course one of our conversations, came up with an unexpected hypothesis: that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had ‘spoiled’ Putin.
Russian diplomats, in the political analyst’s opinion, are behind Putin’s anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism and, accordingly, behind his current ‘aberrant course’. In support of this view, Piontkovsky recalled that immediately after September 11, Putin’s ‘KGB pragmatism’ had kicked in and he had managed to turn the situation to advantage: to justify the war in Chechnya and, more personally, to enjoy the fruits of having Russia’s ‘principal opponent’ as his dearest friend. He even managed to charm George Bush into confiding to reporters after their first meeting in Ljubljana in 2001 that he had gazed into Putin’s eyes and seen his soul.
My conversation with Piontkovsky gave me the idea of looking at the wider issue of when, at what stage in its 25-year history, the new Russia had veered off course. What role was played by its four successive foreign ministers and the 12,000 or so employees in the central administration and outposts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Who ‘spoiled’ whom? Who influenced whom? And what brought about the present situation where a country that had begun building a new way of life, in a new state, in a friendly environment of well-wishers, has succeeded a quarter of a century later in finding itself ‘ringed by enemies’?
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