What Putin, Xi and Khamenei Want

Aaron MacLean

Wall Street Journal | 2021

Despite years of warning, the U.S. and its allies aren’t ready for the challenges created by a coterie of Eurasian autocrats. The habits of mind prevalent among democratic peoples and their leaders have left us vulnerable more than once, and thus bear some examination. The principal error is thinking that men like Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Ali Khamenei want what most Westerners want. They don’t.

The most immediate threat is that Mr. Putin will invade Ukraine or engage in related forms of reckless mischief. As during Mr. Putin’s seizure of Crimea in 2014, there is a sense of incredulity at his audacity, as well as confusion about his intentions. An unnamed senior administration official told reporters on Dec. 17: “The Russian people don’t need a war with Ukraine. They don’t need their sons coming home in body bags. They don’t need another foreign adventure. What they need is better healthcare, build back better, roads, schools, economic opportunity.”

The gratuitous reference to President Biden’s domestic agenda is laughable, but it reveals an inability to understand that Mr. Putin rates the material needs of the Russian people far below his own ambitions.

Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks in Beijing with General Secretary of the Communist Party and President of China Xi Jinping. Presidential Executive Office of Russia.

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