On occasion Putin will “accept the unacceptable” with a seemingly friendly statement (e.g., not wishing for a U.S. defeat in Iraq, or not condemning the U.S. presence in Georgia or Central Asia), rather than blustering and then surrendering as Yeltsin always did—but afterwards he plays the same game, as the power balance shifts. Tony Blair was the unwilling recipient of a Putin tirade recently, as noted in this article.
I watched the press conference, and there was no doubt about what had just happened. Beyond mocking Blair and Bush and essentially calling both of them liars on the Iraqi WMD issue, he came down on the side of the Foreign Ministry and the military in stating that Russia insisted on the primacy of the UN Security Council in what happened next. Moreover, Russia was neither seeking “forgiveness” for standing up for its own interests, nor would it stand by and let the U.S. unilaterally decide what was or was not acceptable under international law. The gauntlet has well and truly been thrown down—and I for one am very concerned about the impact of Bush's upcoming meeting with Putin, given Bush's performance during the last one, as well as his recent triumphalism and increasing testiness with any opposing views.
We've talked about elite maneuverings so far, but public opinion has a bigger role in Russian politics these days than one might think. I spend quite a lot of time watching and reading the news from Russia, and what I'm seeing is very worrisome. For example, this news article sums up the general tenor very well.
The idea that the United States is going to export democracy and wipe out a threat to world peace holds no sway [in Russia]. In a poll taken at the end of March, 83 percent said they are angered and disgusted by U.S. policy. Six out of 10 said the United States is after Iraq's oil. Five out of 10 said the United States wants to show who is "master of the world."
Many elsewhere have reacted to the war the same way. But while bitter attacks on the U.S. mark a reversal of attitudes in some places, in Russia, resentment of America is never too far from the surface, even when President Vladimir Putin is professing to be President Bush's friend.
What's even more alarming is that the people cited are members of the Moscow intelligentsia—typically the most pro-American segment of the population since the end of the Cold War. Reading various Russian papers from the provinces, I see that opinions voiced there are even more anti-American than those from Moscow.