When did the West lose Russia, asks Vladislav Inozemtsev in the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Putin is a “quintessentially European deal maker”, albeit in the manner of a 19th-century statesman. If we’d indulged his spymaster’s zeal for loyalty, trust and flattery, we might have kept him from China. Putin had powerful friends in George W Bush and much of Europe in the early 2000s, supporting Bush’s war on terror and seeking greater integration between Russia and the EU. But he clashed with Tony Blair when the latter refused to hand over “personal enemies” such as Boris Berezovsky, and things began to unravel.
What the West didn’t count on was Putin’s thrust towards imperialism. Russia as a nation was, and is, predominantly shaped by Europe. But it’s also a former empire that was never a democracy. What Putin has reinvigorated is a sense of its sovereignty – and sovereigns find it hard to work with civilian politicians bound by the democratic rules of the game. He still seems to be more surprised than angry about the actions of the West after his meddling in Crimea, Ukraine and the Middle East. Let’s face it, Putin is the kind of European leader who would have been celebrated at the 1815 Congress of Vienna. But the West began to disappoint him when he realised our leaders weren’t as powerful as he’d imagined. And we lost him by trying to “impose” values on Russia that could have destroyed his power for good.