Russia’s president Vladimir Putin is using judo tactics to throw political opponents off balance, says British journalist Nick Holdsworth. According to Holdsworth, who spoke at an EHU Public Conversation “The Beautiful and the Damned—Life in Eastern Europe in Transition,” to gain more from relations with Russia, the West needs to “loosen up” and try to see things through Russian eyes.
According to Holdsworth, Putin adopts a “judo philosophy” in politics—he plans a few moves ahead and keeps his opponents off balance—and thus far, Europe and the US seem to have failed to predict Russia’s next moves.
Holdsworth thinks confrontation with Russia is a dead end. Russia's actions reflect a deep anxiety about what it perceives as a lack of respect from Western power in the two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union. One way forward would be for the West to employ emotional intelligence to understand and work with the Russian mentality.
“Back in the 1970s and ‘80s, there were Kremlinologists who understood every last detail of the relationships between all these men who were running the country,” noted Holdsworth. But, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian studies at universities were closed down and Great Britain stopped sending senior military personnel to learn Russian and work side-by-side with the Russians.
“I’m not sure that the West has people who thoroughly understand the Russians. If the West wants to resolve its differences diplomatically, it needs to understand what is driving Russia’s actions at the moment,” said Holdsworth.
Russia suffers from an inability to reconcile itself to the loss of its imperial status. Some parallels can be drawn between Russia and the United Kingdom after the decline of the British Empire. While the UK managed to reinvent its economy, Russia continues to rely on its raw materials and has not exercised proper self-reflection.
“Emotional intelligence may be in deficit in Russia, and maybe in the West, too. Russia feels hurt, so it is an emotional situation,” observes Holdsworth.
According to him, the West often does not understand Russian sarcasm and irony.
“Humor in Russia will get you so much further than confrontation. Russia’s aggressive face is just a front.”
Speaking of future prospects, Holdsworth admitted that he sees no grounds for optimism about imminent change. Civil society is still very weak in Russia despite some positive developments, and Putin has no strong political opponents.
Holdsworth has lived in Moscow for more than two decades, where he worked as a foreign correspondent for such media as The Sunday Telegraph, The Times Higher Education Supplement, Variety, and others.
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