Spiegel Interviews Yakunin


Der Spiegel has an interesting interview today with Vladimir Yakunin, a close ally of Vladimir Putin and head of Russian Railways, who strikes a rather defensive posture vis-à-vis relations with the West, squarely placing the blame for the deterioration of the relationship on the United States and Europe:

SPIEGEL: What should the West do? Yakunin: It should not humiliate us. You can throw a bucket of cold water on Russians, and we can take it. But one shouldn’t humiliate us! The political scientist Hans Morgenthau said that countries should not forget the national interests of other countries when defining their own. The current American government becomes irritated over every attempt on the part of a country to go its own way — especially when it is as big and wealthy as Russia. That’s political arrogance. SPIEGEL: So America is at fault for the stagnating dialogue? Yakunin: America and Europe make a big mistake when they interpret Russia’s strength as aggression. Our people sense the injustice of this criticism, and it leads to a collective rejection of the West. Putin has approval ratings of over 70 percent. Where else in the world does that exist? People like his ideas.

Inasmuch as Der Spiegel may like to pitch Yakunin as a possible presidential candidate, these comments fall short of the wry, diplomatic elegance normally expected. This allegation that the West is actively “humiliating” Russia doesn’t seem in line with friendly lobster dinners at the Bush family home in Maine or even Nicholas Sarkozy’s recent visit to Putin’s dacha to proclaim 2010 as “Year of Russia” in France, and vice versa. Sarkozy praised Putin as “a pragmatic person who loves his country, is not a show-off or dogmatic,” and said that “France understands Russia’s determination to return to the international scene and regain its position. Disagreeing with this would be senseless.” Is that really so humiliating? One must assume that Yakunin is instructed to make comments like these from the top, so I wonder what he is gaming at…