Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed Thursday what he says is his country's gravest error in the past 15 years -- placing Moscow's trust in the West.
During a policy talk at the Valdai Discussion Club, the Russian leader spoke on a number of issues, especially criticizing U.S. foreign policy moves across the globe and lauding Russia's increasingly relevant role as a world power. When asked by a Germany-based academic where Russia had most seriously gone wrong in the past decade and a half, Putin said he had too readily laid his trust in the West, which he then accused of having abused its relationship with Moscow to further its own interests.
"Our biggest mistake was that we trusted you too much. You interpreted our trust as weakness, and you exploited that," Putin said, according to Reuters.
“Unfortunately, our Western partners, having divided the USSR’s geopolitical legacy, were certain of their own incontestable righteousness having declared themselves the victors of the ‘Cold War,'" he added, later comparing the West's need to export democracy to the Soviet Union's desire to spread communism.
U.S.-Russia ties have fluctuated greatly over the years. Russia was initially an ally of the U.S. throughout the tumultuous political years that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and was an early ally of the U.S.'s war on terror after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. However, Putin, who has led the country as president or prime minister since 2000, has long been a critic of U.S. attempts to expand its influence around the world and now faces what his U.S. counterpart and former political ally, Donald Trump, described in August as "an all-time and very dangerous low" for relations between the two powers.
"We have to turn this page and move forward and our relations should be based on mutual respect and we should treat each other as equal partners," Putin said, according to the state-run Tass Russian News Agency.
Lingering grievances that surfaced under the administration of President Barack Obama have left the two nations deeply suspicious of another's intentions. Persistent U.S. accusations that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential race has led to multiple sanctions and tit-for-tat diplomatic attacks between the countries, while dueling military buildups between Western military alliance NATO and Russia have played out across Europe.
Putin said Thursday that, despite Moscow planning to respond to NATO's deployments near Russia's borders, "everything was under control." In the Middle East, though, he accused the U.S. and its allies of intentionally making an already unstable environment worse.
"Instead of controlling the situation together and dealing a real blow on terrorism, and not imitating the struggle with it, some of our counterparts have been doing their utmost to make the chaos in the region permanent," Putin said, according to Tass.
The U.S. and Russia have cautiously begun cooperating in Syria, where they back separate forces battling the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), but Russia has joined Syria and Iran, in accusing the U.S. and its allies of starting the conflict by supporting Syrian rebels and even of secretly helping ISIS and other jihadis, something Western powers deny.
Through its military success in Syria, business deals and arms sales, Russia has taken an increasingly important role in the Middle East and has also attempted to act as a mediator in a nuclear standoff between the U.S. and North Korea. Western powers have repeatedly condemned what they perceive to be aggressive Russian policies that destabilize the existing world order.
Putin did, however, take an opportunity Thursday to defend his U.S. counterpart from his detractors, calling on U.S. citizens to stop disrespecting Trump and his supporters.
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