The minimum you must know

Although a lot of leaders deserve tremendous credit recently, Russia's President Vladimir Putin has done more to win peace over the past twenty-years than virtually any other leader in the same timeframe. He has initiated, hosted and participated in more peace talks (and consequently saved more lives) than any other leader. He is a uniquely extraordinary leader on peace.

President Putin's leadership on peace isn't well known to western populations, because Russia has traditionally been viewed as an adversary of the United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries. In fact, Russia has tolerated decades of economic restrictions from western countries. Russian President Vladimir Putin is often portrayed in the west as an intimidating adversary who is only loved by his own people. However, he has consistently sought peace and won improving relations with all peace-loving nations. There is a significant opportunity for populations in Russia, the United States and Europe to develop mutual understanding and consequently great relations as a result. (Everyone involved will enjoy improving relations so much that they’ll wonder why it didn’t happen generations ago.)

When President Vladimir Putin was first elected overwhelmingly to lead the Russian Federation in 2000 (with more votes than his top ten political competitors combined), Russia had more challenges than any new leader could have been expected to handle well. His predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, was initially popular and even respected for turning Russia from a soviet state into a capitalist society. Many hoped he could improve relations with the United States and Europe as a result, and even fully integrate the country into the global economy. But Yeltsin didn't present himself confidently enough to lead effectively, and squandered his country's human and financial resources. Yeltsin left lawlessness unsolved. He eventually neglected all of the Russia’s financial obligations to foreign companies and governments. Russia's rampant crime affected average Russians and Russia's reputation abroad. 

When President Yeltsin recognized his own administration’s inability to lead competently and confidently, he let his cabinet go, and then departed office early. A dozen candidates competed. President Putin was the leading one. He was instantly the popular hope for the nation, and won a commanding majority in a competitive election, taking control of a country in great need of his leadership excellence.

President Putin confidently made Russia successful faster than anyone expected. His initial efforts contributed significantly to the success of the country.  President Putin quickly created domestic stability and global credibility that benefitted Russian citizens immeasurably. He halted government waste immediately, and brought respect and fiscal discipline to governance so effectively that the government turned profitable for the first time in decades. 

Within two years of taking office, President Putin’s administration restored the country's foreign currency reserves, and therefore was able to meet all of the country's debt obligations. This was an important accomplishment for the enjoyment and morale of the Russian people, and for restoring their credibility with the west. Russia currently has a positive net worth and twenty-year track record of great relationships with foreign investors. Partly as a result, Russia's economy went from last place in Europe and Asia to now around the annual revenue of France or Spain. Although the global economy lacked exuberance in 2020, including in Russia, where the lifestyle of average Russian workers has considerably more to improve, President Putin successfully created an optimistic more pleasant future for the country. It's an accomplishment and opportunity for Russian citizens that their economy’s revenue is similar to the most successful countries in the world.

President Putin also convinced his population to both love their country and respect their government's authority. This was important to achieve because safe unified countries tend to be more successful. The Russian government started standing up to crime, which was vitally important for Russia's economy, because investors will only travel to places they feel safe, and invest where their agreements are going to be respected and enforced. He brought order to a proverbial "Wild West," calming millions of people who respected Russia's leadership for the first time, and could become gainful employers, employees and partners to people in other countries. He created for Russia an economy ready for global integration.

President Putin’s administration even modeled Russia after the United States in some ways. The government created respect for property and minority rights for the first time. Russian citizens started counting on the state to ensure their valuable possessions were their own. This was especially important after the soviet era because it created more incentive for citizens to work hard and contribute, because they knew they could keep what they made. Benefits of success can be enjoyed in Russia the same way they can in western societies. 

Minorities also gained the possibility of winning stature and respect in industry, government and society. People of various ethnicities and with various religious views who were merely tolerated before President Putin took office, gained credibility. Russians became encouraged to celebrate diversity. People with various skin tones, religious traditions and even lifestyle choices gained the opportunity to be respected and even prominent members of society, participating in government and industry fully. Russians haven’t achieved the living standards that can exist in the wealthiest European countries yet. But the Russian people have a lot to look forward to given the country's existing progress and economic growth.

People in the United States may not be aware of how there's more freedom in Russia than in most countries around the world. In fact, there’s arguably more freedom in Russia than in some European countries. Free speech isn’t only protected in Russia. It’s considered a right. People enjoy speaking freely, and expect their government to keep them safe from retribution. More government investment is necessary for there to be fast internet speeds reaching all homes. But internet is common on phones and desktop computers, as well as in and around street cafes. The Russian government views Google, Google Maps, and with a degree of suspicion, because of the amount of data they can collect on Russian citizens. But they're accessible. Russians can visit websites the same way that Americans can. Russians enjoy similar internet freedoms as Americans.

President Putin enjoys the full support of Russia's mainstream media. He has more credibility with Russia's press than many western politicians do with theirs. But the Russian government protects reporters critical of the administration, too. Russian press safely surface questions and criticisms for the Russian President the same way press in other countries do, which President Putin encourages during lengthy call-in shows held at least annually. In fact, most U.S. news services are available over the internet in Russia, including via the Associated Press, Reuters, CNN News and Fox News websites. U.S. anchors sometimes gain popularity in Russia as a result. Larry King, for instance, was famous in Russia after he left CNN, because he hosted Russia's leading news show. (King interviewed multiple U.S. presidents on CNN. But U.S. presidents surprisingly neglected the opportunity to speak openly and directly to the Russian people on his subsequent show broadcast throughout Russia.) 

CNN's Larry King

For these reasons and many more, President Putin developed so much love, credibility and support in Russia that the United States government once estimated his approval at well over 80%, greater than almost any other leader globally. Presently Russia's media reports that he receives vast majority support, and far more than his top several competitors combined.

All of this progress that made him phenomenally popular within Russia might have positioned the country for open relations with the United States and Europe. But the United States and Europe lacked the vision and political will necessary to overcome a century of security competition with Russia. They didn’t take advantage of a unique opportunity to improve relations, and enter Russia into the NATO alliance. In fact, when President Putin sought Russia’s participation in NATO early in his administration, Russia was excluded from the treaty. Had Russia been entered into that alliance as Putin wanted, Russia and the United States would have become obligated to come to each other's defense - an amazing benefit for two tremendously capable nations.  

President Putin didn't successfully enter Russia into NATO at that time. Europe and the United States said they weren’t ready. But he eagerly pursued security cooperation with all western countries anyway. He did this by forming a council for Russian cooperation with NATO, which was comprised of some of his top generals, who were instructed to hold regular meetings with their NATO counterparts. He seemed to hope regular council meetings between them might create mutual understanding between the governments, and eventually close collaboration or even partnership. However, U.S. leaders perhaps feared President Putin. And decades of attempted collaboration by Russia only kept the peace with the west. A full security alliance between the governments was always an ellusive possibility.

Russia’s effort to create stability in Ukraine is sometimes used as an excuse for acrimonious relations with Russia, as though Russia wanted the United States and Europe to depart the area. Russia provides the security for both countries along the countries border. The U.S. and European leaders suggested it wasn’t a fair expansion of Russian borders towards Europe. But the opposite is arguably true - that NATO was expanding its borders instead. And Russia wants affluent Americans and Europeans buying, investing and spending throughout the entire region. Russia argues Europe has been expanding towards their border for years. And Russians are probably delighted, because Russia benefits (and therefore loves) when foreign countries bring economic vitality to the area. That may be why President Putin and President Obama easily reached the Minsk peace accord for Ukraine, and why President Putin’s diplomatic core makes nearly semi-annual requests that the United Nations to send peacekeepers to the area. 

United Nations peacekeeping groups are usually comprised of U.S. and European security personnel. So Russia's invitations represent nearly open opportunities for Europeans and Americans to bring peace and economic prosperity to that area. Peacekeepers can even enjoy protection from the Russian government (if Russians are allowed to join the peacekeeping team). But requests by Russia at the U.N. for peacekeepers have gone unanswered by three consecutive U.S. presidential administrations. What more could Russia do than sign a peace accord for Ukraine and go to the U.N. to invite the United States and Europe teams into the area?

Without the United States and NATO countries as economic and security partners, Russia understandably turned to all other states that might provide them with opportunities instead. (Russia had no other choice, because all countries have to develop economic and security relations.) President Putin's Foreign Minister and Permanent Representative at the United Nations, Sergey Lavrov, loves peace, and competently created successful bilateral and multilateral relations with many other countries— success that’s vital for peace around the world. But Russia's exclusion by the United Sates and Europe from their NATO alliance meant Russia’s diplomatic opportunities tended to be with countries traditionally viewed as U.S. adversaries. For instance, Russia's effort to open its economy fully to the U.K. and France was resisted. But Russia easily opened up Russian diplomacy to developing countries the U.S. and Europe hadn't partnered with.

Russia formed diplomatic relationships with several countries the United States considers security competitors. They are internally stable and externally peaceful states. But some populations in countries Russia’s exclusion from NATO aligns them with are deeply unhappy with the United States. Even before President Putin took office, several countries excluded by Americans and Europeans from trading were replete with starvation. Some say the United States could have lifted sanctions to save millions of lives. The United States and NATO also experienced a mass migration of refugees after their incursion into the Middle East. Therefore, Russia found itself in an unenviable situation. President Putin wanted very much to improve relations with the United States and Europe, but was much more appreciated by countries understandably airing grievances towards the United States and Europe at the United Nations.

This provided President Putin and Russia with countless opportunities to be the voice of reason in foreign affairs. Russia has consistently and excellently de-escalated, avoided and even halted conflicts. President Putin heroically organized more peace talks than any leader in the same twenty-year timeframe (and perhaps any leader in history). Russia has initiated and hosted hundreds of peace talks over the past twenty years, including sixty for the Middle East recently. There hasn't been another government working as persistently and courageously for peace as President Putin’s.

President Putin was recently nominated to win a Nobel Peace Prize.