Finding a Friendly Face in Russia

Article excerpt

Byline: Owen Matthews and Anna Nemtsova

What has come over Vladimir Putin? Not so long ago the Russian leader was raging against the United States for trying to become "the one single master" of the world, blasting NATO for "creeping up to Russia's borders," and commissioning a rewrite of his country's history textbooks to glorify the murderous dictatorship of Joseph Stalin. But lately the prime minister is sounding downright temperate. Instead of excoriating the West, he's pushing U.S. business deals and drawing up a new partnership with the European Union on trade and visa-free travel. In April he publicly denounced the brutality of Stalin's "totalitarian regime." And initially, instead of flexing Russia's regional muscle by sending troops to quell ethnic violence in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, he pushed for a regionwide aid effort.

Putin's new, softer tone doesn't mean he has given up his longstanding ambition to restore Russia's status as a great power. On the contrary, the difference now is that for the first time in a decade, the world is finally going his way, and he can afford to relax a bit. During his eight years as president, Putin fought constantly to defend what he regarded as Russia's rightful sphere of influence along its borders. During the Bush years, relations soured over Russian suspicions that America was instigating "color revolutions" that toppled pro-Putin regimes in Georgia, Ukraine, Serbia, and Kyrgyzstan. …