The Kremlin harbors few illusions about Russia's own values deficit as Putin focused on it in his address to parliament several weeks ago, but it has no appetite to follow what it considers a failed example. Rather, Putin approvingly cites the handling by the attorney general of Texas of a request from the OSCE to place its monitors at polling stations during the U.S. presidential election in November. The response: come to these stations and get any closer than 300 yards, and you will be arrested.
Putin, always a Russian nationalist, recently mounted a major campaign to stop or severely limit any political influence or interference in Russia from abroad. Moscow is now busy dismantling agreements with Western countries signed in the 1990s that Putin no longer sees as equitable, from USAID assistance programs to the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program to children's adoption.
This is more than a response to the Magnitsky Act just passed by the U.S. Congress, or a way to deter the Europeans from adopting anything similar. In fact, Putin himself has amplified the U.S. legislation by ordering government officials to transfer their private funds from abroad and park the money in Russia. This kills two birds with one stone-it reduces outsiders' ability to pressure Moscow, and it places Russian officials under even tighter control from the Kremlin.
Russia famously "left the West" politically in the mid-2000s by veering off the U.S. orbit and reaffirming its strategic independence. Now, Moscow is "leaving the West" mentally by finally stopping to pretend that it shares the same values as EU countries and aspires to join them in some creative way.
By clearly dissociating Russia from the West-and the response to the Syrian crisis serves as a perfect example-Putin may be aiming to position Moscow to hold inescapable influence as the world scene reshuffles in the coming century. Russia is too weak to be a major power center on its own, but with strategic independence it may try to tip the scales of the global (or at least Eurasian) balance of power as it wants. If so, this is a serious change and the policy implications need to be carefully assessed.