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Putin’s Ambivalent Illiberalism

Vladimir Putin's recent elegy for Western liberalism has garnered widespread attention for all the wrong reasons. Behind the Russian president's cynical rhetoric lie deep anxieties about what US President Donald Trump's illiberal, anti-democratic administration could mean for international security and Putin's own hold on power.

PARIS – Russian President Vladimir Putin recently told the Financial Times that “the liberal idea has become obsolete,” drawing a wave of earnest rebuttals. The provocation warrants attention, but not the type of attention it has received so far.

Admittedly, Putin’s contention was less ridiculous than US President Donald Trump’s own statement equating “liberalism” with “what is happening” in Los Angeles and San Francisco. But Putin also asserted that Russia is more democratic than the United Kingdom. Like his claim to have won the Russian presidency through free and fair elections, such quips are not meant to be taken seriously.

That includes Putin’s mischievous aside that liberalism is wholly outdated. Indeed, his contention that the liberal West is now sharing the humiliating fate of the Soviet Union appears to reflect wishful thinking, or even a revenge fantasy.

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