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For Putin Ally, U.S. Sanctions Only Add to Anti-Russia Conspiracy Theory

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Article from The Wall Street Journal

Railways Chief Yakunin Sees U.S. Seeking to Subvert Russia; No Impact on Ukraine Policy


MOSCOW— Vladimir Yakunin, a longtime friend of President Vladimir Putin, is still indignant that he was slapped with U.S. sanctions in March. But asked whether they have changed the minds of Kremlin insiders like himself regarding Russian policy in Ukraine, his answer is a resounding no.

“That’s wishful thinking,” he scoffed in a recent interview.

Mr. Yakunin, president of state-owned Russian Railways, the country’s largest employer, says the Ukraine crisis has vindicated his long-held stance that the U.S. and Russia are ineluctable rivals, and that U.S. efforts to sabotage Russia have continued since the end of the Cold War, using weapons as varied as Hollywood movies and monetarist economics.

Critics who dismissed a study he co-wrote a year ago as “a work of conspiracy theory” now recognize “it’s a very realistic assessment of the situation,” he says.

The hardening attitudes suggest repairing the worst breach in East-West relations since the Cold War could be difficult, if not impossible, as long as Russia’s current leadership remains in power.

“Within the elite, this ideological matrix has really taken over,” says Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist who has studied the Russian ruling class since the 1990s. “They believe there is no way to mobilize the nation around the leader without an enemy.”

The Kremlin portrays Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko as an American stooge, installed after a U.S.-fomented revolution overthrew his pro-Russia predecessor and bent on bringing his country into the U.S. orbit—presenting an existential threat to Russia’s security.

Such views, conveyed nightly by anti-Western reports on state television, have spread broadly in Russian society. Fully 74% of Russians in a poll this summer said they viewed the U.S. unfavorably, up from 44% in January and the highest since the poll was first conducted in 1990.

While most of the hard-liners in Mr. Putin’s inner circle are tight-lipped about their views of the world, Mr. Yakunin is a prolific author and speaker and part-time professor at Moscow State University.

Not only is the U.S. determined to prevent Russia’s emergence as a global power, he says, but at the same time it aims to sabotage Europe’s economy by forcing the European Union to follow suit in imposing sanctions on Russia, one of its major trade partner.

“The Anglo-Saxons have always been very practical people,” says Mr. Yakunin, who served as a Soviet diplomat in New York in the 1980s. “They respect strength.”

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