By the time you see this, the news of the downing of a Malaysian passenger jet over Eastern Ukraine has already become common knowledge. Of course immediately both sides in this pointless, absurd conflict between two brands of fascists started attempting to “prove” their opponents culpable, using the typical piss-on-your-leg-and-tell-you-it’s-raining technique which I recently wrote about. Only a fool could possibly believe that this tragedy, almost certainly an accident regardless of who was responsible, wouldn’t be seized upon to score political points but the opposing gangs of thugs who hold sway in Russia and Ukraine.
One of the issues this recent incident raises is the real prospect of serious consequences for Russia and Putin in the international sphere, including the threat of more sweeping sanctions. The truth is that even if the rebels aren’t found guilty, this tragedy happened because of the war and the war continues because the rebels clearly continue to get support, both moral and material, from Russia. I don’t believe that the Kremlin is actively orchestrating the rebellion, but it’s certainly turning a blind eye to people in Russia who are supporting it. Part of me even suspects that this was the plan from the beginning- a perfect opportunity for Putin to offload some militant, potentially threatening groups onto another country and then shut the door behind them, locking them out. It’s almost like a Mariel boatlift. I’m not saying this is the theory but it’s certainly a possibility given the way the rebels have at times contradicted the Kremlin and how they started complaining about being abandoned by the Kremlin. Now, regardless of who shot down the plane Putin may find himself in a situation where he can no longer wash his hands of the rebels and instead actively support their suppression and the elimination of their support network within Russia. And that’s going to be a bit of a problem.
A couple weeks ago there were staged rallies in Moscow where people “demanded” that Putin invade Ukraine to “protect” the people of the Donbass. It should be noted that while yes, the Ukrainian military is guilty of killing civilians in Donbass, they are after all carrying out a military operation in the Donbass only because an armed movement decided to seize a large portion of territory from the central government. They aren’t shelling Kharkiv or Odessa. Getting back to those rallies, some might have looked at these protests, which featured speakers such as the fascist Alexander Dugin, representatives of Russia’s phony opposition parties, and of course plenty of merchants hawking all the latest Donetsk People’s Republic and Novorossiya merchandise, and reasonably concluded that these have been orchestrated by the Kremlin to precipitate an actual invasion. In other words, Putin could claim to be responding to popular will. I wasn’t about to rule out that possibility, but too much time has passed with too much inactivity on the Kremlin’s part, suggesting that these rallies were genuine.
Herein lies the problem for Putin. The elements to which he’s been pandering in 2013 were actually expecting him to create this strong Russian empire. Yes, these people are incredibly dumb, but it’s not beyond their mental capacity to figure out that the sanctions are the reason why Putin’s not sending tanks to Kyiv, and most of them can figure out why those sanctions are so adverse to Russia’s ruling class. These people send their kids to study abroad in the West, they buy Western products, and despite all their claims to the contrary, one way or another they invest their money in the West. Yanukovych hopped a plane to Russia, but were any of Russia’s leaders forced to leave in a similar manner they’d be on a plane to France, Italy, Cyprus, or some other European country. Those with imperial dreams are capable of recognizing this fact and feeling betrayed as a result. It’s also certainly not the last time. Putin was initially beloved by Russia’s nationalists of every variety, but then fell out of favor with them as he failed to create the kind of state and society these people wanted. This is why nationalists were a major faction in the opposition protests of 2011-2013.
Putin’s abandonment of the DNR and LNR was no doubt disappointing, but if he is forced to actively suppress the rebels’ support network he will be insulting the very same demographic he relied on in 2013. Contrary to what you read in the media, Putin doesn’t actually believe in any of that “neo-Soviet”, “revive the Russian empire” bullshit. Putin believes in preserving his own position and not having to take a Pahlavi-style trip to the airport some day. In the interest of preserving that power, he foolishly played to certain demographics which are not fully in tune with reality, and which couldn’t really offer anything of value in the long term. He saved himself in 2012 by gambling away the future. Now he may be forced into a situation where he must openly act against that constituency’s wishes. Hopefully, they will just unleash their torrents of buttrage on Vkontakte and other forums, but there’s always a danger that after having seen how much trouble a handful of armed men caused in Ukraine, some of these elements might resort to armed terrorism against the government and other targets in Russia. And a government war on terrorists who are not Muslim Caucasians but rather “Christian” Russians will be a hard sell.
Hopefully it doesn’t come too that. Hopefully Putin realizes that he went all in with a segment of Russian society that really has nothing positive to offer and that he mistakenly took the advice of some political con-men who aren’t in touch with reality. I fervently hope he will reject these delusional advisers and discard fantasy’s like “Russia’s historical mission” and replace it with “actually improving the lives of Russia’s citizens” and “making sure Russia’s state officials don’t steal so much.”
For all those who might be disappointed at the failure to restore the Russian empire I say do not worry. You actually live in a new Russian empire, much like the old one! There is a massive gap between a small, wealthy elite and the vast majority of people. Just like the Russian empire! Your leaders make decisions you disagree with and there is nothing you can do because you have no franchise in the political system. Just like the Russian empire! So go easy on the president. It’s not like you have a choice. Once again, just like the Russian empire! True, Putin’s obviously not going to recover all that lost territory, but maybe, just for you, he’ll find a way to return the country to 20% literacy with abysmal infant mortality to boot.