Down the rabbit hole

So recent events in Ukraine had given me some hope that perhaps Putin would be snap back to reality and realize that he needs to stop the support for an insurgency that has no worthy cause and is getting people killed in the name of defending those same people from a threat which obviously didn’t exist. I mean he could do that. Or I should say could have done that. There was always the other option, that is to say descending deeper and deeper into Fantasy Land.  Guess which option he took.

"So then I told Obama that I am Tsar of all Russians and the new Russian Empire will not suffer the insults of upstart nations! Have some tea. HAVE SOME!"

“So then I told Obama that I am Tsar of all Russians and the new Russian Empire will not suffer the insults of upstart nations! Have some tea. HAVE SOME!”

Yeah, that’s the general direction. More superpower posturing and jingoistic bullshit instead of rational thinking and attempts at reconciliation and solving the conflict. Here are the highlights.

Putin also called on Western powers not to meddle in Russia’s domestic affairs and said steps were needed to strengthen the country’s military capabilities because of moves by NATO and to protect the economy from “external threats”.

Ah yes, don’t meddle in Russia’s domestic affairs. He actually said this while it’s obvious to the entire world that Russia is meddling in the domestic affairs of Ukraine, and arguably several other countries. Strengthening military capabilities is a waste of time and money because NATO includes the strongest military powers on Earth, and Russia cannot afford to even approach parity with the US without totally ripping its social system apart in the process. Even then you can’t buy better soldiers; once you impoverish millions of Russian citizens the poor young men you conscript for their one year of service are going to be worse off than those they conscript today. The mental plague that seems to have taken over the Kremlin and which still apparently has the ear of the once rational Putin is itching for this fight and yet they should count their lucky stars every day that it never happens.

As for protecting the economy from external threats well, the economy is the best weapon any country has these days. Russia obviously made some progress, which is why EU countries have dithered on sanctions until recently. But the fact is that sanctions are still a viable option because Russia hasn’t become enough of an economic player to be indispensable. Gas and oil just aren’t enough to protect Russia, and competition in the natural gas market is rising. It would have been nice had the leadership, from 2012, embarked upon a thorough campaign of development and encouragement for new start-ups and industries instead of passing laws in the name of “family values” and posturing against the US.

See the reason the US has so much influence in the world is that it is still a top tier economic power. Even if that has declined somewhat in recent years, the perception that the US is the horse to bet on is very strong.  Ditto for the EU. I’ve always resented the EU but I can totally agree with the perception that if Ukraine, via an association agreement, managed to achieve standards of living on par with what I saw in Poland, it would be better off than it has been for the past twenty years. That’s better than what Russia was offering.  Russia’s response to Maidan was first “Fuck you for not appreciating all we have done for you,” followed by, “Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!”

In closing on this point, for the past few years many in the Russian government and media have been basically attacking and demonizing nations all over the world and then they are shocked to find that the populace of these countries aren’t to quick to sympathize with Russia, even when they are in the right. America went through eight years of similar paranoia under George W. Bush, but the difference is almost immediately there was a huge backlash against the “America, fuck yeah!” attitude, to the point where it’s basically a joke for I would dare say most of the population.

Getting back to the article…

“We are being called on to use our influence with the separatists in southeastern Ukraine. We of course will do everything in our power but that is not nearly enough,” Putin said at the start of a meeting with defense and security chiefs.

This could be chalked up to poor translation but it raises a few questions.  First, were they not called upon to do this weeks ago? Second, they say the “will” do everything within their power, but then they claim that is not nearly enough? “Will” implies future, as in you haven’t actually done anything yet. So yeah, if all you did is say you will do something and you haven’t thus far, then you’re not doing nearly enough. You’re not doing anything at all. Obviously the whole world could tell if they are doing something once you start hearing reports of Russian border guards arresting people crossing the border illegally or with arms. Self-proclaimed DNR leader Borodai is a Russian businessman with property in Moscow which could easily be seized by the Russian government, in theory. When that happens people will come around to believing Russia’s claim to be doing something about this.

But the next quote is the one that makes me fear for the president’s sanity.

 “Russia is being presented with what is almost an ultimatum: ‘Let us destroy this part of the population that is ethnically and historically close to Russia and we will not impose sanctions against you,” Putin said. “This is a strange and unacceptable logic.”

Nobody is “destroying part of the population.” The people who are not just historically but presently close to Russia, in the sense that they are Russian citizens from Russia, are currently holding the local population hostage under the pretext of protecting them from a threat that wasn’t there initially, but is now thanks to their actions. Even then, there have been no credible reports of any atrocities or mass murder in areas which have been re-taken by the government forces. I still think that the Ukrainian government needs to be pressured to disarm and possibly arrest members of para-military units like the “Azov battalion,” which are extremely dangerous and which violate international laws regarding mercenaries, but thus far Russian claims of “punitive” units are clearly bullshit.  Nobody is trying to destroy these people, and nobody is discriminating against them. The original, local Donbass rebels were demanding federalization and more local control, something that the Ukrainian government may have offered during the cease-fire, but of course by then it was too late because Borodai and Co. were already in the midst of another independence, then annexation two-step.

And what about strange and unacceptable logic? Well remember how in that quote he implies that Russia is preventing the Ukrainian government from destroying these people with close historical ties to Russia?  Well…

He did not, however, directly address the question of whether Russia has been arming the rebels – he has denied such accusations before.

Indeed, he has denied arming the rebels. In other words, the people of Donbass are supposedly being systematically wiped out, and Russia is definitely not doing anything about that. Brilliant!

These are not the kinds of things you want to hear from the guy in charge your country. I realize that some self-righteous types might see me as apologetic toward Putin at times but I have a very good reason for this. I live in this country and I need it to be successful or at least not devolve into an early 90’s, gigantic Bosnia-on-crack nightmare for the next three to four years while I plan my family’s escape. I depend on Putin being rational and level-headed, above the various clowns and nutbags in the Russian government. If not Putin, than the adorable Medvedev. These are the only people in Russian politics who, until very recently, were in touch with reality. An authoritarian leader in an effectively one-party state can actually make positive changes and eventually that state can thereafter evolve into a modern liberal democracy, assuming they are rational and forward-thinking. On the other hand, more often than not the dictator gets paranoid and obsesses over “fifth columns” and internal enemies. Everything that could be used to actually combat opposition by improving living standards and opportunities is sacrificed for the sake of remaining in power, and in the end it just doesn’t work. We’ve seen this plenty of times. The Shah of Iran, Mobutu, Yanukovych.

Leaders that live in the real world have a different manner of speaking. They talk about concrete improvements and accomplishments which can be verified statistically or by simple observation. Irrational and unsuccessful leaders talk about regaining historical glory, being surrounded by enemies, and the need to be powerful again. Does the Norwegian government talk about making another bid for the crown of England, avenging the death of Harald Hardrada in his failed attempt? Do the Dutch talk about the need to rebuild their lost mercantile empire? Do British leaders talk about solving their austerity problems by reconquering lost imperial possessions and threatening Scotland with utter destruction should it choose to leave the United Kingdom? Does any American politician say that all our woes could be solved if we just recovered the Philippines? Even George W. Bush had to characterize the invasion of Iraq as a defensive action against a mortal and imminent threat, and everyone remembers how the administration and its supporters swore up and down it had nothing to do with oil.  The idea of an American politician talking publicly about seizing a country to get more oil, as though global politics is basically a game of Starcraft, is something for the realm of satire.

Vladimir Vladimirovich, please come back to us in the real world. Things look bad now and you probably harbor a lot of justified resentment from the way Western leaders treated you in the past. But someone’s got to run this country in the real world, not the fantasy Russian empire that exists only in the minds of some of your intelligentsia. You are ill-advised, my friend. These sycophants are not helping you, and their fairy tales will wreck this country. Step back from the edge, please.



2 thoughts on “Down the rabbit hole

  1. Estragon

    In the longer term, I wonder if we might be seeing a final break between Russia and Ukraine, in the sense of a poisoning of relations that makes it impossible for these once “brotherly” countries to work together ever again. The closest analogy I can think of is the Polish-Lithuanian spat over Vilnius, which destroyed relations between them for decades.

    However, one of the things that drives Putin is public opinion. Russians are seeing people like themselves (or “just the same as us”) under attack, and they are angry about it. Putin is being savaged for not doing more to save them. It’s a classic “damned if you do/don’t” situation.

  2. Pat

    See and I don’t buy the whole Putin as irrational actor argument. He’s never really been irrational up to this point so what that tells you is how bad he thinks it is in Russia/ how fragile the situation really is. This IS rational based on the situation in Russia today as he sees it (one could argue if he’s trying to prevent the crash of Russia or the crash of Putin inc. which is probably a more relevant question then his sanity) Just look at the breathtaking restrictions the Duma has been putting into place at breakneck speed. (How ironic that even discussing online the possibility of a referendum a la Crimea, but in Russia is a crime punishable with up to 5 years in prison) He’s not just rearming against external enemies, but internal ones as well. The problem is that he has nothing else to offer his people or anyone else except poorly executed brute force. He’s playing for time by invading his neighbors and distracting his countrymen before the coming crash hits. He sees a crash, but being Soviet and KGB to boot, has no faith in democratic institutions to stop it. The method he knows to delay a crash is repression and brute force (see Soviet Union, history of). That it won’t work doesn’t mean he won’t try.

    Re: the final split between Russia and Ukraine. Based on my conversations with Ukrainian friends (all of whom are ethnic Russians and live in Eastern Ukraine) Putin has united the entire Ukrainian population against Russia. They will not forget this. Even the ethnic Russians hate him. Now that’s not to say they love/trust the government in Kiev (“They are all thieves” seems to be a common refrain) but they hate Russia/Putin. They don’t buy the bullshit peddled by the Russian media and can tell by the accents where these people are coming from. To me this is one more major hit from Putin’s self imposed sanctions (ie the consequences of his actions in Crimea and the Donbass, not the tragic weak sanctions imposed by the West). Ukraine actively hates him and all of his neighboring countries, including Belarus, a country which they have paid handsomely for its friendship, have far deeper mistrust of Russia and Putin’s motives than ever before. That will only make his grand schemes harder to accomplish. Hitherto merely suspected of being an enemy of his neighbors, he has now actively shown that he is one.

    @Estragon agreed that he has not left himself an out in the eyes of the Russian population. How do you walk back some of the crazy that has been in the Russia media? Because of everything they have said, the only logical path is full-blown war with Ukraine. After all, there are fascists running the government in Kiev and Russians “under attack” (by Putin’s mercenaries) in Eastern Ukraine. He’s whipped the country into a frenzy and the only way out is down…


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