So apparently a new round of sanctions is set to be levied. Last I heard, the EU said there’s evidence that Russian army forces may still be on the Ukrainian side of the border. I’m guessing they’re seeing a lot of new dachas, the tell-tale sign of the modern Russian army. In any case, this of course must be met by another impotent “retort,” from the Russian government, which will inevitably hurt the Russian people more than anyone in Europe.
Do I worry about this? Yes, but not for the reason some might expect. There were economic problems in 2008-2012, but the difference was that people spoke openly about whose fault it was. People voiced their anger and dissent. The media’s attempts to redirect their anger at America didn’t work. Every Russian knew, whether they were willingly to admit it in public or not, that NATO and America had nothing to do with the money that got skimmed off of government projects. NATO wasn’t responsible for the physical or sexual abuse of Russian conscripts, nor did NATO feed them dog food. And of course, everyone knew that the elite of Russia love the West, since they spend so much time their on vacation, studying, investing money, etc., not to mention buying all the Western products they could get their hands on because they firmly believe that Western = superior.
Now it’s different, however. People are acting like they somehow forgot all that. People are ignoring the shit they see right in front of their eyes, because “The Crimea is ours!” They’re laughing at sanctions, having no idea what this is doing for their future. They’re actually believing what the TV says. I’ve seen another author point out how the popular support of Putin’s Russia is really a myth. People answer one way in opinion polls, but they don’t back these opinions with actions. That’s very true, but as long as they keep saying they support the government, people will believe this is mainstream and that they should go along with it. I have no doubts that many people who joined opposition marches in 2011-2012 were similarly jumping on a bandwagon and nothing more.
It’s one thing for the economy to go to hell and then the people turn their attention to the government who was responsible. But in this case, even as people start to feel the effects they will blame America and Europe. This in spite of the fact that Putin’s “answer” to the sanctions did what the EU/US sanctions specifically tried to avoid- they actually hurt ordinary Russian citizens. Unfortunately there is this idea in Russia that ordinary people should sacrifice for some kind of common good, but in this case there is no common good. The sacrifice of ordinary Russian citizens will be to the elite which treats them with contempt and steals their wealth and future. When it comes to sacrifice, the common Russian worker will have to give up his Western gadgets and imported food, but rest assured that the elite of the Rublevka neighborhoods won’t be sacrificing anything.
Look, I know I’m going to break the hearts of a lot of Putinophiles here, but Russia as we know it is going down. The illusion won’t last forever. The leaders of the Kremlin aren’t too concerned about ordinary people because they believe them to be stupid cattle which can either be controlled by propaganda or at least suppressed by force. They believe that the only problem with Nicholas II or Gorbachev is that they weren’t hard enough. They should have cracked down on the people harder, and perhaps fired more live rounds into the thronging masses. Because you know, no dictator ever thought of that before, and of course if any did it must have worked out, right?
One might think that sounds hopeful, but the problem I see is that while the Kremlin can’t indefinitely maintain the illusion, it has managed to prolong it considerably. Whereas anger and resentment built from the mid-2000’s and exploded with the elections in 2011, at the moment it almost feels like Putin pressed the reset button. That means that the country will have to sink much, much lower before people start waking up again.Then the movement which develops to replace the system might not be so pleasant. In fact it would probably resemble Maidan, with a considerable right-wing and neo-liberal component. Ukraine provides another example when you look at the difference between the Orange Revolution, which was largely liberal in character with a far less overt nationalist side, and Euromaidan, in which nationalists took on a vanguard role. So then if 2011-2012 in Moscow was comparable to the Orange Revolution in terms of its composition, what will an opposition movement in 2016, 2018, or 2020 look like? I’d rather not see for myself.