The Smartest Man in the Room

One striking thing about the current Russian crisis is the utter lack of ideas among the top leadership as to how to save the country’s economy. In his press conference last week, Putin said recovery would take two years. How the government would achieve this or even what “recovery” would look like went unmentioned. Putin simply said that the global economy(You know that hegemonic monster Russia’s supposedly opposing?) was growing, and therefore Russia’s growth was “inevitable.”

It would seem the basic plan for Russia’s growth revolves around having the president visit country after country while the media declares each one to be a new partner that will save Russia. First there was China, then Turkey, then India. Strangely though, the media love affair with each country tends to taper off shortly after each visit and each deal is announced. They stopped crowing about China probably because the latter is paying for Russia’s energy in filthy US dollars, plus the fact that China’s credit agreements with Russia are remarkably similar to the deals they have made with Central Asian and even African nations. In other words, the deals are set to benefit China most of all. The fervor over Turkey died down, possibly when people suddenly remembered that Turkey is a member of NATO and its government is decidedly anti-Assad in the Syrian conflict. As for India, well, India has no interest in picking fights with the West, which has a lot more to invest in the country.

Never do we see concrete measures, only babbling about bears in the forest, how Russia will supposedly endure, and how some other country will somehow come along and save Russia.It’s clear there is no plan.

Back when I started this blog in 2013, my impression of Putin was that he was a cold-hearted realist. He had many failings, but unlike the other clowns who work in the circus that includes Russia’s government and media apparatus, Putin was supposed to be rational. I should have known something was wrong from the way he responded to the opposition in 2012. Initially it did seem as though Putin, ever the realist, would start to liberalize the country. Feeling secure in his power, he would try to offset the offense of taking a third term by giving the people more opportunities to vent their anger about it. Was I ever wrong!

Looking back I think the reason I was so wrong had to do with the fact that Putin had more information than I. To me, the years of 2010-2012 were quite good. Many others would agree. Putin on the other hand, knew better. He had access to information as to where the economy was heading. He must have known about the debt problems of regions, and the capital flight. Perhaps that’s why he seized power again in the first place- he couldn’t trust Medvedev to rule in the wake of opposition and an economic crisis he knew was coming sooner or later. Whatever the case, he knew and I didn’t.

In spite of his greater access to information, I was wrong about Putin being rational. No doubt after so many years of listening to utter morons advise him on Russian society and external politics, he began to believe their propaganda. It was no longer a matter of these pseudo-intellectuals propagandizing the masses while Putin remained in the real world. He too must have tumbled down the rabbit hole and into Wonderland. If some of his statements on the Crimea’s alleged “holy” status to Russians didn’t prove it some time ago, his behavior at the recent press conference certainly suggest he has, as Angela Merkel stated, lost touch with reality.

I really hate making Hitler references, but when imagining the future of this nation I cannot help but be reminded of the words of Hitler’s personal secretary, Traudl Junge. In what became immortalized in the German film Das Untergang(The Downfall), Junge was asked to type out the German dictator’s political will and testament just before he went to commit suicide along with his lover Eva Braun. Speaking about this moment in an interview for the classic WWII documentary series The World at War, Junge said she was incredibly excited because she felt that he was the one man who knew how everything would end, and finally she would find out what all this bloodshed and destruction had been for. As he began to dictate, however, she suddenly felt disappointed to hear the same sort of propaganda he’d always used in his speeches. There was no answer, no explanation.

Vladimir Putin, of course, is no Hitler. Let us make no mistake in that respect. The key comparison here has to do with the way one man consolidates power into his hands, and then increasingly isolates himself from the people and eventually reality. Like with Hitler, Putin’s underlings vie for position, eager to bring him good news or to potentially impress him by harassing or punishing “fifth columnists.” If the research to date is correct, Putin does not use the internet and instead gets his information from various advisers who visit him. Maybe Putin suspects their loyalty to him, but then again maybe he doesn’t. When at his press conference a Chechen reporter asked him about the creation of a union of Slavic countries to counter a non-existent union of “English-speaking countries,” perhaps the president was just being diplomatic in not dismissing the idea as absurd. Or is it possible that Putin actually believes that a Russian-led bloc of Slavic countries is actually feasible in a world where the majority of Slavic countries are already in NATO, the EU, both, or are in the process of joining NATO and the EU? We simply do not know. Only Putin knows.

Junge had incorrectly believed that Hitler actually had some kind of plan, that he knew how everything was going to end in 1945. A lot of people, coming from different points of view, would like to believe that Putin has some kind of plan for Russia, especially considering that oil prices are unlikely to ever recover to triple digits in the next few years, and the country’s natural gas monopoly is soon ending. I would like to think he has a plan, not because I have any affinity for Putin, but simply because he is the one with the power, power he willfully appropriated for himself. Sadly, however, all evidence suggests that Vladimir has no plans beyond self-preservation. Junge was disappointed to hear that the big secret that was supposed to explain the Second World War was nothing but a par-for-the-course rant about “world Jewry,” the same thing Hitler had always ranted about. In the case of Putin, the answer for all Russia’s woes will most likely be the same as it always was. It’s the Americans, it’s the West, Russia’s sovereignty, her “special path,” and of course all of this peppered with various anecdotes from Russian history. The man who ought to know everything, insofar as he designed the system thus, know’s nothing.

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