Tag Archives: Putin

Academic Proposes Creating Artificial Crimean Peninsula for Russia to Annex Safely

STAUNTON- Alexander Borodin of the Russian Academy of Sciences has a modest proposal to solve the conflict between the West and Russia over the latter’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. The plan is simple- build Russia a mock Crimean peninsula that it can safely annex and occupy without infringing on the territorial integrity of any of its neighbors.

“We’ve already seen China push its claims in the South China Sea with the building of artificial islands,” Borodin said.

Subi_Reef_May_2015

Artificial island built by the People’s Republic of China. Borodin suggests Russia could built an artificial island as a stand-in for the Crimean peninsula.

“It’s not too much of a stretch for Russia to build its own artificial Crimean peninsula somewhere else in the Black Sea, or perhaps even in the Pacific Ocean.”

According to Borodin, this would solve several problems, the most obvious being the conflict with Ukraine and the West over Russia’s continued occupation of the disputed territory. He pointed out that by building its own Crimean peninsula however it wants, Russia could return the real Crimean peninsula back to Ukraine. This, along with a full pull out in Ukraine’s Donbas region would fulfill the conditions for the full removal of sanctions against Russia.

“As the situation stands now, Putin can’t let Crimea go,” Borodin explained.

“The annexation is what put his popularity through the roof. It’s a major pillar of his continuing support. But the initial euphoria has been wearing off in recent years due to economic hardship. What can Putin do? Re-annex Crimea? He certainly can if Russia builds its own artificial Crimea.”

Borodin said that a Russian-built Crimea could be settled with Russian citizens which the government would have to “save” periodically, perhaps even once a year. This way, the Russian military could repeatedly occupy the “peninsula” and carry out a “referendum,” each time giving the Russian President a massive boost in popularity.

“Obviously being able to annex the territory of another country repeatedly, in a safe environment, without any consequences, would be a great boon to the Russian people,” Borodin said.

“There are those in power who say that Russia is a natural empire and that empire is the only thing that can unite the Russian people. This would allow Russia to preserve this tradition without offending its neighbors.”

But while his plan allows Russia to safely annex territory without any of the usual side-effects of imperialism and colonialism, Borodin warned of potential drawbacks, especially what he calls “diminished returns.”

Borodin compares the effect to what heroin addicts call “chasing the dragon,” a slang term used to describe how addicts often keep using the drug in a vain attempt to recapture the feeling of their first high. To avoid this problem, Borodin said the frequency of annexations should be kept very low at first. He also suggested a program similar to methadone treatment, whereby between annexations the Russian military stages a fake buildup of military forces along a mock border constructed somewhere well within the territory of the Russian Federation.

While he admits potential drawbacks to the plan, Borodin states he’s confident that the benefits would easily outweigh them. For example, planning the construction of the new Crimean peninsula means it could be located in an area more suitable for building a bridge connecting it to the mainland. Or planners could simply make it an actual peninsula already connected to Russia, unlike the original Crimea, which is connected to Ukraine.

“This plan would represent a major step forward in improving relations between Russia, Ukraine, and the West,” Borodin said.

“But most of all, Russians will truly be able to say the Crimea is theirs. In fact, they could say it every few years if they wish!”

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This Is Completely Normal!

Anyone else out there following Russia’s upcoming nail-biter of a presidential election? If not, don’t worry- it seems a lot of Russians are apathetic too, and that’s a problem as Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidky points out in a recent article. Of course that’s not necessarily the part of the article I wanted to focus on, but rather this paragraph here:

Putin doesn’t appear to feel any need to campaign. His election website, as perfunctory as if he were running for a municipal council seat, has just gone live, and it doesn’t even contain a program or any promises — just some questionable statements on how life in Russia has improved under Putin (“The illegal cutting of trees has practically stopped”; “Russian universities have entered the BRICS Top-50”). The site also reports that it only took a week for the Putin campaign to collect 30 percent more than the 300,000 citizens’ signatures necessary to put him on the ballot — an impossible achievement for any other candidate but not for the president: Reports come in from different parts of the country of students being pressed into collecting the signatures and workers told to sign for him at work (the campaign has even rejected the signatures harvested at two factories in Kurgan in the Urals).

The Western Putin fan club just loves claiming that Western Russia journalists don’t really understand Russian politics simply because they often focus on the activities of non-systemic opposition figures like Alexei Navalny (who is not in the running this time anyway). They continually point to the polls of Russia’s loyal opposition such as the KPRF and LDPR, along with the poor polling of the non-systemic opposition, and gleefully lecture us about the latter’s minimal popularity as though we, and those Western journalists, aren’t fully aware of these facts. They’d have us believe that Western focus on people like Navalny would be like America’s media focusing on Jill Stein or Gary Johnson in 2016’s presidential election. In reality, however, journalists follow Russia’s opposition not because it is big or has any realistic shot at winning, but rather because it is the only faction actually opposed to the Kremlin and Putin.

Reading that paragraph above, it is clear that Russia is not a normal electoral democracy. Apart from the fact that the President changed the constitution so he could come back for another pair of six-year terms, he’s running in an election with virtually no campaigning, no promises, no platform. To the extent that he’s campaigning, he’s harping on “accomplishments” from the mid-2000s, during the oil price boom. Does that sound at all normal for a system that is supposedly no less democratic than what exists in the West and other developed countries? If 2016 did anything positive, it was shutting up the cynics who called American elections predictable (ditto Brexit, Corbyn, etc).

Of course I know many Putin fanboys who, if pressed, will more or less admit that Russia’s elections are not fair and the system is biased towards Putin. Usually they deflect by asking “Who else is there?” But you see- that’s the problem. If Putin were ever a good leader, even during the years when things were on the up and up, he would have at least had the prescience to understand that he’s not immortal and he should probably construct Russia’s state institutions so as to ensure stable, democratic succession long after his death, incapacitation, or retirement. In general, he would use his authority to build a system based on rule of law and some kind of values as opposed to a cult of personality surrounding himself. He barely toyed with the concept back in 2008 when he let Medvedev take the reins, but he was so paranoid and concerned with image that he decided to come back to the presidency early.

The ultimate result of this is that wherever you fall on the spectrum of Putin/anti-Putin, there’s really no getting around the fact that sooner or later Russia is fucked, and there’s really nobody to blame for that but Putin. Therefore I can’t really understand why he still has Western admirers today. I do get the ones who just hate their own governments, have no experience with Russia, and just absorb a steady diet of bullshit from RT, Sputnik, and pro-Kremlin sites. But I don’t get the people who work for outlets like that and continue to defend the man and his system. Even if we foolishly attributed all the positive things in the mid-2000s to Putin, all of that has either been negated or on the chopping block to be negated within the coming years. All I can think of is that the Western apologists do it for the money. Those who don’t are complete idiots. There just is no other explanation.

Precious Bodily Fluids: Putin’s Descent Into Madness?

UPDATE: I must apologize for the lack of activity here in the past few weeks. One of those weeks I was away from the computer, and recently I’ve been busy with my new work. What that means, thankfully, is that very soon there will be no more impediment to the podcast. The third episode will be released, and I’ve talked to some people who will make great editions to our podcasting team. Of course more donors on Patreon or the GoFundMe would certainly help speed things up, but things are generally getting better. All I have to do is avoid getting caught in one of our nation’s near-daily mass shootings. 

With that update out of the way, today’s post is about how Vladimir Putin might possibly be losing his mind. You might think this isn’t such a big deal, what with the President of the United States clearly suffering from either dementia or late-stage syphilis, but whereas Trump has minders to keep him somewhat in line with snacks and jingling keys, Putin’s authority is near absolute. In the US, government officials scramble to clean up Trump’s messes and prevent next week’s scandal (often unsuccessfully), whereas in Russia, officials are sycophants all competing to be Putin’s best bootlicker. That’s why it’s a bit of a problem if Putin, now aged 65 with nearly 18 years in power, loses his mind. And lately it looks like that might be the case.

On 30 October, Putin claimed that foreigners were collecting “biomaterial” from Russian citizens. As Meduza reported, Putin asked members of the Presidential Human Rights Council (yes, he has one of those) the following:

“Why are they(foreigners -J.K.) going to different ethnic groups and to people living in different geographical locations across the Russian Federation? That’s the question. Why are they doing this? And they’re doing it purposefully and professionally. We’ve become the subject of such strong interest.”

For their part, the Pentagon apparently does have something to do with collection of biomaterials for some kind of study, but it is not focused solely on Russia and is not nearly as sinister as Putin suggests. Of course this being Russia, it hasn’t stopped the bootlickers in Russia’s government from rapidly developing new legislation to protect Russia’s precious biomaterial from evil foreigners. Also in case you think the president’s words were taken out of context, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed Putin had received the information on biomaterial collection from his intelligence services, and he also claimed that the people involved in this collection were NGOs and other “organs.”

Now all Dr. Strangelove jokes aside, this isn’t exactly an isolated incident with Putin. It is interesting to note that in Mikhail Zygar’s excellent book All The Kremlin’s Men, it notes how right around the time Putin switched to the position of Prime Minister, he seemed to have “become an expert on everything.” He began commenting on and giving advice on all kinds of matters far outside his field.

At his December 2014 annual press conference, Putin dropped this bomb of wisdom on the crowd:

“Sometimes I think, maybe it would be better for our bear to sit quiet, rather than chasing around the forest after piglets. To sit eating berries and honey instead. Maybe they will leave it in peace. They will not. Because they will always try to put him on a chain, and as soon as they succeed in doing so they tear out his fangs and his claws. Once they’ve taken out his claws and his fangs, then the bear is no longer necessary. He’ll become a stuffed animal. The issue is not Crimea, the issue is that we are protecting our sovereignty and our right to exist.”

In the same press conference, Putin referenced an urban legend about how former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright supposedly thought that it was unfair for Russia to own Siberia’s vast mineral wealth. I say thought, because the origin of the legend was a Russian general claiming his operatives read Albright’s mind.

And of course these incidents can all be added to Putin’s rather bizarre behavior ahead of his almost inevitable fourth term in office as president, which seems about six years too early.

Realistically speaking, I don’t think Putin is suffering from dementia or any other specific mental disorder. To me his behavior seems to be the result of so many years of almost uncontested power and being surrounded by sycophants. It’s only natural that after you’ve spent nearly twenty years having everyone, including a massive state media machine, telling you how great you are, you’re going to start believing your own hype. At the same time, knowing that you’re surrounded by sycophants who are almost certainly all lying to you is also going to take its psychological toll. Apart from all that, it seems like Putin is just out of ideas. He’s reinvented himself so many times and now he doesn’t know who to be next. And he’ll have six years to think about it.

It’s unlikely that Putin will take to Twitter and start ranting and raving like his US counterpart, but as he grows more isolated and disconnected from reality, there is cause for concern. Unlike the US, which was designed to go from president to president without a revolution, Putin’s political technologists deliberately manufactured a system based around him personally. In the process they sowed the seeds of paranoia and cynicism among the populace while destroying independent civil society. That means, in so many words, Après Putin, le déluge.

But if life after Putin seems scary, you might be getting ahead of yourself. If Putin retains power while his mental state begins to degenerate, the transition itself is going to get pretty ugly.

 

 

Managed Democracy

In case you’re not a patron and haven’t read my piece on Zombie Putin, rest assured that other Russia watchers are starting to notice we’re in a period which could be called “late Putinism.” Just today I’ve seen Brian Whitmore expound on the very same topic, albeit without all the Simpsons references. I suspect most of this speculation (much of it starting in the Russian press) is all due to the fact that Putin still hasn’t declared his candidacy for the upcoming election in March next year. If he’d just thrown his hat in the ring like everyone expected him to do, this whole issue could have been put off for another six-year term. Yet for some reason, Putin holds back.

Then Vedomosti reported that the Kremlin is seeking a woman to run against Putin. This was later refuted by Kremlin Press Secretary Peskov:

I certainly hope I’m not the only one that sees something amusing in the idea that the Kremlin wants to run a woman against Putin, as well as the fact that they denied it. This, folks, is just more proof that Russia’s “sovereign democracy” is just a reality TV show. The growing feeling that the Kremlin’s political technologists are running out of ideas has led some to speculate as to what novel gimmick they’ll come up with next. Medvedev the liberal back in 2008 bombed. Putin the Russian avenger from 2014 has gone stale. Perhaps Peskov is telling the truth this time, but it’s not hard to believe that someone in the Kremlin suggested running a female to take a dive against Putin in March.

Even in the very managed two-party system of the United States, there’s still evidence of competition. Hillary was seen as a shoe-in for the Democratic nomination in 2016, only to be blindsided by a Sanders campaign that punched far above its weight. Meanwhile Trump went up against more than a dozen opponents, many of them well-financed and connected, and who ticked all the boxes on the conservative Republican checklist. The result? Trump slayed them one after another. In the end, in spite of nearly all the polls. The sexual abuser with the mind of a child beat the Democratic establishment’s “most qualified” candidate. Surkov and all the political technologists in Moscow could never hope to write a better show than the 2016 presidential election.

Woman or no, Putin has at least found a way to generate uncertainty about an election in a country where elections have rarely been free nor fair- silence. What is more- he may actually succeed in generating an interest in politics in a long burnt out population. It may not be as flashy as last year’s American elections, but if Putin doesn’t declare his candidacy by the end of this year things might get interesting indeed.

Double Feature

Potential Russia Grifter Foiled

How tragic it is when a young, budding Russia grifter attempts to leave the nest an falls like a stone. Jared Yates Sexton, a creative writing assistant professor with some work published in a handful of major publications, recently attempted his takeoff on the premier venue for instant-Russia experts, Twitter. Some of you may remember this tweet:

Oh the poor muckraker- all that work and then The Donald’s dumbass spawn scoops him by just tweeting out his emails. The life of an investigative journalist, am I right, folks?

Oh wait…No.

Turns out he’s just a fraud with a book to sell. Well that still managed to get him a mention on the Stephen Colbert show, which I’m sure is truly praise from Caesar for American liberals these days.

Well I guess Jared deserves at least a B+ for effort. Keep trying and don’t forget to spice up your Trump/Russia commentary with words like maskirovka and kompromat.

Russia Without Bullshido

As long-time readers might have guessed, I’m pretty much tired of Putin articles. Hell, I was tired of Putin articles in 2013 when I started this blog. But today I saw an article about the little man which piqued my interest as it concerns one of my hobbies. Apparently there’s a guy claiming that Putin may be a martial arts fraud. Sadly, the article fails to deliver on several counts.

Questioning Putin’s black belt credentials certainly has merit. Putin’s black belt is in judo, which is not only the origin of the belt-ranking system in modern martial arts but is also governed by highly centralized bodies. It did not take too long for me to find this article from 2012 about Putin receiving 8th dan level from the International Judo Federation. Reading the article, one gets the idea that this move was kind of political, but it’s an 8th dan, in other words- 8th degree black belt. This means he would have earned his actual black belt many years ago. I’ve also read that he has won competitions in the past, so there would be official records. The bottom line is that this is a very verifiable claim.

Rather than researching records and using the time-tested journalism technique of googling “judo,” the article relies on the blogger Benjamin Wittes, a martial arts practitioner himself who has apparently actually challenged Vladimir Putin to a fight. One would think Wittes would know what I already mentioned about judo and its regulating bodies, but rather than investigate that he seems to rely primarily on video evidence, or lack thereof.

According to Wittes, in every video of Putin doing judo, his opponents go down too easily. This is a bit ironic because one of Wittes’ martial arts is aikido, a very deadly art so long as your opponent is kind enough to give you their wrist and allow you to throw them. Perhaps Wittes has watched more Putin judo videos than I have, but in all the ones I’ve seen it appears that Putin is demonstrating some kind of technique. In other words, it is not randori, or free practice, where the opponent is actually resisting 100% and trying to win. When someone is just demonstrating or practice a technique, the opponent (uke is the Japanese term for the person being demonstrated on) should not resist at all. Sometimes, a person practicing or demonstrating may have the opponent give a certain amount of resistance to show the technique in a more realistic way, but they will still be compliant.

Is it possible that Russian media has produced videos of Putin supposedly doing real randori, and winning effortlessly? I can believe it. He certainly does this in his staged hockey matches. This does not mean he’s a complete martial arts fraud, however. Some of the techniques I’ve seen him demonstrate are rather advanced, requiring a good sense of timing and a feel for when the opponent is off balance. Such techniques would be hard to pull off even against a compliant opponent.

So is Wittes totally off the mark when he calls Putin a martial arts fraud? Maybe not entirely. He does point out that Putin has a lot of honorary diplomas in various martial arts. That 8th degree black belt I mentioned earlier was essentially honorary, but reading Wittes it seems that Putin has been given honorary rankings in martial arts he might not have actually practiced; they were given for his promotion of the sport instead. If Wittes didn’t come up with the smoking gun that proves Putin is a judo fraud, he certainly deflated Putin’s exaggerated image as a multiple-martial arts-practicing badass.

Furthermore, his point about the lack of video evidence of Putin’s judo prowess is valid if we’re evaluating his skill and not past accomplishments. Just when did Putin stop doing actual judo practice anyway? It does make a huge difference. Knowledge and practice in martial arts are hugely different things. Theoretically, I know how to do a helicopter arm bar in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Realistically, I’d never even attempt it in free practice even if I’d been training continuously for several years. Skill in martial arts, just like any sport, relies on muscle memory. If Putin hasn’t actually been practicing judo for 18 years or so, it’s possible that Mr. Wittes might be able to easily take him after all. Putin may also have been taught judo in a way that almost exclusively emphasizes throws, and thus he may have almost no ground game and he might have no experience dealing with striking. As such, someone trained in Muay Thai, for example, might easily front kick the little guy into a wall with no trouble. Basically, it’s entirely possible for Putin to be a legitimate judo black belt (which I believe is the case) and yet no longer be able to fight at that same skill level due to disuse.

Still, given the fact that Wittes’ martial arts are aikido and taekwondo, it might not be advisable to challenge Putin without more information on his judo skills. Otherwise, I’d say don’t wear a gi, use strikes, and practice countering harai goshi, which I’ve read is one of Putin’s favorite techniques:

 

A Primer on Russia’s Presidential Election

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in! I’ve decided to write one more article about Russia-related stuff (for the foreseeable future) just because I recently saw another example of a trope that never seems to die and I don’t think I’ve ever actually dedicated a whole post to it. Before I proceed let me point out that I’m not trying to single out any particular author here. I’ve seen this trope and variations thereof many times over the years, and in my less-informed days I’d actually voiced similar arguments. With the disclaimer out of the way, let’s jump in.

Among Western Putin apologists there’s a grand tradition of smearing Western Russia correspondents by pedantically homing in on any mistakes, real or imagined, in their work. The idea is that they’re actually ignorant about Russia, that they have an axe to grind against poor wittle Putin. To be fair, some journalists, usually those not actually based in Russia, can display horrendous ignorance about the country. Case in point:

However, when attacking long-time Moscow correspondents, the grievances are typically unfair, inaccurate, nitpicky, or all three at the same time. When there’s a major election in Russia, Putin’s pedants rehash the same trope every time- they complain that the Western media gives so much attention to non-systemic opposition candidates who in fact are very unpopular and have no chance of winning.

In support of this claim they will provide plenty of legitimate opinion polls. Rest assured you can usually take these polls at face value; they’re typically correct. It’s no secret that opposition politicians in Russia are incredibly unpopular, indeed far less popular than the two leading systemic-opposition parties the “Communist” Party of the Russian Federation (I can’t put enough quotes around the word “Communist” in their name) and the equally inappropriately-named Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. So why does the Western media focus so much attention on politicians who have no chance of winning and are almost unheard of outside of Moscow? Apparently someone actually needs to explain this, so here goes…

First let me say that the inspiration for this comes from a tweet thread by David Filipov, Moscow correspondent for The Washington Post, in which he addressed this very question.

In case that didn’t make it painfully clear to you, let me break it down to preschool level.

In an election, a real election, candidates are supposed to compete. That means they actually want to be president. Gennady Zyuganov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky have no plans to be president of Russia. If you deny the existence of systemic opposition in Russia you are either ignorant or a liar- period. While there is sometimes opposition at the local level and in the Duma, none of the systemic opposition parties pose a threat to Putin and his favored United Russia party. None of them plan to do anything to change the system that basically lets Putin do what he pleases as long as he wants.

Those opposition candidates, in spite of their minimal popularity, actually do want to change the system in some way. They actually intend to be real politicians. It’s kind of the media’s job to interview candidates, ask them about their ideas, why they want to be president, a representative, or whatever. Unless we’re talking about the Russian state media, of course.

And speaking of state media, it might be time to ask why these politicians are so unpopular. Apart from occasionally appearing on talk shows while they are mercilessly shouted down by other guests, most major opposition figures in Russia almost never appear on TV unless it’s in a bullshit story alleging that they’re working for the CIA, Soros, the YMCA, or whatever other organization the Kremlin is scared shitless of this week. All the while they and their volunteers are routinely harassed and their offices searched or closed under suspicious circumstances. Meanwhile the perpetrators are either never found or are promptly released.

Remember that the Putin apologists who constantly whine about the Western media devoting so much attention to minimally-popular opposition candidates are at least tacitly asserting that Russia has a functioning democratic electoral system. If they aren’t, I don’t know why they even bother, but let’s assume for the moment that they do. If this is the case, why are Russian elections so bizarrely different from those in other democratic states? Why are the second and third most popular presidential candidates not even interested in actually becoming president? Hell, one of them (Zhirinovsky) actually called for elections to be abolished and for Putin to be given the title of “Supreme Commander.” Can anyone imagine a Republican in the US suggesting such a thing for Obama? Can you even imagine them just calling for Obama to be able to run for a third term? The scandal would be at least equal to the one surrounding the Trump administration at the moment.

So please, Putinist pedants- stop pretending Putin’s regime is just a little quirky or just as democratic as other states and wringing your hands while presenting polls to show how unpopular candidates like Navalny are. We all know they’re unpopular, and anyone who knows about Russia’s political an mass media system knows why. To para-phrase Filipov, if you think there’s another candidate Russia correspondents should be spending more time covering, please name them and explain why. What is newsworthy about them? And to extrapolate from that- if you’re not happy with the stories that Western journalists cover, maybe you should provide examples of the stories you think should be covered and again, say why. I’ve often written about my complaints about some of that coverage and I give my reasons.

Otherwise, I suggest you drop that trope and stick to your whataboutism. At least there you’re more likely to come up with a decent point from time to time.

I May Have to Retire

Indeed, my posts have been rather few and far between in recent months. Obviously moving to another country entails a lot of hassles, but aside from that there’s the fact that I’m in Ukraine and no longer in Russia. What is more, I’m in the process of changing professions. Does that mean I’m going away for good? No, not a chance. Now is the time to work on my book and explore other forms of media. That being said, I recently saw an article that made me think I could retire- it was that good.

The article in question is by Keith Gessen, and apart from a few comments I might add here and there it is spot on. It’s not just that it’s so right, it’s that it reminds me of a post that I did in the early days of this blog in 2013, when virtually no one read it.

Back in those days, several months before Maidan, this blog wasn’t intended to be political. I, in fact, had already largely given up on politics and retreated into my own world of traveling with my wife, movies, history, video games, all buttressed by that seductive but dangerous expat privilege that lulls you into complacency with its siren song. There will always be work. There’ll always be next month’s salary and your end-of-contract bonus. The blog was just catharsis, a late reaction to past years of poor Russia journalism which would rapidly improve in 2014.

One of those early posts was about Vladimir Putin, who had long been made the embodiment of Russia both by Western and Russian state media. My logic was that if people were going to be obsessively writing about Putin, they should write about the actual man, not the myth- be that myth one of the brave national leader standing up to Western hegemony or the evil KGB-agent Bond villain.

Looking back I think I got one major thing wrong (something which I’d write about in years since then), and unfortunately I didn’t see it mentioned in the article linked above so I’ll add it here. It is the myth of Putin the “moderate,” the idea that Putin is necessary because he is holding back dangerous nationalists who mustn’t be allowed to get control of Russia and its military arsenal. For me, this was the only myth about Putin that survived my conversations with emigres and expats just before moving to Russia.

It is important to understand the context of those days. This was 2006, the boom, the peak of collaboration between Russia and the West. While there were certainly some hiccups during those years, in general Western business was thrilled with Russia and vice versa. This is when all that bullshit you hear now about Russia opposing the West or rejecting material comfort for spiritual or ideological values would just provoke side-splitting laughter. The Russians, headed by Putin and theoretically by Medvedev, were enthusiastically inviting Western investment (and in a way, they still are, which is why they rail against the sanctions). Russia under Putin had become a sort of semi-colonial state, with Putin as the local collaborator extracting its resources and pimping out its population.Looking back on that relationship, I sometimes wonder what might have happened had the two lovers, the European Union and Russia, not had their historic falling out over Ukraine.

It is in that context that Putin-as-moderate seemed to make sense. After all, this was a man whose circle of close friends were exploiting their own people essentially for the sake of the West. As such it was only understandable that opposition to Putin would take on an anti-Western character. In those days, I wasn’t aware as to the extent much of this opposition was managed, sometimes even created by the Kremlin.Some of these opposition groups had politics so unsavory that you actually hoped they’d never succeed in overthrowing Putin as much as you hated him…and that was the whole point.

That’s also the problem with Putin-as-moderate. Sure, there are a lot of scary, supposedly ideologically-driven people in Russian politics who espouse dangerous and aggressive ideas, but none of those people would ever get into power. Probably the only one who could even conceivably hold a position of leadership would be Dmitry Rogozin, who at the moment is fiercely loyal to Putin and thus could only come to power upon his master’s absence. As for people like Zhirinovsky and Zyuganov, I highly doubt they ever seriously think about being president of Russia. That ship has long since sailed. And as for scary folks like Dugin, Kurginyan, Strelkov, et al, they’re even further from the circle of power. There’s no evidence that Dugin has even ever met Putin, and it’s hard to imagine the president having a serious meeting with a man who basically looks like a hobo who found some slightly better clothes. Many Russians, even ones who are quite politically-minded, don’t even know Dugin’s name (yes, I’ve checked). That being the case, I think it’s pretty obvious that we won’t be seeing President Dugin after Putin kicks the bucket.

But what if we imagine that there really is some extremist threat that Putin’s supposedly holding back, does that justify Putin-as-moderate? Well no, because the fact is that the presidential administration deliberately cultivates and manages many of these groups. Russian football hooligans and nationalists were once coddled by the Kremlin, especially when they were beating up opposition activists in the mid-2000s. Over the years, however, they started to become a liability. Putin’s apparent subservience to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov drove many far-rightists into the opposition around 2011 and 2012. The war in Ukraine created a split in Russia’s far-right, where many reactionaries again rallied to the Kremlin’s imperial colors, but those who failed to do so have once again faced a crackdown. It is pure fantasy to think that the Kremlin is done playing games with far-right nationalists, however. When they are necessary, the Kremlin will use them as it sees fit. Thus Putin is not holding them back- he’s basically keeping them alive.

The same can be said for every bombastic, aggressive figure in Russia’s political scene. Thus if Putin were somehow overthrown by a coup that puts worse people in power, it lesson wouldn’t be that Putin was a moderate holding back the tides- he created the tides. But that’s not the only problem with the Putin-as-moderate theme.

Let us imagine, for the moment, that all of the above was not the case. The far-right, aggressive forces in Russian politics came into existence naturally and organically, without being groomed by the Kremlin. Let us imagine that Putin really was trying to be a moderate, an internationalist, a liberal, or whatever. If this were the case, and if Putin were actually competent, why would he even be in such a situation? When we look at the horrors of the 90’s, it’s kind of understandable as to why Russia faced the threat of extremist groups coming to power. The Yeltsin government revealed itself to be rather extremist itself if you count what happened in 1993 and the 1999 apartment bombings. But what about the boom time? What about the Putin fanboys’ claim that he raised Russia from her knees, out of that 90’s torpor? Why would the extremist elements, whose existence was understandable in the context of the 90’s, still constitute the same threat more than a decade into Putin’s allegedly wise rule?

Of course that is just a hypothetical scenario, but it demonstrates how even when you accept a certain number of Putin apologist assumptions, you still come around to the same conclusion- Putin is incompetent.

These days one hardly hears the Putin-as-moderate defense. Since his annexation of the Crimea that load of bullshit has become harder to sell, particularly when Putin himself has taken to spouting the same rhetoric as the extremists who allegedly oppose him. To be sure, there is a threat that Putin may be replaced by a more reactionary, aggressive faction upon his death or should he be incapacitated and unable to rule, but if that happens it will be the fault of his administration. Through its state-run media, through the schools, and its many manipulated organizations and front groups, the Putin administration has fueled xenophobia, paranoia, and reactionary ideology. Democracy, human rights, and tolerance have been made dirty words. In such an environment, is it any surprise that the most likely successor to Putin or his regime might be someone who takes those reactionary values to heart and sincerely believes in them?