A common response to any criticism of Putin’s policies as of late is that Putin’s popularity has increased significantly and most people are supporting the government in its stance on Ukraine. Indeed this is true, but this is a serious problem. It shows that most of the population hasn’t been educated in political or economic reality and as such lives in a fantasy world. For people at the top of Russian society, this isn’t a problem. When the chickens come home to roost they’ll be wiring money outside the country and boarding private planes with briefcases full of money. Ordinary people will be fucked, however.
Any Americans out there remember life in the year following 9-11? Remember Bush’s rhetoric about how toppling Saddam Hussein would protect us from more terrorism? Remember the argument “better to fight them in Baghdad than Boston?” Idiocy, I know. Fear and shock made some of those arguments plausible to many Americans in the aftermath of 9-11, but eventually a large portion of the population, and possibly the majority after a number of years, returned to their senses. It was clear that a “war on terror” could not be waged, and invading countries in the hopes of finding and eliminating more terrorists simply wasn’t feasible.
This kind of realization hasn’t really happened in Russia. The population which supports Putin or the government now fervently believes that rebuilding the Russian empire will be good for them personally, despite the fact that we already have evidence that the annexation of the Crimea is actually harming Russians economically through tax increases and the loss of a certain portion of people’s pensions. Whereas other countries measure success in the development of their infrastructure, industry, exporting domestically-manufactured goods, etc., Russia is still living in a fantasy world where greatness means conquering other countries.
The main problem with this fantasy is that when people buy into it, they ignore all the problems in their society, including those that actually affect them or will affect them in the near future. For nearly eight years America was fixated on this war going on in Iraq while people were losing their homes and the infrastructure was crumbling. In the case of Russia, rampant corruption and far worse problems with infrastructure are ignored in favor of the mental masturbatory festival which is playing out in Eastern Ukraine right now. This is what I’m talking about when I say the problems of the 90’s were never really dealt with, and now they are almost totally ignored.
The disaster cannot be postponed forever. The clever way Russia managed to hide its state debt by shifting the burden to the regions isn’t going to work out much longer. Economic downturns which were predicted by the finance ministry even before any sanctions were levied will begin to mount. The emptiness of the government’s chest-beating and its impotence in the military/economic sphere will become apparent. The empire the government promised the people will eventually be revealed as a paper tiger. Then what? People get angry; that’s what.