Thursday, July 11, 2013

Putinisation of Russia (and the World?)

Putin's anti-Western and anti-American course (shrewdly but poorly disguised, and now evident and clear) is perilous to Russia for deep historical, philosophical and "ideological" if you will, reasons. Historically, economically, culturally, Russia is a part, although on the margins, of the Western and European civilisations, the criticisms of "eurocentric" views notwithstanding. 

"The revival of the czarist, 19th-century ideological trifecta of Russian Orthodoxy, autocracy, and populism—aggravated by rabid anti-Americanism—is bad news for the security interests of the United States and Europe", writes Ariel Cohen, expressing the opinion that "the Russian “reset” policy was doomed to failure from the beginning." 

V. Putin, shaped by the Soviet Russia as a man and as a politician, lends his image, personality, character and worldviews ("second-rate spy" cynicism) to the millions of post-Soviet (or pseudopostsoviet and pseudopoststalinist) Russian eyes and ears, playing up to them and playing them up; manipulating them in an exciting fit of the world political drama turning into a soap opera (future Mosfilm productions will follow, no doubt), and in the process, unburdening them from the unneeded sensations of logs in their eyes and plugs in their ears and trying to turn the attention instead to some foreign "straws" in the others' eyes, to some "foreign bodies" and foreign "agents" and to their horrible listening devices. And, also in the process, as Senator Schumer observed, Putin never missed a chance to poke America in the eye, as if trying to get a sadistic pleasure out of it. Putin compared Snowden to the famous Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov and proposed to give a Nobel Peace Prize to a treacherous narcissistic punk "hacker", at the same time tacitly encouraging him to the further "scandalous" disclosures and revelations by observing that Snowden as an exemplary ideological warrior  will never accept his condition for asylum in Russia: to keep his mouth shut. 

Why not give Snowden a Golden Star of the Hero of Postsoviet Disunion or, which might be even better and more dramatic: a new Order of Raymond Mercader, first degree?

What a sweet revenge, what a triumph, forty years later: now post(?!)-Soviet Russia has her own, "American Andrei Sakharov", now Putin can fight an "enemy" with his "enemy's" own ideological weapon. Maybe those were "the sweet dreams of revenge", among many other "sweet dreams", that twenty years old Volodya Putin had then? 

Thousands of newly minted, happily converted, "enlightened" and zombified world putinoids (gradually morphing into putinistas) track their eyes from one corner of the screen to another, viewing the theatrical images of RT and the "wise, fare and uncompromising" posture of the Russian leader. And ain't it a coup, eh? Almost like in good old Stalinist days. The only thing distinctly missing appears to be the fat strings of cockroachy mustache, but they might grow too, in time, considering all the bio and other technologies. 

The recent chain of events creates the impression of some carefully pre-thought, and possibly, to a certain degree, prefabricated (planned and proactively organised) actions. They might be the expressions and the elements of relatively new, more aggressive and expansionist, after a period of contraction, Russia, as formulated in "Putin-3" foreign and domestic ("tightening of the screws") doctrines

"Snowden’s defection, announced after a week in Moscow, may be not an impulsive act but a thoroughly pre-planned operation...  the Snowden–Russian connection needs to be explored in depth." 

Psychological roots of Russian anti-Americanism run deep, long and tortuous. However, the latest bout or exacerbation of this chronic infectious disease is related to and caused by Putin himself directly and deliberately as a part of his third term campaign and now more than ever "imperial" presidency, which is viewed by many observers as illegitimate. The image of a "threatening enemy" obviously serves his political aims of consolidating the Russian society (or its most conservative, least educated, lacking independent thinking and pro nationalist part) but mostly the aims of personal political self-preservation and survival. What is somewhat surprising is the intensity and the pitch of his rhetoric and the length of his genuine hostility, which exceeds even the obsessional hysterics of the Soviet times. 

"Over the last few months, Putin has been scrambling to build a case for himself to be president for at least another six years in the face of a welling restlessness among the Russian people. His tactic of choice has been a shameless anti-American campaign that has been noticeably stepped up since November 2011 with actions that have been at times crude and just plain weird." 

It would not be out of place to pose a question: to what degree and the extent does Putin's illness, apparently chronic, severe and potentially debilitating, although its precise nature is not known to us (possibly Lupus Erythematosus, or one of the related syndromes) affect his thinking, his emotional state and his decision making capacities? Without a doubt, the leadership in Russia is collective, and there is always a balance between the collective part and Putin's personal power component in it. The role of Sergei Ivanov, Putin's chief of staff, was described by some observers as a "de facto acting "Regent". The recent assertive actions by Medvedev might indicate some subtle shifts within the power structure and arrangements and the possibility that "siloviki" are somewhat on a defensive at the given moment due to some undesired side effects of their "irrational exuberance". 

In this regard, the reports (if they are true or have  some element of truth in them) on Putin's "extreme outrage" about "bee apocalypse" leading "most certainly" to "world war" as a reason for "refusing to meet with Kerry for three hours" are puzzling, almost bizarre and add to the concerns. 

Putin's increasing political (and possibly emotional) isolation might be one of the factors in his reactions and behavior, although the true extent of it is difficult to determine.  

One of the liberal journalists, commenting on the rejection of Putin and his kleptocratic circle by the "world elite", noted: "This is a very painful disappointment. That is why Putin now is extremely dangerous. He is a very painfully wounded beast." ("Это очень болезненное разочарование. Поэтому Путин сейчас чрезвычайно опасен. Это очень больно раненый зверь.") 

D. Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, predicts that "Putin’s fourth foreign policy [in the third term - M.N.] will be markedly different from the previous three", noting that "Russia seems to have gotten temporarily allergic to further integration in the world economy" and the relationship with the West is de-prioritised. 

"An analysis of the latest version of the Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation, approved by the president in February 2013, as well as policies actually put into practice, shows that first on the agenda was promoting integration within the CIS.
The second priority was increasing the role of relations with Asia; the third – cutting back economic ties with the EU and de-prioritizing cooperation with NATO and other Western institutions. The fourth is to maintain an arms-length relationship with the United States." 

According to A. Shleifer, a Harvard economist with a certain experience in Russia, "the economy of Russia is obviously slowing down. It's almost inconceivable that it's going to have the same economic performance in the next decade as it did in the previous decade." Putin is "going to need to find alternative ways of staying in power; that is to say, popularity for economic growth is not going to keep him popular." And with all that, the basic geoeconomic and geopolitical dynamics, realities and factors remain the same: "Russia is interested in high energy prices, which means at least to me that it has a very keen interest in instability in the world. And in that respect, its basic interest, political interest, economic interests are either orthogonal or opposed to the interests of the United States. They like instability because instability helps oil prices, because it prevents U.S. dominance, and it makes Russia more central."

Ben Judah, in his recently published book, "Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin", describes Russia as "a vegetating catastrophe". 

"Mr Judah’s portrait of Mr Putin is devastating. For his "second-rate spy" cynicism, he says, is a world view. Mr Putin is convinced that he combines the best of Czarist and Soviet Russia, and his self-image was boosted by the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, who called him "a miracle of God".

Under Mr Putin, the Kremlin has become a court, where favourites strain to please, and the price of a minister’s post is $10m. Meanwhile, with 350,000 employees, the KGB’s successor, the FSB, has grown bigger than some European armies."

Russia's long term problems and the issues of her political and economic development will not be solved by theatrical displays, TV images and anti-American propaganda

Putinism is a temporary, tactical and reactionary deviation from Russia's historical course and direction of integration with the West. Economic and political stability, which putinism touts as its main achievements, are illusory and in fact, "zastoyni" - "stasis-producing", and its foreign  and domestic policies and their objectives appear to be short sighted and at times ill-conceived and almost reckless

Michael Novakhov

First Published on 7.4.13     Last Update: 7.11.13

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