The good news is that Russians do not want a war — and this is Putin’s Achilles heel. A survey by the Levada Center found that 68 percent of Russians polled “do not want their sons to fight” in Ukraine. In Russia, the war is a combustible secret, with the revered Russian Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers labeled a “Foreign Agent” for asking questions about the death of Russians soldiers — dumped in mass graves or buried at night. Cheap oil prices and the collapsed ruble aside, Putin, politically, can’t afford a war. The Russian equivalent of “soccer moms” are some of his staunchest supporters. Russia’s mothers and widows could ultimately dethrone him if he’s forced to send thousands of more boys across the border to die. Escalating the war will only serve as a powder keg inside Russia; deepening social-service cuts brought on by a collapsed economy will fuel unrest. If Putin wants an empire, he will get the last days of Rome.
That is if the White House finally decides to give Ukraine more than just blankets. __ Russians Don’t Want Putin’s War
What Russians want doesn’t seem to matter to Putin or the gang of ruling thugs and propagandists in the Kremlin.
Creating an alternative reality, Putin casts Russia as a victim, not the aggressor that it is in Ukraine. In his attempt to carve out a zone of influence in Europe, he draws from the notion that Russia was mistreated by the west in the aftermath of the cold war. There is much myth-building here… there is not much to be optimistic about.
Just recently, the speaker of Russia’s Duma said it should vote to condemn the “annexation” of East Germany by West Germany in 1990. In Putin’s world – as in the old Soviet joke – the future is certain, it is the past that is unpredictable. __ Putin Joke History
Putin intends to push the map westward until he meets strong resistance.
General Yury Baluyevsky, the former chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, says the confrontation with the west is a continuation of the cold war. The methods, though, are now more sophisticated. Military force, he says, is “the final stage of the process”. Moscow has mastered the art of hybrid warfare, including “information and psychological pressure”. To paraphrase the general, Mr Putin will divide and weaken his enemies before deploying force.
In its softest form, this means presenting rolling propaganda as rolling news with the rapid expansion of the Kremlin-controlled Russia Today news network. Then there is the funding of populist parties of left and right in western European capitals. Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France has taken a Russian loan. Nigel Farage, the leader of the anti-immigrant UK Independence party, counts himself an admirer of the Russian leader.
Further along the spectrum there are the bribes paid to politicians and business leaders and the stakes taken in vulnerable financial institutions in south eastern Europe and the Balkans. There is a none-too-subtle campaign to destabilise pro-western governments in the former Soviet space — Bulgaria is a recent victim — by exploiting their dependence on Russian energy. Add in the testing of Nato defences by Russian fighter planes, cyber attacks and kidnappings in the Baltics, and the incursions of nuclear bombers, and you can see what the general was talking about. __ FT
Putin doesn’t so much want to control Eastern Europe as to destroy it, apparently. And he doesn’t mind isolating Russia in the process.
President Vladimir Putin has dangerous ambitions beyond Ukraine and aims to test Western resolve in the Baltic states, the former head of NATO has warned. __ Putin Megalomaniac
Putin, just like Hitler before WWII, is beefing up his military for a blitzkrieg. Like the Allies in WWII, Europe and NATO are thoroughly unprepared for any well-laid plans of war on Putler’s part.
What does Putin really want, and where might he be persuaded to stop along the way for wider reasons? Does he himself know? Is any deal they might strike simply a trick by Moscow to consolidate existing territorial gains before starting gnawing away for more?
… The core point here is simple. Does the world respect the right of Ukraine, a state whose legitimacy and borders are recognised by every other state on Earth other than Russia, to decide for itself how it organises its affairs? Or do we instead respect a crude, supremely cynical rival proposition: that any country gets only the freedoms and rights that Moscow from time to time decides are acceptable? As the Bolsheviks might have put it: kto kogo? __ Carrot and Stick Doesn’t Work Without a Stick
Russia’s demographic problems make it obvious that Putin will not be able to achieve what he wants to achieve, “Hitler-wise.”
Russia’s aging population has placed strains on the economy that will impact numerous sectors including agriculture, manufacturing, the armed forces and retirement schemes. In the next decade, Russia’s labor force is expected to shrink by more than 12 million, or around 15 percent.
In other words, Russia’s cohort for “breeding, fighting, and working” is shrinking rapidly. Putin is driving away Russia’s talented and ambitious stock, placing the demographics of Russia even deeper in crisis mode.
Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to restore an international order based on exclusive spheres of influence controlled by major powers – the system that prevailed in Europe’s war-torn eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A European Ukraine and the European Union stand in the way of this goal. That is why current Russian policy seeks to destabilize Ukraine permanently, especially militarily and financially. In its own interest, Europe must not allow this policy to prevail.
… Today, it is more important to give adequate financial support to Ukraine than to impose new sanctions on Russia. __ Ukraine is Europe’s War
85 yo statesman Yevgeny Primakov recently made a speech before the Mercury Club critical of Putin’s suicidal policies:
1. Despite promises of diversification away from an energy-based economy, there has been no progress in reducing dependence on oil and gas—even though Russia has had a quarter of a century to find a solution. (Left unstated was the fact that 15 of those “lost” years were under Putin.)
2. Russia’s economy can only move forward on the basis of decentralization, in which regions and municipalities have their own budget resources and make their own decisions. Primakov’s was a thinly-veiled criticism of Putin’s concept of a power vertical by which the Kremlin controls everything at the expense of regional authorities.
3. Russia must turn away from policies of “self-isolation” that are harming its economy. Per Primakov, there will be no lifting of sanctions in the near future, and the price of oil will remain low due to developments in the United States and OPEC. An isolated Russia will be a second-rate Russia, contrary to Putin’s claim of economic success through self-sufficiency.
4. Russia (Putin) must order a pause in its grandiose plans for arctic drilling; the costly development of arctic oil and gas no longer makes economic sense in a world of low energy prices. Instead, Russia should pursue the development of energy resources on land in eastern Siberia.
5. Grand infrastructure plans, such as building a bridge connecting Russia with Crimea, have not been founded on concrete executive decisions. Primakov notes that talk of an infrastructure revival is not real. These are “just words for television shows.”
6. Russia’s “street opposition” does not have popular support and is not a threat to the regime. However, political “turbulence” can lead to a worsening of the situation for the majority of the population and will rule out introduction of badly-needed reforms for the regions.
7. It is in Russia’s interest that southeast Ukraine remain a part of Ukraine. But, this does not mean that Russia should not support the separatist aim of special status within the structure of the Ukrainian government. (We do not know Primakov’s stance on whether the rebel regions must gain veto power over Kiev’s policies as Putin insists).
8. There should be absolutely no concessions with respect to Crimea being a part of Russia. Crimea is not a matter for negotiation.
9. Even if the Minsk peace agreements are violated, Russia cannot introduce regular troops into Ukraine. To do so would allow the U.S. to dominate Europe for the next century. (Primakov doesn’t mention that Putin already used regular troops to save the separatist forces last August and is using them now in his new offensive in east Ukraine.)
10. Russia cannot reorient its economy to the East; the result would be that Russia simply becomes a raw material provider to China.
11. Russia must keep the door open for cooperation with NATO and the U.S. with respect to threats to mankind, such as terrorism, narcotic trafficking and developing conflicts. Without this international cooperation, “we will lose our country as a great regime.” (Primakov appears to be warning Putin not to turn Russia into a rogue state.)
12. If Russia does not end its self-isolation, it cannot occupy major positions among those countries that are ready to cooperate with Russia and take into consideration Russia’s own interests.
… Primakov’s comments, according to a respected Moscow political analyst, suggest “a very high level of concern among a fairly wide circle of people…in the upper echelons, trying to protect themselves from losses. They are critical of Putin but they can’t challenge him because he can easily crush them.”
Primakov may have been willing to lead the charge because he, at age 85, cannot be regarded as a threat to Putin. But why does Putin appear so relaxed in the face of such criticism of his most basic policies? After all, the richest 21 Russians still control almost $200 billion of wealth. Would that not give them clout to threaten Putin’s hold on power?
The answer is most likely “no.” Throughout his 15 year tenure, Putin has made sure that his closest allies control the so-called power ministries—defense, intelligence, the police, courts and the prosecutors’ office. The Kremlin elite know that Putin can arrest them at any time. He can threaten them with jail, which they can escape, if they are lucky, by turning their assets back to him. The Kremlin oligarchs know that one of their kind, billionaire Vladimir Evtushenkov, had to give up his oil company to escape a jail sentence. They understand they could be next in Yevtushenkov’s shoes.
So there you have it: 21 oligarchs, who control a good percentage of Russia’s wealth, in effect, stand helpless before a dictator who can wrest away their wealth at any time. __ Putin Ignores Oligarchs
Primakov is a man of a different age, when sane men could still get a hearing at the upper levels of power — before the mafia psychopaths of the former KGB had taken over.
In today’s Russia, virtually everyone of sound character and substantial intelligence has grown disillusioned with the formerly respected Putin.
In the end, notwithstanding Browder’s valid Russophobia, his is a very Russian tale, as well as an important one. This, after all, is a country of lurid metamorphoses, in which liberals turn into ultranationalists, KGB men become oil barons, murderers enter parliament, and, in Browder’s case, a fellow-travelling financier morphed into an implacable human rights activist. It is quintessentially Russian in another way, too. Russia has a long tradition of sufferers discovering moral fortitude in adversity. Magnitsky himself did that, heroically, and so, in his peculiar, dogged fashion, has Browder __ Putin Falls off Pedestal
Russian voters expected much of Vladimir Putin when he became president in 2000, following an anarchic decade of imperial break-up and economic chaos. The youthful former KGB lieutenant colonel promised to end rampant criminality, restore order and establish the “dictatorship of the law”. But … Putin has betrayed that promise. The experience of the past 15 years has shown that a privileged few remain unaccountable, most conspicuously the president himself. __ Putin’s Broken Promises
The Russian economy may be tanking and inflation may be rocketing, but discontent over the spiraling cost of living has been limited to online anger and small opposition rallies. Putin, however, is taking no chances. In an apparent bid to dissuade Russians from expressing their dissatisfaction in public, he’s criminalized peaceful protest.
A controversial new law that came into force in July but is only now being implemented stipulates prison terms of up to five years for anyone detained more than once in a period of 180 days at unsanctioned protests. Since the start of the year, three opposition activists have been charged under the new law. The three men facing years behind bars are Mark Galperin, a Moscow lawyer; Ildar Dadin, a veteran political activist who took part in last year’s Maidan uprising in Kiev; and Vladimir Ionov, a 75-year-old activist. __ Putin Will Need to Re-build Gulag Archipelago
Staggered by the collapse in oil and plunge in the ruble, Russia is now confronting a potential banking crisis.
So far, the damage has been mostly limited to smaller banks like SB, but across the industry more clients are taking out cash and struggling to repay their loans. U.S. and European sanctions are choking off financing abroad, while high interest rates are throttling growth at home.
Russian authorities are already helping lenders with accounting fixes and providing funds to some of the biggest state-owned banks. Analysts predict more rescues this year as losses balloon. Alfa Bank estimates the red ink could reach 2 trillion rubles ($30 billion), or a quarter of banks’ equity.
“It’s a kind of cancer and we know the symptoms are caused by Ukraine, sanctions, sinking oil prices and the economic slowdown” said Oleg Kouzmin, the chief economist at Renaissance Capital in Moscow and an adviser to the central bank from 2009 to 2013. “What we don’t yet know is if it’s a treatable form.” __ Russian Banks at Risk
Two years ago the airport was touted as one of Eastern Europe’s most modern air hubs. Today it is, like many neighborhoods in the Donetsk region and villages along the Russia-Ukraine border, a miserable ruin. __ That is Real Blood and Rubble — Not a Video Game You Idiot!
Russia’s Alternate Reality:
I recently moved to Moscow, and it’s hard to miss the extent to which Russian society exists in an alternate universe. Even well-educated, sophisticated people who have traveled widely in Europe and North America will frequently voice opinions that, in an American context, would place them alongside people wearing tinfoil hats. Russia is not living in the reality-based community. _WaPo
Among Russians’ weaknesses is a proclivity for believing in all kinds of strange ideas, a tendency that manifests itself in persecution manias, neo-Eurasianism, and zapadophobia (fear of the West) as well as the exaggerated belief in Russia’s historical destiny. Such afflictions are by no means exclusively Russian. They can be found to varying degrees in many countries. Nationalist feelings have been running high in many countries, but it is difficult to think of an accumulation of hatred similar to what has taken place in Russia in recent years. It could be argued that such afflictions may not last forever; they may weaken or even disappear. But in an age of weapons of mass destruction, they are a major danger. __ Can Russia Have a Future?
… well-educated professionals are emigrating from Russia in massive numbers. According to Rosstat, Russia’s federal statistics service, more than 300,000 people left the country from 2012 to 2013, a migration that tellingly coincides with Putin’s stage-managed return for a third presidential term; the rate of departures climbed even higher after the annexation of Crimea last year. By comparison, approximately 70,000 people left from 2010 to 2011. The cream of Russian society is voting with its feet, leaving a stultifying, ever more corrupt environment for greener pastures that allow them to productively apply their talents. __ How the Kremlin props up Putin’s poll numbers
Russia’s alternate reality is due for some shaking up:
Although the deterioration in relations with Russia has been obvious for some time, the hostility on display in Munich was still striking, even shocking, to many Russia hands and veterans of such conferences. One Russian participant said she got chills listening to some of the speeches.
States bordering on Russia were referred to as “front-line states.” The familiar litany of self-pity and it’s-all-Washington’s-doing from Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov — once a friend to many in the hall — drew bursts of derisive laughter….
The United States is currently committed to provide training and nonlethal equipment (body armor and the like), and Mr. Obama has not shown enthusiasm for providing the communications equipment and arms to counter Russian artillery and radar that President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine is seeking.
The debate, however, which continued in the corridors and beer halls, goes beyond Ukraine’s military needs. On the eve of the meeting, a group of former ambassadors to NATO and Ukraine issued a report declaring that Ukraine represented the most serious security threat to the West since the Cold War. The West had to be prepared to send lethal assistance to Ukraine, they argued, both “to support Ukraine and to push back against Russia’s unacceptable challenge to the postwar European security order.” __ NYTimes
What Putin feared the most is what is most likely to come to pass: The juxtaposition of a free and thriving Ukraine next to a dying Russia and Russia-proxy. This will be true regardless of where the line of demarcation is drawn.
What the West needs now is not merely a military policy but a comprehensive, long-term strategy designed to reinforce Ukrainian statehood and integrate Ukraine into Europe over many years. We could begin training not only the Ukrainian military but also the security services, which were devastated by the previous Ukrainian president. We could push far more forcefully for economic reform and support it with real financial commitments. We could treat this as a very long-term project, as Merkel suggested on Saturday, build a Berlin Wall around Donetsk in the form of a demilitarized zone and treat the rest of Ukraine like West Germany. __ WaPo
Future Russians may look back at today’s dysfunctional Russia as the golden age, thanks to Herr Putin.