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The Failed state of Russia
Posted at: Sep/30/2022 : Posted by: mel
Related Category: Politics & Gov, World Watching,
I know, it is likely a little optimistic to say so, but there are a lot of signs for everyone to see. It sure looks like Russia has gone from failing, to being a failed state.
The first step in Russia’s disintegration was Vladimir Putin’s painstaking construction of a fascist political system centered on him and his personality. In the lifecycle of a dictatorship it is not unusual for the leader to attempt to create a cult like image as an infallible, vigorous and macho leader. When hosting the 2014 winter Olympics we saw Putin doing everything from swimming in ice cold water to chopping wood. Outsiders were impressed with what seemed to be a powerful and effective political system led by an indestructible man. In reality, Putin’s self-centered image intended to reinforce Russian fascism built around him was unsustainable. It rested on Putin’s ability to project youth and vigor, qualities that inevitably diminished with age for everyone.
As Putin’s image of infallibility has faded, we have seen increased elite in-fighting, bureaucratic empire building, systemic corruption, along individual buck-passing; all the issues common to an impotent central government. Clearly, the beautiful towers of the Kremlin are being reduced to a brittle shell, while at the same time transforming the economy into a source of personal enrichment for competing elites. Small wonder that the state’s much lauded military modernization has proven to be a bust.
The Putin state survived because Russian elites, like most Russians, found it convenient to pretend that all was well, and that Russia was great again. In the case of the elite circle of oligarchs, there was great personal wealth to be gained by propping up Putin and pretending all is well. Putin is reported to be one of the wealthiest men in the world and many others gained personally from allowing that to happen. Along the way ordinary Russians had the chance to eat McDonalds and buy smartphone, life was good. That illusion of prosperity crumbled in the aftermath of Putin’s ill-conceived decision to go for a quick, victorious, little war with Ukraine. Ukraine learned from their loss of Crimea in 2014 and with western aid and training built up their military capabilities. The war also has delivered a body blow to the state. The military has proved to be inept. The intelligence organizations focused on telling leadership what they wanted to hear. The policymakers lacked a clear plan of what they hoped to achieve. And the economy went into a steady decline, prodded by Western sanctions and unrestrained theft of resources by elites.
In truth, western leaders also periodically look to wage a little war beyond their own borders. When domestic policies are faltering it can be a distraction and potentially raise a sense of nationalism.
But Ukraine did not welcome the Russian army as liberators and the quick victory of 8 years earlier in the Crimea did not happen. Putin’s “special military operation” has devolved into a war that is not going well. More important, the war is proving to be the spark that ignited the house of cards that is the Russian state potentially burning itself down from within. Putin is rapidly losing legitimacy, at home and abroad. The secret police are angry with him for blaming them for the military fiasco. The generals are angry that the war is destroying the armed forces. The pro-war faction in the policy elite blames him for being too soft. The pro-peace faction blames him for being too hard. Russian mothers just want their sons back.
A note on Russian mothers. During WWII and before, much of the world population was rural and therefore had 4-5 children in every family. Losing 1-2 children to war was a heart ache, but seldom devastated a family. This is why the loss of the 5 Sullivan brothers when the USS Juneau when down in November 1942 is such a big deal in American history and military policy. Russia, China and the US have become very urban in recent decades resulting in lower birth rates. Now losing a son could mean destroying and entire family, which is not how you win the hearts of your population.
Cozying up to Putin used to be a means of showing defiance to western influence. Russia’s foreign allies appear to be losing whatever respect they had for Putin. At the recent summit of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Samarkand, Putin publicly had to justify his actions in Ukraine to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who made no secret of Russia’s having become a very junior partner in their supposed alliance. Both Xi and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi defended the territorial integrity of Kazakhstan, a country that Russian imperialistic ambitions would have eventually aspired to seize if Ukraine had succeeded. At a reception pointedly ignored by Xi, Turkey’s President Recep Erdo?an took advantage of a photo opportunity to show himself seated above Putin. For heads of state, where you are positioned in a group photo matters a lot. Later, Kyrgyzstan’s president showed up late for a meeting with Putin, something you would never do with a truly powerful and influential world leader.
The Russian population appears increasingly aware of Putin’s diminishing authority and legitimacy both home and abroad. The initial enthusiasm for the war has visibly diminished. The soldiers, as well are demoralized and blame the leadership for their woes. Independent verification is not available, but there are reports of armed resistance movements emerging within Russia that have actively fire-bombed draft boards and derailed trains. In Europe, “Telegram Channels” are a popular means to group together and share idea electronically. There are reports of new Telegram Channels in Russia that appear to cater to partisan like groups with instructions on how to assassinate officials and build bombs. Maybe more important: Months ago local elites would never have dreamed of speaking out against Putin, now many of these same are publically demanding his resignation.
With Putin’s announcement of a partial mobilization of reservists on Sept. 21, thousands went to the streets and protested and tens of thousands suddenly realized that the war had come home and worried about their sons and husbands dying on the front. This level of public protest again Putin’s government would not have happened just a few short months ago, but fear of his authority is clearly fading. It should be noted that over a thousand people have been arrested at these protests, but clearly any fear of government institutions is waning. With the announcement of the reservist call up many others have bought one-way airline tickets or driven their cars to the nearest border. The flows will only increase as Russians come to realize that a secret clause in Putin’s announcement foresees the drafting of up to a million men.
In dictator run states most anti-government behavior is repressed because of an overt fear of the “forces of coercion.” By the size of the traffic jams at border crossings and the scale of public protest this fear is fading.
The Russian army is increasingly refusing to fight, so much so that the Duma (central government) felt the need to pass legislation specifying that desertion, surrender, insubordination and misuse of military property required tougher sentences. There are reports that Moscow has started enlisting senior citizens, teenagers and hardened criminals, this does not speak well of the condition or motivation of the front-line soldier. There are some military analysts who believe that the criminals, if armed might turn their weapons on their own officers.
There are two well-organized, well-trained and well-funded groups that are fighting side-by-side with the questionable Russian national forces. The Wagner Group, numbering around 8,000 mercenaries, and the 12,000 Chechen fighters called the Kadyrovites. The Chechen’s are known for the loyalty to Chechen strongman, Ramzan Kadyrov. The Wagner Group is led by Yevgeny Prigozhin whom many Russian watchers believe aspires to succeed Putin. None of these groups can be expected to fight with the same conviction or dedication that the Ukraine’s have in defending their homes.
In WWII, Russian leadership felt that much of the conscripted military was merely cannon fodder to be thrown at an enemy to wear them down through attrition. There are some opportunities to draw similar conclusions for how the current Russian military is being utilized by its leadership.
With so much visible discontent, Russia appears ripe for civil conflict or perhaps even civil war. While Prigozhin may be initially fighting out of loyalty to Putin, he could yet end out to be a Brutus and stab his master in the back.
“et tu Brute…..”
The problem with fascism and dictators is that they are never allowed to retire to some palatial estate and live out their final years. As with Putin, these people have historically needed to defend their positions until the end with more and more violence until the next government is formed. The image of Benito Mussolini hanging upside down in a public square comes to mind. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, Putin does have various nuclear weapons meaning that his exit strategy may represent a modern rewrite to the “dictator’s playbook.”
Most of Russia’s neighbors and legacy allies appear to know that the current fascist Russia state has failed. Russia has transitioned from killing foreigners to now also killing its own subjects. The dream of a Russian Federation and making Russia “great” again is dead. All that’s left to do is for Russian elites and masses is to realize this fact and abandon their illusions in favor of establishing a post-Putin government. What’s left is to see if the king piece is merely tipped over, or a broad swipe of the arm sends pieces flying everywhere as the game comes to an end.