Hey, is it Monday? Well, it is here, or was when I started writing. That must mean it’s time for another crazy article by Carnegie Moscow Centre’s resident sexagenarian dissident, crazy old bat and Petro-Poroshenko-for President-of Russia oligarch admirer Lilia Shevtsova! And sure enough, with the implacable certainty of death and taxes, here she is in another self-lampooning caricature of phone-it-in journalism, telling us in the most lurid cold-war terminology that Putin is headed for a defeat so cataclysmic, so decisive that he will be pounded like a nail right through the earth to come out, befuddled and disoriented, in his antipodean obverse in the Pacific Ocean just south of Australia. Don’t forget your lifejacket, Mr. President!
Her narrative is laced with apocalyptic idioms that are the stuff of State Department wet dreams – “Mr Putin has unleashed the process he cannot stop and made himself hostage to suicidal statecraft. “ Oooh, here’s a good one: “He can rule only by subjugating the nation in a way that only war can justify.” And a perennial Cold-War favourite, “But the propaganda that plays endlessly on Russian television channels will not mesmerise [the public] for long.”
Lilia Shevtsova has a rock-solid claim on the Cold War; she lived through it. Although it is apparent now that it never ended, was merely suspended while the west watched with bated breath to see if Boris Yeltsin could accomplish his assigned mission of turning Russia over to new custodians for dismantling, it is acknowledged by U.S. historians to have begun in 1945 and ended in 1991. Lilia Shevtsova would have missed only the first 4 years of it, and was born a Cold-War baby in Lviv (what a surprise, he said in the sarcastic manner which suggested it was not a surprise at all) in 1949. In the 2008 poll of Top Public Intellectuals, she ranked 36, for reasons that are a mystery to me, since her delivery in typical articles like the one that is the subject of this post sound like they were cribbed directly from J. Edgar Hoover’s files.
She has occupied a number of prestigious posts, including Director of the Center for Political Studies and Deputy Director of the Institute of International Economic and Political Studies, both in Moscow. Rounding out her dissident chops, in addition to her aforementioned perch at the Carnegie Moscow Center she is a fellow of Chatham House, and has been a visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley, Cornell University, and Georgetown University as well as a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Although she is of course fluent in Russian – she lives there – in her heart she is about as Russian as a funnel cake.
Well, enough about her: let’s take a look at the Pentagon lullaby she wrote, in which Russia is teetering on the ragged edge of collapse and Putin’s downfall is just a matter of time. Which, of course, it is – I figure one more presidential term after this one should do it.
Mr. Putin, we hear, has – by means of “military-patriotic mobilization” – turned Russia into a “war state”. And that shall be his undoing, because nothing will satisfy the peoples’ appetites but blood. God forgive me my deliberate mockery of my elders, but what kind of rug-chewing craziness is that? Where has Shevtsova seen anything that looks like military mobilization on a state level in Russia? Military drills? Happen every year, often several times every year. Public polling which presents Putin near an all-time high? Is that because he promised them war? Where? Show me. Russia’s military readiness is certainly at a high level, as it would behoove that of any nation to be when it is threatened by the world’s biggest military alliance. Does it make sense to describe such a process, once threatened by NATO with both word and deed as it mobilizes troops and aircraft on Russia’s borders, as “military-patriotic mobilization”? I would say no.
Putin can rule only by subjugating the nation to a war mentality, Dr. Shevtsova confides, but the Russian people will remember their economic troubles soon enough as their diminutive dictator loses his power to hold them with his “fix bayonets” calls to arms. The article she cites in support of this fantasy soon disintegrates into the savoured liberal shibboleth that economic dissatisfaction is sure to bring the people, angry and desperate, swelling into the streets. Tireless polling suggests most Russians’ main worries are economic, so that is perceived as Putin’s Achilles heel and is in all likelihood the driver behind the west’s leap into economic warfare. I don’t quite know how to tell the west that it is not working, although there are signs that it is slowly realizing on its own.
Signs like Germany’s tanking economy, the economy the entire EU depends on to hold its peanut-butter-and-jelly exoskeleton together. You know – the EU that threatened Russia with economic destruction, then recoiled with shock and hurt when Russia bit back. The economy that should now be thinking about raising interest rates to control inflation, but which is instead sliding back into recession. Look closely, though, Doctor – the devil is in the details, as it is with most things. In the first linked piece, “Foreign orders were down 4.1% with the sharpest drop coming from the euro zone, where orders fell 10.4%. Orders from outside of the currency bloc were unchanged. Domestic orders were down 1.9%. On the quarter, orders fell by 0.6%. ” From the second; “Why the current slowdown is a shock to both economists and pundits can be summed up in one word: Germany. A lot of experts seem to get that Italy and Greece, with their charmingly child-like but ungovernable people, are natural economic basket cases and that France, with its clueless socialist government, is nearly as bad. But Germany was the country that had managed to combine the nanny state and the state-of-the-art factory into a model for the rest of the world. It was the Atlas that would support the eurozone on its broad shoulders.
The point they’re missing is that Germany was only able to put up the stellar numbers of the recent past because its banks were lending billions of euros to Spain, Greece and Italy, who turned around and bought lots of German goods. In business the lending of money to customers who then buy your stuff is known as vendor financing. It works beautifully as long as the customers can pay their debts but crashes and burns when the customers default.
That’s what is happening to Germany. Now that the peripheral eurozone countries can’t borrow to buy BMWs and pharmaceuticals, Germany’s export-driven growth is slowing down. Meanwhile, a lot of the money German banks have lent to those countries will, one way or another, migrate back to the liabilities side of Germany’s balance sheet, making its debt, deficit and interest cost figures look far worse than the global financial markets were led to believe.”
The point is not whether it is Russian reaction to sanctions which is tipping the Eurozone back into recession – it’s not. Russian reaction is certainly not doing the Euro economy any good, while uncertainty over the energy situation causes gas prices to porpoise up and down. The point is that of the two economies – Russia’s, and the European Union’s – one really is like a rotten barn that one good kick will bring down. And it isn’t Russia. Russia is Germany’s biggest non-Eurozone trading partner. Sanctions aren’t helping it. And the whole Eurozone depends on the health of the German economy. Maybe that’s why the USA and its president, who between them manipulated and cajoled and threatened the EU into a sanctions-fest have plummeted in popularity with the Germans.
“Mr Putin has dismantled the post-cold war settlement that allowed him to engage economically with the west in the interests of the Russian petrostate, while keeping Russian society closed to western influence. His aggression has ensured Russia’s Ukrainian neighbor will ever look west.”
Think so? Part of it, maybe. But let’s take a look at that, Are you sure it was Mr. Putin who dismantled the relationship with the west? Because it sure looked to me like it was the other way around. Under U.S. government direction, Visa and Mastercard froze service to Russian banks with no warning at all, in March. The unrest in Ukraine at the time was limited to protests and seizures of public buildings by protesters in the southeast, something which was lauded by the west as the people seizing democracy with their two hands when it was done in Kiev, and the “Anti-Terrorist Operation” by Kiev against its own citizens was not launched until the following month. Perhaps the credit-card thing was punishment for Crimea, which I have yet to be shown was illegal in any respect of international law, considering unilateral declarations of independence are outside it. Following that was wave after wave of sanctions against Russia, all purportedly to force it to stop helping the Eastern Ukrainians to defend themselves against indiscriminate shelling of civilian population centres with heavy artillery by Kiev’s forces. It was never, ever proven that Russia had any part in the defense of the East. Long on speculation, no proof. It sure looked to me like the west decided this was an ideal time for economic war against Russia, designed to cripple it. Well, the USA decided, and then bullied Europe into going along with it.
Will Ukraine always look west? Well, I don’t know; a lot of analysts who are brighter than Lilia Shevtsova were so sure Yanukovych would sign the EU Association Agreement that they were already writing like he had done it, and prancing and thumbing their noses at Russia. One thing is for sure – thanks to the west’s intervention and subsequent meddling, it has been made one hell of a lot less desirable a property and prospective partner, for anyone.
And here, Ms. Shevtsova gets philosophical. The Kremlin, she says, has made it clear that the alternative to a ceasefire in Ukraine is more bloodshed. Gee, do you think? What would the alternative to a ceasefire in a country locked in a civil war anywhere else on the planet be? Bloodshed? Good guess, but you already had an example to follow. And what is her substantiation for the statement that the Kremlin “will not relinquish the occupied territories”? What territories in Ukraine are occupied by Russia? Certainly not Crimea, which was part of Russia before and now is again, by the will of the inhabitants, who were guaranteed the right to self-determination by the Ukrainian constitution. The East of Ukraine is occupied by Ukrainian citizens.
The west does not dare to call the Russian incursion – which nobody has yet proved even occurred – an act of aggression. They are coming around to hyping a political solution which expressly takes into account Russian interests, because the west is finally waking up to the fact that Ukraine cannot function trade-wise without Russian markets – unless the EU wants to start importing all the goods Russia is not buying, which it can’t afford to pay for. Just like we told them, right here, months and months ago. The western alliance is not going to do anything more warlike than call Russia names. Which it does anyway, year in and year out, good relations or bad. Yawn. The west is not going to ride to the rescue, and Kiev is not going to be able to use its Blankets Of Fury to win the war. The west is giving an amazing contortionist performance of standing shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine while turning its back. Lilia Shevtsova is saying all this, not me – I’m just paraphrasing.
The west has rolled the dice, and failed. Now it wants to move on, leaving its mess behind for somebody else to clean up.
But somehow, Putin has fallen into its clever trap. Revolt is just a clarion call away. The people will swarm into the streets and overthrow the tyrant. There must be a name for a situation when you start out describing how your enemy has failed, list off all his successes along with your chosen side’s failures, and then leap to a dizzying and wholly illogical conclusion that the enemy has failed anyway even when it is plain as the nose on your face that he has not. Oh, I remember – it’s horseshit.
Nice try, Lilia.