Last October, as the West piled layer after layer of “targeted sanctions” on Russia, Senator John McCain thought it’s prime time for insults:
Look, Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country,” McCain said. “It’s kleptocracy. It’s corruption. It’s a nation that’s really only dependent upon oil and gas for their economy, and so economic sanctions are important.
The bit about kleptocracy and corruption is just as true about our newest ally Ukraine (or most other blotches of solid color outlined on a political map) as it is about Russia. Still, Russian exports are dominated by the energy sector and the largest employer in the country is the state energy magnate Gazprom. Yet the former US presidential candidate and Amnesty proponent might want to entertain a thought that there is something more that goes into being a country than an solid economy.
Thus after we bailed out of Mesopotamia, Russia moved in, propping up their SOB Assad and building an alliance that includes both Iran and Iraq. And if the Kremlin reasserted its power in that region, it’s because they got Ukraine exactly where they want it to be — in frozen war.
Its economy is very much second world, demographically Russia looks doomed, and yet its performance on world stage today defies expectations. Perhaps “[not] a country” is a silly thing to say about a country in the midst of imperial revival. Russians today are not shy to admire Stalin who expended their sphere of influence across Europe and made the USSR feared worldwide. Putin’s challenge is to live up to the expectations of resurgence. That the youth of the Russian Federation, the least ethnically Russian age-group, are his biggest fans should give us something to think about.
How’s Russia managing it? With confidence and resolve. Russians seem awfully sure of who they are and what’s good about their country. Look at the Sochi Olympics, for instance. Staged in the explosive Caucuses, it ended without a terrorist incident, defying critics and demonstrating Russian will.
At the Olympic ceremonies Russians paraded their contributions to civilization, sometimes inflating them (but, hey, at least they value civilization enough to inflate their contributions) — they showed us their cannon — ballerinas, space flight and famous writers. Our answer to ballerinas, space flight and famous writers is open borders. We have no cannon. Our children are taught that diversity is our strength; recycling replaced civics. Political power is derived through passive-aggressive mind games.
Last year, amidst sanctions, pundits laughed that economic weapon is our best weapon — because what else do we have the nerve for? What they forgot is that Russians, who are not averse to suffering to begin with, had lived through much harder times in the 90’s. They are not the kind of people whose vice presidents tell them to go shopping in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack.
In terms of affecting Putin’s behavior, sanctions achieved results the opposite of intended. Russians, 40% of whom have relatives in Ukraine, saw their worst suspicions confirmed when the West supported the overthrow of Yanukovich. They rallied around Putin, and the popular opinion of the United States reached the all-time low. Anti-Americanism in Russia today is like nothing I remember.
Having failed with sanctions and realizing that Russian quagmire in Syria is unlikely, our best bet is that Saudi Arabia will flood the market with oil hurting Russian energy exports. Only it’s doubtful that the Saudis, themselves besieged by economic troubles, will go on very long, especially considering that the Saudi pet project ISIS is poised to be obliterated. Once it is, what is the rational for the use the oil weapon? Anyhow, it’s a sad state of affairs when our leverage in the Middle East is all but gone and we are reduced to hoping that Al Qaida will destroy Russia there.
Meantime, a participant in a recent state TV talk show opined (to some laughs) that Syria is Russian land because Orthodox Christianity traces its roots to Syria:
Now, that takes guts. I wonder who is the intended audience for that crusading outburst. Was it for domestic consumption because or to show the world just how far is “Putin’s” Russia from Merkel’s Germany or Obama’s America? If, under Putin, Stalin or Nicolas, the Russian idea is self-sacrifice for the state, the West no longer broadcasts rule of law, freedom and prosperity. Our ideas are dwindling economies and vanishing national identities.
Amazing to watch pundits, all in agreement that Putin is the personification of evil, scramble as to how to appropriately save face vis-a-vis the Kremlin. The first step, it seams to me, should be to acknowledge that with each passing day we are looking less and less like a country and more like a collection of uncertain loyalties.
We’ve grown wobbly over the last quarter century. When our so-called hawks went to Iraq for the second time, they thought it was necessary to first ask the UN for permission. Putin also went to the UN, but only after his coalition-building work was already done behind the scenes, and to admonish us. His is a common sense approach, and the results are predictable. Over 70% of Britons support his Syria campaign. When I look at number like that I wonder if, in a purely hypothetical scenario of NATO bombing ISIS, 70% of Britons would support it — or would they flood the streets of London in protest and somehow deduce that it’s all Israel’s fault.
There is a shade of McCaine’s “gas station” comment in Kissinger’s assessment that the West’s involvement in Ukraine was an attempt to break up Russia. Ordinary Americans balk at this type of geo-political pronouncements, but Russians and Ukrainians readily discuss which one of their countries is going down first and how it will be carved out. Having lived through the break up of the USSR a mere quarter century ago, they don’t shy away from geopolitical macabre.
“Country 404”: “Country is not found”. Because Russian-leaning Donbas produced a good chunk of Ukraine’s GDP, the meme above became popular in the wake of Donbas’s vote for independence in 2014. Number 404 superimposed against the Ukrainian flag, resembles the country’s insignia, the trident
What is it about Western self-hate? It seems to me, the answer to resurgent Russia starts not in Syria, but in Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. We need to rethink our immigration policy, rediscover our founding principles, fall back in love with American culture because only then will we be in a position to revamp our posture in the world. If not –I remember Soviet Union going 404, quickly and unexpectedly. Russia might just have the last laugh.