Deconstructing Putin 644

I listened live to Putin’s speech yesterday with great interest.  Here is my own analysis, for what it is worth.

Putin was strongest in his accusations of western hypocrisy.  His ironic welcoming of the West having suddenly discovered the concept of international law was very well done.  His analysis of the might is right approach the West had previously adopted, and their contempt of the UN over Iraq and Afghanistan, was spot on. Putin also was absolutely right in describing the Kosovo situation as “highly analogous” to the situation in Crimea. That is indeed true, and attempts by the West – including the Guardian – to argue the cases are different are pathetic exercises in special pleading.

The problem is that Putin blithely ignored the enormous logical inconsistency in his argument.  He stated that the Crimean and Kosovo cases were highly analogous, but then used that to justify Russia’s action in Crimea, despite the fact that Russia has always maintained the NATO Kosovo intervention was illegal(and still refuses to recognize Kosovo).  In fact of course Russia was right over Kosovo, and thus is wrong over Crimea.

I was very interested that Putin made distinct reference to the appalling crimes against the Tartars in the 1930’s, but also to the terrible suffering of Ukrainians in that period.  His references were not detailed but their meaning was clear.  I was surprised because under Putin’s rule there has been a great deal of rehabilitation of Stalin.  Archives that were opened under glasnost have frozen over again, and history in Russian schools now portrays Stalin’s foreign policy achievement much more than his crimes (and it is now again  possible to complete your Russian school education with no knowledge the Stalin-Hitler pact ever happened).  So this was both surprising and positive.  Designed to be positive was his assurance that Crimea will be trilingual.  We will see what happens; Putin’s Russia is in fact not tolerant of its ethnic populations in majority Russian areas, and in fact contains a great many more far right thugs than Ukraine –  probably about the same  percentage of the population.

The 97% referendum figure is simply unbelievable to any reasonable person and is straight out of the Soviet playbook – it was strange to see Putin going in and out of modern media friendly mode and his audience, with their Soviet en brosse haircuts and synchronized clapping – obviously liked the Soviet bits best.

The attempt to downplay Russia’s diplomatic isolation was also a bit strange.  He thanked China, though China had very pointedly failed to support Russian in the Security Council.  When you are forced to thank people for abstaining, you are not in a strong position diplomatically.  He also thanked India, which is peculiar, because the Indian PM yesterday put out a press release saying Putin had called him, but the had urged Putin to engage diplomatically with the interim government in Kiev, which certainly would not be welcome to Putin.  I concluded that Putin was merely trying to tell his domestic audience Russia has support, even when it does not.

But what I find really strange is that the parts of the speech I found most interesting have not drawn any media comment I can see.  Putin plainly said that in his discussions with Kuchma on the boundaries of Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they hadn’t wanted to open any dispute with what they expected to be a friendly neighbor, and that therefore the boundaries of Ukraine had never been finally demarcated.  He said twice the boundaries had not been demarcated.  That seemed to indicate a very general threat to Eastern Ukraine. He also spoke of the common heritage of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine in a way that indicated that he did not accept that Ukraine might choose a political future away from Russia.

Secondly, he said that on the day the Soviet Union broke up, Russians in many places had “woken up to find themselves in a foreign country.” Again from the context in which he said it, this referred not just to Crimea, and not just even to the rest of Ukraine, but to Russian nationals all over the Former Soviet Union.  I would be worrying a lot about this part of the speech if I was Kazakh, to give just one example.  Putin seemed to be outlining a clear agenda to bring Russian speaking areas of CIS countries back in to Mother Russia – indeed, I see no other possible interpretation of his actions in Georgia and Ukraine.

I think that we should start listening much more carefully to what he says. I also think that the weakness of the EU’s response to events gives Putin a very dangerous encouragement to pursue further aggrandizement.  I posted a few days ago:

The EU I expect to do nothing.  Sanctions will target a few individuals who are not too close to Putin and don’t keep too many of their interests in the West.  I don’t think Alisher Usmanov and Roman Abramovic need lose too much sleep, that Harrods need worry or that we will see any flats seized at One Hyde Park.  (It is among my dearest wishes one day to see One Hyde Park given out for council housing.)  Neither do I expect to see the United States do anything effective; its levers are limited.

The truth is of course that the global political elite are in the pockets of the global financial elite, and while ordinary Russians are still desperately poor, the money the oligarchs rip out of Russia’s backward commodity exporting economy is parceled around the world financial system in ways that make it impossible for the western political classes to do anything.  Whose funds would the hedge fund managers look after?  Whose yacht could Mandelson and Osborne holiday on?

Personally I should like to see a complete financial freeze on the entire Russian oligarchy.  The knock on effects would only hurt a few bankers, and city types and those who depend on them (cocaine dealers, lap dancers, Porsche dealers, illegal domestic servants).  Sadly we shan’t see anything happen. They won’t let Eton go bust.


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644 thoughts on “Deconstructing Putin

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  • Sofia Kibo Noh

    Technicolour. 10 06pm

    “Uzbek: who is next? If anyone? Can Russia really afford to keep this up?”

    Who is next? Maybe you should be asking Victoria Nuland that one.

    IMO Russia only needs to “keep this up” longer than a bankrupt US and it’s bankrupt EU vassals run out of steam. What would you say are the odds?

  • Uzbek in the UK


    Let me put it straight. I do not hate Russians. In fact I respect Russians and have many friends who are Russians in both Russia, UK, US, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and elsewhere in Central Asia.

    What I am against is behaviour of current russian government and also support it has for such behaviour from Russians. Russians more and more remind me Germans in 1930th. Not all Germans were Nazis but there was certainly enough of them to legitimise Nazi regime. Not all Russians support Putin but certainly enough to assure him that in order to keep himself politically alive he must deliver more and more on chauvinistic agendas.

    And I am afraid that racism is also catching up with chauvinism in Russia. If only you were from central asia and read about lived of millions of central asians who work in Russia. On almost monthly basis there are some xenophobic killings in Russia. These left mostly unreported in mainstream Russian media, but on various central asian resources there is mountains of information.

    But still I respect those Russians I know and I believe that only if there was less of KGB propaganda and more of the liberal values in Russia Russian society could have been better. It might actually be a case that empire and drive to keep and enlarge it makes Russians worse (like it made French and British).

  • Macky

    Uzbek in the UK; “Prove me wrong please. Prove that Russian empire that is still expanding”

    No, I see an increasingly encircled Russia being provoked & force to protect itself & its interests.

    “(Georgia, Ukraine who is next?) is not ruled by notion of Russian chauvinism. In fact because of this very notion it was always easy to manipulate Russians by their rulers. Russian were/are ready to sacrifice their lives for greatness of their nation. For Mother Russia they say”

    It’s very strange that only Russian chauvinism exists in your one-sided version of history; were the Mongols who burnt Moscow down more than once, not chauvinistic, how about the various invasions by the Golden Horde tribes, or those by the Ottoman Turks ?, not even the British & French who helped the Turks in the Crimean War ? No inherent chauvinism attribution for any of these, only for the Russians ?

    Re Chechnya, according to Wiki; “In 2003, a referendum was held on a constitution that reintegrated Chechnya within Russia, but provided limited autonomy. According to the Chechen government, the referendum passed with 95.5% of the votes and almost 80% turnout.[56] In April 2009, Russia ended its counter-terrorism operation and pulled out the bulk of its army”

    But you will have no argument from me in agreeing that the Chechens have the right of self-determination, but just like Britain holds onto a part of Ireland, the Spanish to the Basque country, the French to Corsica, even without real or dodgy referendums, Russia is not exactly unique in wanting to hold onto land so nearby to itself; it doesn’t make it right, but it also doesn’t mean that the Russians are uniquely “chauvinistic”.

  • technicolour

    Uzbek; can’t disagree – the ‘Chechen’ bombings were absurdly badly staged; not that ‘Chechens’ didn’t have a reason to do them, of course. I guess once you firebomb a capital it’s easy to manufacture a grudge. But, anyway, after they crushed Yabloko, there is no real alternative – that I know of, anyway. So Putin will carry on (although I seem to remember the UN observers criticising at least one election for being utterly rigged). And of course protests there are crushed, and even small members of pop groups sent to Siberia – go on, cheer the rulers on, you wonderful fellow travellers.

  • technicolour

    “No, I see an increasingly encircled Russia being provoked & force to protect itself & its interests.”

    Ah, the inhuman triumphing. I think that says all we need to know about you, ‘Macky’.

  • Ben

    Joe Biden; the Fool on the Hill..

    ““As long as Russia continues on this dark path, they will face increase political and economic isolation,” Biden told reporters in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.

    “The president wanted me to come personally to make it clear what you already know that under Article 5 under the NATO treaty, we will respond. We will respond to any aggression against a NATO ally.”

  • Uzbek in the UK

    Sofia Kibo Noh

    Let assume that you have your own shop. You sell your goods to 2 most regular customers. Would you be interested in them both getting bankrupt?

    There is no more communism vs capitalism and if anything Russia is more capitalist (sort of wild west capitalism with no respect for law) and Russia (especially current regime) would do everything to keep money flow to Russia.

    It went unnoticed by MAD lefties but 4 years ago when Russian regime decided to reduce subsidies for petrol it sold on local market and it led to 20% increase in petrol price for locals huge riots broke out in 6 Russian cities, one of which was Vladivostok, city of strategic importance for Russia.

    Russian regime is alive as long as it delivers on both Russian Chauvinism and economic prosperity. Any move from this and putin is out of kremlin with similar speed as Yanukovich was out of Ukraine.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!

    Technicolour (21h57)

    No problem, I didn’t think you were doing that.

    Re “Uzbek: who is next? If anyone? Can Russia really afford to keep this up?”

    I think Uzbek’s analysis of Russia and Putin (22h38) is correct. I’d add, more generally, that liberal democracies are always hobbled by what makes them liberal democracies when dealing with fascist states, whether these are nominally of the right or of the left (the 30s serve as another good example). This is because of the existence of an electorate whose economic, political and even moral views have to be taken into account at least to some extent, a free press, the opportunity dissidents and useful idiots have to bring their views to public notice without fear of being silenced in various unpleasant (including terminal)ways, and, I suppose, a certain liberal tradition created over time. All these are constraints or potential constraints on the actions of liberal democracies which do not really exist in countries like Russia.

    So I think Russia can afford to keep this up if so minded, at least for the time being. But in the long run it will pay the price, in the same way as the old USSR did.

  • Resident Dissident

    A few thoughts:

    Many here do not realise the extent which a degree of nationalism, that we would find surprising by western standards, became an ingrained feature throughout the Eastern bloc. Have no doubt that the large majority of Russians support the idea that Crimea belonging to Russia – and you can see similar nationalist fervour elsewhere. The difference with Russia is its overwhelming size and influence combined with a nationalist and corrupt leader who likes to play the bully boy with others on what he believes is his patch. He is also all to aware of the old game of whipping up nationalism and racism to divert attention away from his countries economic woes.

    The greed of Russian oligarchs really is eye watering even by Western standards. We have had a trend towards to greater inequality in much of the West but I’m afraid Russia really leaves us behind. The indifference towards the less well off and ordinary workers within Russia really is something that would make even the most right wing Tories in this country wince – you can see this coming through in the declining levels of support for those who have to rely on public support – lousy pensions, declining support for public schools and healthcare and in many cases truly appalling housing . It is only through traditional family structures, which anyone who knows are much stronger in Russia than in the West (largely because they were the real mechanism by which the people protected themselves from the Soviet State) that many of the less well off have some degree of protection. The welfare state safety net really is well and truly broken in Russia.

    The notion of socialism in Russia which was only really given lip service in the late Soviet years doesn’t even get that nowadays. Those oligarchs such as Khodorovsky who belatedly discover that they have a social conscience are very quickly sat on by the others such as Putin and his supporters who have no time for such liberal thinking.

    Despite all this there are many in Russian and elsewhere in the former Soviet bloc who get all this and see the way forward through liberal thinking and democracy (some of who we are fortunate enough to hear from here). They should be encouraged. Please note I most pointedly didn’t say “western” liberalism – it is different and will become even more different with time and as circumstances develop.

    The likes of Macky and John Goss really have no clue of what has happened in Russia and the Eastern bloc over the last 25 years, and they demonstrate this time and time again. This is not surprising since they never really understood what happened in the preceding 70 years and still have some idealised idea that although the Soviet system had its faults it did represent the best hope for what they saw as socialism. I’m afraid they are too far gone to realise the error of their ways – or listen to real socialists, such as Orwell who pointed this out many years ago. Pity is probably the best response. Macky may wish to call me a Russia hater or similar but he really has no clue.

    Not surprisingly, I disagree with Craig on the Kosovo/Crimea comparison – but then I do believe that there is a case for real liberal interventionism when there is genocide and ethnic cleansing going on. Yes I would love it to be on a multilateral basis and within the terms of a clear international law – but the UN doesn’t always work and the law can be an ass at times. It is more of a “conservative” position to be a stickler for the absolute letter of the law.

  • Ben

    Yeah. Russia has managed to be the worst case of Socialism and Capitalism. It’s like siblings having children.

  • Ruth

    I believe many of the oligarch’s are front men for Western interests stolen during the 1990s and hence they are hardly likely to have their assets frozen

  • Resident Dissident

    “Re Chechnya, according to Wiki; “In 2003, a referendum was held on a constitution that reintegrated Chechnya within Russia, but provided limited autonomy. According to the Chechen government, the referendum passed with 95.5% of the votes and almost 80% turnout.[56] In April 2009, Russia ended its counter-terrorism operation and pulled out the bulk of its army””

    You make a valid point about the historical roots of Russian chauvinism – chauvinism begat chauvinism – but quite how it will be reduced by invading the Crimea and other bits of the Soviet Union defies all normal underatnding. However on the Chechen referendum if you really believe that the Chechen referendum really demonstrates Putin’s good record in the treatment of the Chechens then you really should read Anna Polikovskaya on the subject before demonstrating your ignorance on the matter in the future.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!

    “I believe many of the oligarch’s are front men for Western interests stolen during the 1990s and hence they are hardly likely to have their assets frozen”

    “front men for Western interests stolen”? It’s the Western interests that have been stolen?

    If your thoughts are pissy, your way of expressing them is shitty.

    PS – brush up on the use of apostrophes as well.

  • Resident Dissident

    “I believe many of the oligarch’s are front men for Western interests stolen during the 1990s”

    Some children believe in fairies and Father Christmas as well – take my word they were stealing on their own behalf as well. It is pretty well documented that many of the oligarchs were linked to various bits of the KGB and nomenklatura.

  • Ben

    Craig; I will ask yet again. DId you override a mod’s decision to pre-moderate certain unserious posters?

  • Sofia Kibo Noh

    “This war did not spring up on our land, this war was brought upon us by the children of the Great Father who came to take our land without a price, and who, in our land, do a great many evil things… This war has come from robbery – from the stealing of our land.” Spotted Tail

    The children of the Great Father have consistently brought war and misery since the conquest of the American continent began. The only change is that, in the age of “Full Spectrum Dominance”, they believe it’s their “manifest destiny” to dominate the world.

    Is it not rational for Russians to mobilize (peacefully so far) to defend their communities and culture from a US that clearly is intent on surrounding it?

    Also why so much focus on Putin? Does anyone really believe most Ukrainians of any ethnicity ever wanted to be ruled by $5 billion worth of fascists?

    If Putin didn’t exist the Russian nation would have to invent him.

  • technicolour

    Ben (not that I always agree with you): “Yeah. Russia has managed to be the worst case of Socialism and Capitalism. It’s like siblings having children” – yes. Like China, and corporate communism. Have you read PJ’s Eat the Rich?

  • Macky

    ResDes & Uzbek in the UK, go on about Nationalism/Chauvinism in Russia, a country not even on the same page of as the rampaging US, the greatest empire the World has even had, in which Manifest Destiny & American Exceptionalism is indoctrinated into every sphere of an American’s life, leading to the pernicious patriotism of “My Country, Right or Wrong”; yet for them Russia & the Russians are the greatest problem effecting the world today.

    The last part of ResDes “A few thoughts”, where he mentions “real liberal interventionism” is of course the classic “Liberal Defence of Murder”, or alternatively “The Liberal Apology For Murder”.

  • Ben

    Sofia; I wish I could find the pic but there’s an old MAD magazine pic with a caption. Coolidge at a pow-wow complete with feathered headdress; smokes the peace pipe….

    “And the great white Father sends greetings along with congratulations to his Red borthers….Now you stinkin’ redskins get off my land”

  • Kempe

    “Interesting question: is there a challenger to Putin? Does anyone know? ”

    There was, but they tend to end up getting shot, poisoned or sent to jail. Odd that.

  • Ben

    ” Have you read PJ’s Eat the Rich?”

    PJ O’Rourke? No. He’s not on my reading list.

  • technicolour

    Oh , here we go again, Macky,as though he/she were not addressing a board hosted by one of the main spokespeople against violent murderous Western brutality. It’s extraordinary, or not.

  • technicolour

    Well, Ben, as someone who also loves Hunter, try it.

    Kempe, yes, odd, isn’t it.

  • Sofia Kibo Noh

    Technicolour. 11 43pm

    “What? ‘Sofia’ is that expected to make any sense?”

    Well, yes.

    Maybe you could tell me which bit you don’t understand and I’ll try to explain with short words.

    In the meantime it’s good to see the Russian sense of humour has not fallen victim to the crippling Western response.

    ”The State Duma has passed a motion suggesting that the US and EU extend the freshly introduced sanctions to all Russian MPs.”

    Aren’t they supposed to be taking this a bit more seriously?

  • technicolour

    Well, try making sense of this:

    The children of the Great Father have consistently brought war and misery since the conquest of the American continent began.

    I’m off to bed, so fine if it takes you until the morning.

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