It seems that none of our peers have had as many opinions attributed to them as V. V. Putin.
On the one hand, he is nothing, a contemptible midget and just la-la-la. On the other hand, he is an evil genius plunging us into a void of chaos and bloodshed.
They call Putin a measly pygmy who has challenged the entire civilized world. And they immediately lament that the world leaders are ready to give our country up to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. The behavior of the Russian President is declared to be insane. And meanwhile they lament that V.V.P. has once more ‘outsmarted everyone.’
Ukraine has believed in the power of the global community for too long, the power of polite western masters. We are forgetting that in the 20th century, civilized Europe was outsmarted not only by Hitler and Stalin, but mad African dictators as well. The ignorant savages did whatever they wanted, drunk on their own impunity, and the global community could do nothing.
In order to outsmart everyone, it is not necessary to be better at the game. It is just enough to violate the rules. The Grand Master debates complex moves, and they play Chapayev with him. A muscular gentleman prepares to box, and gets kneed in the groin. An athlete participates in a marathon race, and they are outrun on a bicycle. This is a great way to win. The unceremonious violation of the rules confuses and disarms, ruins any plans and breaks the current distribution of power.
Ukraine’s recent history is evidence of this.
The anti-Maidan circles are already spreading the legend about Yanukovych’s great epoch, when there was order, peace, hot water and the dollar for eight hryvnia. However, in reality, it was Yanukovych who ruined Ukrainian stability. Kravchuk, Kuchma and Yushchenko obeyed the unwritten laws, adhered to undeclared taboos and did not venture outside of their given frames. Thanks to this, Ukraine changed the government three times peacefully. The fourth President decided to act in a different way.
“Viktor Fedorovich, according to the rules, we have a political balance.” “To hell with the rules, I want vertical power, like in Russia.” “Viktor Fedorovich, according to the rules, we have an oligarchical consensus.” “To hell with the rules, I have the Family.” “Viktor Fedorovich, according to the rules you cannot do away the opponents you’ve beaten.” “To hell with the rules, I want Yulya behind bars.” “Viktor Fedorovich, the people came to Maidan. According to the rules, you should make peace and compromise.” “To hell with the rules, I have Berkut.”
This rhinoceros-like tactic turned out to be quite successful. While those who opposed the President played according to the old rules, and the President audaciously violated them, he managed to do everything, and we went forth confidently. Angry speeches, noisy protests, European concern did nothing to help. A way to reign Yanukovych in was discovered only in January 2014.
The violator can be countered with an even bigger violation of the rules, which will catch them unawares. Did they start playing Chapayev instead of chess with you? Hit the enemy over the head with the chessboard. Did you get kneed in the groin after preparing for a boxing match? Pepper spray the enemy in the eyes. A marathon participant outran you on a bike? Get a motorcycle.
In our case, the asymmetric response looked as follows: “Ukrainians, according to the rules we have a peaceful and non-violent protest.” “To hell with the rules, we have Molotov cocktails!” As soon as we crossed the prohibition limit, the regime, which had seemed unbeatable, crashed within a month.
However, we did not have long to enjoy our victory: someone who was ready to stomp on regular norms even more than Yanukovych and Maidan interrupted the game. While the master of Mezhyhirya and the Kyiv revolutionaries had been amateurs, Mr. Putin is an experienced professional. His political career was built upon the violation of unwritten taboos.
In the year 2000, nobody would have believed the Vladimir Vladimirovich would rule Russia fourteen years later. He was supposed to be a modest representative of Yeltsin’s family and that of cunning Berezovsky. Thorough NTV journalists were ready to knock his rating down. Oligarch Khodorkovsky was able to raise a strong opposition to ruin the President. This is what should have happened according to the genre laws back in the day. And Putin was only successful because he had violated those laws.
We cannot take away property from the richest and most influential people in Russia? We cannot cleanse the most popular TV channel in the country? We cannot throw our competitor behind bars for 10 years? Yes, we can. And we have to, if we want to win.
By ruining the old norms, Mr. Putin became the master of an enormous country. Now he is using the same tactic on the international arena. The words ‘may not’ do not exist to him.
In the 21st century, one can annex part of a neighboring state. One can orchestrate an armed rebellion and sponsor mercenaries on foreign territory. One can deploy the regular army and lie with an audacious smile that they are not there. And the civilized world will only blink and get powerlessly indignant.
The Europeans who are trying to deal with Putin are bound to the old axis system. They cannot say no to the rules they are used to, and any sanctions are aimed to return Russia to the former normative plane.
Europe hopes that someone who started playing Chapayev will return to a regular chess game. But even if he does return, it will be after he throws all enemy pieces off the board. And after this, he can orchestrate a classical Endspiel to make the West happy…
It looks like Vladimir Vladimirovich has finally started believing in his own invincibility. Yes, today he is practically invincible for hoity-toity Europeans. But there are no guarantees that tomorrow Putin will have to face even bigger rule-violators than himself. By destroying the current order, the Russian leader is creating conditions for a new loop of abuse. Should this happen, the omnipotent VVP risks becoming weak and helpless.
The hypothetical end may be anything. For example, as follows: “Citizen Putin, in the name of the Moscow People’s Republic, you are under arrest!” “This is not according to the rules! Your MNR is an illegal terrorist group, and I am the President of Russia!” “To hell with the rules. Put your hands behind your head and turn to the wall.”