Article by: Pavel Sheremet
The project “Novorossia” is still in play. None of the authors or instigators of that project-catastrophe has ever even thought about giving it up: it brings them too much money and other dividends.
Of course, no “Novorossia” exists within the borders drawn by Russian imperialists and orthodox gonfalons’ carriers; they have missed their deadlines, and the price for the project has multiplied many times over; but the crazy idea has not been given up. The Ukrainian nation has unexpectedly messed up the flow of history — a nation, which by Kremlin calculations, was not supposed to exist. They still hope to correct this annoying misunderstanding.
The Kremlin is currently experiencing a struggle between two groups, both of which support the war with Ukraine. I don’t even know how to separate them: one is for the war right now; the other – simply pro war. There are no influential forces in the Kremlin right now that stand for peace with their neighbors. There are only possessed imperialists and calculating imperialists.
The possessed imperialists are promoting the idea of a full-scale military invasion of Ukraine as soon as possible and for the widening of the area controlled by the separatists using military force. That is why for a few days in a row [Russian leader of the separatists] Girkin-Strelkov was giving full-scale interviews to LifeNews and Sergey Dorenko; he was beating a war drum. He and those who support him are prepared to cover Ukraine in blood and throw away the lives of tens of thousands of Russians for their “Novorossia.” The influence of this group is very strong. And winter isn’t about to stop them.
The calculating imperialists group, which from the very beginning proposed a broad plan for the Crimea, Donbas and the imaginary Novorossia, promotes a more sophisticated variant: attack, fortify, roll back a little, attack again.
If you think that Putin is losing the war for Ukraine and that it is basically already over, then I would recommend that you look at the facts soberly and through the eyes of the Russian president and his advisers.
Crimea is already part of the Russian Federation. A substantial part of Donbas has been turned into a fortress, a bone in the throat of Ukraine and a platform for a new attack. Of course, Putin didn’t take Kyiv in two weeks as he threatened he could. He didn’t even take the strategically important port Mariupol. But massive military force has not been used yet either. Only a few tactical groups consisting of a few battalions, without the support of aviation, pushed the Ukrainian Army back and turned around the military situation in Donbas. That means that the Russian generals are reporting victories, not losses, to Putin.
“There is a struggle between two group formations in the Kremlin right now — one of which is in support of war right now, another that is for the war in general.”
The Russian ruling elite doesn’t consider Ukrainians to be “a people” or, more precisely, to be one people; moreover, it does not see Ukrainians as a strong and unified nation. They despise Ukrainians. All mentions in the Russian state media are about the greediness, slyness and fearfulness of Ukrainians.
The sanctions of the West, on the one hand, are disturbing, but on the other hand, anger them and force them to act firmly and quickly. A goal was set out to dismember Ukraine diagonally; and that goal still looks attainable. Maybe I am painting too grim a picture, but I always follow the rule that bitter truth is better than sweet lies.
I am convinced that we are living through a critical moment in history. Russia and all its neighbors have found themselves at a fork in the road of history that will drastically change the destiny of millions of people and entire nations. It already has. No one knows for sure what will happen tomorrow. Some are sure of the rebirth of “the Russian world” and renaissance of the Russian empire. Others see the aggression against Ukraine as the last gasp of empire, which will finalize the fall of Russian power as a country.
For the sake of experiment, I will try to put myself in Putin’s shoes in order to understand the logic of his deeds. For the sake of the experiment I will try to look at the “pros” of this war for Russia.
Yes, Putin has solved his internal political problems. His ratings soared sky high, but it is comparable to a drug high, which requires the next hit and then another and another. Some politicians and politico-marginals have managed to improve their positions. The generals traditionally make money on war. The Caucasus and Tadzhik issues are forgotten. Statesmen-corruptionists got some relief because they and their fur coat thesauruses are almost totally forgotten about [due to a new war].
In other words, some narrow groups and formations are happy. But are there “pros” for the Russian people, for the Russian state?
I have tried hard to find any positive outcomes from the Russian attack on Ukraine and can’t find them. There is no excuse for it and the story has no happy ending for Russia.
Two years ago, in cold Khanti-Mansiysk, I was sitting with the Russian writer and TV host Alexander Arkhangelskiy. Sasha had just finished a new novel, in which, in a complicated artistic style, he painted the future of the Russian president.
I was insisting that most likely, Vladimir Putin would start a small, victorious war. His feelings are hurt by the West and he thinks that Americans don’t respect Russia, so he will “show them” so they stop being cocky.
“The goal – dismembering Ukraine diagonally; and that goal still seems attainable.”
At the time we agreed that if a war were to happen, it would be a war for Ukraine because fighting China would be too damaging; fighting Europe directly would be pointless because it will fall apart by itself soon enough; but to take a bite out of Ukraine – that would play into the creation of the Customs Union as well as into the ideology of what Great Russia is and where it came from.
I based my theory exclusively on psychology and economics. On the one hand, Russia is “rising from its knees,” the Russian elite is standing tall once again and sees itself as a representative of a great state and a decision maker in the world’s destiny. But at the same time there is the constant feeling that the world does not respect Russia and doesn’t pay it attention. As if to say, we are already buying soccer World Cup events in Europe and financially supporting chancellors, but that rotting and deteriorating “Gay-rope” responds with disdain!
Mary Ellis Sarotte, Harvard historian and author of the book “The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall,”published an article in The Guardian dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, describing the psychological trauma Putin lived through, watching the soviet world crumble and the powerful German Stazi secret service disappear. Vladimir Putin, while burning secret documents and peaking at the wild revolutionary masses through a narrow opening between the curtains, experienced a level of stress that has shown itself years later in the absence of compassion to any revolutionaries and mercilessness toward those he considers the enemies of Russia.
That experience made Putin an easy target for manipulation by those who see the world through the prism of the soviet model and the usual anti-Americanism. Opportunists and conservatives have found the sensitive point of this Russian president and have played on his fears.
There are a few groups that are responsible, in my opinion, for all of us standing at the edge of the precipice.
First, there are representatives of the military and of the military production complexes. The military elite didn’t change with the break-up of the Soviet Union. Those in decision-making positions were still commanders from the soviet era and those who were trained by them. They were the ones who were dead set against the idea of NATO spreading to the East, thus justifying our military actions in Moldova and Georgia.
“We are buying soccer World Cup events in Europe, and yet the rotting “Gayrope” still responds to us with disdain!”
For example, the war in Transnistria has also produced a competition between Russian military officials for the gigantic warehouses of military equipment. On the other hand, the generals were scaring the government with the thought of NATO bases in Crimea because they really didn’t want to leave their comfortable summer homes on the seashore. I am simplifying things, of course, but the basis for the geopolitics of the generals has always been personal interest first. It worked out relatively easily with Georgia in 2008, which energized the “party of war.”
The military officials persuaded the political leadership of Russia that Crimea is a super important military platform. They insisted that despite the Black Sea Agreement in effect until 2045 (the date the Russian Military Fleet base was to be allowed to be located in Crimea) Ukraine would kick the Russian Military Fleet out of Crimea, and the Black Sea shores would be left without protection, and that there was no way to find $150 million for the building of the military fleet in Novorossiysk. And so on, and so on.
As for the fact that in the twentieth century, the Black Sea does not represent any military value because it can be shot at from every shore, the generals preferred to be silent. They instead hyped the hysteria and warmed up the political leadership of the country. They were supported by the producers of military equipment, who regretted the lost taste for military production orders they had benefited from during the second Chechen war and especially the Georgian war.
In addition, there was no mention of the fact that there was not one NATO base stationed in Eastern Europe on the borders with Russia and that from the beginning of 1991, the Baltic countries and Poland had nearly given up their armies because they didn’t plan on fighting anyone.
A new anti-missile defense system in Europe became a scarecrow. That anti-missile defense system was used as a bogeyman; the average Russian citizen was much more likely to know about it way than a politically savvy American.
Instead of collaboration with NATO, Russian generals were stealthily and openly firing up a conflict with it. I remember, for example, General Ivashov. That man spent his career in the central apparatus of the Soviet Ministry of Defense and was its business manager at the time of the break-up of the USSR. It seemed that his entire career and private life would collapse together with the empire, but the general clung to power and didn’t give up. Ivashov spent 1996-2001 as Chief of the Central Administration of International Military Collaboration of the Ministry of Defense. Imagine how badly he hated NATO and the West and yet was responsible for international contacts for the Russian Army; and he didn’t waste a day without revelations of “plans of aggression.” Russian generals were protecting their personal lifestyles, indulging their phantom pains at the cost of the future of peaceful Russians.
“And then there are the commodity tycoons and pseudo-patriotic businessmen, who on the sly, are squeezing Western competition out of Russia.”
As a result, there will be five new NATO bases on the borders of Russia, and Moscow won’t be able to get around the new American anti-missile defense system any more. And the generals, with straight faces, will present these events as proof of the horrifying scenarios that they have painted for the last fifteen years. They have finally found the proof for their visions of tank attacks.
There is still one more large group of lobbyists for the war with Ukraine – the oligarch-bureaucratic financial-industrial groups. These aren’t businessmen, yet they are no longer bureaucrats either. They are, specifically, tight groups formed out of bureaucrats and dealers. Being used to pirating properties and monopolizing the markets, those groups are encouraging the military campaign against Ukraine for the sake of new acquisitions. Over the years they haven’t converted their wealth into anything new and technological. They haven’t come up with new products for the world markets – just the same military equipment and raw fossil fuel resources of all sorts. And they still want more of the military equipment plants and more of the raw fossil fuel resources.
First of all it’s about gas; therefore, the president is being persuaded that Crimea is needed to assure the safety of “South Stream” and to conquer oil and gas production offshore. There are also plenty of those who want to take over Ukrainian steel production and the defense industry.
Kakha Benukidze, who knew very well the nature and traditions of the new Russian capitalism, was certain that the oligarchs are actively lobbying for military aggression against Ukraine, anticipating the large chunks of property they can obtain if all goes as they hope. In May of 2014 Benukidze explained why Russia would introduce an embargo on Ukrainian goods, and he proved absolutely right: “There is an enormous influential lobby that would benefit from a commercial war against Ukraine. There are dozens of very powerful people who, with pleasure, would bribe the Kremlin, only to close the Russian market to Ukrainian products. Steel producers will deliver. And will applaud. Pipe producers will applaud. Farmers will applaud. Chemists, in significant numbers, will applaud. What other Ukrainian export to Russia is significant? People will be glad and will shake hands, and will say ”great!” and they will make money off it.”
In the spring, right after the [annexation of] Crimea, those invested in war were experiencing the same euphoria as the military. Under pretense of the reconstruction of Crimea, they can now use the Gold Reserve of the Russian empire for their personal enrichment. And the military campaign against the industrial Donbas didn’t look dangerous or costly.
The voices of the oligarchs that suffer from the sanctions of the West aren’t heard even now in the chorus of commodity magnates and dealers-pseudo-patriots, who are, on the sly, squeezing western competition out of Russia. They are shaking a Russian chicken before the president, which, of course, is juicier than American bacon, and taking rides on Russian tanks, which without a doubt, are stronger than any “Abrams”. The armor is so thick that not every bureaucrat is able to get out of it very quickly. And the fact that France isn’t selling its “Mistrals” — well, that’s even better, because those “Mistrals” are just real sh…
The third group are our analysts, who freely and with no alternatives have been running the wave of propaganda for years.
Michael Leontiev is considered to be a great philosopher. Of course, he isn’t lacking talent or knowledge, but the number of cockroaches in his head is way over the acceptable norm. The bright showman Sergey Dorenko has no relation to analysis at all, but regularly expounds via radio and TV. They have always and continue to play the same tune as their masters and therefore have stayed on air for years.
Any normal country fights intellectual monopoly. On any TV show, next to an Obama supporter you will find his ardent opponent; for every CNN there will be a FoxNews. In Russia, a break between reality and its interpretation by Kremlin propagandists is growing rapidly. Leontiev has insisted for years that there is no such country as Ukraine and earned himself a pension with “Rosneft.” It will be the task of another generation to deal with the results of his accumulated analyses.
Dorenko spews fiery callings to hit Ukraine hard and move all forces towards Kyiv.There is so much maniacal passion to it that I’ve even started to suspect that Dorenko is slyly and in a very sophisticated way trying to trick Putin into a trap and to avenge some old grudges.
And there is no break. On the contrary – several independent internet outlets were closed last spring. Next “Ekho Moskvi” [independent progressive radio channel] will close shop. Then the regional media will be thinned out once again. The informational and analytical emptiness begins to ring. This putting of the intellect to sleep is producing monsters.
It seems like the avalanche can no longer be stopped unless a substitute is found for the overwhelming idea of the greatness of the “Russian world” in a battle against the mean West. The leftovers of a healthy Russian elite must formulate a new project– a project that would allow President Putin to save a face as a formidable father of all nations and at the same time save the country from a confrontation with the civilized world. For example, the war with Ukraine could be replaced with the long-awaited total war against corruption. Even without Navalny and Nemtsov. The train that slipped off its brakes can’t be stopped, but its direction can be changed.
However, there is virtually no chance of jumping out of the turning gears of war and to redirect the avalanche of neo-imperialism in a safe direction.
“Optimism in these times is just the usual cowardice,” wrote the German philosopher Oswald Spengler on the eve of world catastrophe.