Putin’s unrealizable dream vs. his all too-real nightmare

Putin and Gazprom corruption (Image: J. Crabon, BBC.com)

Putin and Gazprom corruption (Image: J. Crabon, BBC.com) 

Analysis & Opinion, Politics, Russia

That Vladimir Putin lives in a different reality than do other world leaders is now more or less common ground. Now, two commentators have described respectively what the Kremlin leader dreams about and what his worst nightmare might turn out to be.

In a commentary of Kyiv’s “Novoye vremya,” Yury Felshtinsky, a Russian historian who now lives in the US, says that Putin’s dream is that the world will treat his Russia as having a status equal to that of the United States, something the writer says is beyond his capacity to achieve.

For Putin, Felshtinsky says, “the US is the main problem. Not Chechnya, not Georgia and not Ukraine.” But he has a problem: “Perhaps America would be glad to recognize Russia as an equal partner but Russia has nothing besides Gazprom, and the earnings of Gazprom are less than those of the American company Apple.”

“America has no ideology regarding Russia. It wants to see Russia as it wants to see everyone else as a peaceful and reliable partner in politics and business,” he continues. However, “there cannot be relations of parity between the two because Russia in the literal sense is not a great power. It exports raw materials and imports everything else.”

“Over the course of the last century,” he writes, Russia “has destroyed its farmers and its own intellectuals, carried out the terror famine in Ukraine, and conducted a global purge of its own Soviet communist nomenklatura and army. And the Soviet Union fought with Hitler only because the latter attacked it.”

In contrast, “Washington dreams only about one thing” – that Russia will stop causing problems. “No one ever expected anything good from Russia, only something bad,” although when periods of a warming of the relationship happen, “all are ready to accept this as a long-term strategic change and look with hope into the eyes of Putin, a KGB guy who, as President Bush said, one could believe.”

“Unfortunately,” he writes, “ordinary Americans on the whole do not think or know anything about the Russian-Ukrainian conflict: if you turn on the main American television channels, you won’t hear about Crimea, Luhansk or the Donbas.”

And when Putin annexed Crimea, “almost all world leaders indicated to Putin that they were ready to recognize the annexation if Putin would declare an end to his plans for seizing the territory of the former Soviet republics.” Putin spat in their faces, declaring the existence of a Russian world that he would defend and denying that Ukraine was a state at all.

But now it is clear that Putin’s Russia doesn’t have the resources to carry out his threats. “There is a lot of boldness, bluffing, and even more bad behavior, but the boorishness of Zhirinovsky and Rogozin won’t help you to take on America.” What you can do and what Putin has done is to harm Russia.”

“One can intimidate the entire world with nuclear weapons; one can help Iran and North Korea; one can kill Nemtsov; one can poison Kara-Murza; and one can ban the import of sprats from the Baltics,” Felshtinsky says. But those who will suffer as a result of this ban are not the Balts but the Russians.

Putin, of course, “is thinking in other categories. This is already not about money; it is about eternity, empire and glory. Putin has to prepare Russia for global isolation from the West in the case of the beginning of a major war. Sprats are a serious test of Russians’ firmness, because if they are not ready to live without sprats, they won’t fight for Putin. But if they will, then they will be able to do everything else.”

“The time for talks with Russia, unfortunately, has passed,” Felshtinsky concludes. “Russia does not plan to reach agreement with the West, but the West sincerely does not understand how one can reach an agreement with a negotiating partner if he does not plan to agree on anything.”

If Putin’s dream is to have his country be treated as the equal of the United States, his nightmare is that he is on course to become a second Gorbachev and preside over the disintegration of his country into a plethora of smaller states with himself ousted from the stage of big politics and history.

In a comment on Ekho Moskvy, Aleksandr Goldfarb, the head of the Litvinenko Foundation in London, says that there are some good reasons why Putin may have such fears. The Soviet Union fell apart “quickly and unexpectedly” because of the coming together of five factors: there was a war in Afghanistan, a collapse in oil prices, the non-existence of the Soviet economy, corruption and cynicism among the elite, and pressure from the West.

Now, all five of these have been recreated: there is a war in Ukraine, a collapse in oil prices, a systemic economic crisis, corruption and “colossal income differentiation,” and Western sanctions and “a course directed at isolating Russia.”

“Economists predict,” Goldfarb says, “that the stabilization fund will run out of money within a year, that then inflation will reach 25 percent and social dissatisfaction will rise. Oil apparently isn’t going to become more expensive. The Ukrainian fiasco will be no smaller than [the Soviet one] in Afghanistan, and the West will not weaken sanctions.”

Moreover, he continues, “whatever anyone says, [the West] has clearly adopted a course directed at regime change” in Russia. “In this situation, Putin has three options.”

First, he can leave office and transfer power to one of his slightly less corrupt comrades in arms, hoping against hope that they won’t turn him over to the international court even as they reverse his policies and his support disappears “like smoke.”

Second, Putin can “tighten the screws, extend the war, completely break with the West and build a mobilization economy.” That could extend his rule for “many years,” but he could achieve these things only by instituting the kind of purges of his colleagues that Stalin used to maintain his power.

And “finally” there is “the third path: do nothing and await the collapse of the economy, an uncontrolled disintegration with an unpredictable outcome” as the situation spins “out of control.”

Edited by: A. N.

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  • Michel Cloarec

    I would not like to be putin ! Cornered rat will bite of course , and certainly Ukraine will be the bitten one. One way or another Russia is doomed !

  • mastaflash

    “Second, Putin can “tighten the screws, extend the war, completely break with the West and build a mobilization economy.” That could extend his rule for “many years,” but he could achieve these things only by instituting the kind of purges of his colleagues that Stalin used to maintain his power.”

    Of the three choices, I fear this the most likely, as Russian history clearly demonstrates.

    • Dagwood Bumstead

      I agree; it’s his only hope of staying in power and, indeed, alive. Where would he go if deposed? Yanukovich could run to Moscow, but who will take the dwarf? Minsk? Astana? Highly unlikely- I doubt whether Lukashenko and Nazarbaev have forgotten the dwarf’s open threats of invasion of Belarus and Kazakhstan “to protect the Russian minorities”.
      This would mean continuing the war with Kyiv however, and eventually he won’t be able to hide the casualties any longer, just as the Soviet leaders couldn’t hide the Afghanistan casualties any longer. He can secretly cremate the dead, but how do you hide thousands of wounded, crippled veterans? Intern them in camps? Shoot them? Only a short term solution, as eventually wives, mothers etc will start asking questions, and ever more loudly. They already are.
      If, or rather when, the dwarf goes Yanukovich may have a problem as well. Will a new president protect him just as the dwarf has? Or will a new president try to mend bridges with Kyiv and hand over Proffessor Viktor and his son plus Azarov and the other scumbags as a peace offering?
      The question is, how long can the dwarf stay in power when he takes option 2? Will his subordinates stand idly by as they are disposed of one by one? Possibly, but highly unlikely.

    • Rods

      I think he is already taking the second course and this may well extend his rule, but there will become a point when too many people will have had enough and then I think Moscow will have it’s own Maiden. We saw in 2012 how many people were dissatisfied with his reelection, this is not going to be less in 2018.

      In 1991, Russia had the biggest conventional army in the world, but that did not keep the government or the attempted coup in power, where the army refused, to their credit, to fire on their own people.

      Personally, I think it is unlikely that Putin will die in bed of natural causes and will only have himself to blame where he got elected and then pulled a dictator’s drawbridge up behind him. He has plenty of blood on his hands with the deaths of 250,000 Chechens, 200,000 Syrians and up to 12,000 Ukrainians, plus others, so his death will be no loss to humanity.

      The real danger for humanity is that he controls the nuclear codes and I could see him having the attitude of, if I go you all go, so we have all got to hope that the suits around him prevent it happening.

  • Czech Friend

    That do nothing option seems very unlikely to me even as an option because it isn’t any.
    Sure #2 is a favourite but for a cowardly rat even #1 doesn’t sound unrealistic, depends how big the dwarf’s ego grew by this stage.

    • Dagwood Bumstead

      I don’t think the dwarf will give up the presidency voluntarily, he’s too addicted to power. Furthermore, there is nothing in known prior behaviour to suggest he would even consider it.
      But assuming he does step down, to whom will he transfer the power? Can he trust ANYONE in is entourage to stick to a deal of immunity in exchange for giving up the presidency? He’s surrounded by sharks. The most likely candidate would be the head of the FSB, whoever that is if/when the dwarf steps down: one KGB/FSB thug is most likely to protect the other. But even that is not guaranteed, I think, given the dwarf backing Kadyrov against the FSB top.
      I agree that option 3- doing nothing- can be ruled out.

      • Czech Friend

        I think he could consider “stepping down” if he knew tough times were ahead and he knew he could easily rule from behind the scenes and not be responsible for the hardships.

        But would his ego allow that and didn’t his propaganda just go too far?

        Probably yes.

        Exile or death that is what is at the end of the line for Putler.

        • Dagwood Bumstead

          But exile where to? Hardly anybody will accept him, apart from crackpots such as Mugabe. Lukashenko won’t, nor, I suspect, will Nazarbaev. Karimov? What could he gain, apart from the dwarf’s loot? Peking only regards him with contempt, so that leaves Kim Jong-un. But will a life in North Korea be attractive? And would his mattress Alina even consider accompanying him there or anywhere else? She’d probably dump him the moment he loses power, if only to save her own neck.
          Death behind bars or in office await the dwarf in Russia and he’ll try to postpone the latter by hanging on to power at all costs, including behaving like a new Stalin.

          • Czech Friend

            I would even go as far as predict KGB style of exile i.e. changed identity if it weren’t for one thing – dwarf ego.

            So yes, holding on to power right to the bitter end is the best bet I guess.

  • Murf

    16 months ago he was on top of the world.
    Now his economy is stagnate, he is bogged down in a war. and every body is wondering who will succeed him.
    His reach definitely exceeded his grasp.
    I think he will take option #2. He is WAY to narcissistic to retire and wait for the the west to pay to his successor turn him over to the Hague. And to paranoid to wait for the polonium.
    Buckle up Russia, its going to be a bumpy ride.

  • Joe Racz

    What a total load of western propaganda, its laughable. How much did you get paid to write this. If Russia and China together decide enough is enough the US can kiss its backside goodbye

    • Michel Cloarec

      So you think that China will help Russia and putin . When in fact russia biggest ennemy is China , and China will not use weapons but money. And that putin is lacking because he spends all on weapons. The same mistake drove URSS to collapse and bankrupt !

  • Joe Racz

    Ask Poreshenko where the Maiden square snipers are , and when is thier court appearance, after all they caused all this by hijacking a protest , and plunging a country into chaos