Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Is Putin hurting Russia?

A strong Russia, or perhaps a strong Eurasia, is in the interest of a peaceful world. That may not be the most politically correct position to take as a writer in the West, but I'm convinced of it. Growing up in the Cold War era wasn't easy on the nerves as the great powers from each side starred each other down, but with age comes wisdom, and for me that means an unshakeable belief that nations are people - people are possessed with "want" - and want creates tension. In other words, we as a species aren't happy unless we can control and consume everything we choose, and when we choose it.

Enter modern day Russia. Enter Putin. Ostensibly, Vladimir Putin is serving the function of President of Russia, but in the bigger picture his role (and responsibility) is far greater than that. He, and Russia, are the major force behind a greater Eurasia. You can call it the "Silk Road" or whatever you like, but in reality Eurasia represents a deterrent to American unilateralism (or domination if you like). Putin's job has been to use oil money to rebuild Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union, and he has done so with great discipline. The question, however, is whether he can place Russia in the shoes of the Soviet Union and re-establish a multi-polar world. That question is both burning and unanswered.

Just like most things in life, Putin's great strengths are also in many ways Russia's great weaknesses. On the one hand, Putin is a master of the concept "don't use a hammer to kill a fly", but on the other hand he is failing to realize that great statesmanship may necessitate the use of a hammer to send a message to the rest of the flies. In other words, a taking of one's place with authority. His decision to allow Russian athletes to compete at the Olympics while Russia itself was humiliated as a sort of "non-country" is a case in point. Putin had all sorts of reasons for sending his athletes, but he failed his country horribly by doing so. A great power, or even just a self-respecting power, does not allow other nations to disrespect its colours. That is as old as humans' presence on this earth. Yet, Russian athletes were subjected to just that in South Korea. It was the Russian men's hockey team that refused to allow that humiliation to taint them, yet their "unlawful" singing of the Russian national anthem was more an act of defiance than a proclamation. That is a key difference. Great nations do not commit acts of defiance, because to do so is to admit they are unequal - as defiance is the act of the weaker while principled decision is the role of the strongest.

It's important to note, and their must be many in Russia that would agree with this, that a country is meant to be run as a country and not an intelligence agency. Putin, out of necessity and likely habit, has run Russia like an intelligence agent - harkening on his old career no doubt. While those skills may have been well placed in placing Russia back to a position of strength, they now hold Russia back from its position as a great power, and without Russia being a great power America is free to continue its relatively unopposed world rule. The best current example of that is Syria.

Syria is really more of a Putin failure than it is an American success. Putin is deathly afraid of  "another Afghanistan". Afghanistan rings in the Russian ears as Vietnam rang in American ears before Ronald Reagan. Reagan, however, used his popularity  to move the American people past the Vietnam era, and pushed them into global military supremacy. Think what you will of Reagan, but that was an act of great leadership. Unfortunately, it appears Putin is not as confident in his ability to lead the Russian people past their Afghanistan mindset and into their place as an equal super power. Instead he prefers to sit himself, and Russia, in the shadows of international conflicts. His approach is that of an experienced intelligence officer - careful, targeted, and effective. What's wrong with that you might say.

It boils down to this: It's a totally predictable weakness. Great nations make great gestures. The prerequisite of a great nation status is that you will fully commit to the defence of your allies. Now just this week Putin claimed he would do just that, but it's been taken as just talk. And he has often wondered publicly why the West doesn't listen to him. Well the answer is quite simple - they don't respect him. Talk is cheap. The willingness to sacrifice is strength. Putin has not proven by action that he is willing to sacrifice for hos allies or even his country (ie. the recent Olympics). He's going along to get along. Sure Russia has intervened with primarily safe air force assets to stop the overthrow of Assad in Syria, but what else has it accomplished? Syria sits divided, with a now dug in American military presence insuring it remains that way. Instead of taking decisive military action at the very beginning of the conflict, which in this case would have meant sending armed divisions into Syria back in 2013, Putin took the least costly option possible and now faces a direct confrontation with the US to make Syria whole again. Ditto for Ukraine - another frozen conflict and another broken ally.

Indeed, the answer to Putin's public ruminations about the West not listening to his dire warnings lies in his mirror. When unfettered strength has been called for he has used measured responses rather than decisive strength. He has failed to set the tone that would demand respect. You don't pick your battles as the leader of a great nation. Rather, you forcefully engage those that bring battle to your doorstep. If it's war then it's war. If it's peace then it's peace. Israel is a good example of this. The reason the world listens to Israel is because they know that Israel will act - and forcefully so. There is no such feeling now for Russia. That lack of respect is something that is severely undermining the idea of a multi-polar world, and without a multi-polar world then why does Russia even matter? For Putin, the person who  is in place at this time in world history to make it happen, the mission is forget your KGB mentality and be a great statesman of a great power.

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