Hundreds of supporters of Russia clapped along to nostalgic Soviet-era songs being played in a public square.
Related: Sochi opening ceremony: glimpse of New Russia, echo of the old (+video) – CSMonitor.com – 2/7/2014; Russians’ nostalgia for USSR is dwindling – poll — RT Russian politics – 12/29/2012; Sixty Percent of Russians Nostalgic for Soviet Union – English pravda.ru – 12/22/2009; Poll: Most in ex-Soviet states say USSR breakup harmful | Al Jazeera America – 12/19/2013.
* * *
In light of unfolding events in Ukraine, the question now arises whether anyone in the Kremlin is thinking of how Russia’s own kleptocratic regime will fare once the population begins to question the right of their rulers to loot their country in the way that Viktor Yanukovych and his cronies have been doing.
* * *
It appears the thugs want to remain thugs, crashing peaceful demonstrations, vandalizing cars, beating unarmed innocents.
Perhaps Putin’s oligarchs wish to remain responsible for paying thugs to do thuggish things for political ends a while longer.
Yo ho ho!
One more hour.
However, it would not surprise me to see, say, Gary Kasparov and Mikhail Khodorkovsky running for office in Russia some (intentionally vague) years from now, but realpolitik today has it that Vladimir Putin controls the wealth of a vast and uncertain Russian Federation, and he’s not only sustaining his own self-aggrandizement but that of a host of interests who may fear that when he’s gone, if ever, their own channels wealth and power will vanish as well.
* * *
As the erstwhile British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli once sourly remarked, “What we anticipate seldom occurs, and what we least expect generally happens.” Russia watchers in the West expected the Russian economy to prosper, as did the Chinese economy, once Boris Yeltsin, the first freely elected Russian president, cast off the communist mantle in 1991. Instead, he fostered the growth of crony capitalism, deliberately enriching a handful of men in return for their political support. Since Yeltsin’s resignation in 1999, journalists and scholars have begun to analyze his regime more frankly.
According to US diplomats, his main motivation for carrying on is to guarantee the safety of his own assets and those of his inner circle. No one quite knows how much Putin and his friends are worth. (Several of them feature prominently on the Forbes annual list.) But the sums involved allegedly total many billions of dollars.
Vladimir Putin: return of the king | World news | The Guardian – Luke Harding – 9/26/2011.
Although Putin’s escapades — or rackets — may have him intent on remaining in power for life, he has with Ukraine and his bid to hold Crimea come up against a hard border: the Ukrainians who launched and succeeded with their “Euromaidan” are not having back their deposed arch-kleptocrat Viktor Yanukovich, and what got to Viktor in mid-stride may now through Ukraine-launched spoken Russian — for not all of Ukraine’s Russian speakers are with Putin — zing through the air and Internet back to Vladimir.
With or inspiring “consequences”.
The political imbroglio over Crimea isn’t about the fate of Crimea, which is secure if it does not become the centerpiece in a Syrian-style civil war, but rather about the limits to Putin’s projection of power and, perhaps too, his time in power as the oligarchs and the Russian people en masse and outside of the tightly knit power circles in Moscow find their way to standing on their own feet.
* * *
As I have said for years, it is a waste of time to attempt to discern deep strategy in Mr. Putin’s actions. There are no complex national interests in a dictator’s calculations. There are only personal interests, the interests of those close to him who keep him in power, and how best to consolidate that power. Without real elections or a free media, the only way a dictator can communicate with his subjects is through propaganda, and the only way he can validate his power is with regular shows of force.
Related from long ago: Putin and the Oligarchs | Foreign Affairs – December 2004.
* * *
“This is our land,” Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a crowd gathered at the Kiev statue to writer and nationalist Taras Shevchenko. “Our fathers and grandfathers have spilled their blood for this land. And we won’t budge a single centimeter from Ukrainian land. Let Russia and its president know this.”
Khodorkovsky’s voice shook and his lips at one stage quivered as he told the receptive crowd he was deeply shocked by the violence that has gripped the ex-Soviet state.
“I want you to know — there is a different Russia. There are people who despite the arrests, despite the long years they have spent in prison, go to anti-war demonstrations in Moscow,” Khodorkovsky said in reference to the dozens arrested last week near the Kremlin during a protest against Russia’s de facto seisure of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.
Putin may bellow about anti-Semitic nationalist Ukrainians seizing power in Kiev and his Russian army standing in to defend Slavs in Crimea — and oh how that bullshit rolls through the old propaganda press — but, for the record, an IDF-experienced Jew named “Delta” helped defend the “Blue Helmets of Euromaidan” — he seems to feel anti-Semitism is barely there — and Ukrainians have made plans to stay away from an illegal referendum on Crimea, rendering voting fixed from that perspective alone.
Sochi may have been Putin’s zenith, a fine $52 billion hour, but the planting of Russian troops in Crimea seems a step down for the statesman and a big step backward in time for Russia. In Crimea, Putin may be expected to lose his balance, to tumble off his landing while the atrocities spinning off Assad’s brutality in Syria fly into the past beside him along with the many other dark phantoms of a suddenly long ago Soviet ignominy.
# # #