Skip to main content

First they came for the Gays...

This blog is no fan of the regime of Vladimir Putin.

Russia has suffered enough authoritarian government and it has repeatedly ended in crisis as the inherent corruption of unchecked power brings the system to breakdown once more. 

At various points in Russian history, from the burning of the proto-democratic city of Novgorod by Ivan the Terrible in 1570, to the Great Terror of Stalin in the 1930s, the country has suffered catastrophe at the hands of a state appointed "gangster elite", whether called the Ophichniki, the Okrana, or the Cheka.

Vladimir Putin thinks that he is a man in the same mold as Ivan IV or Stalin- a strong leader who imposes order upon the fractious Russian body politic. Yet these leaders were ultimately failures- they murdered thousands or millions of Russians in their determination to crush dissent and impose order. Both were certainly monsters and probably both were mentally ill. 

In fact Putin is- thank God- not in the same class as his evil predecessors. His regime is as much a function of PR stunts and gimmicks as it is a function of the murder and intimidation of his enemies- although such murders have indeed taken place. Yet the reality is that the Putin government has used the iron rod relatively sparingly.

Nevertheless, the Kremlin is on the verge of a profound crisis and the probable collapse of its authority. 

The portrayal of Vladimir Putin as an action man- admittedly a deliberate contrast not only to President Yeltsin, but most of his Soviet predecessors too- has reached the level of an international joke. The heavy handed use of boycotts and selective border closings against neighbouring countries- Belarus as much as Ukraine- has reminded those countries how Russia continues to view itself as a hegemonic power in the "post Soviet" space. The aggressive support given to the Assad regime in Syria, after the failure of previous support to other Arab dictators, has alienated the West. Russia has continued to use the cold war language of strategic confrontation with the West, and acts on this language with a program of espionage more organised than at any time even in the cold war. Meanwhile, the Kremlin seeks to assert claims which are high disruptive of the international system and to back up these claims with a massive increase in arms expenditure. The virulent anti-American propaganda that the Kremlin pumps out day after day has reached the point where the United States can no longer dismiss it as the crassness of a sub-par government in Moscow. 

The Kremlin bases its claims to influence upon an economy that continues to struggle to adjust to the Post Soviet world. Putin's authoritarian government rests on the liquidity and largess generated by oil and gas. Gazprom, the national gas company of Russia has functioned as a state within a state and is said to be under Mr. Putin's personal control.  Yet as the United States both reduces its overall demand for energy and substitutes foreign gas imports for its own large domestic shale gas reserves, Gazprom has faced a transformed energy environment. From being an enormous cash cow, Gazprom has begun to create liabilities. The pressure on gas pipelines that previously "encouraged" downstream states to accede to the Putinist world view has now become an excuse to diversify supply away from Russia. Western Europe now regards dependency on Russian gas as a strategic weakness that must be eliminated as quickly as possible.

The response in the Kremlin to the weakening of Gazprom has been an attempt to create a Russian super-major oil company: Rosneft. Yet the hijacking of TNK and the assimilation of other assets which has propelled the company forward, apart from being of dubious legality, has also been extremely expensive. Rosneft has incurred at least $70 billion of debt, and the prospects for an early payback are dim, even with the oil price still above $100/bbl. Even despite this investment, which might have been seen as a major vote of confidence in the future of Russia, few are buying it. Capital continues to be exported from out of Kremlin control as fast as humanly possible- away from the trashy glitz of Moscow and St Petersburg, life in Russia continues to be a grim and short lived struggle for most Russians. The horrendous public health crisis that IV drug use has seeded- leading to the worlds fastest growing incidence of HIV/AIDS and MDR TB- is matched by poor diet and alcoholism to keep the average male Russian life expectancy at less than 60

But in the end "it's the economy, stupid", and the Russian economy is failing to attract investment on anything like the scale it needs to grow. As the Sochi Winter Olympics seems set fair to be the most expensive in history, it is clear that corruption continues to run rampant across the entire Russian economy, while legitimate investors and businesses are persecuted by the regime, presumably for the sin of not being under Kremlin control.

Ah yes, persecution. It is hard to characterise the ban on "gay propaganda" that the Putin regime has decreed as being anything except a witch hunt against a small, unpopular and vulnerable minority in Russian society. I have always tended to subscribe to the theory that if you call your opponent a Nazi, then you have already lost the argument, yet Stephen Fry's open letter to the IOC, where he makes precisely such a comparison I found both moving and appropriate.

The fact is that the Kremlin already fears that the game is up. Even as it seeks to embrace China as a new strategic partner, the Kremlin fears the dissolution of its power. The demonstrations on the streets of Russian cities are likely to grow, as the "electoral" cycle turns and anyone that poses even a theoretical threat to Putin is locked up. The economic situation in Russia is set to remain fragile, even if its main trading partners begin to recover. Of course Putin himself is already older than the average Russian male life expectancy, and shielded behind his PR wranglers, his understanding of the daily realities of his country is, at best, tenuous.

In such conditions it seems very likely that not only will repression against LGBT people increase significantly, but that repression will be extended far wider. The regime senses its own demise, yet in its dotage it will become more brutal and dangerous than ever. We can not exclude further military adventures such as the 2008 Georgia war (although, under Ivanishvili, Georgia itself appears to have fallen back under authoritarianism and is once again a Kremlin Satrap). 

NATO and the West face a period of great danger as the wounded bear may lash out, not merely in Syria, but in any other place where they have the capacity to disrupt Western interests. The outlook, both domestically and internationally for Russia is growing more dark by the day- Europe and the West must now take guard as the regime drifts into greater repression and ultimate collapse.


Popular posts from this blog

Breaking the Brexit logjam

The fundamental problem of Brexit has not been that the UK voted to leave the European Union. The problem has been the fact that the vote was hijacked by ignorant, grandstanding fools who interpreted the vote as a will to sever all and every link between the UK and the European Union. That was then and is now a catastrophic policy. To default to WTO rules, when any member of the WTO could stop that policy was a recipe for the UK to be held hostage by any state with an act to grind against us. A crash out from the EU, without any structure to cope, was an act of recklessness that should disqualify anyone advocating it from any position of power whatsoever. That is now the most likely option because the Conservative leadership, abetted by the cowardly extremism of Corbyn, neither understood the scale of the crisis, now had any vision of how to tackle it.

Theresa May is a weak and hapless Prime Minster, and her problems started when she failed to realize that there was a compromise that w…

The rumbling financial markets

Security specialists use a variety of ways to address the risks that they face: and these risk assessments are made in the certain knowledge that the actors in the system hold only incomplete information. Although much mocked at the time, Donald Rumsfeld’s categorization of “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns”, is now generally recognized as a succinct summery of his strategic quandaries.
By contrast, actors in the financial markets have a more sanguine assessment of the risks they deal with: they divide them into two kinds of risk: quantifiable and unquantifiable. Unquantifiable risk is not generally considered, since there is usually no financial profit that can be made except from pure supposition. Therefore for the purposes of the financial markets, any given event is priced relative to its level of probability, that is to say its quantifiable risk. 
Depending on the market, higher levels of risk generally carry higher prices, lower levels generally lower prices. Clearly such an…

The American National nightmare becomes a global nightmare

It is a basic contention of this blog that Donald J Trump is not fit for office.

A crooked real estate developer with a dubious past and highly questionable finances. he has systematically lied his way into financial or other advantage. His personal qualities include vulgarity, sexual assault allegations and fraudulent statements on almost every subject. 

He lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes.

He has, of course, been under criminal investigation practically since before he took the oath of office. The indictment of some of closest advisers is just the beginning. His track record suggests that in due course there is no action he will not take, whether illegal or unconstitutional in order to derail his own inevitable impeachment and the indictments that must surely follow the successful investigation of Robert Mueller into his connections with Russia.

However, all of that is a matter for the American people. 

It is also a matter for the American people that Trump is cheating…