Saturday, July 19, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Putin Now Faces ‘Existential’ Choice -- War Abroad or Civil War at Home, Piontkovsky Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, July 19 – Vladimir Putin now faces “an existential choice” between a war with the West and a civil war at home with radical nationalists who have been inspired by the Kremlin leader’s own words and actions and who are unlikely to be willing to do nothing if he backs down in the face of Western pressure, according to Andrey Piontkovsky.


            The shooting down of the Malaysian airliner, the Russian analyst says, only sharpens this choice and hence the tragedy for all involved because that criminal action “finally buries the insane chimera of the Russian World” and thus deepens “the crisis of the Putin regime” (


            Ukraine thus is and will remain “the main and all-encompassing foreign and domestic political problem of the Putin regime” as long as that regime remains in power, the Russian analyst says, and in order to understand the fateful nature of Putin’s current choice, one must understand why that is so.


            It lies not with any challenge from the West. At least until the Malaysian airliner was shot down, “all the diplomatic and ideological efforts of Europe (Merkel and Holland) and an influential part of the American establishment (Brzezinski and Kissinger) have been directed at saving [Putin’s] face.”


            Instead, Piontkovsky says, this choice has arisen because of a combination of forces unleashed at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union and of other forces unleashed when Putin made his speech about the Russian world on March 18 of this year.


            When the USSR disintegrated, “the KGB and party nomenklatura converted its absolute political power into individual property, and on the territory of the former USSR was formed a chain of criminal groups” whose interests in their own personal enrichment condemned Russia to “demodernization” by living on “Soviet raw materials inheritance.”


            The Maidan “anti-criminal Ukrainian revolution” which led to the fall of Viktor Yanukovich and his criminal rule thus constituted “an example of an immediate threat” to his Russian counterparts. If Ukraine were allowed to break out of the criminal world the nomenklatura had established, that would be “the death of Putinism.”


            The Kremlin leader thus had to do something and the “lightning-fast annexation of Crimea was the first step in this direction.”  Until Putin redefined the situation with his March 18 speech, that might have been enough and it might have been swallowed by the West in the name of maintain relations economic and political.


            But that speech, because it drew so obviously from Hitler’s aggressive designs before World War II, became “a turning point not only for the Putin mythology but in addition for all of Russian history,” Piontkovsky argues.


            With it, Putin transformed himself from the confident leader who could suppress the revolts in the North Caucasus into the latest ingatherer of the Russian lands.  “The success of the speech was stupefying,” Piontkovsky argues, with the response of the Russian population far greater than even the Kremlin leader had expected or perhaps even wanted.


            That is because this mythology contains “a serious danger: it requires dynamism and pictures of an uninterruptedly broadening universal Russian World.”  Any retreat or indeed any slowdown risks sparking opposition at home among the most passionate supporters of this imperial project.


            Until he gave that speech, Putin would have welcomed and “the hypocritical and cynical West” would have ultimately agreed to the Finlandization of Ukraine. But after it, neither he nor the supporters of the ingathering of Russian lands could be satisfied with that. Hence the launch of the Novorossiya project.


            But that has been a failure, Piontkovsky observes. In only two of the eight Ukrainian oblasts which were to be a part of this could anyone be found to support it, and in the other two, secessionist regimes could be set up only with the introduction of Russian materiel and Russian personnel.


            Nonetheless, Putin pressed forward and his ideological machine created a monster, one that he has to feed by moving forward not only in Ukraine and other parts of the former Soviet empire -- or face the all-too-likely possibility that it will turn on him. And because of the way the secessionists have evolved, that puts Putin at ever greater risk.


            “Having enriched imperial slogans with anti-oligarchic ones,” the leaders of the secessionists in Ukraine are turning into “the ideal little leaders of a social explosion” among Russians who are angry about their own status or even more about what they have been encouraged to see by Putin’s propaganda machine as the actions of “national traitors in the rear.”


            Putin may be able for a time to continue his covert aggression or to suppress this or that leader of secessionist groups who wants a different kind of system than the one the Kremlin leader operates on.  But his ability to do so, the Russian commentator suggests, is far more limited than many either in Moscow or the West suspect.


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