By Patricia H Kushlis
In a talk in Washington, DC last April, Strobe Talbot, Russian expert, journalist and former Deputy Secretary of State, described Vladimir Putin as a consummate risk taker, an excellent tactician but a poor strategist. Putin’s dream of recreating the Soviet Union, its predecessor the Russian Empire or something like a Russian Orthodox ultranationalist caliphate whereby the Kremlin protects Russian-speakers regardless of location is just that, a dream. It’s without a realistic vision, devoid of planning, in need of a reality check and, if continued economists predict, will bankrupt the country in approximately two years. (Photo left: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Moscow, Dec 1991 by PHKushlis)
Is Vladimir Putin crazy – as a couple of people here in Santa Fe have recently asked me - or is he only paranoid with a dash of megalomania thrown in?
Regardless, his behavior is so bizarre that the US and Europe need to be on guard. I agree with Ambassador James Goodby in his recent article in the November 2014 Foreign Service Journal. I don’t see the Cold War returning. If nothing more, the Russian Federation is too weak. Besides Putin’s Russia has no ideology capable of attracting a worldwide audience as the siren song of Communism once did.
But . . .
Nibbling away at a neighbor’s territory violates basic OSCE principles. The Russian Federation agreed to uphold those principles in 1991. The OSCE grew out of the earlier 1975 Helsinki Accords which, by the way, were the brainchild of the Soviet Union. And the Russian Federation is its internationally recognized successor state.
Not only is a bankrupt state dangerous to a country’s health, its people and the ‘hood, but it can threaten a leader’s own domestic longevity. The Russian people have taken to the streets before – and despite the Kremlin’s seemingly successful efforts to squash them, they could do so again. The large Moscow demonstrations in 2012 were in reaction to blatant electoral fraud in favor of Putin’s party in the December 4 parliamentary elections. Yet then the economy was doing well - the Russian people had never had it so good and the Kremlin crackdown on popular dissent worked – but that’s not the case now. Empty refrigerators do not forebode well for long term political stability. And Russian agriculture has certain climatic limitations - global warming not withstanding. Frankly, Russian agricultural production was never all that strong and certainly not in the fresh fruit and vegetables departments.
A palace coup is not unthinkable especially in a country like Russia. The Bolsheviks did not gain power through popular elections in 1917. Mr. Putin should also not forget that a failed coup in August 1991 brought down the Soviet Union despite the George H.W. Bush Administration’s efforts to keep the Gorbachev government in power and the country whole - except as the record shows - for the Baltics which the US considered as illegally incorporated into the Soviet Union. Come to think of it, isn't the way the Soviet Union gobbled up the three small Baltic countries rather like Russia's take over of Crimea in March?
Unlike 1998, when Russia was faced with a huge financial crisis and the US and others helped rescue the country; or even in 1989, when the Soviet Union was printing money like it had gone out of style and the US supported Gorbachev for fear that hard liners would oust him, this time it’s obvious that the US will keep the derecks pumping at full speed. So too, apparently, will the Saudis.
Lower energy prices puts more money into American pockets and lower energy costs should profit US businesses. And this, in turn, will enrich the American government’s own coffers.