Putin’s Pigeons

flock of pigeons flying


It has become too painful to watch the Russian news “Vesti” on Russia’s state controlled channel 1. It is now the official voice of Russia and no independent news filters through. It has always been slyly Anti-American, rejoicing at every event that depicts the U.S. in a bad light. But recently it has become quite shrill. This is not just the Cold War all over again, it is an Arctic War. Most of the hour is now devoted to Ukrainian atrocities against their own population. Every destroyed house, bombed playground, ruined hospital, fleeing refugee carrying bundles is shown again and again. It even looks like some of these scenes of horror are recycled from the day before. The rest of the world has receded or moved to another planet as far as they are concerned. Ukrainian President Poroshenko is labeled as a Fascist.

Mobs around the world are violently demonstrating against Israel, burning synagogues, shouting “death to the Jews” and “Hitler was right”. But where are the protests, marches and demonstrations against Putin’s aggression in Ukraine? Who is protesting against a downed airliner carrying 298 people who probably did not even know that they were flying over Ukraine at that moment?
Putin is still very popular at home but the winds are shifting and he may start to feel some uneasiness as events start to turn against him. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that Putin’s government must pay $50 billion in damages for using tax claims to destroy Yukos, once the country’s largest oil company. In addition the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg has decided that Russia must pay 251 billion dollars to Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s defunct company for unlawful expropriation in 2003. Mikhail Khodorkovsky was released recently after spending 10 years in the Russian prison camps for alleged tax evasion. It is probable that Russia will refuse to pay but in that case the shareholders will try to seize Russian assets in 150 countries around the world. All this comes on top of harsh economic sanctions just imposed on Russia by the US and Europe aiming to restrict state-owned banks from accessing European capital markets and stop the export of arms and technology to Russia.
Meanwhile Ukraine is slowly and painfully reconquering its eastern provinces and is now attempting to recapture the Donetsk area.

All Putin’s pigeons are coming home to roost. What is still not clear is whether all this will harden his resolve to continue his aggression or perhaps cause him to try to change course without losing face at home.

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  1. This is sober news. Thank you for a look inside Russia and of events around the world!

    I suppose with “Vesti” the idea is to form viewers biases, and then the rest is easy. People tend to read news, follow political candidates, and even move to places that reinforce their world view.

    A recent study about American politics is interesting. Among political blog readers, “liberals read almost exclusively liberal blogs, but conservatives tend to read both.”

    A possible explanation for this is that conservative views dominate talk radio, and so conservatives may feel more satisfied by that outlet and are willing to check out opposing views on blogs. By contrast, liberal views dominate the blogosphere, but are scarce on talk radio. Journalists tend also to read mostly liberal blogs — perhaps a reflection of their political beliefs. (Source: “Typing Politics – The Role of Blogs in American Politics” by Richard Davis, Oxford University Press)

  2. There is a most excellent article in the New Yorker from about 3 weeks back on this topic. One of the longest I’ve ever seen them publish, it fills most of the magazine. It attempts to answer the question of, “why is Putin behaving like this?” And amongst the many possible answers the one that struck me as most compelling was something he said when Obama visited him in 2008 (I think?). He told Obama he felt betrayed. That Russia had agreed for Germany to go with the West, but the West had agreed to let Russia maintain a sphere of influence around everything east of Germany. Now that so many Eastern countries are in NATO, he feels the west broke its deal.

    Obviously there are significant problems with his argument, so I don’t quote that to defend him, but at a minimum it helped me to understand why he would bother to invade a country with nothing of significance that Russia could want. Ukraine has no natural resources Russia needs, but it is one of the last countries not in NATO, and thus one of his last opportunities to show off without igniting world war 3.

    1. Yes, Putin feels surrounded by NATO. He was trying to create a Eurasian economic union of which Ukraine was to be the centerpiece. There are now 3 countries in this union: Byeloruss, Khazakstan and Armenia. It is just a free economic zone, not a political entity. He felt particularly betrayed by Ukraine because the Ukrainians and the Russians are practically the same people born of the same ancient tribe.
      Putin is also still feeling the effects of the breakdown of the Soviet Union.
      In a discussion today it was mentioned that the humanitarian aid comvoy which entered Ukraine did carry foodstuff and other necessities but it was intended for the separatists leaders not the people of Luhansk.

    2. Hi Zac, Thanks for writing about the New Yorker article!
      I had thought Putin was using Russian nationalism only to cement his grasp on power, but it appears to go deeper than this and includes a profound distrust of the United States.

      The New Yorker: “Watching the Eclipse” by David Remnick
      Ambassador Michael McFaul was there when the promise of democracy came to Russia—and when it began to fade.

      “An avid reader about tsarist Russia, Putin was forming a more coherent view of history and his place within it. More and more, he identified personally with the destiny of Russia. Even if he was not a genuine ideologue, he became an opportunistic one, quoting Ivan Ilyin, Konstantin Leontiev, Nikolai Berdyayev, and other conservative philosophers to give his own pronouncements a sense of continuity. One of his favorite politicians in imperial Russia was Pyotr Stolypin, the Prime Minister under Nicholas II. “We do not need great upheavals,” Putin said, paraphrasing Stolypin. “We need a great Russia.” Stolypin had also said, “Give the state twenty years and you will not recognize Russia.” That was in 1909. Stolypin was assassinated by a revolutionary in Kiev, in 1911. But Putin was determined that his opportunity not be truncated: “Give me twenty years,” he said, “and you will not recognize Russia.”

      There is also an extremist Russian reaction to the personal freedom and individualism of Americans, but Reminck concludes with a hopeful note from Ambassador McFaul:

      “In the long run, I am still very optimistic about Russia and Russians. In my two years as Ambassador, I just met too many young, smart, talented people who want to be connected to the world, not isolated from it. They also want a say in the government. They are scared now, and therefore not demonstrating, but they have not changed their preferences about the future they want. Instead, they are just hiding these preferences, but there will be a day when they will express them again. Putin’s regime cannot hold these people down forever. I do worry about the new nationalism that Putin has unleashed, and understand that many young Russians also embrace these extremist ideas. I see it on Twitter every day. But, in the long run, I see the Westernizers winning out. I just don’t know how long is the long run.”

  3. Thanks for the link Jay. It’s all just so sad how much of the horrible things that must happen come about because of a lack of basic trust. Once you don’t believe somebody can be honest, it’s utterly impossible to do anything with them.

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