Putin, and his great tribe of nostalgic Russians, which by the news footage seems to be comprised middle-aged men in bluejeans and flags, and old women fondly cradling pictures of Stalin. The common denomintor? Grievance at the embarrassment and hardship that followed the collapse of USSR. Putin, with all his shirtless photos with tigers and guns and Siberia taps into this sense of inadequacy and shows Russians that yes, they can still be macho and powerful. It's simplistic primal bullshit, an evolutionary holdover that served proto-humans well when we had simpler brains and scarce resources, but it still works.
Putin didn't have to annex Crimea the same way Bush/Blair didn't have to invade Iraq and Afghanistan and any number of past and present "leaders" great and small who, if not for circumstance and ego, would be pissed-up football hooligans smashing each other senseless. There's no good reason why Russia or the USA, or the north bit of Korea couldn't have sensible governments with decent relations with their neighbours and the rest of the world. We have too many weapons, and the world is now too small for these kinds of spoilers.
We as a species need to lose this ancient holdover that splits us into my team and your team, and have us following madmen (and sometimes women) with guns on whatever fateful path they start down.
If we don't, the archaeologists of whatever species evolves to replaces us will be digging up our fossils and pondering what happened.
Thank you for this well written post with a near perfect rhythm that was a pleasure to read.
It's well written right enough, but it's pretty silly.
"Putin didn't have to annex Crimea the same way Bush/Blair didn't have to invade Iraq and Afghanistan"
Um, no, this is a deeply false equivalence. I always thought the people here knew a good deal about military issues; I guess this is just a lapse.
The history of US/Russia relations since the fall of the USSR have been about military encirclement and American ambitions to use antimissiles, sited as close to Russia as possible, to gain an overwhelming first strike advantage. Hence the ongoing project to get every available country near Russia's borders into NATO and get them to agree to missiles stationed pointed at Russia.
I don't think the technology can really work reliably especially when the opponent is aware of the problem and using countermeasures. But from the Russian point of view, a US successfully self-deceiving is almost as bad as a US that can genuinely launch an unanswerable first strike--either would feel free to dictate terms to Russia on any political/economic issue, without fearing Russian capabilities. Blocking any Russian capability to project force beyond its borders and constricting its ability to use submarines as hard-to-counter nuclear platforms is part of this game as well.
This brings us to Ukraine, site of a recent quasi-popular change of government, aided by large sums of American money. Ukraine is right next to Russia. The folks who have installed themselves in government, without elections, have made quite a few noises about joining NATO and turfing the Russian naval base. Some of them are violent and unpredictable fascists. Most of them seem to be taking American money and are clearly strongly influence by the United States. The naval base is, as has been pointed out many times in all this, Russia's only warm-water base--that is, it represents their only access to the Mediterranean and the Middle East. It's incredibly bloody important to them.
In short, the US in Iraq and many other places attacks based on made up security concerns, when nobody is actually threatening their security in any militarily relevant way. Russia in Crimea and indeed Ukraine as a whole has very real and pressing security concerns, in that the US seems to have been pressing in a concerted fashion for two decades now to hammer nails one by one into a coffin for Russia, and Ukraine and Crimea represent some prominent nails among the last few. A potentially radioactive coffin. Dismissing any actions Putin takes as silly muscle-flexing is a huge mistake, a major misinterpretation of the situation.
And that's just the realpolitik. It would appear that Putin did not in fact annex Crimea; to the contrary, Crimea voted overwhelmingly to join up with him. I suppose he could have said "no", but I don't see why that would be a morally superior course of action. For that matter, it would have been so mind-bogglingly unpopular that the Russian parliament might well have passed a bill letting them in anyway, and then boy would he have looked stupid at home.
PLG, you miss my point entirely. I'm saying the game of states is silly. The tit-for-tat, the Great Game of global strategy and competition that revolves around states and alliances is bollocks and tiresome, and also terrifying in the context of modern weapons. Your entire comment is indicative of my point. It's a reasoned and serious commentary on the geopolitics the situation, framed in language that would be at home in any serious talk show, magazine, foreign ministry, NATO boardroom, or Cabinet meeting room. Its a discourse that has been reproducing itself for thousands of years, originating when our tribal ancestors started manoeuvring against other tribes for hunting grounds, gods, kings, or the shear bloodlust of it all.
My point is that this way of relating must change. No one has to play this game. I used to want to play it, because I could see how it all neatly fit together and what by George Smiley deadly fun it could be. But then I came to realise that the game is actually fucking the problem.
The game is a product of the existence of nation-states with hierarchy (in our case, capitalist hierarchy). Until "the revolution comes", it's the only game in town, its outcomes are deadly, and for those on the receiving end of aggression it's play or die.
Given which, it's foolish to denounce Putin. He's not grabbing Crimea because he's a macho crazy posturer. He's grabbing Crimea because it's his only move.
Sure it would be nice if the Great Game would go away. This could happen, if and only if we ever create a classless, egalitarian society of some sort. But that doesn't cause your post to make sense. It has nothing to do with Putin's personality, and little even to do with the things he does to generate political popularity. Much as the continuing adventures of Obama show that it was never really about Dubya's yee-haw cowboy Mission Accomplished personality.
Putin has a choice. He did not have to bully Ukraine, send in an annexing army, or be the Russian president, yet he chose to do all these things. There's nothing that said he couldn't adopt an easier line over Ukraine or Crimea, engage the West more readily, put Russia's neighbours at ease.
Look, any 'leader' who flaunts himself with aggressive language or aggressive imagery is by definition a macho posturer. Obama's one too. The distinction is simply in the styling and the relative maturity of the posturer which is reflected in the rhetoric and discourses they use to justify their various actions. Bush is infantile compared to Obama. Putin struts at home, and is much more of realist than the Americans. The Great Game is played because we continue to let the overgrown kids festoon themselves in glory. Enough of us still admire the Great Leader and the bits of coloured textile that go along with it all. We have a choice in whether we subscribe to these things and all that implies - although we're not all aware of it.
I'm not sure we need to think about all this going away when the revolution comes. People have been waiting for that to happen for a long time, and where it has happened, outcomes are not always happy. Often just chaos, or more of the same kinds of people in different hats.
"Policy" or outlook is something any country or national leader can shift, unless it goes against idiotic and uninterrogated tribal nationalisms or ideologies.
I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiment Boris. But you and me are very much in the minority.
The only game in town used to be the idea that a sovereign state was able to do what it wanted within the confines of its own borders. this was the case since Westphalia. Even the holocaust did nothing to change this idea, though it did begin the process of exploring the idea of "a responsibility to protect."
As late as the first Gulf War the world still embraced some idea that sovereign integrity was a concept worth protecting. But then the rise of Western neo-conservatism mixed with the creation of globalised capitalism led people in a position of strength to try and push the margins. The Rwandan genocide and Bosnia and the guilt felt by Western leaders there allowed the concept of a "responsibility to protect" to gain traction. And before you know it territorial integrity was no longer sacrosanct and political and economic reasons outweighed humanitarian ones in the invading of or cleaving apart of sovereign states.
You can hate the idea of tribalism as much as you want, but the concept of sovereign territorial integrity did give a benchmark as to what was and wasn't acceptable behaviour towards interfering the affairs of one's neighbours. Yes it wasn't always adhered to and yes "might often meant right" but there was always that idea with which to condemn any invasion of one's neighbours. Now we don't even have that.
The West's actions in Kosovo led directly to the election of Putin and the justification of the events in Georgia and now the Ukraine. The Russian tribe was humiliated when the NATO tribe ripped apart an ally of its as they stood by momentarily impotent. That feeling of impotence and the shame it fostered led to a return to the politics of the "Strong man" for many Russians.
Putin's words almost exactly copy those used by Bush and Rice in justifying cleaving Kosovo from Serbia. Putin is basically hoisting us on our own petard.
The only show in town is the tribal show, the question we all have to ask ourselves is will we continue to take advantage of other tribes when they are momentarily weak or is that the time to show we aren't such crass, short term opportunists?
As aside I was recently in Serbia at a football match and the tribal thing was on full display there. But the only thing that united everyone in the stadium was when a banner was unfurled declaring that Kosovo will always be Serbian. The Serbs it appears don't regard the independence of Kosovo as in any way binding and the situation today is merely the current state until a wrong can be righted. And this is why your assertion that many leaders "would be pissed-up football hooligans smashing each other senseless" is wrong. Footy hooligans actually put themselves in harms way and in the case of the Serbs at least have long memories, well at least much longer than the next couple of election cycles.
Boris you may be antediluvian if you believe that rant of yours, purple guy you understand and do you also understand the big picture, which most do not seem to grasp?
Geopolitics is that 'big' picture and the US and England have dominated it since WWII, NATO was and is a construct of the extreme UK & US right to dominate (irrefutable proof; GLADIO) what was the so-called 'Free World', which I prefer to call the wage slave world, forced through terrorism into being afraid of anything centre and especially left of centre and painting that as a destructive "evil." What a load of horse manure, just because some individuals found themselves at the top of the heap after the most destructive wars humanity had to endure because of stupidity attempting to play geopolitics (i.e. just like NATO USA/UK today) and never wanted to let go of that top dog position, we have the mess we are in.
Russia has out manoeuvred the west and can beat it at any war (don't challenge me) but does not need one to win, it already has. The American 'greenback's' days are over as the world petro currency and its hegemony and military might is mostly a paper tiger why the hell do you think they needed Canada to bomb Libya into submission? Russia told the Americans to keep their greedy paws off of Syria and since the NATO states already had their puppet government in the Ukraine and the majority wanted out from under that UK/US World Petro Bank domination trip Putin said welcome come on over and is telling the US/UK west to keep out. Good on you Putin about time someone stood up to these one world government totalitarian want to be dictators for life. Let's just hope the US/UK Petro Bankers alliance is not immature and foolish enough to pull the end-game if they can't play by their rules anymore where they are in charge of all the lying and cheating to rig the game of gain for themselves and start WWIII. Because they are stupid and greedy and childlike they do have the lack of mental capacity to try I suppose.
BRIC and Asia are about to upend the disastrous western banking by creating their own world currency its already in the making and it is backed by real value; trust and their own resources and not federal reserve board hot air. Yes the western leaders are scared hence Herr Harpers tone to Putin we are losing our credibility (the west) and need a third world banana -oil republic dictator (Harper) to speak for it.
Like it or not the west's greed for resources, pipelines and falsified paper currency to carry them have undermined their own dominance in world geo-politics where even the elite can be sidelined in a heartbeat and that is what they fear the most. It is like a trip to the gallows for the condemned.
Look I live under the most crooked lying cheating immoral pandering and illegal government in the history of democracy and they call themselves "The Harper Government" but I do not have the blinders on and will not defend these criminals that usurp Canada. So Boris why are you defending these stone age mentality wonks when it comes to playing dictator in the Ukraine and calling Putin down for giving the real people an out?
And this is how simple it is for Russia to defeat the US hegemony:
Geopolitics, no guns needed to defeat a tyrant's greedy reign and I am all for it.
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