Ukraine Crisis: World Leaders Shoot Themselves in the Foot, First and Foremost Vladimir Putin

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Cynics say the situation around Ukraine benefits all parties except the Chinese. The Russians are annexing territories inhabited mostly by Russians, the Americans will sell natural gas and oil at very high prices, the Germans will push their (now cheap) green energy, and the French will open new nuclear power stations—while everyone will go on selling weapons systems because world peace hangs in the balance.

While this may be so, the Russia-Nato crisis in eastern Europe, like Brexit, is a sign of how deeply in trouble the establishment is everywhere. People understand this. The nuclear firepower available to Russia and Nato is so much more destructive than in 1962, yet no one’s worried WWIII will break out. The only real fear people have is of rising oil prices, inflation and a declining standard of living. The world’s leaders are playing irresponsible power games with each other and are even willing to shoot themselves in the foot—at the expense of their own citizens. The German government did this by agreeing to stop the certification of the Nord Stream 2 underwater pipeline from Russia, the European Union did it, and pain will also be felt in the United States with energy prices flying through the ceiling.

No one has anything to gain from a drawn-out bras de fer with Russia and an exacerbation of the economic problems brought on by the Covid pandemic. With one exception: oil and gas companies. Russia has a stronger “front” here because of the weak ruble which makes their energy cheaper to buy. Also, giants like Gazprom, Surgutneftegas and Rosneft are state-controlled or in the hands of Putin’s oligarch cronies. In a very real sense, the crisis is good for Putin’s government’s business—with or without Nord Stream 2. But it certainly isn’t good for the average Russian.

For the first time in his long rule, Vladimir Putin is truly vulnerable at home. No one in Russia is glad for the morning after. Life for most will become even harder. Naturally, this crisis is anathema to Russian entrepreneurs “of a lesser god” and professionals who support jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The high price of energy coupled with a weak ruble is terrible for those who make their money through imports. I asked a businessman from St. Petersburg what he thought about the situation and he said the oligarchs around Putin don’t worry about sanctions because they have their own banks, spas and hotels. This level of cynicism toward the government is five times cruder among average Russians.

Putin’s implicit bargain with the Russian people was that he would deliver economic growth and they would allow him to erode their rights. But when the price of oil dropped in 2012 popular protests broke out and accusations of fraud weakened him. His problems worsened with the 2014 economic collapse. Just as the western establishment’s aim is to render Russia as weak and dependent as possible, the Holy Grail for Putin has always been to break up Nato and cast himself as a national hero, a modern-day Alexander Nevsky, Peter the Great and Stalin guarding against foreign enemies.

Putin is again trying to divert the common person’s attention from their thinning wallets by filling their lungs with patriotic oxygen (he’s often bared his own puffed-out chest). Yet things don’t bode well for the autocrat in the autumn of his long reign. Putin and his oligarchs have shown that they can trample the “lesser bourgeoisie” underfoot with impunity. Doing so to workers, however, especially those employed in the country’s large public sector, will be a lot more difficult. In 2020, when Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko rigged the presidential elections, the country’s workers heckled him and formed councils that staged major political strikes against his regime. They were harshly punished by the police and the security services. These memories are fresh in their minds. Who says the Belorusian people won’t act again—and get rid of Lukasheko? As for the Russians, most are fast realizing that their grey KGB mouse-turned emperor is naked from the waist down.

Evel Economakis : I received a PhD in history from Columbia University in 1993. I have published numerous academic articles and my political commentary has appeared in various magazines, including The New Statesman and Dissent. An American citizen, I currently live with my family in Greece, and I teach IB history at Ionios Lyceum in Athens.


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