Potiphar12's Blog
An Octogenarian in the modern world

PUTIN AND POWER

There is extensive news coverage about Ukraine and Putin’s land-grab of Crimea. What will happen next, and why? It is pretty clear that nobody is going to start a shooting war to stop him. Not the EU and not the USA. Putin knows it. The politicians and the commentators talk a lot about economic sanctions and the isolation of Russia by the world community. Informed opinion seems to be that economic sanctions will hurt both Russia and The West, but hurt Russia more.

Who cares about this hurting? Remember that North Korea has been isolated for a long time and has maintained it’s independent existence despite internal poverty and hardship. People can put up with a lot if they strictly controlled and if they are convinced that their suffering is outweighed by a benefit. Russians under Putin might feel that he is offering such a benefit. Putin might have the power to make Russians feel that way even if they were not so inclined. Russians are used to dictatorial government

One view of Putin’s motivation is that he can’t cope with the dismemberment of the USSR and the diminished status of Russia, the central unit within it. He wants  Russia to be recognised again as a world power. If his efforts result in economic sanctions and a decline in living standards will his people throw him out? If they share his angst about diminished status then they won’t want to. If they don’t share it, and are worried about their quality of  life, they may still be made to support him by propaganda and totalitarian rule. Democracy does not have a long history in Russia. So maybe Putin thinks that sanctions are something that he can live with provided he can convince the people that he is making heir country great again. And is their present quality of life so high that it has become a sacred cow, as it is in the west?

The electorates of the western democracies are obsessed by economic well-being. Their feel-good factor depends only on material comfort. They will throw out their leaders if things get tough and their leaders know it. So serious sanctions that hurt everybody are not going to be applied. Voters ill not be impressed by being told that economic war is hurting THEM more than US.

So Putin will not stop now. He will move in discrete stages, acting when an opportunity arises and when his last move has been partly forgotten. He will use as pretext the existence of substantial Russian minorities outside his borders, as Hitler did in the 1930’s. A time will come going further is too costly. The British Empire disappeared when the people who were governed found ways to make the governing too costly, economically, politically and militarily and morally. If the western democracies want to stop Putin they should try to empower his targets with that capability.

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