Saturday, July 23, 2016

Putin Threatened Not Only by Falling Oil Prices but Also by Oil’s Declining Importance, Yakovenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 23 – Many argue that the fate of Vladimir Putin and his regime depend on the price of oil, but a more important factor in his and its longterm survival may be a secular trend that is even more strongly tilted against them: the declining importance of oil as a component of the world’s energy resources, according to Igor Yakovenko.

            In the 1970s, the Russian commentator points out, oil supplied 50 percent of the world’s energy needs; now, it meets about 30 percent; and with each passing year, that share is declining further – and with it the prospects that a ruler like Putin and a regime like his can survive (

            But the impact of this trend so far has been limited not so much by the meme of the victory of the television over the refrigerator, of propaganda over the standard of living, but rather by the victory of the couch, of an unwillingness on the part of the population to take action, over both, Yakovenko says.

            Just now, many are comparing Putin with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: both have imperial dreams and both are dictators. But there is one big difference: Erdogan has a political force that he can use against progress -- “the fanaticism of Orthodox Muslims” – and Putin does not.

            Moreover, Yakovenko says, Russia as a result of Putin’s actions is increasingly isolated. Not only has Brexit not worked as Putin planned – Britain has just voted to modernize its nuclear shield because of the Russian threat – and the US has been anything but intimidated. President Barack Obama has even compared Putin with ISIS, Ebola and North Korea.

            And Putin has lost even Russia’s former allies in Europe. The Serbs who have often followed Moscow blindly now are seeking to join not his Eurasian Union but the EU. “There is thus not a single European country which would be an ally of the regime of Vladimir Putin,” the commentator points out. Its “isolation” is complete as the doping scandal shows.

            This isolation and declining importance have real consequences, he continues, consequences that those in the regime who increasingly appear to be living in “an alternative reality” are only adding to, driving some Russians to leave the countries and most others at least so far to retire to the couch.

            “In this situation,” Yakovenko continues, “the only chance to keep Russia from an inevitably bloody scenario of disintegration is the replacement of the powers that be with cardinal changes in its system of rule.”

            As far as changes of power are concerned, there are several possible variants suggested by events elsewhere. But “the majority of them are impossible in Russia.”  There won’t be a Turkish style coup or foreign intervention, and that means that there remain only “two variants, which could reinforce one another and form a certain symbiosis.”

            These are efforts to elect opposition figures to the Duma and “at the same time,” to mobilize “protest groups of citizens in peaceful street actions.”  But “alas, the chances for such a symbiosis are extremely limited.” 

            Those who had hoped for another outcome have believed that ultimately the refrigerator will defeat the television, but it has turned out, Yakovenko says, that “these two appliances have declared an armistice and yield to a still stronger piece of home furnishing – the couch” to judge from new research.

            That research has found, he points out, that “people with higher incomes are watching television less but are also less critical of the authorities. Not because they agree with them ideologically but simply because” they are prepared to play by the current rules set by the powers that be which so far work to their benefit.

            At the same time, Yakovenko says, those lower down on the income pyramid, the research shows, are “not inclined to get rid of television. On the contrary, they are to an ever greater degree slaves of television and have entered TV reality even while not in agreement with television propaganda.”

            The combination of these two approaches, he says, is pushing ever more Russians to the couch, where they may feel distrust but from which they are not inclined to rise and act. This “victory of the Couch” is “becoming extremely probable at the upcoming Duma elections in September” with even opponents of the Putin regime unlikely to vote in large numbers.

            The only thing one can hope for, Yakovenko concludes, is that “by its inadequate actions,” the powers that be will “finally push Russians to get up from the Couch and do away with a regime that has already alienated everyone else on the planet.

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