Sunday, May 18, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Putin Much Less Dangerous Personally than is His ‘Russian World’ Idea, Piontkovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 18 – Vladimir Putin’s conception of a “Russian world,” of “the idea of the uniqueness of the Russian man,” is “much more dangerous for the world than is Putin himself,” according to Andrey Piontkovsky. And the West must fight “this nightmare” by discrediting its author and showing that it “doesn’t work”

            Speaking to the Delfi news agency in Vilnius, the Russian commentator says that he sees emerging “an anti-Putin coalition” emerging in much the same way as “the anti-Hitler coalition” did 75 years ago.  This new coalition will include the US, Poland, the Baltic countries, Sweden and Great Britain (

            To counter Putin and his “Russian world” idea, Piontkovsky continues, “the West will be able to use not military but an entire complex of economic and political means” in order to show that what Putin’s portrayal of himself as “a messiah of the Russian people” and his actual status as “the greatest thief” among them are fundamentally “incompatible.”

            The Kremlin leader provided the basis for a Western coalition when he and his speechwriters drew on Hitler’s ideas in in March 18 remarks.  Not only did his “conception of a Russian world” recall the Nazi leader’s appeal to pan-Germanism, but Putin’s worlds about national traitors were “typically Hitlerian.” Stalin spoke only about “enemies of the people”

                The idea of a “Russian world” is especially dangerous. “Even the most modest realiation of [that] requires the change of the borders of many states, including two NATO member countries, Estonia and Latvia.” And that confronts the Western alliance with “the most serious threat to peace since the end of the Cold War.”

            Piontkovsky argues that those who speak of a return to the Cold War are wrong because in fact “we are returning to more dangerous times than those of the Cold War.”  During that conflict, the leaders were far more careful than Putin is.  Indeed, “Putin is the first political figure since Hitler who has so openly declared his conception of the change of state borders.”

            But Putin’s “Russian world” contains within itself some even more dangerous ideas. Among them is another that echoes Nazi statements.  Putin as referred to the possession by Russians of “a unique genetic code,” a term of art not far removed from Hitler’s talk about the supremacy of the Aryan race.

            Putin has succeeded for a time because of his “very effective” 24/7 propaganda campaign, the Russian commentator says.  He has television, something Hitler did not. But how long-lasting the effects of this propaganda will be “is another question,” especially if things don’t go as well as Putin has promised.

            Moreover, “Putin believes in his mission,” Piontkovsky continues, just as Hitler believed in his.  “It is much easier to lie when you believe yourself.”  As Lenin once pointed out after the murder of the Imperial Family, it would be better for the Soviet ambassador in Berlin not to know anything because in ignorance “it would be easier to lie.”

            What happens next depends on the Ukrainians and on the Americans who are prepared to impose much more serious sanctions than the Europeans are, he continues.  But sanctions aren’t the most important tool, he insists. Instead, it is “the public unmasking” of Putin’s corruption and theft from the Russian people.

            If the West can communicate that Putin is stealing from his own people even as the Kremlin leader insists that he is “the messiah of the Russian people,” that and other gaps between Putin’s claims and the realities of the situation will create “cognitive dissonance” among many Russian, and they will begin to ask questions that the Kremlin can’t answer.

            One message that is terribly important to deliver in this regard, Piontkovsky says, is that what is happening in Ukraine is “not Russians against Ukrainians.” It is social marginal against normal people.  “Intelligent, educated Russians in Ukraine know Ukrainian” and like the Ukrainians have made “the European choice.”

            Because of the Anschluss of Crimea, “the West for the first time has felt a very serious threat. The next is Narva,” and hence the question: Will the West defend Narva. If it doesn’t, then “NATO doesn’t exist and the US as a great power doesn’t exist.” But if it does, there is the threat of war.

            What US President Barack Obama will do is “very difficult to answer,” given the divide between American interests on the one hand, and the chant by millions of the mantra “We do not want to die for Narva.”

            There is only one way out of this: to prevent such a scenario from developing; and that means to “compromise the idea of the Russian world, to show that it doesn’t work and to do so not by military but by an entire complex of economic and political means.” That is what the US is likely to do.

            It is critical to keep in mind that “the issue is not Putin personally. Putin personally is not dangerous but his conception of a Russian world” and the change of borders to achieve it is.  “It represents a threat to the world and must suffer defeat and be disarmed. Naturally, Putin ... as the bearer of this conception cannot survive its defeat politically.”
            Much of the support Putin now has rests on the widespread notion that if he were to leave, Russia would dissolve into chaos.  That is not the best basis for the long rule he hopes for, and consequently what Putin is doing with his Russian world idea is “replacing the model of Putin as the lesser evil with that of Putin as the great ingatherer of Russian lands.”

            But because of the dangers this presents for Russia, Russia’s neighbors and the world, he must not be allowed to get away with it. What will be the situation “after Putin?”  Probably the next Russian leader won’t be all that wonderful either, but he “will not be able to continue the policy of the ingathering of Russian lands.” 

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