Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Recent Strange Behavior of Russian Elites Reflects Panic in the Kremlin, Piontkovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 25 – “Strange tectonic shifts are taking place around the Kremlin,”
 Andrey Piontkovsky says. And although evidence of them comes mostly in leaks, they are a clear indication of “the panic and confusion now ruling” there and the beginning in the Kremlin of “a showdown in the higher echelons of power.”

            On Espreso.TV, the Russian commentator says that what he sees behind the scenes is a shift from competition among those around Putin for access to the boss to a competition among them to distance themselves from him because they do not want to fall when and how he will (ru.espreso.tv/article/2015/08/23/andrey_pyontkovskyy_kreml_podaet_sygnaly_otchayanyya_eto_bunker_1945).

            The behavior of Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, is indicative. It appears, Piontkovsky says, that Peskov is responsible for the reports about his wild spending, clearly hopeful that he will be removed from his current post and sent with his new wife somewhere safe abroad.

            And Aleksey Venediktov, the editor of Ekho Moskvy who in Piontkovsky’s telling likes to be seen as someone with access, “suddenly has felt the need to describe very precisely that “before the annexation of Crimea, a meeting took place in the Kremlin and literally all those present – diplomats, military commanders, economists, and intelligence officials – expressed definite concerns and doubts about this action.”

            Nonetheless, Putin “didn’t listen to them and took his decision.”

            Such strange behavior, the Russian analyst continues, reflects the lack of a strategy among those closest to Putin. But it strongly suggests that they are now looking past his time and trying to position themselves for good standing in a post-Putin Moscow and a post-Putin international community.

            Asked what one should expect from “the main rat, if the other rats are deserting the ship,” Piontkovsky says that one cannot exclude the possibility that Putin will do something “insane” if he feel cornered. Indeed, the analyst continues, the Kremlin leader’s recent words about supposed Ukrainian plans to attack may presage an expanded Russian attack on Ukraine.

            But if Putin does so, he will be doing so in the face of a situation in which “Moscow understands that for such an escalation, it will face very serious economic and political responses and the supply of arms to Ukraine from the West. But perhaps,” Piontkovsky says, the Kremlin hopes to put the blame on Kyiv for whatever happens.

            “Provocations can have some tactical importance,” he continues, “but strategically Putin has lost. No military escalation will save him because he has lost for three most important fundamental reasons.” First, Ukraine has resisted far more than he though and rendered the idea of a Russian world including Ukraine impossible.

            Second, Piontkovsky says, Putin “underestimated the reaction of the West,” especially its reaction to his incautious words about using nuclear weapons.  The West understood and understands that Putin must be stopped in Ukraine lest he move on to the Baltic countries, whose NATO membership would require a military response.

            And third, the Russian commentator says, the Kremlin leader misjudged the Russian people. They may have experienced euphoria with the annexation of Crimea, but they increasingly are disturbed by the costs direct and indirect of Putin’s aggressive actions in Ukraine.

            Putin’s effort to get out of this trap he created for himself via the Minsk accords has also failed, Piontkovsky says. The Ukrainian government understands exactly what he is trying to do and consequently is doing everything it can to prevent that outcome. Now, Russian officials are driven back to making threats or seeking contacts with those they have offended.

            This, Piontkovsky concludes, is “a gesture of despair,” exactly like those in Hitler’s Berlin bunker in 1945.

            On Facebook today, Valery Solovey extends this thought. He says that all regimes just about to fall display “an interesting logic:” They begin to act “as if they have gone out of their mind and have been infected by an epidemic of mass idiotism” (facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007811864378&fref=nf).

            Given that these regimes, he points out, were not being run brilliantly even earlier, the cases of official stupidity “take on an Homeric and particularly malignant character.” This can be seen in Russia today with its “public destruction of food,” attempts at prohibiting Wikipedia, banning imported dish soap, “and how many other things still ahead!”

            The populations of such countries are driven to anger “not by the limitations of political and economic freedoms” but rather by “the anti-human absurdity and illogicality of the powers that be.” Why then do the authorities “go mad?”  The primary reason is that they feel they have lost control of the situation and are desperately trying to find a way to matter once again.

            They seem themselves as the victims of “bad luck,” and they want to lash out because such a feeling of being unjustly the victims “provokes in them nervousness and drives them to stupidities.”

            Solovey concludes by updating and reversing Tolstoy: “All happy regimes are happy in different ways. All unhappy ones go their end under the weight of their own idiotism.”

            The Moscow commentator does not say but perhaps one could add, updating Longfellow on Prometheus, an even more ancient and appropriate observation about the situation now: “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.”

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