Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Russia’s Situation Now Like That of 1812, not That of the End of the 1980s, Chernyakhovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 21 – Many people are comparing the situation Russia finds itself in now to the end of the 1980s because of the collapse of oil prices and the ruble exchange rate, but the far more appropriate comparison is between where the country is now and where it was in 1812, according to Moscow commentator Sergey Chernyakhovsky.

            The popular 1980s comparison is wrong, he says, for two reasons. On the one hand, the collapse of oil prices then did not play the role that many think. Moscow lost more income from the anti-alcohol campaign than it did from the declining price of oil at that time. It was government disorder not oil prices that led to disaster (

            And on the other, “Trump has not given himself the task of dismembering Russia,” a sharp contrast with Ronald Reagan. In contrast to Reagan, Trump isn’t interested in low oil prices – that now hurts the US more than it hurts Russia; and he isn’t interested in the disintegration of Russia into petty states. He prefers to deal with great regional powers.

            But there is a historical comparison with today that makes more sense, Chernyakhovsky says, and that is with the situation the Russian Empire found itself in in the runup to 1812.At that time under the terms of the Tilsit Treaty, Russia committed itself to the continental blockade and thus not to sell grain to England.

             That led to the collapse of grain prices both internationally and within Russia, the commentator says, and had the broader effect of allowing Russia to make the transition “from non-economic to economic means of exploitation” of cheaper labor. And that in turn opened the way for the development of Russian industry.

            That led Alexander I to provoke a war with Napoleon so that the French ruler would invade Russia, suffer defeat, and thus allow Russia to advance into Europe at the head of an anti-French coalition. In the short term, this worked to Russia’s advantage and set the stage for Russia’s dominance in the Holy Alliance in Europe until mid-century.

            And that conflict happened, Chernyakhovsky says, because the English were gradually able to impose their economic and industrial “rules” on Europe, and “Russia being a political giant was left ever further behind economically.” All this shows, the commentator adds, that “politicians must always think how to play and use as a weapon whatever comes to hand.”

            In the course of his interview with the Nakanune news agency, the commentator makes two other comments worthy of note. First, he says that Russia’s elite is “not repressive because it fears that if it begins to suppress one hostile part, it will find these methods used against itself.” That means that parts of the elite need to be replaced.

            And second, he observes that it is important to understand why Putin likes martial arts so much. The underlying principle of sambo and the others is to force one’s opponent to unintentionally use his powers against himself, thus allowing his opponents to win. That is Putin’s approach and it has proved remarkably successful.

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