Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Putin Ever More Frequently Talks about Benefits of War Rather than Its Costs, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 21 – As his Victory day celebration approaches, Vladislav Inozemtsev says, Vladimir Putin is focusing on the past and stressing all the benefits war brought the Soviet Union and Russia while largely ignoring its enormous human costs. Indeed, he refers to the latter only in terms of some super-human cost-benefit analysis.

            In his essay on the prelude to World War II and in his remarks on today’s Moscow.Putin.Kremlin television show, the Kremlin leader discusses the past in terms of the lessons it has for today be they the division of the world into spheres of influence or the negative consequence of denigrating any country (

            With this focus on the past, Putin simultaneously ignores today’s problems and acts as if what war brought the Soviet Union in the past is something that another war could bring Russia now or in the future, “new opportunities for influence, new territories, and new satellites,” Inozemtsev continues.

            When he does mention the human victims of such conflicts, Putin does so “only in the context of ‘what was the price’ of this victory” but he does not allow anyone to doubt that these losses were a price very much worth paying and that the price the USSR paid was fully justified by what it achieved.

            In other words, the Russian economist and commentator says, Putin’s “entire logic” involves a cost-benefit analysis, an approach that ignores the fact that from World War I on, “armed conflicts ceased to bring a benefit to any of its participants.” As John Maynard Keynes observed, “conflicts have begun to have a price that no one can recover.”

            In the nineteenth century, however, states saw the acquisition of territory as an appropriate and necessary condition for developing the power of the leadership and the power of the country as a whole. Now, most don’t, but Putin, Inozemtsev says, is completely at odds with present-day approaches and very much in line with those of 150 years ago.

            Putin hopes that “the great powers will unite in opposition to come threats,” terrorism in 2000 and the coronavirus pandemic now, and agree to make deals, including territorial ones involving the recognition of spheres of influence, the Russian commentator says. But those hopes are for naught because others want to boost the well-being of their populations.   

            Other countries do not now see their power and progress dependent on territorial expansion. Indeed, they do not think in spatial terms of that kind at all. Losing control over portions of their spheres of influence isn’t that important if they are able to boost the standard of living of their peoples. But Putin views the world like their predecessors, not his contemporaries.

            “Over the course of a large part of the 20th century,” Inozemtsev says, “Moscow was concerned with territorial aggrandizement” and its ideas about the greatness of the state were defined in such terms.  Such an approach is increasingly out of step with the rest of the world, but it is one that Putin fully supports, despite its “illusory” quality. 

            As a result, the Kremlin leader views “the interests of the population” as something at best secondary “because people in this sytem are subjects rather than citizens, ‘the new oil’ and not subjects who are to take political decisions.” Thus, annexing Ukraine’s Crimea is key, even if that means that many Russians continue to live in poverty.

            Behind Putin’s approach is something even more fundamentally wrong: He views the task of the state as dividing wealth because he and his regime are “in the majority of cases” neither want or even are able to generate more of that. That of course precludes much development, and Russia will only be able to move forward after Putin stops setting its agenda.

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