Staunton, July 24 – The growing conflict between the US and China may have as a side effect the prolongation of the life of the Putin regime in Russia and “together with this, the period of suffering and degradation of the Russian people,” according to Dimitry Savvin, editor of the Riga-based conservative Russian Harbin portal.
Most analyses suggest that as tensions between Washington and Beijing rise, Moscow will have to choose one side or the other, a choice that would undermine the Putin government; but in fact, Savvin suggests, Vladimir Putin could become the Josef Broz Tito of the new cold war, part of one bloc but cooperating with the other (harbin.lv/knr-vmesto-sssr-a-putin-vmeto-tito).
Savvin argues that China and Russia are increasingly alike, albeit their paths to that commonality have been different. China has continued to base its regime on the communist nomenklatura while Putin’s has done the same but behind “the smoke screen” of democratization in the 1990s. Now that smoke screen has dissipated and the continuities have become clear.
And this is true in the economic and ideological spheres as well. China and Russia both rely on government control of “the commanding heights” and the power of the regime to interfere in all economic activity; and both have developed an ideology combining Sovietism with neo-traditionalism and ethnic nationalism.
They thus are increasingly natural allies, Savvin suggests; but precisely because they are, the West will undoubtedly adopt the strategy it has used so often in the past, cooperating with the lesser evil to weaken the greater one. That gives the Putin regime “a window of opportunities” which it will certainly try to exploit.
The example that Putin is likely to draw on is that of Yugoslavian leader Tito, who cooperated with Moscow enough to avoid an invasion but used his independence from Moscow as the basis for attracting support and resources from a West interested in weakening the Soviet bloc.
It is entirely logical, the conservative Russian commentator says, that “under new conditions, the American government will attempt to act according to this old pattern – and try to make out of Putin a new Tito and out of the Russian Federation, a neo-Soviet state with ‘a human face.’”
Washington will seek to have Moscow distance itself from Beijing and offer in exchange credits, economic cooperation, and an end to sanctions. Putin will have his own demands, including Western recognition of the former Soviet space as Russia’s sphere of influence, although that may be more than he can achieve.
But as a result, Savvin argues, “the life of Putinist neo-Sovietism could be extended” and not for years but for decades. “For the Russian people, such a scenario would mean further degradation across the board and an eternal economic crisis.” (The same thing would happen if Moscow stays with Beijing but such a strategy would offer Moscow fewer benefits.)
What is as yet unclear is how far the US is prepared to go to treat Putin as the new Tito, as a lesser evil with whom one can cooperate against a greater one. As many Americans know, policies based on naked short-term interests alone rather than longer-term moral and ideological ones seldom work as intended – and all too often lead to future disasters.
But it is already clear that America’s “new cold war with China” is giving Putin’s “neo-Sovietism a certain chance. And this, perhaps, is the most serous threat” now facing the Russian people at present.
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