Never Truer Words Spoken

In August I wrote a post, the central point of which was Russia ought to tread carefully in its dealings with the west because they might not be as forgiving the next time should Russia find itself once again in a very weak position:

By historical standards Russia, as part of a collapsing empire which had been defeated after a long and often bloody struggle against an ideological, military, and political enemy that remained strong, got off awfully lightly.

Russians might do well to appreciate this, and consider that should a similar situation arise again they might get treated somewhat differently.  History is littered with examples of enemies not being finished off when the chance was there; there are not so many examples of an enemy being forgiven twice.

I envisaged a scenario whereby Republican voices in the US and like-minded politicians in Europe take advantage of a crisis in Russia to ensure another showdown with a government in Moscow cannot happen, i.e. by taking steps to severely hobble the country or dismember it.  It’s unlikely, but nevertheless possible.

Today I came across this article reporting Vladimir Putin making a statement in October which I suspect might be interpretted differently from how he meant it:

“The Cold War has ended,” Putin said yesterday. “But it ended without peace being achieved, without clear and transparent agreements on the new rules and standards.”

Indeed.  And the lesson drawn by some will be that next time around peace will be imposed unconditionally and Russia will be left in absolutely no doubt as to the new rules and standards.

In completely unrelated news, the Russian rouble has suffered its biggest fall since 1998.

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9 thoughts on “Never Truer Words Spoken

  1. The Russians have got nukes. There’s no sign of any American politician with a tenth of the foreign policy shrewdness of Nixon, Reagan, or Bush the Elder. This is not a promising combination.

  2. His speech yesterday was even more extraordinary. Towards the end he mumbled something to the effect that he wanted Russian oligarchs to repatriate their overseas cash holdings and he promised to instruct the tax and regulatory authorities not to ask any questions! How’s that going to play amongst the ordinary Russian public?

    The man is good at tactics but hopeless at strategy. Also, nobody in Russia from top to bottom has any idea of how free(-ish) market forces work because none of them have ever tried it. They stole everything they own and they work on a similar model to the Mexican drug cartels!

  3. @ dearieme,

    There’s no sign of any American politician with a tenth of the foreign policy shrewdness of Nixon, Reagan, or Bush the Elder.

    Indeed. The paucity of genuine statesmen in the US – and Europe, for that matter – is an ongoing problem.

  4. @ David Duff,

    The man is good at tactics but hopeless at strategy.

    Very well put!

    I was at a wedding in North Wales getting hammered and so missed Putin’s speech, but Streetwise Professor has covered it well. If you’ve not read him already, I can highly recommend him.

  5. “Also, nobody in Russia from top to bottom has any idea of how free(-ish) market forces work because none of them have ever tried it.”

    This is only true of the bureaucracy. Otherwise, since about 1992 – actually since Gorbachev allowed so-called cooperatives in 1987 – millions of Russians have worked in those sub-sectors of the private sector which are undoubtedly driven by market forces, however distorted at times by government interference. Any store manager in the proverbial Uryupinsk will have a better understanding of markets than Putin and all his men. But Putin’s team, even his “liberals”, have little interest in the opinions of those Russians who have built their own businesses from scratch.

    This is not only about major traded firms like Yandex, Magnit, VimpelCom/BeeLine, but much smaller businesses. Like the furniture company that built my wardrobe closet and desk, or the owners of the expensive but efficient car wash we use at times, or the lady who runs a clothing alteration shop from a cellar and sewed our curtains and furniture covers, or the butcher store that sells us meat (and increasingly milk and cheese) from private Russian farms. They don’t operate in a truly free market, but they are sensitive and responsive to market forces, unlike the bureaucracy.

  6. I agree, Tim, some sort of a permanently neutering surgery is a likely scenario but for me, obviously, the question is the timing and the pain. Also, Republicans don’t seem to have a charismatic strategist, someone with both Obama’s education and McCain’s passion.

  7. I haven’t read Pomerantsev’s book (yet) but I’m fond of his recent notes on Putin’s disinformation. But O’Rourke’s review is sensationalist and probably does not do justice to Pomerantsev’s work. The ugly Russia O’Rourke depicts is not the only Russia out there. Having lived for most of my life in Moscow, I have never paid a bribe, always paid my taxes, never cheated on an exam, and never even paid for sex. I may be an fortunate exception but I don’t see why people in my social circle should be that different. They probably aren’t. They may be part of a rotten system but fixing that will take a systemic change, as it did in Georgia, where it worked like a miracle.

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