A Video Worth Watching

There are many criticisms which could be made of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, but not doing enough to relieve motorists caught in a provincial blizzard isn’t one of them:

A blizzard survivor has addressed an angry video message to Russian President Vladimir Putin after about 80 people waited 15 hours for rescuers in the Orenburg region of Russia.

A driver froze to death and many others suffered frostbite when their vehicles were trapped on a main road in the region, in the southern Ural mountains.

Russia sends aid abroad but “we cannot save our own people”, Pavel Gusev said.

Prosecutors in Russia’s Investigative Committee (SK) are now examining the emergency response on the night of 3 January, when cars were buried in snow on the Orenburg-Orsk road.

Survivors say the blizzard was so bad there was virtually no visibility.

The fact is that it is extremely difficult to do much about motorists stranded in a blizzard, not least because it is almost impossible to plan for.  Around Christmas 2014 severe snowstorms left 15,000 people stranded in the French Alps.  Every country – whether used to snow or not – suffers the problem of stranded motorists when an unusually severe blizzard hits, and the emergency services and other authorities are usually powerless to do anything until the conditions improve.  It is not practical or feasible to have hundreds of specialist snow-rescue vehicles scattered around a country, let alone one the size of Russia, in the event motorists get trapped.  And the poor conditions, particularly visibility, prevent would-be rescuers reaching those trapped in any case.  A solution, one which I’m sure the Savoy police would agree with, was ventured by the admittedly rather unhelpful Russian authorities:

Some calls for help got the reply from rescue service staff: “You should have stayed at home, you had no business going out.”

Firstly, you watch the weather when you live in places prone to snowstorms.  If a particularly nasty front is coming in, stay at home.  Secondly, if you live in such an area you are supposed to carry a winter kit with you in the back of the car: snow chains, shovel, tow-rope, gloves, warm boots, de-icer, torch, etc.  I made sure I had all this kit in the boot of my car whenever I drove around Sakhalin in winter, and I do the same when I drive in the Alps now.  If I’m going far, I make sure I have a bottle of water and a down jacket with me, and sometimes throw a sleeping bag on the back seat just in case I have to spend the night in the car.  And the car is always, always, as full with diesel as possible: you don’t venture far from home in harsh winter weather on an empty tank.  That said, it is still possible to take all the right measures and still end up trapped and freezing in a blizzard, sometimes you just get unlucky and if you have kids in the car it’ll be pretty miserable.  But this isn’t something you can really blame the emergency services for, and certainly not the president.  15 hours isn’t an unusually long time to wait for help, and unless you are really badly prepared, or very young, old, or sick you ought to be able to survive that easily.

However, that is not to say the complaint isn’t important.  I once went on a training course with a large psychological element which gave us an exercise concerning a theoretical employee who has just burst into a manager’s office with a specific complaint.  We – being engineers – fell over ourselves to solve the immediate problem he was complaining about before being gently informed, by the instructor who was not an engineer, that the actual problem was irrelevant and could have been anything: the complaint was merely the employee’s vehicle of choice to indicate a much deeper dissatisfaction.  It was the role of a good manager to recognise this and solve the underlying issues and not immediately rush to address the immediate problem he walked in with.

I suspect what we’re seeing here with this video to Putin is the frustrations stemming from more deep-rooted issues coming to the fore: a contracting economy, stagnating quality of life, inflation, the effect of sanctions, corruption, gangsterism, and a whole host of other things which blight the lives of ordinary Russians.  Russians aren’t the kind of people who are unduly troubled by things like snowstorms and standing around freezing for 15 hours, nor do they have high performance expectations of the authorities.  Somebody is letting off some steam here.

This sort of thing bears watching because Russia’s government is brittle.  As Streetwise Professor helpfully explains, brittle does not mean weak: it means collapse, when it happens, occurs suddenly and unpredictably.  When brittle regimes collapse the catalyst is often something relatively small and unnoticed by most at the time.  The protests which led to the Iranian Revolution were triggered by the death of Mostafa Khomeini followed by an ill-advised article in a government newspaper denouncing him.  The ongoing situation in Syria transformed from protests to all-out civil war when authorities in the southern city of Daraa arrested and imprisoned 15 children for painting anti-government graffiti on the walls of a school.  When they were released they showed physical signs of having been tortured, and the subsequent outrage turned protesters into armed opponents of the Assad government.  The Arab spring itself grew from protests over the prices of staple foods, particularly wheat in Egypt.  The Berlin Wall came down, taking East Germany with it, largely due to a mistake made by a government spokesman on TV.

It’s not that these events meant much in isolation, it is that they were the catalysts which triggered huge change in an already volatile situation.  The video sent to Putin by the trapped motorist is not such a catalyst, but it does strongly suggest that dissent is starting to appear in the massed ranks of ordinary Russians and that the underlying situation is more volatile than people think.  This video won’t change anything, but in the future a similar video might change everything overnight.  That is why I thought it worth mentioning.

Share

39 thoughts on “A Video Worth Watching

  1. The Berlin Wall came down, taking East Germany with it, largely due to a mistake made by a government spokesman on TV.

    Link’s not working, chap. What’s the story there? Sounds interesting.

  2. If I drove often in an area prone to blizzards, I think I’d go for a petrol-engined car rather than a diesel. In fact, when we used to be hill-walkers in the Highlands, that’s just what we did.

    As for brittleness and the build-up of underlying frustration, maybe that would be a good way to look at the decline of the Trade Unions in Britain. BMA next? Tube drivers?

  3. I love watching back to back YouTubes of the Spetsnaz in action but this one didn’t resonate with me, maybe the protesters message was lost in translation. From my perspective all I want out of this is a luxury holiday in St Petersburg while the ruble is still way down.

    Its hard to know where this will all end for Russia or Putin, on the geopolitical scene he has just pulled the political master stoke with his Syrian intervention and rapidly transformed the negotiations and it also looks like he has the upper hand on the latest development with the Saudis. But like you Israel Shamir also says there are fundamental problems developing at the grass roots level on the home front.

    “These are protests from the pro-Putin crowd, from people who supported his takeover of Crimea and his entry into Syrian war. They could bear some deprivation, but they are upset by Putin’s condoning thieves, by his apparent cronyism, by his oligarch friends. Until now, the critics avoided attacking Putin, but these are the early swallows. Dr Stepan Sulakshin, the head of a Moscow think tank, publicly accused Putin of knowingly leading Russia into further degradation.”

    http://www.unz.com/ishamir/putin-blues/

  4. There is a memorable scene in Pushkin’s The Captain’s Daughter: the narrator, with his manservant and the kibitka driver, gets trapped by a snowstorm while heading to a remote fortress in the Orenburg governorate. The men are facing the unpleasant prospect of spending the night on the steppe – the snow is too deep and visibility is zero. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a man appears who happens to know the area well and guides the travelers to a shelter. (Later, he turns out to be Yemelyan Pugachev, the leader of the large-scale uprising of Cossacks, minorities and peasants in 1773-75.)

    A few hours earlier, when the party started out, the sky was clear, with only a small cloud far away. The driver warned it would grow into a huge blizzard cloud but the narrator ignored his warning. Every Russian school kid is supposed to know that scene.

  5. @dearieme,

    If I drove often in an area prone to blizzards, I think I’d go for a petrol-engined car rather than a diesel.

    One is better than the other, but I can’t remember which. I drove a petrol in Sakhalin (Toyota Surf, basically a Hilux full cab) and never had a problem with it. In France everything is diesel, and my car has a pre-heater for the engine when it’s cold.

    As for brittleness and the build-up of underlying frustration, maybe that would be a good way to look at the decline of the Trade Unions in Britain. BMA next? Tube drivers?

    I’d say the NHS staff or tube drivers, yes. They seem to be increasingly distanced from the public who are being asked to suppose they are suffering.

  6. @Bardon,

    on the geopolitical scene he has just pulled the political master stoke with his Syrian intervention

    Well, that remains to be seen. Sure, he made Obama look like a twat but the Iranians have managed that by holding a couple of boat crews hostage for 24 hours: no need to get sucked into an unwinnable war. Shamir is right, but when he says:

    These are protests from the pro-Putin crowd, from people who supported his takeover of Crimea and his entry into Syrian war. They could bear some deprivation, but they are upset by Putin’s condoning thieves, by his apparent cronyism, by his oligarch friends.

    He doesn’t mention that these are two sides of the same coin: the mentality which drives the gansterism is the same as that which seized Crimea.

  7. @ Alex,

    A few hours earlier, when the party started out, the sky was clear, with only a small cloud far away. The driver warned it would grow into a huge blizzard cloud but the narrator ignored his warning. Every Russian school kid is supposed to know that scene.

    Indeed, you would think most Russians would still know it. That’s why I think this protest doesn’t have much to do with people getting trapped in snow. 15 hours? Jeez, that was the length of breadlines in the USSR, wasn’t it?!

  8. “my car has a pre-heater for the engine when it’s cold.” But does it have a pre-heater for the fuel tank? In horribly cold weather diesel simply refuses to flow. Hence tales of lorry drivers building small fires beneath their fuel tanks. Not always to their own advantage.

  9. “my car has a pre-heater for the engine when it’s cold.” But does it have a pre-heater for the fuel tank? In horribly cold weather diesel simply refuses to flow. Hence tales of lorry drivers building small fires beneath their fuel tanks. Not always to their own advantage.

    You really don’t want to have a tank full of “summer diesel” when winter suddenly arrives.

  10. “Well, that remains to be seen. Sure, he made Obama look like a twat but the Iranians have managed that by holding a couple of boat crews hostage for 24 hours: no need to get sucked into an unwinnable war. ”

    Yes it does remain to be seen and anything is possible in the grand chessboard but if the forthcoming UN-sponsored peace process succeeds, then it will be mostly due to Russia’s intervention which in a relatively short three months aerial campaign has almost wiped out the might of the entire Western backed foreign regime change machine. Their commanders are being killed, supply lines broken, black market smuggling activities interrupted, the whole enterprise for regime change in that country is now looking very weak and this dramatic turnaround has been down to the Russians. Towns are being liberated, truces are being negotiated, the sieges are ending and the unwelcome foreigners are now surrendering and retreating from Syria by the busload to Turkey. God only knows where these aggressors will go next.

    And never mind the avoidance of the inevitable murder squads and years of political instability that would have followed a foreign backed regime change.

    So if peace is restored in Syria, then it will be Syria and the people of Syria that have won the war not the Russians although their decision for the strategic intervention to help their Arab ally will have been vindicated and noted at the top table.

    “I think that now is a kind of turning point in the Syrian army military operations against terrorists – namely, the transition from defense to attack,

    I want to say that the success of our army is in accordance with the effective work of the Russian air force in Syria.”

    Riad Haddad – Syria’s ambassador to Russia

    http://sputniknews.com/middleeast/20151226/1032331610/syrian-army-daesh-damascus.html

    Yes this potential vindication may come too late for Putin given that his political career is totally dependent on the price of oil and being a high cost producer, the current market price and outlook does not bode well for him. You could probably go as far to say that there is a direct correlation between his leadership lifespan and the survival of Gazprom executives.

    http://rbth.com/business/2015/10/16/big_earners_what_are_gazproms_top_executives_paid_for_50137.html

  11. I think Bardon’s been drinking the Kremlin Kool-Aid. Or Comical Ali has found himself a new job in Brisbane.

  12. Nothing as colourful as that!

    I am neither an apologist for Russian foreign policy nor a Baathist radical, just someone that is concerned about the horrors of war and a supporter of anyone that deescalates them.

  13. The problem is that at this point a Syria with Assad at the helm in any shape or form will be ungovernable. I’m not necessarily saying removal of Assad was desirable before, or that he was a terrible dictator, or that he would have been toppled without Russian intervention: just that Assad will in all likelihood never be able to rule Syria again, except perhaps a rump consisting of Damascus and a handful of other places. The one thing – nay, the only thing – unifying the smorgasboard of folk both good and bad fighting in Syria is that Assad needs to go. This is probably *the* major obstacle to obtaining a truce between the government and the rebels. And Russia has thrown everything behind Assad, and have ensured he will not be toppled. This is why a lot of Syrians despise the Russian intervention: not because it foiled the Western bungling, but because it has ensured the war will continue in perpetuity.

  14. “The one thing – nay, the only thing – unifying the smorgasboard of folk both good and bad fighting in Syria is that Assad needs to go. ”

    Okay we know that Assad has been demonised and has always been a target of the mighty US, UK, France, Saudi, Israeli and the Turks and for various reasons they have always wanted him and still want him out of the way. The jihadist foreign fighters also undoubtedly have this view.

    He has always been and is still supported by Russia its cold war ally and both Iran and Iraq.

    As for Syrians themselves I am yet to see any evidence that the majority want him removed and that he must go in order that the civil war stops. The last indication in 2014 was that he enjoyed 88% support during an election that had a 73% participation rate. This may have changed but on the assumption that the Christians, non-sectarian citizens, Army and relatives of the Armed forces would still prefer him then it remains to be seen what the people of Syria actually want and there is certainly nothing to say that the majority want him out.

    The other issue of course is that he is still the sovereign leader of that country and there is a very bad and bloody track record of recent western backed regime change followed by the installation of puppets in the region.

    For me, he is still the best option for a transition to peace and then there can be some form of change, if required and at the determination of the Syrians and them alone.

  15. The last indication in 2014 was that he enjoyed 88% support during an election that had a 73% participation rate.

    Congratulations, you must be the only person who cites the Syrian government election statistics to demonstrate the popularity of the Syrian government.

  16. This said, Tim, the meme itself, “we give them so much while our people are suffering” in its most general form, expressed a common grudge against the Soviet regime in the 1980s. “We are giving Cuba/Angola/Vietnam billions of dollars and people have no running water 50 km from Moscow.” Regardless of its merits, the Kremlin is aware of the meme’s track record. Moscow has paid attention to the video and ordered a criminal investigation. I hope no one will be scapegoated into jail for it.

  17. Assad needs to go, but unfortunately the track record of the successors of deposed tyrants in the Mid East is not brilliant. “He may be a sob, but he’s our sob” anyone?

  18. This said, Tim, the meme itself, “we give them so much while our people are suffering” in its most general form, expressed a common grudge against the Soviet regime in the 1980s.

    Ah, I didn’t know that: I did sometimes wonder about what people at the time said, but never knew for sure. I know they used to do collections at schools for the victims of natural (or, probably, man-made) disasters in Communist shitholes out of solidarity, asking for clothing and stuff. I’m sure all the decent items were pilfered long before they left Soviet shores, though.

    Regardless of its merits, the Kremlin is aware of the meme’s track record. Moscow has paid attention to the video and ordered a criminal investigation.

    Yeah, I expect for the reasons I mentioned: brittle regimes are often painfully aware of the power of spontaneous dissent.

  19. Assad needs to go, but unfortunately the track record of the successors of deposed tyrants in the Mid East is not brilliant.

    Indeed, which is why we shouldn’t be meddling there. But Assad’s removal nevertheless remains the one issue which the jumble of Syrian opposition groups insist is non-negotiable. Note I am not saying that this means his replacement will be any better!

    “He may be a sob, but he’s our sob” anyone?

    Yeah, that kind of went out the window after the Cold War when, thankfully albeit belatedly, we realised that supporting tyrants regardless tends to cost us dearly in the long run. Plus, I’m not sure dynastic dictatorships running for decades are sustainable in the modern era: we should probably not base regional strategy on their being so, in any case.

  20. “Assad needs to go, but unfortunately the track record of the successors of deposed tyrants in the Mid East is not brilliant. “He may be a sob, but he’s our sob” anyone?”

    Yes this is what we are continually being told no doubt about it but what we think about what we are being told isn’t relevant, it is what the locals think that counts. And I am sure that they think that the members of the House of Saud are a right pack of cads for sponsoring all of these head chopping jihadists in their back yard. Come to think of it they probably think that Obama, Cameron, Hollande and Netanyahu are alos as trustworthy as a black snake and that what they want for them is not what is best for them.

    I would also go as far as to say that the track record of the recent selections f puppet leaders in the region has been very successful in achieving the objectives of those that chose them.

  21. I would also go as far as to say that the track record of the recent selections f puppet leaders in the region has been very successful in achieving the objectives of those that chose them.

    Can you give us a short list of these puppet leaders so we know who you’re on about? 3-4 names will suffice. Thanks!

  22. I will throw in a free extra one for good measure.

    Hamid Karzai
    Ashraf Ghani
    The Shah of Iran
    Hosni Mubarak
    Mohamed Morsi

  23. Yes, they work. Provided we use definitions of “recent”, “selections”, “region” and “puppet” that differ somewhat from people’s usual understanding of the term.

  24. Its early days and lets see if it happens but I see that so called largest coalition of opposition groups Jaish al-Islam has been nominated as the opposition group to attend the peace talks and that they are also backed by the the western stakeholders. Its lead negotiators is Mohammed Alloush a Saudi backed Salafist.

    A blind horse could see that a fundamentalist hard line Sunni approach is the last thing that a secular Syria or its cultured citizens need or would want. The nations various Muslims, Christians, art and cultural leaders wouldn’t want a bar of this ideology and that is why, unlike Assad, we know that they don’t have any significant level of support whatsoever on the the ground. Assad was a doctor by profession an accidental leader and his wife is Sunni and he enjoys the full support of the running scared Christians and was always seen as a holy man that respected all faiths.

    This is another reason why the Syrians appreciate the Russian intervention which quickly scuttled the Wests plans to have Assad removed. Whether or not Russia has done its homework in going in or not or if it will safe Putin’s exposed ass remains to be seen, but right now he has stopped the planned installation of a western backed divide and conquer puppet leader.

    Back in Russia I see the ruble is still falling as is the price of oil.

  25. This is another reason why the Syrians appreciate the Russian intervention which quickly scuttled the Wests plans to have Assad removed.

    Even those Syrians the Russians are bombing?

  26. I dont think the Russians are targeting and bombing Syrians they are targeting the terrorists. Not saying that some innocent civilians have been killed in these campaigns either. I am saying that in general the Russians are seen as liberators and deliverers of humanitarian aid to the besieged locals.

  27. I dont think the Russians are targeting and bombing Syrians they are targeting the terrorists.

    So there are no Syrian rebels fighting against Assad? They’re all foreign terrorists?

    I am saying that in general the Russians are seen as liberators and deliverers of humanitarian aid to the besieged locals.

    That’s certainly how they’re seen by other Russians, yes. By the Syrians? Probably not.

  28. No there are very small number of Syrian national rebels fighting Assad.

    Innocent people are dying which is a result of any war but statistically the amount of innocent Syrians killed due to Russian attacks will be small when compared to the total death toll. The majority of those killed so far have supported the state not the other way round and then the portion of those killed due to Russians will be far smaller.

    Assad has always had the hearts and the minds of the majority, small communities that may have supported Anti-Assad efforts are shrinking, Syria asked Russia for help, Russia helped and now the war is being won and Syrians are actually returning to some areas. The Kurd’s also support the Russian intervention.

    So where is this majority anti-Russian view in Syria that you maintain is the case coming from, where is this cohort today, how do you know that they don’t approve of Russian support and do you have any numbers at all to back this up?

  29. do you have any numbers at all to back this up?

    Funny, I was wondering the same thing about your claims.

    No there are very small number of Syrian national rebels fighting Assad.

    Then who is fighting Assad? Because ISIS isn’t.

  30. Well I have posted my numbers on this thread, the results of which are quite unequivocal on the level of support that Assad enjoys.

    So its your turn now.

    As for Syrians fighting Assad, according to David Cameron although he is being very iffy when challenged on this, there is a combined tally across all of the groups of about 70,000 Syrian anti-state supporters.

  31. So you’re going to persist in citing Assad’s election figures as proof of the widespread adoration Syrians have for him? Okay.

    Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, some may wonder how the Syrian civil war rages on when no Syrians are actually fighting the government.

  32. If you have some information that counters the recent election result then you could always disclose it in support of your case. Or maybe you cant find anything to the contrary and its just your gut feel that the majority of Syrians don’t support Assad?

    I used David Cameron’s utterance of 70,000 as a suggested number of Syrian fighters opposed to Assad, did someone else say their were none as I would also dispute that. I know that there is a degree of skepticism on his claim being overstated but I used it anyhow, how many do you think there are?

  33. If you have some information that counters the recent election result then you could always disclose it in support of your case.

    If you think the Assad dynasty is free and fairly elected and you’re going to take the election results at face value, knock yourself out fella. Just don’t expect anyone to take you seriously.

    As for the 70k fighters. Yes, that sounds about right. Are you assuming every Syrian not fighting is an Assad supporter? That would be spectacularly stupid.

  34. Okay so you don”t have any evidence to suggest that the majority of Syrians want Assad replaced and is just a gut feel that you have about this. That’s fair enough but it wouldn’t convince me otherwise.

  35. Okay so you don”t have any evidence to suggest that the majority of Syrians want
    Assad replaced and is just a gut feel that you have about this.

    Other than the raging civil war that is now entering its 5th year, I have no evidence whatsoever that Assad is not universally adored.

  36. “I have no evidence whatsoever that Assad is not universally adored.”

    This is not the question though, I have acknowledged that the West has wanted rid of Assad for a very long time, that he been successfully demonised by them and this was all well before the foreign backed terrorist attacks that sparked the escalation to yet another bloody and destructive foreign backed civil war. There is an abundance of evidence that that he is not universally adored, your view in itself is evidence of the West’s condemnation of Assad.

    This point is not contended and is wholeheartedly accepted by me.

    But the West’s plans for Assad have no relevance under international law to the independent sovereign nation of Syria where the state govern the nation in accordance with its constitution, which amongst other things sets the timings of elections and defines how it’s president come and go. Fox News and tabloid headlines condemning the evil Assad might well convince their viewers and readership to accept the Wests objectives for Syria irrespective of legal jurisdiction but thankfully the Russians have stepped in to support the constitution and the lawful will of the Syrian state, its appointed leader and its citizens.

    Fortunately for the Syrians it now looks like we won’t get a repeat of the recent situation where Fox News and tabloid headlines called for the deposition of the evil doing Libyan leader Gadhafi and the appointment of his replacement in an environment of scorched earth destruction, death and chaos. This outcome may have appeased foreigners in the relative safety and comfort of their lounge rooms but what citizen of any country would want this kind of outcome for themselves, their loved ones and their country? Just ask any Iraqi if on reflection if things were better under Sadam than they have been since his removal by the west, WMD aside.

    As to the point, we have been discussing the Syrian peoples support for Assad you have not mounted any argument, assumption, critical analysis, projection, informed guesstimate that leads you to say that he does not have the majority support of the Syrians. You somehow and without any basis, ignore and dismiss the recent election results out of hand as being of any indication of what the Syrian people wanted in what was a fair and free election. An election that had to be held when it was held in accordance with the constitution that produced an unexpected turnout on the day, particularly outside of Syria, an election that even the Western media had to begrudgingly concede that turnout alone was a victory in itself for the incumbent Syrian state. It would have actually better suited your argument if Assad had ignored the Syrian constitutional rules and illegally postponed the elections but he didn’t.

    The election results overwhelmingly speak for themselves as to the legitimacy and strength of his mandate. A critical analysis of the results, which you haven’t attempted because you somehow won’t engage with it, would show that it was the rebel held regions that didn’t allow voting and if we assume that every single citizen of those regions was against Assad then his mandate would still be overwhelming. These numbers by the way are far larger than the 70,000 plus locals that you have offered up. He may have lost some support since then as the war turned worse for him following the election but now his popularity has increased once more and as I have demonstrated above if you look at a breakdown of the electorate by religious, ethnic, cultural, professional, gender and military class it is clear that there is no on the ground grass roots emerging cohort of sectarian Salafist fundamentalism that have anything like the numbers to overtake the status quo.

    I guess we will just have to agree to disagree on whether Assad actually has the majority support of the Syrian people. My only hope is that their suffering does not continue and they manage to reestablish order out of chaos and are left alone to fulfill their destiny and that’s about all I have to say on this.

  37. The election results overwhelmingly speak for themselves as to the legitimacy and strength of his mandate. A critical analysis of the results, which you haven’t attempted because you somehow won’t engage with it

    If you want people to engage in your arguments, you may want to adopt some that do not have the appearance of being lifted wholesale from a broadcast of Russia Today.

Comments are closed.