Russia’s recent actions are an example of self-harm no different from a young woman who scratches her own flesh till it bleeds, for no better excuse than it makes her feel good. This from a young person with a difficult background, who has great opportunities before her, if she chose to take that route, but her anger is greater than her rational, and her need for pain, greater than her need fit in with the mainstream.
Like the idea loved by cartoonists, a devil and an angel sit on each shoulder of this woman, and whisper conflicting advice. If Barack Obama were the cartoonist, then he would draw Medvedev as the angel and Putin as the devil.
Others would argue that Medvedev is just as corrupt, but Obama had a rapport with him, and believed that he wanted to take Russia on the road to economic reform. Sadly, Russia chose to listen to the devil, Putin. Either that or Medvedev was too weak an angel to stand up to him. The election was less a choice, and more a handover, and Obama has been scornful of Russia ever since.
So when we look at the events of the last week, did the devil win and the angel lose again? Or was the devil so weak as to avoid a whispered conversation at all? When Kiev ousted the puppet of Moscow, were the Russians angry at the people of Ukraine, or angry at the foolish Putin?
In the Crimea, it was a tentative, secretive build-up of troops. There was no need for clips to be attached to firearms, it wasn’t as if they were going to be fired. The soldiers were there for show, yet their insignia were concealed. They waved no flags. They wouldn’t even speak a single word to a journalist for fear of giving away their nationality. It was an invasion on tip toes, yet it was intended to be seen.
Normally there would be loud threats and demands, but this time there was no ultimatum broadcast to Kiev. There was no grandstanding at the UN. There was no photo opportunity from Putin on a tank. It was the sneakiest invasion the world has ever seen. It was so quiet, that one has to consider why? Why invade on tip toes?
Whether Russia is a democracy or a dictatorship is neither here nor there. To understand politics, understand that the leader is the person who commands enough of the levers of power to have a consensus behind him. So regardless of what the constitution says, if the devil president is the one who gives the orders, then he’s in charge. If the angel prime minister is the one who pulls the strings then he is in charge.
The power of Putin has been in decline for some time. His dalliance with Asad has turned Syria into rubble. The economy needs to diversify from oil and gas, yet his bizarre policy response is to create a customs union with other oil and gas producers. We hear reports that everyone in Russia has the same contempt for the west as Putin does, yet they move their money into foreign bank accounts on such an enormous scale, that we have to wonder.
Those troops were ordered to enter, but ordered to keep secret their identity as Russians. Why be ashamed? Why be fearful? For me, the answer to this riddle is that the devil knew that Russia was ready to listen to the angel. By making that move with the military, Putin has outflanked those who were welcoming the devil’s decline. Once the troops were in place, he took another straw poll of his colleagues, and how could any patriot say no, at that point?
It’s a great shame that sometimes in politics the competent are sidelined by those who have no other talent but that of achieving power, regardless of their incompetence as administrators.
And like the self-harming young woman, it’s not so simple to get her life on track. Regardless of how much she wants to choose the right direction, sometimes circumstance makes the decision for her.
We are so lucky to live in a democracy that works more often than not. We are so lucky that we have a chance to choose our rulers. We are so lucky that we are not self-harming, not a nation in decline. Relatively speaking.