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The view from inside the head of Vladimir Putin

Putin mirrorYou run an authoritarian regime in a vast country beset with economic problems, corruption, and ethnically-based insurgencies.

The nation on your doorstep – which formerly used to be an integral part of the multinational state ran from your capital for 70 years – has been intriguing with your long-term opponents in the international arena. Former client states and allies are now under the umbrella of their transnational military alliance and supra-national political project. There is ample evidence they were materially supporting opposition social movements in said neighbouring state.

After a mass insurgency, the friendly government of that country conclude an agreement with opposition forces. The very next day the administration is overthrown and replaced by a coalition ranging from the centre right to the fascistic. At least one of these organisations claims historic links to nationalist movements who rose up against your predecessor as it fought for its very right to exist. Furthermore, foreign dignitaries and emissaries flood into the revolutionary capital, get pictured meeting new ministers and touring the barricades.

This is a massive foreign policy disaster. But large numbers of your citizens are also resident in the country, particularly in the south and east, closest to your borders. This is part a legacy of forced population transfers in an earlier period, and part internal migration within the departed multinational state.

One province, heavily dominated by your citizens and who, in turn, fear that the new regime – particularly the blood-curdling rhetoric of its fascist wing – might bring misfortune down onto their heads unofficially secede and petition for protection from your country. Coincidentally large numbers of troops were in the area and they march in, sparking off an international crisis.

Over the next fortnight a great deal of hypocritical cant is spoken at UN meetings. In the international press, your opponents’ destabilisation of your neighbour is lauded as democratic, and striking a blow for freedom. There is little to no memory of their pushing their sphere of influence eastward, of threatening to set up missile defence systems all along your borders. You meanwhile have acted out of compassion. You had no choice but to move to protect your people and prevent bloodshed before it began.

The population of the break away province vote to join your country. It matters not that the plebiscite had irregularities – the sentiments of all the people appearing in your broadcaster’s reports are real enough. Formal annexation takes place.

The revolution in the west of the country has stirred up concerns in other provinces where your nationality has an outright majority. Simply stepping with “protection” here would be a step too far.

Groupings pledging allegiance to your country take to the streets in a number of eastern towns and cities. Some of these do involve agents provocateurs, but in most cases it’s like casting a match into tinder. Mostly the protests have been ineffectual, amateurish and easily put down by the usurpers in the west. But over this weekend a series of loyal militias have taken over key local government buildings in several cities, one proclaiming itself an independent people’s republic. The coup government, with their backers, say they’re going to mobilise the military and put these uprisings down. While there is little sign of that army yet, events on the ground might force you to send the 40,000 strong protection force you’ve massed on the borders in to calm the situation down. Your enemies are forcing your hand, so what do you do?

I don’t have special insight into the minds of Russia’s strategic thinkers, but from Western and Russian media reports this narrative – a mixture of realpolitik and ideological rendering of one’s own geopolitical interests – is a model that fits what has been happening on Putin’s part so far. I’m sure in the huddled map rooms of NATO, Whitehall and the State Department this sort of thought-building is commonplace. Unfortunately, the media and political coverage falls far short – there’s no appreciation of nuance, let alone thought given to how our governments’ actions are interpreted.

This article first appeared at A Very Public Sociologist

Image by Left Futures


  1. James Martin says:

    It’s actually highly amusing to me to see Putin and Lavrov run rings around idiots like Hague, first with Syria and now with Ukraine.

    And with Ukraine the US/NATO/EU imperialists are getting what they deserve. An engineered coup that put Vicky Nuland’s preferred right-nationalists and fascists in power in Kiev started to unravel immediately when it became clear that regardless of what Moscow thought about it, much of the rest of the country were not particularly happy waking up one morning to find that a bunch of anti-Semitic fascists wee now their leaders and with EU’s blessing to boot.

    The Ukrainian working class has yet to speak, but it is noticeable that in the industrialised Russian speaking west that is now arming itself against the Kiev coup leaders there are plenty of miners and plenty of communist/soviet and anti-fascist banners and insignia. But how odd – when barricades were erected in Kiev, and rocks thrown the western media wet themselves with joy, now when those in the west of the country do exactly the same it is ‘sinister’. Oh how they like to play with us and treat us as fools!

  2. David Ellis says:

    Is this supposed to be a justification for the war crimes of Putin and how the poor think just cannot help fomenting what will be an extremely bloody civil war in Ukraine. If his past glories are anything to go by Kiev will be flatter than pancake before you can say jack robinson.

    The place of the left is on the side of the Ukranian people and the brave anti-war movement in Russia but where is our StWC? Pushing Putin’s propaganda and rationalising his vicious kleptocratic, imperialist tyranny.

  3. James Martin says:

    Well David, I guess the middle class Guardianista ‘left’ will make these sorts of statements about being with ‘the people’. The problem is though that Kiev and the coup leaders now in power there are extreme nationalists and fascists. They hang banners of WWII Nazi collaborators and pogromists on public buildings. They have also occupied the offices and HQ of the Ukraine Communist Party (that has for many years effectively been a labour/social democratic organisation) and have assaulted its members. So are these the ‘people’ you want me to support?

    On the other hand in the east of the country they have red flags flying in many places, anti-Nazi banners on their buildings and have called their local anti-coup bodies ‘soviets’. Now of course we can have a debate about how much of a genuine workers soviet these things actually are, but the symbolism is very important nevertheless, as is the clear contrast between these people and those Kiev coup leaders the US, NATO and EU are so keen to support. And I am certainly not on the side of those bandits, or the fascists they support – are you!

  4. David Ellis says:

    I am on the side of the Ukrainian revolution against gangster capitalism and Russian imperialism. I also recognise that the EU/US is entirely self-serving and whilst there are many who would like to see America and Russia clash head on in Ukraine no matter how many Ukrainians die there are even more hoping to see the notorious war criminal Putin bogged down in a protracted and unwinnable war in Ukraine again no matter how many Ukrainians die.

    You my friend would have been easy meat for the likes of Hitler and Co in the 30s with their socialist `symbolism’. As for the Ukraine CP it has been a conduit of Great Russian Chauvinism for decades and is seen as having collaborated with Stalin’s gulags and famines whilst taking far more of a share of the national wealth than it could ever deserve. Nowadays it is just the servant of the gangster capitalists that with its help took over Ukraine with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Good luck with your ethnic cleansing programme.

  5. James Martin says:

    ‘Ukrainian revolution’ David? When and where did that happen then? Please tell me because I have seen no sign at all of a ‘Ukrainian revolution’. Do you mean the fascist led coup supported and directed by Vicky Nuland perhaps? If so you need to be honest and say so.

    Oh, and actually symbolism is very important at various times. Because at the same time that your apparent friends are strutting around in Kiev wearing insignia from the 1st Waffen SS Ukranian Division and putting up posters of anti-Semite leader Bandera, others are preparing to commemorate Victory Day on 9th May when the Red Army finally beat fascism (after it liberated most of the death camps). You know, the victory against fascism that cost the Soviet Union 30 million dead and that your ‘revolutionary’ friends have sought to systematically destroy the memorials and statues to it. Again, the question needs to be asked – who’s side are you on?

  6. swatantra says:

    Georgia’s on my mind. That turned out to be a gangster republic after it broke away from Russia. The fact is the Russian Mafia runs in parallel with the Kremlin Govt. Its as bad as the Italian Mafia and supported by Big Business and oligarchs and pop stars and film stars.
    All Govts have still not been able to bring these Mafia Bosses to heel, and the reason is that many politicians are on the Mafia payroll.

  7. David Ellis says:

    James: here’s the deal. I’ll continue to support the democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people and their struggle against gangster capitalism and the Putin imperialist kleptocracy next door and you can back the Ukrainian-Russian fascist irregular militias in their ethnic cleansing drive in the East backed by Russian armour as you no doubt backed Milosevic’s land grab in Bosnia in alliance with Bosnian-Serb fash like Karadjic and Arkan and Mladic and assorted other war criminals and mass murderers.

  8. David Ellis says:

    As you are one of these people who only see the world through a rigid black or white bourgeois template I will explain that supporting the popular uprising and the democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people does not entail support for the government that accidentally found itself in power when Yanukovytch fled. What is needed is a government that can take on the Putin-backed militias militarily and smash them but which can unite the country politically East and West under a revolutionary democracy which will require that it does not take side with one set of gangster capitalists against the other but suppresses them all. This government is not that and the people will realise this as their struggle deepens.

    Unlike you pseudo socialists, neo-Stalinists, counter-hegemonists and red-brown alliancers we still take a Marxist approach and side with the new power that haunts both the ancient and bourgeois regimes of Europe: the independent working class and popular democratic masses. All you’ve done is pick an established imperial power and gone with it. What possible use are you to the international labour movement? You are in fact a dangerous enemy.

  9. James Martin says:

    David, you still haven’t answered my question (lots of guff and straw men in evidence though), when did the revolution happen in Ukraine that you mentioned? You see, it’s easy to attack foreign governments isn’t it, but isn’t the biggest enemy here, for us, NATO, or have I imagined that?

    So without all the 6th form rhetoric this is very simple, when did your revolution in Ukraine take place please? Also, given you have raised it, please provide actual links evidence to your claims of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in eastern Ukraine. Or Crimea for that matter, as these are very serious charges you throw around like rice at a wedding.

    Oh, ad as you ask, no I didn’t support Blair or NATO when Serbia was attacked. Nor did I support the NATO imposed ‘peace treaty’ that had at its heart the privatisation of state property. Did you?

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