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Putin And The Flash Mob Empire

Politics / Russia Feb 19, 2014 - 04:44 AM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


Going For Gold

Writing in 'Wall Street Journal' 14 February, Walter Russel Mead, a former senior adviser on US foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, claimed that Vladimir Putin is engaged in a “death-defying geopolitical gamble (that) is the hottest game in town”. Mead said Putin's gamble  “has more twists and turns than a bobsled race, more fancy footwork than a figure-skating final, and more dips and flips than a mogul run”.

Mead stayed with Sochi images to more accurately affirm that Putin is  “skating rings around his clumsy and clueless opponents in Washington and Brussels”. Mead would likely not accept they are simply trying to imitate the Kremlin's already clumsy, expensive and impossible Eurasian dreaming – and doing it much more incompetently than Putin - whose own personal, as well as political commitment to this gamble may not be what it appears to be.

What are the Eurasian prizes on offer? Countries with names that are exotic-to-Americans like Belarus, Daghestan and Tadjikistan, as well as the Ukraine -  and other ungovernable, ruined economies badly run by “lifetime presidents” or me-too muppet parliaments with organized crime in majority control. Divided societies where the majority goal of anybody below 30 years age is to quit the country. Post-soviet liberalization, or the loss of totalitarian control, means they can now Vote with their Feet and Russians know exactly what that means.

For historical and geopolitical reasons Russia is the prime target for economic migration from these “poisoned prize” states. Roughly 5 million have flocked to the Moscow-St Petersburg region since 2000, but the European Union is another target, with fatter Social Security prizes for the economic refugees. Walter Russel Mead's USA, the 'Promised Land' of Chuck Berry and Elvis - needs more than two feet to vote with to get there – but Mead and the US general public know exactly where the Boston bombers flew in from. No excuses of the type “We didnt know” will wash.

The Flash Mob Empire

The father of geopolitics, Halford Mackinder, argued that mass population movements across land frontiers will always decide who wins out as The Hegemon. Asia boasts the biggest numbers of economic migrants, traders, soldiers and troublemakers - and people vote with their feet, before they move on to seaborne travel and up to airplanes.  Putin's Russia draws in migrants – and what “ethnic Russians” increasingly see as Fifth Column enemies – from all across its western, southern, central and eastern borders. They can walk there.

The world's largest-ever empire, which also grew the fastest was the Mongol Empire which at its peak, about 1275, stretched from Seoul to Vienna and from Siberia to the Red Sea. The Mongols walked and rode there. Since the Cold War era, the US and western Europe wanted to smash the Soviet Union, and then destabilize the Russian Federation – so they also will live with the fallout. Millions of economic migrants are in the queue. Any of them can “go violent” when they find out that the “Promised Land” was only a Chuck Berry rockabilly tune of 50 years ago – and since 2008, at latest, the US and European economies are stagnant. Their absorbtion capacity is low – very low – but in poor countries with no prospects, run by “lifetime presidents” and their organized crime friends, this message gets lost in translation.

So-called “ethnic Russians” dread that prospect, so they approve of anything Putin does to Stop the Mob. Due to “the Syrian affair”, Russian diplomacy is seen as a dazzling spectacle by some Washington heavyweights, light on facts and even lighter on their understanding of the real world. On the positive side of the ledger, they stack up Russia's  gas and oil resources, its nuclear arsenal and post Cold War IT-savvy intelligence networks - but then they take a look at what's left. There is not much out there. Mead underlines that the Russian economy is ranked by the IMF, by GDP, neck-and-neck with Italy's GDP. Russia's population is declining rather fast. Stripping out the “recent economic migrants” who also boost and distort Europe's shrinking population of “ethnic Europeans”  - sometimes extremely as in France and UK - Russia's population is declining by about 1 million persons-a-year. To be sure, declining national population or decline of the “ethnic population base” is also the case in Germany and Japan, two countries with much larger GDP scores than Russia.

In theory at least, Russia has no specific need to be ashamed that its population is shrinking but for Vladimir Putin's Kremlin the decline is yet another disaster – like the end of the Soviet Union – because it makes Russia more vulnerable to encroachment. Fortress Russia needs its homeland and Heartland, and a large no-go buffer zone.

American historians and geopoliticians like Mead say that Putin is trapped and bound by not being able to tell his citizens to relax and enjoy the “post-imperial decline”. In his 'WSJ' article Mead cited Britain and France as two countries “basking in decline”. Maybe he never heard of the 2003 Iraq war or 2011 Libyan war, with major “inputs” from either or both of these economic migrant-fattened, post-imperial, debt-based economies and societies with GDP's not so much bigger than Italy's?

Imperial Glory

Mead prefers to claim that Russia “can't let its imperial glory go”. Letting it go is in fact Putin's mission, that he is executing his own way, without exposing Russia to Flash Mob conquest. Russia has huge strategic territorial depth. Its Soviet-era expansion englobing the “frontline buffer states” looked good to previous Kremlin strategists – and probably some Kremlin insiders today - but economically it was a disaster.

Arguably, the Soviet Imperial project failed not only because of Gosplan central planning, but also because its buffer states were economic basket cases.

The problem is Western analysts always start from the wrong basis when they look at recent Russian history. When Vladimir Putin came to power in 1999 he made his name by using hyper-violence to crush a breakaway rebellion in Chechnya – but in fact this Islamic-fired Caucuses rebellion or insurgency “has never gone away”. It was bought out and relaunched by petrodollar-fattened Saudi Arabia, with sure and certain American and European conniving.

Putin could at any time have used his own petrodollars, and gaseuros to launch revenge terror attacks inside the USA and in Europe. If he wanted. Presentations on Moscow-based pursue the real theme – Putin's Russia has stayed open to US and European investment and trade. Russia is not aggressive, and is not isolationist to trade and commerce. It is only isolationist to nation-sapping, nation-threatening threats of the most basic, historical type, described by Halford Mackinder more than 100 years ago.

Putin gave Chechnya de facto independence after flattening and rebuilding its capital, Grozny—but  the new Chechnya is unstable and runs on hand-outs from Moscow. Is this a triumph, or a needed stake-out red-line for northward infiltration and encroachment by the Mob? Whatever the case, inside Russia, nobody wants to know about Chechnya in exactly the same way they do not want to know about the 1980s Soviet super production of the same unwinnable war – in Afghanistan.

So-called 'ethnic Russians” know what they do want. They want Zero Immigration from Chechnya and from a long, long list of other Soviet-era hangover republics. For ordinary Russians, the Soviet era was a nice ideal but is history. Bad history. And Putin knows that.

The Russian isolationist reflex of ethnic Russians is their democratic right, and if Putin cannot adjust to that fact he might have to throw in the towel and walk away from power. What is clear is that Kremlin dreaming on reconstructing the Soviet empire in a postcommunist world is as economically and politically unrealistic as the European Union's copycat Asian “partnership project” . Putin gives more and more, ever-clearer signs that he knows that.

Half-baked claims can be made by American strategists like Walter Russel Mead that “as the U.S. war in Afghanistan winds down, Russia's economic and military power in Central Asia grows”. The US also found out that no war in Afghanistan could be won – and the costs of finding this out are extremely high. American strategists prefer to claim, as Mead does, that the Ukraine is “the battleground state” between the Atlantic Empire of the US and the EU, and the Russian Empire but this Think Tank musing ignores the real economic facts of life in Ukraine – its debt, deindustrialization, trade deficits, unemployment – and its total dependence sponging off Russia.

Walter Russel Mead claims that for Mr. Putin, everything pales beside the battle for Ukraine. Stripped of the Ukrainian “buffer state”, Mead claims, Russia can never be more than “a secondary European power”. He says: “Three centuries of empire-building will be over”. Attached to Europe, Ukraine will sponge off the ECB and the Brussels Commission, while its economic migrants swell the EU's 27 million unemployeds who make Jobless Europe the 7th-biggest “nation” in the bloc! The spinmeisters present this outcome as a world-shattering triumph for the Atlantic Empire! Putin can laugh out loud at that fairy story.

No Escaping the Shatterbelts

The woeful Think Tank cult of ignorance continues, confusing chalk with caviar, advancing the argument that Putin's promise to Kiev of buying $15 billion of Ukrainian junk bond debt, and giving the country cheaper gas, were enough to “sway the battle” but of course “not win the war”. In fact Putin's bailout offer to Ukraine could or might prevent Ukraine from having a European PIIGS-style financial, banking and economic collapse. Putin wanted to prevent the additional instability this could only cause – and the increased ranks of migrants desperate to get out of Ukraine - first stop Moscow and St Petersburg. At any time however, Putin can decide enough is enough. Let them flock instead to the EU, sponge off the ECB and join its jobless horde.

Russia—like Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy and other post-imperial European powers—also has to develop a new self-image and a new foreign policy as it downsizes in global geopolitics. For Walter Russel Mead this is: “glumly adjust(ing) to a smaller role in the world”. This ignores the massive growth of latter-day buffer zones, called shatterbelts in modern geopolitical parlance, of which one mega-example is the whole MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region since the start of Arab Spring in 2011.

These are no mans lands. They are unstable, divided, rebellious, usually poor sub-nations and ex-nations, with shifting communities and fractious alliances. In the MENA case, it features the ex-caliphate of the Ottoman Empire, whose collapse played a mega-role in the breakout of global conflict with the Balkans war trigger of 1914. Everybody knows what happened after that.

For the Americans and Europeans of today, Mr. Putin scored striking diplomatic successes in the Middle East. He opposed the simmering Sunni jihadist insurgency in the Caucasus through backing Shia-ruled Syria and Iran. He moved the goalposts further south and away from Russia's own Caucasus shatterbelt. With no surprise at all, to Putin, the Sunni jihadists fighting Bashr al-Assad soon turned their guns and RPG against each another in a faction riddled scrabble for power – but for Washington, Paris and Brussels this was a huge loss of face.

Their global geopolitics playfield is a minefield - and only when it does harm to Russia do they want it that way. When it backfires on them, they run for the exits.

An old KGB hand, Mr. Putin knows that Western intelligence spooks and propaganda buffs are always building sand castles in the air. Their own imperial downsizing has not yet affected their mindsets and come home to roost - and the EU's American-backed attempt at “winning Ukraine” promises to deliver another big victory for Vladimir Putin. When or if the Ukrainian bride jilts Russia at the altar and rushes into the arms of the Washington-Brussels axis – they will have a massive bill to pay. Their public opinion, if it was ever consulted (which it is not) would tell the Western spinmeisters exactly what Putin tells the west. Enough is enough. One more ruined economy joining the EU28. My oh my do we need and want that!

Putin can count on his clumsy opponents making mistakes. Their understanding of today's global geopolitical chess game is woeful – and Russia invented chess. Putin has his own agenda for Russian downsizing and it is urgent. It will of course be triumphantly called “defeatist” by US geopolitical buffs like Mead, and politely be called “isolationist” by others, but it reacts and responds to the real world of today where public opinion, whether its in Russia, Europe or the USA is totally uninterested in becoming The Hegemon (a word most of them don't know or want to know).

By Andrew McKillop


Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2014 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisor.

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