We continue with Putin’s Apology. As a reminder, an apology is a defense, such as a good trial lawyer might offer. In comparison with the unknowable facts, it could be true, false, or a mix. The only requirement of this apology is that it be favorable to Putin, and not definitively refutable.
(Reuters) Opposition politician Alexei Navalny was detained today. It’s a symptom of the loss of democracy. This article is about the reasons, related to terrorism, ethnicity, and Russia’s borders.
Ironically, it became obvious that this blog has Russian readers in the angry response of some Navalny supporters to my conclusion that Putin had nothing to do with the murder of Boris Nemtsov. Nemtsov Murder, Analysis Notes asserts that the ultimate instigators of the Chechen trigger men were Russian nationalists upset with Nemtsov’s skillful documentation of Russian involvement in the Ukraine.
In the minds of the best and the worst rulers, there are three threads, country, party, and self.
- Benefit to the country, the justification, the vision.
- The party keeps the ruler in power.
- Enlargement of self, in wealth or image, as indispensable.
Even a Mahatma Gandhi has these thoughts, if only in denial. He clearly thought he was indispensable, or he would have given the job to someone else. And perhaps he was. So the above list is not a statement that Vladimir Putin has these thoughts in a specific combination.
Putin’s vision of Russia was of the preeminent natural resources state. Before the Saudis started pumping to kill fracking, there was every sign this would happen. And Gazprom was slated to become the world’s first trillion dollar company. The benefit of Putin’s rule, the plus side of the equation, was to wrest Russia’s natural wealth from the oligarchs who grabbed it during Boris Yeltsin’s tenure, and put in the service of the Russian state. Putin is quoted as saying, (NY Times) “A chicken can exercise ownership of eggs, and it can get fed while it’s sitting on the egg,” he said, “but it’s not really their egg.”
The NY Times article, “Even Loyalty No Guarantee Against Putin“, defines “party” in a new way. The power base isn’t merely political; it is to a greater extent the economic elite, the new oligarchs. But it does have a political element. The consensus of Russia cannot be formed without it. Is this an example of “intelligent design”, or did it just happen? It succeeds in co-opting every class. Without the elite, Russia would be wide open to organized crime. Now crime is also co-opted, supporting the state instead of running free.
In Putin’s Apology, there was no alternative to rescue Yeltsin’s Russia. Western democracy had been tried, and failed.
Now the dream of wealth has gone. It would be human nature for Putin’s self justification to focus on his fears. The Russians don’t advertise them. To do so would weaken their bluff, and play to audiences they don’t want. But what they are afraid of is extremely valuable to the negotiator, not for intimidation, but for constructive engagement.
Mark Smith of the Conflict Studies Research Centre wrote “Putin’s Nationalist Challenge”, downloadable as a pdf from a China website. Quoting,
In April 2005, the head of the presidential administration, Dmitry Medvedev, expressed concern over the possibility of Russia falling apart if the country’s various political elites (ie regional elites) were not consolidated. This assessment was used by Medvedev to justify the abolition of elections for regional governors.
This language is a little abstract, so let’s draw three fault lines:
- The Caucasus, with a majority of Sunni Islam, contains the nucleus of Chechnya. Two wars have not subdued Chechnya to the position of the other regions of Russia. It is, in fact, a quasi independent enclave, a state within a state, with a large standing army. As with the co-opting of all classes, it demonstrates Putin’s creativity in statecraft.
- Idel-Ural, more of an idea than a place, part of the southern Volga region, the second region of Russia with substantial Sunni Islam presence.
Moving east along the southern belt past the Urals (map), what’s there? Practically nobody! This is why, east of the Urals, Russia’s administrative regions are organized mostly as north-south belts. South of the border are the weak, landlocked Islamic states of Central Asia that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. Except for Afghanistan, these seem so peaceful as to be free of threat. These others are Turkic, meaning that in some way, from vague to strong, they have an ethnic affinity with the Turks of Turkey.
Our multicultural society underestimates these strange bonds. We did not understand Russian outrage at the West’s “persecution” of Serbs in the Kosovo conflict. To the Russians, the Serbs are Slavic, and therefore, “brothers.”
The east end of the belt collides again with chaos:
- The Uyghurs, also Turkic, at the eastern end of the belt, concentrated mostly in western China, with a secessionist East Turkestan Islamic Movement. They have been designated the foremost threat to the integrity of China, and they are hooked up with Al Qaeda. In their numeric superiority, the Han Chinese succeeded in swamping Tibetan culture, but have not succeeded with the Uyghurs.
A narrow projection of Afghanistan in the southern Pamir Mountains connects with the most densely populated portion of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, the Tarim Basin. It is a working corridor for China trade. in the early stages of the War In Afghanistan, the U.S. imported Uyghur mules. The U.S. suspected Russia-Taliban link may be an attempt to counter anticipated Uyghur influence.
Southern Russia contains the ethnic fracture line equivalent of the San Andreas Fault. Empty in the middle, it is anchored on the ends by reservoirs of radicalization. It’s quiet now, but that’s the odd thing about ethnic fault lines. Who would have thought that one Tunisian fruit seller could set the Arab world on fire? Might the Uyghurs hook up long distance with the Chechens, with Al Qaeda as the middleman? Open sources are not revealing, but Russian intelligence may feed the anxiety of the leadership.
An intelligence summary might stop here. You have one more task. I can’t do it for you, because it involves your imagination. You work at the job, and the job works on you. How does it work on Putin? How might it amplify his anxieties, and hence his attitudes? How does it affect his sleep, his dreams? We would all like to believe that we make important decisions with rational thought, but the credit may be a lie. With similar motivation, Russia is compiling a psychological dossier on Trump.
Next: How this relates to Alexei Navalny.