Vladimir Putin’s bet on aggressive chauvinism and revanchism consolidates the West and unnerves satellites. More and more Russians begin to doubt it as well
Vladimir Putin’s growing confidence that the West will not react strongly to his military aggression in Ukraine provokes him to stop hiding his contempt for the borders established after Russia’s defeat in the cold war, for the international law and the norms of his vis-à-vis, and even threaten his allies.
In the recent multilateral meeting in Minsk, he expressed annoyance at the stance of his Customs Union satellites. He accused Belarus of re-exporting European goods to Russia which Moscow sanctioned. Then, he expressed doubts over Kazakhstan’s statehood for the latter’s support of Ukraine in Minsk. Finally, he said that he could “take Kyiv in two weeks” in a conversation with José Manuel Barroso.
Meanwhile, Putin’s ever more obvious bet on Russian chauvinism and revanchism is slowly triggering factors that doom his regime to a fall and Russia to a collapse, even if they unfold over a long period of time.
CONSOLIDATING THE WEST
The EU and NATO are still reluctant to take any decisive action to provide military, or at least full-scale economic support to Ukraine in the conflict with Russia. However, they are preparing for a long cold war with the Kremlin in the near future. Alexander Vershbow, Deputy Secretary-General of NATO, recently wrote on Twitter that “Russia became a nationalist and revisionist power”, therefore the NATO Summit in Newport, Wales, was to open a new chapter in the Alliance’s history, with new spending on defence and a new perception of Russia.
If NATO drags Moscow into yet another arms race, accompanied by the growing sanctions against it from G20 states, the collapse of the already weak Russian economy will be a matter of a few years. This will hardly seriously help Ukraine in protecting her independence in the short run, but it will certainly push Russia to a collapse of economic, military and political blocks it has built on the post-Soviet terrain.
TROUBLES IN THE REAR
The chauvinist hysteria fueled by Putin causes growing concern not only in the West, but in national republics of the Russian Federation, and in its allies.
Mintimer Shaymiyev, ex-president of Tatarstan, one of the largest national republic in the Russian Federation, has already disapproved of the surge of Russian national chauvinism. After the game of the Moscow Spartak FC against Kazan-based Rubin, when several thousands of Spartak began to sing “Russians, forward!” in the capital of the republic with over 53% of Tatars and 40% of Russians, he said: “Four thousand fans come from Moscow and shout ‘Russians, forward’. How can you come to Tatarstan, or any other (national – Ed.) region and shout such things in the multinational Russia? What should we shout then? Tatars, forward?” His concerns are understandable: in the 1990s, Tatarstan had the second strongest separation movement (after Chechnya). Today, it is growing more and more discontent with Russian nationalism.
Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, has sent a signal to Kazakhstan which will hardly pass unnoticed in Russia’s relations with it. On August 29, he said that Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s President, “accomplished a unique thing: he created a state on the territory where there had never been a state. In this sense, he is a unique person in post-Soviet statehood” in his speech at Seliger, the all-Russian youth forum. Apparently, he hinted that, after Nazarbayev or earlier, the issue of preserving sovereignty or territorial integrity of the state which Nazarbayev created “out of nothing” could be raised. In April 2008, during his meeting with George W. Bush and a comment on the opportunity of NATO MAP for Ukraine, Putin said that “Ukraine is not even a state… Part of its territories is Eastern Europe, but the greater part is a gift from us.” This were not mere words about gifted territory, as we all have seen this year in Russia’s efforts to acknowledge statehood of “Novorossiya”.
Kazakhstan has seen attempts of military takeover and separation of its eastern part. On November 19-20, 1999, the Kazakh National Security Committee arrested the terrorist group called Rus. It was made up of former military who had fought in wars in Transnistria, Tajikistan and Chechnya, led by Viktor “Pugachov” (his documents indicted that he was a Russian citizen registered as Viktor Kazimirchuk in Moscow). The group was arrested to long terms in jail, but the mechanisms used in Crimea and the Donbas today prove that Russian Nazis won’t find it hard to revive yet another group of “rebels” in depressed regions of Kazakhstan.
Overall, Kazakhstan has 65% of Kazakhs and 21.5% of Russians. However, the local population is still a minority in a number of northern regions while the majority is Russian-speaking people resettled from Europe. For instance, North-Kazakh Oblast has 50% of ethnic Russians (34.2% of Kazakhs); Kostanai Oblast has 42.1% of Russians and 38.8% of Kazakhs, etc. – all these are on the border with Russia. In the East-Kazakh Oblast where Russian separatists attempted a coup in the 1990s, have 37.5% of Russians versus 58% of Kazakhs, compared to almost 50:50 in the 1999 Census.
Kazakhstan got the hint right, as proven by the statement of its President Nursultan Nazarbayev in an interview for the national Khabar TV channel. In it, he stressed out that his country would not be part of the organization that threatens its sovereignty because “our independence is our dearest treasure for which our ancestors fought”. “First of all, we will never surrender our independence. Second of all, we will take every possible effort to protect it,” Nazarbayev said.The Russian population in Kazakhstan hardly speaks Kazakh and is hardly motivated to learn it. The share of people who can speak it among the Russians is virtually the lowest out of all ethnic groups living in the country: according to the 2009 census, only 6.3% of them can read and write in Kazakh. Shortly after the annexation of Crimea, Russian MP Vladimir Zhyrinovski said in parliament that “Russophobic sentiments are cultivated” in Kazakhstan and they are “totally anti-Russian” in Kazakh textbooks. So, it was Kazakhstan’s turn after Ukraine, he said.
Meanwhile, more and more Russians begin to realize the price of their country’s aggression for their own wealth.
According to a poll by Levada Center on August 22-25, the Russians are slowly returning to reasonable thinking. Compared to the March results, they no longer feel as happy about annexation of Crimea. Fewer Russians now approve of annexation and are willing to sacrifice part of their personal income to support the new region. The share of those who would by no means want to face financial losses because of the actions of the Russian leaders has grown from 19% in March to 28% in August. Only 17% of those polled are willing to feel some financial restraints caused by Crimea, compared to 26% in March. The share of respondents who believe that the annexation of Crimea and aggression in the Donbas make Ukrainians hate Russia or its leaders has exceeded 60%.
This does not take into account the Russian troops returning home dead or badly injured, and officially qualified as “insurgents” who died while on a leave. Despite attempts to hide this, the Russian media are already reporting hundreds of killed. The number of the injured in Ukraine is reportedly around 1,000. Hospitals in Rostov and St. Petersburg are filled with them.
For Ukrainians incarcerated in the occupied territories and in the Russian Federation itself, things could get much worse in 2018. Only serious international pressure is likely to make Moscow release these political prisoners