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Will Putin Survive?

Politics / Russia Jul 23, 2014 - 10:38 AM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


From Khruschev to Putin
The chief editor of STRATFOR, George Friedman in a strangely eccentric article titled 'Can Putin Survive?' tells us he can't survive, but also says: “And the West no matter how opposed some countries might be to a split with Putin must come to grips with how effective and rational he really is”.

Putin is rational – get rid of Putin.

 According to Friedman, based on impeccable US sources, “it appears to be the case” that a Russian-supplied BUK SAM battery was used by the rebels of eastern Ukraine to shoot down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. In turn, at least for Friedman, this means that Moscow's “...ability to divide the Europeans from the Americans would decline. Putin then moves from being an effective, sophisticated ruler who ruthlessly uses power to being a dangerous incompetent supporting a hopeless insurrection with wholly inappropriate weapons”.

Perhaps he should hand them a few nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles from Russia's large stocks?

As of July 22, increasing but unsure information reopens the thesis that an air-to-air missile may have been used to destroy the airliner. In that case, only Russian or Kiev government military aviation could have done it. Friedman sticks to the land-based SAM story. At least that enables the theory of the pro-Russian rebels downing the airliner to hang in, hold up and roll along another day.

Friedman unfortunately excels in antinomic prose and the classic definition of “antinomic” is when you have two propositions which seem equally logical and are founded on “indubitable” reasoning but in fact one – or both of them – are false. Taking only his affirmation, which isn't the same thing as a fact, that pro-Russian rebels or any other rebels fighting the Kiev government downed the airliner with a BUK SAM system needing several vehicles and ground-support radar, would it have been rational for Putin to supply these weapons? Would the Kiev government have rationally stationed their own BUK systems near Donetsk and south of the MH17 crash zone to protect against Russian aviation attack in support of the rebels?

The Coming Anti-Putin Insurrection

 To be sure the propaganda offerings on STRATFOR sites are vastly more sophisticated and less crude than the anti-Putin hysteria from Wall Street Journal or other supposed “great newspapers”. These work the lowest-possible propaganda, for example “Putin's Dirty War” and “Putin's Dirty Money Economy”.

Friedman tells us that the regime that Putin has helped craft “may not be the key to understanding what will happen next”. Being a KGB man, Putin has restored Soviet-type government, even using the term "Politburo" for his inner Cabinet. Despite the cabinet members being hand-picked oligarchs and insiders, however, Friedman tells us that Putin can at any time face a Khruschev-type or Yeltsin-type inner sanctum cabal, putsch, or even physical assassination.

Friedman uses the really bad example of Khrushchev's removal from power – which according to some historians came close to physical removal. Several of Khrushev's supposed “loyalists” were shot dead shortly after he was deposed – but the detail is that Khrushchev probably ordered their execution. Dead men dont talk.

Friedman says Khrushchev had fumbled the Cuban missile crisis standoff with John F. Kennedy, messed up the Ukrainian-focused “agricultural recovery” program, and the economy, but makes no mention at all of Khrushchev's almost instant and never-explained handover of Crimea to Ukraine as another reason he was deposed.

Putin's Crimean referendum operation, and recovery of Crimea is widely approved, even hailed in Russia today as correcting one huge error of Khrushchev.

Supposedly, according to Friedman (and the US State Dept as well as Wall St Journal) Putin is running out of luck with the Russian economy. His ability to hold things together will now decline as trust in his ability to manage the economy declines. Politburo oligarchs will soon become concerned about the consequences of staying too close to Putin. Friedman says they will melt away. Remaining oligarchs ...”closely tied to a failing leader [will] start to maneuver. Like Khrushchev, who was failing in economic and foreign policy, Putin could have his colleagues remove him”.

Russian observers will be interested by the line-up that Friedman proposes as putschists who can or may overthrow Putin. He lists Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov and Security Council Chief Nicolai Patryushev as possible contenders. Using another bad analogy he asks who would have expected the emergence of Mikhail Gorbachev? Today, majority Russian opinion on Gorbachev ranges from that of a failed and corrupt politician, to a traitor who sold Russia to the west for a glass of Pepsi..

Miscalculate and Mismanage

Ultimately, politicians who miscalculate and mismanage tend not to survive – but that reality is not yet known by current-crop western leaders, from Obama and the European muppet crew, to Shinzo Abe in Japan. Friedman's constant claim that “Putin miscalculated in Ukraine” by imagining that the elected Yankovitch government would stay in place, then “stumbling badly in trying to recoup” by helping the rebels in eastern Ukraine, is difficult to take seriously. Putin's very clear present hands-off treatment of the rebels, avoiding open and massive military commitment to them from Russia, signals that it is not Putin who wants a world war fought over the Ukraine issue.

Those seeking a world war and saying so are much closer to Washington, London, Brussels and Paris.

Supposedly, if we believe STRATFOR, Putin has fumbled the economy and his mismanagement of the economy is poised to deal him a heavy blow. Economic sanctions wielded by Washington, if not by the Europeans may in fact force the pace of Russia abandoning and removing petrodollars from as much of its energy trading as possible. Almost daily there are announcements by Russia, China, India and Iran to move away from the dollar in trade relations – but is this economic mismanagement?

Putin is far from finished. Friedman says this but then claims he is suffering leadership fatigue after 14 years of power counting the time Dmitri Medvedev was officially in charge. This could be compared with the leadership fatigue of France's Francois Hollande, which started weeks, if not days after he stepped into the Elysees Palace.

Granted that Putin himself has said, several times, he isn't likely to try staying in power much longer, but that is not the same thing as admitting defeat. For Friedman however, what Putin has to do – to avoid a Night of The Long Knives ouster -  and regain his footing is to retreat “in the face of the West and [accept] the status quo in Ukraine”. That is accept a long-drawn-out civil war on the frontier with Russia that Friedman has the American arrogance to compare with the Kosovo debacle of Russia – which sealed the fate of Yeltsin! Yeltsin abandoned all Russian support to Serbia in the Kosovo war in return for Clinton's promises that “Russia would participate” in administering the new Kosovo.

Western promises were worth nothing, and the Kosovo war was perceived by almost all Russians as a major humiliation.  Supposedly, if we believed Friedman, Putin would firstly face difficulties by accepting a “Kosovan solution” to the Ukraine crisis: “This would be difficult, given that the Kosovo issue helped propel him to power and given what he has said about Ukraine over the years”. Friedman even says that the wild card is that if Putin finds himself in serious political trouble, “he might become more rather than less aggressive”. This is a real danger, for the West!

Getting Honest About Putin

Whether Putin is in real domestic political trouble or not is very hard to say, and Friedman manages to admit that. The claims that – since the Syrian standoff with west, followed by Ukraine – Putin's Russia is experiencing a long series of misfortunes, or for Friedman a situation where “too many things have gone wrong”  is in no way certain to be how Russians perceive things. But Friedman is for once right when he says that “as in any political crisis, more and more extreme options are contemplated if the situation deteriorates”. The one-word term for that is escalation.

Friedman does have the residual honesty in his confused article mainly recycling State Department propaganda to admit that Putin was and is one of the least repressive or aggressive Russian leaders the country has had. As one example, the supposedly peace-oriented Gorbachev, before he turned to selling Pepsi Cola had dug in and hung on to the war in Afghanistan long after it became totally unpopular in Russia. He only abandoned Afghanistan in 1988 when Soviet defeat was total. The US of golf-playing Obama is doing the same thing after its 13-year Afghan war.

Friedman even cites the Lenin years in the USSR, paving the way for Stalin's long repression, after which even Khrushchev seemed a peacenik. Friedman has the honesty to conclude that after Putin, the rest of the world could regret his departure – but not his forced departure. There could soon be a time when the world looks back at the Putin era as a time of liberality.

Whipping up and fomenting power struggles inside the Kremlin to unseat Putin, which is now the clear strategy of the US and several European states, is dangerous meddling. Internal struggle to replace Putin would almost certainly result in a major increase of Russian rejection of existing ties with Europe and the US and increased willingness of all players to become more brutal.

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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