Thursday, September 13, 2018

Why Is Vladimir Putin Not A Happy Murderous Thug? Let Us Count The Ways

Vladimir Putin is not a happy murderous thug these days.  In fact, he seems to be downright pouty. 
At home, the abjectly corrupt Russian leader has been propped up by the historic ability of Russians to feel sorry for themselves, a trait that Putin vigorously stokes through a massive propaganda machine that depicts Mother Russia as beleaguered and misunderstood because of its myriad foreign adversaries.   
But a punky economy, a festering war in Ukraine, mixed rural election results and election-related protest demonstrations in 38 cities last Sunday, as well as "the messiness of the democratic process" in general, as The New Yorker's Masha Gessen puts it, are conspiring to tank Putin's popularity. 
Abroad, things aren't going very well either.  The reasons are many, but they pretty much begin and end with Donald Trump:
Even if you don't believe Putin is giving direct orders to Trump, and I remain skeptical of that, the president's unpredictable and erratic behavior is giving him fits. 
Trump has not only been unable to quash Robert Mueller's Russia scandal investigation, public support fo the special counsel is growing while Trump's falls. 
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort's possible flirtation with flipping is giving Putin fits because of what he knows about the campaign's collusion with Moscow. 
The poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in England only nine days after Manafort partner Rick Gates flipped was a veiled message to Manafort to clam up. 
The Skripal poisoning backfired badly, and led to tough new automatically-triggered U.S. sanctions against Russia and the oligarch pals who help keep Putin in power.  
But Putin's most severe chest pains when it comes to the American president is that finally -- yes, finally -- the anti-Trump backlash has grown to the point where it is about to collide with the Republicans' structural majority in Congress. 
Although it is unwise to become too enamored with the latest poll results after the beating right-minded Americans took in 2016 when Trump "won," albeit with Putin's help, it is increasingly likely that Democrats will take back the House and now have a decent shot at the Senate, as well. 
The consequence is simple but writ large: A corrupt and authoritarian president who has methodically sought to insulate himself against accountability (sounds like Putin, eh?) will be subjected to real oversight and probably impeachment, and new and tougher Russia sanction are probable. 
Putin is accustomed to getting his way.  Will his poutiness become something much worse? We don't know, but not just Manafort had better watch his back.

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments. 


Bscharlott said...

I've heard it said that Putin is good at tactics but bad at strategy. Look at Russia's approach to the Olympics. Russia engaged in a massive, systematic cheating operation that allowed its athletes to win a fair number of medals over the years. (Putin no doubt green-lighted that effort.) But of course, in a giant operation where urine-sample swapping happens on a huge scale, it's inevitable that someone will spill the beans. And that's what happened: individuals who were part of the operation eventually went public and explained how the cheating worked. The result was that Russia got kicked out of the Olympics. So while Russia won a fair number of medals in the short-term, it lost all credibility long-term, and now Russia is a pariah in the sports world. Putin wanted Olympic glory on the cheap.

Likewise Putin wants to project the image of Russia as a great world power on the cheap. Lacking true super-power resources, he is relying on low-cost cyber operations to sow discord in democracies and democratic alliances, hoping that by tearing down his adversaries he can make Russia appear larger. He seemingly has had some short-term success, such as with Brexit and Trump. But again Russia is deservedly viewed as a pariah. Putin's effort to murder Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England as a way to intimate Manafort reveals just how weak Russia is: instead of achieving its ends through legitimate statecraft, Putin has to resort to using murderous thugs.

As long as Putin is in power, Russia will remain a bad actor in world affairs, trying to cheat its way to the top. And Russia will remain a pariah.

Dan Leo said...

Thanks as usual for the commentary, Shaun and Bscharlott.