Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Will A Regime Change Occur in Russia?

This blog often looks at the parallels between the misrule of Russian dictator and would be tsar, Vladimir Putin, and the lies and tactics used by Adolph Hitler in the lead up to World War II and the Holocaust.  Like Hitler, Putin uses claims of encirclement by a hostile west to play to the fears and xenophobia of the Russian people while seizing increased dictatorial powers for himself.  He has used the claim of protecting Russians living beyond Russia's borders as an excuse to invade Crimea and Ukraine akin to what Hitler did to justify invading Poland and Czechoslovakia.  And he has demonized gays much as Hitler demonized Jews.  While some fear that Putin may push the world to war, others think that Putin's demise may be approaching - a welcome prospect.  Here are excerpts from a op-ed in the New York Times:
Graham Allison, director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and Dimitri K. Simes, president of the Center for the National Interest, warned of a growing risk of nuclear war. But they offered a contrasting explanation.

“When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Russia was on its knees,” they wrote. “But since Vladimir Putin took over in 1999, he has led a recovery of Russia’s sense of itself as a great power.”

These two strands of the Kremlin narrative — recovery on one hand; encirclement on the other — have been fashioned to appeal to the Russian people and used to justify more than 15 years of authoritarian rule. But both strands are suspect. In the early 1990s, Russians rose up against Soviet authoritarianism. The first — and last — popularly and fairly elected president, Boris N. Yeltsin, had a mandate to pursue the true national interest of catching up with the advanced, democratic West.

The situation in Ukraine now, after a popular uprising against a corrupt, authoritarian regime, resembles Russia then.

Tragically for Russia, from the mid-’90s an oligarchic bureaucracy monopolized oil and gas exports and has used the profits to purchase luxuries and homes in the West. The general population, meanwhile, has remained under the custody of a K.G.B.-style state security and propaganda apparatus.

For a decade, the rising price of oil provided soaring growth and veiled the inherent deficiency of the regime. In reality, Russia’s government is simply incompatible with the reforms needed for sustainable economic development, which demands liberalization and competitiveness.

When the petrodollar windfall dried up, that reality reasserted itself. Today, the nation is truly on its knees — beneath a leader who cannot be changed, and as hostage to the capricious price of oil and a gluttonous military-security complex.  

Sooner or later, economic hardship will awaken the people, too.

This year alone, Russians have suffered a 3 percent loss in real disposable income (6.4 percent year on year). In the 12 months to April, exports — vital for providing foreign currency — fell 33.9 percent, and imports shrank 40.8 percent. The outlook is very poor.

Like their Soviet predecessors, the Kremlin’s present rulers see the example of the democratic West, above all the United States, as a threat. Instead of preaching a Communist-style supremacy, most realize that their regime will be uncompetitive in the long run. Yet the oligarchs cling to power as long as possible through intimidation and disinformation, seeking to undermine Western norms, from human rights to business transparency and international law.
[T]he potential of American soft power and leadership, together with a strong response from European countries and Ukraine, is far from exhausted. Economic sanctions have bitten, magnifying the regime’s inefficiency.

The firmness of the West in protecting the sovereignty of Ukraine and restoring its territorial integrity is a prerequisite not only to rein in the Kremlin’s aggressive impulses, but also to engage Russia in a constructive dialogue on a broad agenda.

Regime change in Russia is inevitable, maybe imminent. But the West should not bet on that eventuality or make it a policy goal. The Russian people will rise up again, but the path to a sustainable democracy and stable economy will be challenging. The West should be ready to help then.

What the Western democracies must do now, for Russia and for themselves, is prove that they will defend their values and international law.
I hope the author is correct and that Putin's days in power will soon end - for the good of Russia and the world.  Putin is but the latest in Russia's failed dictators who have held the country back and harmed the Russian people.

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