About Dr Leo Strauss

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Putin’s Shambolic Improvisation In Ukraine

Being Prepared Is Hard Work

Great artists know an essential truth about the road. Doing a one-off show is often harder than preparing a lengthy tour. True whether musically, theatrically or even politically. One date demands the same rehearsal time and clarity as a tour. A lot to ask for one gig. Far easier to wing things, hoping that charisma’s momentum and spontaneity will carry the day. History’s detritus shows a vast landscape of resulting tattered reputations – from humbled musical legends to self-immolating political candidates.

War, unsurprisingly, isn’t much different. Consider Tommy Franks’ war plan (albeit with OSD and OVP intrusions) 2002-2003. Jettisoning carefully prepared pre-existing plans, not only did he comparatively wing it, Franks did a two-for. He abruptly bugged out and retired in 2003 before mistakes became devastatingly obvious. Adding Wolfowitz’ last minute failure with Turkey for a northern front and one gets the point. Conversely, much of the American success in the Pacific 1942-45 famously grew from significant planning and thinking about amphibious warfare campaigns from the 1920s.

Germany 1935-45 also is a popular topic. Germany lost the improvised war on September 1, 1939. Yet German conceptual and economic preparations for an eventual intercontinental war with the US are often ignored by the still British-dominated historiography and certain cable channels. In the European context, Germany’s 1936-37 economic crisis spurred radicalization and thinking about a general war by 1943-45. Still, the Four Year Plan and industrial base began alignment in 1938 for the later ‘inevitable’ world war with the US. The Corporal’s improvisations within this vague overall strategic concept jump started events and doomed both.

Not everyone shirks planning and rehearsals. Even for a single gig. Led Zeppelin notoriously devoted an entire month in 2007 to rehearse a solitary 2 hour London show. Embarrassed after decades of calamitously unrehearsed ‘re-unions’, vanity demanded it.

So what of Putin’s War on Ukraine? We say it’s a one-off. And Vladimir Putin is no Led Zeppelin.

Putin, Russia, Rock, Empty Cabs, Russian Rock

We know Putin launched his attack on or about the night of February 22nd relying only on his closest advisors, meaning almost no one. Assurances from MFA/MID and other senior government officials at the time otherwise meant nothing. He invaded Crimea based on a war plan dating back to the late 1990s to secure the Black Seas Fleet. We completely disagree with non-specialists who argue that a 2013 speech on the characteristics of emerging war by the General Staff is a modern “Hossbach Memorandum”, proving Putin long planned a carefully considered war of aggression on Ukraine. Such allegations by casual observers and social media hype usually misunderstand the culture, nature and purpose of General Staff discussions, planning and Putin’s 2014 context.

Putin’s war began as a ‘one night gig’, not a world tour. Out of pique.

Maidan, Berkut’s rout, Yanukovich’s flight, and cascading Lenin statutes wounded his personal prestige. Maidan’s an existential problem. Putin interprets spontaneity elsewhere as purposeful direction by others. Perversely, American general passivity re Ukraine post 2008, ceding lead role to the EU, merely compounded the Kremlin’s insistence that the US is an unseen, lurking controlling force – a Rumsfeldian “unknown unknown”.

Putin shares the Soviet/Great Russian prejudice that Ukraine is an unstructured cultural and ethnic ecumene. (“It’s not a country, George”). Yet his emotional volatility and impulsiveness triggered his war. And control him still.

Putin accelerated general re-armament and Russian geopolitical aggressiveness with his 2012 rollback. The time horizons for overall re-structuring targeted 2018 through 2025. Tellingly, for Ukraine in 2014 Putin’s government took no real advance (even clandestine) measures specifically to prepare the Russian economy, social sphere or even military force posture. Instead, he revealed prematurely Russian infowar/mass media and special forces tactics. Russia’s confused, self-defeating reactive response to even mild Western sanctions underscores the point. Much GRU success in Crimea simply is due to unopposed operations using extensive local Russian networks.

Like many improvisers, Putin started lucky. He gained Crimea without a shot. The history books can now say he expanded Russia, unlike Stolypin. For a narcissist this is non-trivial. His agitprop at home inoculates him against Maidan. Had he stopped there, March 2014, he paid no costs. Berlin, Paris and elsewhere “understood”. Granted, unarmed Ukrainians surrendering to Spetznaz in Crimea created a tragi-comical high school troupe re-enactment of a mini Koniggratz. But an ideological win is a win. Look at Grenada.

Catch Me Now I’m Falling

Putin’s mistake was to continue. Euphoria’s high. Even now he’s still groping for a landing. Zigs and zags since March show he’s trying to assert authority over Ukraine and Russian elements who sparked his worst instincts, trying to use Putin to ignite their own dreams of domestic radicalization.

Ukraine phase two after Crimea attempted a ‘spontaneous’ uprising across the country. We’ve detailed how it and subsequent escalations failed. Novorossiya ideologues supported by Russian special forces and mercenaries acted out racial, ahistorical and emotionally revanchist themes. Ukraine itself became a prop in a larger ideological agenda.

By May, Ukrainians clearly defeated Russia’s overall “hybrid war” bum rush. Almost all regions stayed loyal to Kiev. Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions largely stood with Kiev, rejecting Moscow. Even in the Donbass, the most lawless, pro-Russian, neo-Soviet region, Russians found little native support.

Putin suffered first public loss of personal control then. Russian Donbass fascist and orthodox activists with their Russian sponsors ignored his explicit public wishes. Soon they began to criticize Putin’s refusal to escalate more troops directly. Worse, these same Novorossiya ideologues were screwing up on the ground in Ukraine beyond international atrocities like MH17. They were losing despite Russian reinforcements.

Putin began switching from the passenger seat. Until then, Putin for a period genuinely seemed sensitive to his fascist, nationalist right, including referring to Novorossiya in March. Eventually, the Novorossiya idealogues’ continued public, personal disloyalty and failures forced his hand. They weren’t going to help him find answers but give him problems.

Putin instinctively turned to loyalists. On example is Surkov. Besides being a Kremlin grey cardinal of political manipulation, Surkov before March 2014 served as an emissary to Ukraine. In this role, he vied with neo-fascist sympathizer ‘economist’ Glazyev. Glazyev, besides calling for destruction of the world dollar economy and Russian autarky, is friendly with the well known nationalist/neo-fascist Izborsk Club. Novorossiya ideologues rightly saw Surkov’s ascendancy on Ukrainian issues as their defeat.

Surkov gives Putin discretion, loyalty and cynical political savvy – he knows how to make deals. Glazyev makes Rogozin look like Warren Christopher. Speaking of Rogozin, he too was sidelined when Putin personally assumed control of the VPK, replacing Rogozin as chief of the military industrial commission. (Putin’s direct role became essential and inevitable with sanctions. Political and economic tensions within the VPK and Ministry of Defense required his personal engagement as final arbiter anyway).

The Kremlin began to seek cracks in the ultra-nationalist/fascist wedge, too. Well known Kirginyan, founder of the uber-nationalist “Essence of Time” movement (among the 20 plus neo-fascist groups in the Russian constellation), aggressively disagreed with National Unity, Dugin, Girkin/Strelkov and a host of others over Novorossiya and the Donbass as a Putin cut out. Significantly, he did it in public and with media coverage.

Putin also canned a few senior and mid-level security officials (in part for particulars, in part to send a signal). The Power Ministries? Firmly his. He also rejected a major demand of the Novorossiya ideologues and neo-fascists. Since April they clamored for a larger domestic radicalization against so-called “Fifth Column” traitors who disagreed with war and escalation. Putin announced on national TV there would be no general purge of the so-called ‘Fifth Column’ (Russian fascists also identified sixth and seventh columns in the Kremlin, too, if you’re counting). Some Western observers missed the importance of Putin’s brief comment, hungry for more sensational news to tweet. Russian ideologues saw the writing on the wall.

By mid-Summer Putin still had no plan but attended to specifics. First, Dugin was fired from his professor’s chair. His entire department at Moscow State University also purged of like-minded. Significantly, court jester Zhirinovsky took Dugin’s place in an exquisite demotion of Dugin twice over. Dugin blamed Surkov which is to say Putin.

Putin’s broom also swept the Donbass. Girkin and the whole Novorossiya lot recalled and now twist in a vague, quasi obscurity. The intended message? What happens in Donbass will be because the Kremlin made the call, not idle orthodox radical oligarchs, an odd club and hired atavistic re-enactors. Putin’s replacements included an Old Guard from 1991 Soviet crackdowns and later Moldova’s frozen conflict. Will Putin’s deck clearing work? The jury’s still out. (With overt Russian military in the Donbass, Putin trimmed freelancing but also increased direct responsibility).

By August, Putin saw an outline of a plan. He attempted to nail his exit and smell his rose. He jettisoned the Novorossiya ideologues’ earlier dreams of bum rushing the whole Ukraine as in April. He settled for protracted negotiations over Donbass. His signal to the West? From Yalta in Crimea in early August. Before his government and international journalists, Putin veered far off standard Russian cant and declared Russia desired a unitary Ukraine, an independent country, a cease fire and federalization. These words are spikes through the heart of the Novorossiya ideological project.

Zhirinovsky specifically was assigned to sit on stage with Putin, playing again in the assigned court jester role. He trots out all of the fascist Novorossiya arguments comically, only to be cut off. Putin rolls his eyes in front of all several times before rejecting the Novorossiya ideology as merely Zhironovsky’s personal passion. Putin underscores those views are not official Russian state policy. Naturally, Putin can’t and doesn’t allow this to be televised at home. Its audience was abroad.

Breaker, Breaker Do You Read Good Buddy?

Putin’s stumbling included a stab at improbable role of humanitarian hero. Russia media ramped a concerted campaign to launch him and cast the Donbass in that light. “He’s above making war; he cares.” The Kremlin typically surveys Russians more extensively than an American presidential campaign with voters in October. He knows Russians don’t want body bags (Cargo 200) coming from Ukraine. Hence the initial humanitarian Potemkin Convoy for Russian TV. Was it a workable plan? Putin forgot Ukraine and the international community wanted a vote. Putin’s intended PR victory lap became an embarrassment. The convoy sat idle, mired in delays, the trucks exposed as empty.

We said at the time the convoy’s mission was (1) PR optics for Russian domestic politics; (2) exfiltration of men, casualties, equipment & evidence; and (3) a replay of Germany post May 1945 re seizure of capital plant. A little of all occurred, but Putin’s improvised hero moment fizzled out. Still, he did not escalate militarily. Ukraine’s ATO controlled Luhansk, most of the Donbass except for Donetsk and the extended pocket. Merkel, criticized at the time, travelled to Kiev in August to caution Poroshenko about over extension.

Denied a hero role, Putin in sullen mood then went to Minsk in August to meet Ukraine’s Poroshenko, Lukashenko (Belarus) and Nazarbayev (Kazakhstan). It was an inauspicious day. Putin offended the other presidents from his own micro Customs Union. Already high tensions only grew. Poroshenko then forgot Vladimir Putin’s personal truth: everything is personal. Unfortunately, Poroshenko and the Ukrainians were perceived as acting as though the ATO already secured victory. Russians claimed to be annoyed by Ukrainians’ alleged difficulties clarifying if a bilateral Putin-Poroshenko meeting would occur and when. When the two met, a bad day got worse. Poroshenko left to the Ukrainian embassy to give an address, blowing off a planned wrap up session with all four presidents. Ukrainians spun the day as a success; the Russians hinted Putin took it all as a series of personal slights.

The next day the Russian army overtly entered Donbass in moderate force without pretension and assaulted Ukrainian volunteers exposed and unsupported by the Ukrainian military. Luhansk fell. Poroshenko finally saw the difference between an ATO and a focused military campaign. On TV Poroshenko claimed 60% of forward-deployed Ukrainian military equipment was destroyed. For domestic reasons, Putin slapped the Novorossiya label on the now much stronger Russian position in Donbass. The title gave a sop to sidelined Russian ideologues calling for troops; really, Putin now claimed Novorossiya for himself, personally.

Many in the West misunderstood Putin’s move post-Minsk. Tactical escalation didn’t herald an imminent, wider offensive into Ukraine. (Mariupol was the first clue). Putin still undermined his own clumsy PR by boasting he could take Kiev in 2 weeks. Russian is complicated with subjunctives. Without hearing the conversation, our sense at the time was Putin tried to brag his position. “Look, I’m standing where I am. Don’t you think if I wanted to take Kiev we would have done so already?” As with most Putin self-puffery, it rings hollow. The Russian Army fully mobilized would be pressed. Domestic Russian tolerance for war and casualties is already low. And of all peoples, the Russians should know taking something and holding it are worlds apart.

We’re essentially back at Yalta. Putin called Poroshenko’s ATO bluff and raised the ceasefire ante. Putin flirts with dangling a unitary Ukraine hobbled with pro-Russian federalization (Kiev rightly wants the much different de-centralization). Kiev controls far less of the Donbass than before Minsk and suffered extensive casualties. Amidst cease fire negotiations and provocations, Kiev must focus on the economy, which teeters. Ukraine’s capacity to function as a society must come first. Sustaining that beyond short term loans will require deep reform and anti-corruption.

Western aid is and will be vital, including less glamorous things like advising on General Staff reform and C3 issues. Ukraine’s westward story will be told in years, not months. Kiev should be realistic about non-political options for changing ground truth immediately. Weapons alone won’t be the answer.

Time to Pay Attention

Hello, He Lied

Will Putin settle for a frozen conflict now? Unlikely. Improvisers like Putin generally don’t know when to stop. The gamble is the next hole card an ace. Still, Putin needs this (temporary) truce as much as Poroshenko.

Putin will remain tactically opportunist. His position, allegiances and personnel can change for clear, short term gain. Ukraine should focus its priorities – on reform, economic progress and anti-corruption. That Ukraine, simply by existing, rebukes and threatens Putinism.

Putin’s still emotionally volatile. Following the Minsk Summit, he went out of his way to question his erstwhile ally Kazakstan’s sovereignty and national viability. The sizable number of Russian speakers there make a threat of another Ukraine resonate. The Baltic allies, too, see Russian provocations. Russian planes perform intrusive stunts from Alaska to Finland.

The good news? Putin’s overt war on Ukraine was and remains to date a largely unsuccessful one-off improv. The costs are still mounting. Western sanctions disappointed many but ample signs of impact are real. Raiding rival oligarchs for cash and assets already beginning. Capital outflow continues at staggering levels – $3,805 every second. The sober view? Putin’s larger quest to upend the Western order and undermine perceived American influence will continue in different guises, if not expand.

Ukraine withstood irrational, nihilist violence, propaganda and concentrated subversion. Almost everything Russia could throw. Putin’s so-called “hybrid war” to gain all or most of Ukraine on the roll failed. Ukrainian newborn nationalism fought Russia almost to a standstill in the most pro-Russian region outside Russia itself. Despite Ukrainian treason, local oligarch duplicity and surprise. Putin may spin his mess in Donbass a win. He’ll certainly keeping looking for the next hole card.

Kiev’s commitment to the West means Putin and Russia lost the real prize. That’s encouraging to all supporters of freedom along the periphery.

Play Russian Apologist Bingo!

We present to you “Russian Apologist Bingo!” Apologists for Russian aggression, lies and even lunatic screeds are everywhere. They’ll do about anything to defend Kremlin propaganda. From the infamous “Whataboutism” to “change the subject” or claiming that Ukraine tried to shoot down Putin’s plane and hit MH 17 (never mind Putin was in South America) — all their greatest hits are here. Play, won’t you?

Russia, Bingo, Propaganda

Can you spot all the Kremlin apologists’ tricks?

Nixon And The Dog Days Of August

Nixon is back, haunting every August as usual. This year he fights the centennial of the Great War for media mindshare. It’s an uneven match. Americans emerged almost unscathed from the first European civil war.

Relentless Pat Buchanan cuts and pastes his annual apologia. He reminds us:

Then he [Nixon] succeeded where liberalism’s best and brightest had failed. He ended the Vietnam War with honor, brought all our troops and POWs home, opened up China, negotiated historic arms agreements with Moscow, ended the draft, desegregated southern schools, enacted the 18-year-old vote, created the EPA, OSHA and National Cancer Institute.

Another reminder of how far we’ve come. The Nixon Center/National Interest can’t resist agreeing, too. Just attempting any of Nixon’s acts would galvanize the Movement to start impeachment calls. John McCain today would be against freeing John McCain.

Most striking? Nixon remained an internationalist realist even as America turned inward, indeed to his last day. Nixon advocated his views in both policy and practical political terms.

We’re certain Nixon would be baffled by Obama’s passive acceptance of the political status quo as setting limits on himself and the country. Nixon understood presidents are above all political actors. To lead they must engage political means to achieve their ends – beyond empty rhetoric. (We speak of his legal actions).

Obama believes politics is about judging others and declaiming rational choices. His job is to explain them, often as scold. Societies, however, require politics to address and somehow give meaning to the irrational as well. Aristotle understood we are all political animals.

His comments about Russia could be about anything:

But Obama says, quote, “people don’t always act rationally.” He says sometimes people don’t act based on their own interests.

True, the Movement after 2010 essentially destroyed functioning government beyond even the 1973-77 era. Obama’s passivity is a major causal factor there, too. We all together warned here in 2009-10 about the then embryonic Movement. We explained how Obama should act to co-opt, marginalize or impede it in early 2009.

The Obama White House publicly mocked the Movement, doing nothing, politically. And the Movement seized Congress and ended his presidency.

Nixon, Watergate, Vietnam

Obama sees the world as defining his limits, and thus ours. Successful presidents use politics to change the world and elevate us. Obama’s ISIL airstrike address this week merely another version of his earlier West Point address fiasco. At West Point, he may be the first modern president to “subtweet” his critics so passive aggressively.

Our Obama critique unfortunately remains true since 2007. He seems small today because he abdicated most of what makes a successful president.

In this sense, Obama is the anti-Nixon. And that’s not a compliment.

Putin’s New Style Of War Careens Off Course In Ukraine

Ukraine is dealing a strong setback to Putin’s allegedly novel model and doctrine of 21st century irregular war. Not because Ukrainian forces rout Russians and their allies in Ukraine and now control 2/3 of the Donbass.

Putin, Ukraine, ATO, Donetsk, Luhansk, MH17, War

Russia’s ‘new’ model of war escaped Moscow’s control. Putin understands it conceivably could evolve into a political threat inside Russia and even the faintest whispers of revolution. The regime could ignite war in Ukraine but not control its perceived domestic political impact on Putin’s authority.

We finally see the limits of Putin’s escalation. He will not risk even the perception of challenge to his authority. Of course, he still plays to win in Ukraine at some level. Ukraine will bear the brunt of his malice for years. And his global revanchism is unchanged.

Meanwhile, he refuses frantic demands in Moscow and from Russians fighting in Ukraine to commit formal Russian troops. Lavrov now calls for “a quick resolution” of the crisis. And Russian state controlled media is banishing Ukraine from the front pages of Komsomolskaya Pravda and changing tone, depicting Putin as face-saving “humanitarian” rather than war lord.

His personal, emotional obsession with revanchism remains. He still yearns to tear down the international order and gain his psychological revenge on Americans for the Soviet Union’s demise and his modest height (5′ 6″).

Putin is taking a walk because he no longer could control the nationalism and overt fascism he courted and stoked in through April 2014. Various ideologues surrounding Putin and their movements have always had more independence than most in the West understood.

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Russia Loses Again in Ukraine, Keeps Raising The Ante

Putin keeps gambling. His first, impulsive attack on Ukraine in February 2014 netted him Crimea and 80% approval ratings. He’s stumbled since.

Russia failed to replicate the unopposed Crimean takeover in Ukraine’s Southeast from March-April. Moscow then threatened formal army invasion. That only solidified an improbable Ukrainian nationalism, creating a prohibitive cost. Ukrainians’ vote for Europeanist President Porochenko is another blow. Yet Putin keeps doubling down on escalation, even if formal invasion isn’t on the table for now.

Putin and Russia Go Backwards

Nihilist Nostalgia

Putin’s goals lie beyond Ukraine. He seeks to alter fundamentally the global balance of power and pull down the liberal democratic order. It’s ambitious for a $2 trillion economy confronting a combined West of $32 trillion. Russia’s 2020 defense re-armament program tops $90 billion a year, against $1 trillion combined in the West.

Invading Ukraine in 2014 revealed Putin’s plans and techniques 5-7 years early. That’s the good news. Putin so far keeps testing his improvisation against a disorganized Western alliance. Why not keep doubling down?

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Ukraine At War Spring 2014

Putin‘s war of aggression in Eastern Ukraine failed its original purpose: to replicate Crimea’s easy capture and herald the so-called “Russian Spring.” Putun must now play for time and bank on his ability to improvise better than Western passivity and derail the May national elections.

Ukraine, Putin, Russia, Sloviansk

The initial operation featured 100 Spetsnaz GRU special forces officers leading pre-identified networks of pro-Moscow forces in Eastern Ukraine. Joined by Russian citizens (“tourists”) flooding into Ukraine, the FSB and GRU operatives used the social smart phone app Zello, Twitter and other means to direct and rally ‘spontaneous’ pro-Moscow support. GRU intercepted calls reveal they were taking direction from Moscow-based PR agencies.

Stage one was to seize key Eastern cities such as Kharkov, Donetsk and Luhansk like in Crimea. Once secured, the Russians planned to spread west and south, backed by the threat of Russian military forces across the border. The plan didn’t work.

Ukrainians surprised Moscow by their resistance or passivity. Despite Moscow offering up to $100 a day to join a pro-Russian protest, no crowd ever topped 4,000 anywhere – in cities with a million or more population. Most crowds were pitifully small. More disappointing to Russia, Yanukovich’s old Party of the Regions, the main political force in Eastern Ukraine, largely supported a unified Ukraine with conditions. Some oligarchs also played a double or triple game with their patronage networks and private militias. Local police frequently were bought off, but local populations still remained inert.

Moscow used the Geneva negotiations to buy time. The Crimea model failed. But Moscow lacked reliable local cadres to pretend to be the face of an ‘authentic’ Ukrainian protest against Kiev.

In the new strategy, the GRU no longer hid its hand. Russians operated openly after taking over government buildings in Sloviansk and Donetsk, etc. Moscow discarded its hoped for partner in the Party of Regions. Russia is recruiting and activating more radical elements in the East, Ukrainians (and transplanted Russians) who despise not only Kiev, but the entire kleptocracy of oligarchs, Party of Regions, local government, etc. Organized crime in the East is also a natural partner, preferring lawlessness and disorder to a successful Kiev stabilization.

This new approach is a revolutionary step. Moscow not only is rejecting Ukraine’s territorial integrity but its existing institutional base – from political parties to local governance. Even pro-Moscow figures such as Kharkov’s mayor Kernes are abused as traitors and enemies. Eventually Kernes was shot and denounced in pro-Russia social media. Moscow is trying to build a new mass, radical political movement on the fly.

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Putin’s Revanchist Crimean Gamble After Sochi

Putin Attacks Ukraine

Revanchist
1. an advocate or supporter of a political policy of revanche, especially in order to seek vengeance for a previous military defeat.
adjective
2. of or pertaining to a political policy of revanche;
3. of or pertaining to revanchists or revanchism.

Sometime between February 21st and February 22nd, Vladimir Putin decided to violate the settled international order. By all evidence, like Andropov and Ustinov over Afghanistan in Dec. 1979, his rump war cabinet was insular: FSB Chairman Bortnikov, Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov and very few others.

He started a war of aggression on Ukraine and against the Western international system. He chose war for both internal and external reasons. He gambles that he can improvise more skillfully than Western coalitions. Any Western pressure he judges will not be much or last long. He can also use pressure for internal consolidation ala his speech denouncing internal opposition as a “5th column”. So far his assumptions aren’t markedly off.

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Putin’s Sochi Spring Break

Putin’s $51 billion gamble to re-make Russians’ self-image achieves its initial, limited goals. Putin wanted Sochi to sell Russians they’re active participants in the 21st century’s pop culture meme bubble, not just observers. Sochi’s distraction and legitimization will buy crucial time for his regime.


Giving The Russian People A Chance To Escape Today

It’s beyond just Putin individually. His restive elites need him to peddle illusions of Russian global emergence. All have a stake in prolonging the faltering system’s inertia. Russia’s economic growth, once over 8% in the mid 2000s, may not break 1% in 2014. Infighting among self-dealing elites over extractive and infrastructure resources grows more public. Putin’s no longer the axiomatic arbiter. Russia fails to embrace economic innovation to replace dead dinosaurs/gas/oil in the ground. Russia’s future is bleak.

Worse, Putin’s bag of tricks is almost empty. He’s tapped Russia’s Reserve Fund and also guaranteed Sochi expenses. His extravagant but ineffectual re-armament plan forced his earlier Finance Minister, Kudrin, to resign. Putin adds promises for grandiose Soviet-mega projects to develop the desolate and decrepit Far East. His $15 billion bribe to Ukraine in December 2013 drains reserves still more.

It’s understandable the regime naturally turns up the AgitProp. Putin’s State-controlled media is doing everything it can to manufacture artificial “us” versus “them”.

What is the regime promoting? A toxic blend of revanchism added to ethnic and religious chauvinism that trumpets a “Russianness” brutalizing the needy and marginal. Even the Kremlin is concerned about how how to keep this environment sustainable, fearing a slide toward nihilism or spontaneous ‘chaos’ (organization) without something more.

Enter Sochi. Its essential mission — sell Russians that Putin’s noxious mixture is internationally mainstream. Revanchism with a patina of glossy, Daft Punk-loving globalism. The squalor and bigotry of Russian daily life hidden by Euro disco hip sheen.


Why Sochi Is Not Berlin

Comparisons to 1936 and Berlin miss this critical point: Putin needed Sochi because he and Russia are weak. His elites increasingly tempted to think past or through him. 1936 by contrast? The Corporal, 2 years after the famous Nuremberg rally memorialized on film, totally controlled his elites and populace. Germany’s economy boomed.

1936 declared the regime to the world. 2014 asks the world for help to make Putin’s regime look cool.

Of course, global perceptions matter. World leaders boycotting Sochi hurts. But the regime is adept turning real and imagined hurts into daily AgitProp fodder. Watching and reading the regime’s lieutenants and sycophants’ reactions to the games instructive. Not just their unhinged anger over a U.S.-Russia hockey game. Day in and day out while the games unfold the regime can’t mask its true psychology of petty resentment or rages that few Americans will ever see or care to see.

Two questions today: How long will Putin enjoy a post-Sochi halo? And was it worth the cost?

On the latter, our answer is clear. The regime faces a looming, possibly severe crisis at home with a faltering economy. Sochi may help distract by buttressing Russian self-identity and vague global legitimacy. Sochi’s reprieve – if it’s real – for Putin is worth its weight in gold. For a little while.

2014 And Limits Of New Romanticism

2014 And The New Romantics

We’re witnessing another New Romantic historical moment end. We see it wind down in domestic American politics, including L’Affaire Snowden. And in Kiev’s Streets. We turn our gaze from Syrian killing fields. Spontaneous, unorganized mass sentiment failed to create real change anywhere.

1848 Europe’s revolutionary, democratic moment and its lessons come to mind. Europe saw its widest ever democratic revolutionary wave quickly collapse into a Continental reactionary resurgence. Historical analogies should always be suspect, especially here. Yet, we can’t help but ask, “What comes next, now?”


The New Romantics Aren’t A Pop Group

Our last 15 years constitute a Romantic Moment. First it flourished with the Colored Revolutions’ early promise. Even elements of Americans’ manipulated arc in Iraq and Afghanistan floated on misguided sentiment. Mass sentiment erupted in Tehran, ignited the Arab Spring, Syria, rock both Thailand and now Ukraine, again. Obama’s improbable 2008 presidency and aftermath are part of the tableau, too.

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Happy Festivus And 2013 Year In Review

Happy Festivus And 2013 Year In Review

Happy Festivus, Dear Reader

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We ponder 2013’s biggest story:

  • Boston’s terror attack
  • Rightist congressional theatrics
  • Syria and Obama’s stumbling
  • Miley Cyrus twerking
  • Egypt and Arab Spring’s collapse
  • Obama’s passivity
  • Iran’s opening
  • L’Affaire Snowden
  • Snowden Wins No Surprise

    Neocons and their R2P fellow travelers get runner up for their urgent efforts to jump start yet another American Middle East war. Bandar’s bizarre lashing out at American last minute resistance to Sunni manipulation a Golden Globe-worthy turn.

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