Whatever the outcome of the war on the ground, Ukrainian resistance to Russian aggression has guaranteed the end of Vladimir Putin’s kleptocracy that was forged in the nineties when the Mafia and the security services cooperated in looting the Soviet Union’s wealth. Putin’s implicit bargain with the Russian people was that he’d deliver economic growth and they’d let him erode their rights. When the oil-and-gas-fueled expansion ended in 2008, he put everyone on a daily diet of Great Russian chauvinism and imperial revanchism. The efforts bore fruit. Many Russians turned into “Z”ombies, as Putin’s enemies dub them. They believe the Kremlin’s propaganda and support its war in Ukraine. Α month into the hostilities, however, more and more people are turning off the television and switching on their brains. They see that they are waist-deep in the cesspool Putin dug for them.
The refrigerator will beat the television in Mother Russia. So far the anti-war protests are by people with a university education, most of whom are liberal. They are immediately arrested. Interesting, though, the police quickly release most of them. This is weakness masquerading as noblesse oblige. Despite Putin’s Goebbelsian rhetoric about “purifying” Russia of “traitors,” the smarter siloviki, or members of the military, police and FSB, recognize the dangers of pressuring a discontented people too much.
Some analysts argue that if Putin remains in power he’ll have to turn to China as a supplicant. They say Russia will become China’s vassal and that Chinese merchants and peasants will populate Siberia’s endless tracts of fertile, global-warming-thawed land. They believe Orwellian state capitalism will be imposed on Russia and corrupt businesspeople will be executed, as they are in China.
With the exception of Chinese migration into Siberia, which is not new, this scenario is highly unlikely. It clashes with the entire dynamic of Russian history. From Byzantine times through Peter the Great and Lenin’s communists, Russia has identified with the West. Even at the peak of the Cold War, the country was never as isolated as it is today. Vladimir Putin has made his people feel like international pariahs.
Even if a silovik isn’t found to arrest or kill the Master of the Kremlin, there are two formidable nemeses waiting around the corner for him. Disgruntled workers, many of whom are employed in the country’s large and politically neuralgic public sector, will take to the streets. Russia’s business class is another serious enemy now that the ruble has been destroyed. These people are now sworn foes of Putin.
Sooner rather than later, the regime in Moscow will be replaced by a Western-looking government that will strive to be as unlike Putin as possible. Looking far down this road, the war in Ukraine may have opened the door for the eventual dismantling or collapse of NATO.
The consequences of this war are enormous and reach far beyond Ukraine or Russia. The world middle class will receive its coup de grace and poor countries will suffer terrible privations. There will be anger and polarization everywhere, especially in China and the US, where inequality is extreme. Social stability will be shattered. Rather than a new world war, what we may be witnessing is the stage setting for world turmoil and revolution, with people in the US, China, Europe, India, Iran, South Africa, Brazil and Argentina all synchronously demanding drastic change.
[Photo by kremlin.ru]
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
The author holds a Ph.D. in Russian history from Columbia University. He has taught German and Russian history at universities in the United States, Canada and Russia. His work has appeared in Slavic Review, Russian and East European Review, Journal of Family History, Russian Review, Geist, Threepenny Review, The New Statesman, Dissent and American Motorcyclist, among others.