Daily Archives: June 13, 2007

One Picture is Worth a Thousand Buckets of Vomit

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, visits Alexander Solzhenitsyn, center, in his house in Troitse-Lykovo in the outskirts of Moscow, Tuesday, June 12, 2007. Shown from left in the background are, Solzhenitsyn’s sons, Stepan and Yermolai. While celebrating the holiday of Russia’s emergence from the crumbling Soviet Union Putin honored the Nobel laureate and longtime exile who documented the murderous Soviet prison camp system, with an award for humanitarian achievement and visited the ailing 88-year-old author, who has not appeared in public in recent years.

Oh Mr. Solzhenitsyn! How you will rue this lost opportunity. A whole lifetime’s work undone in a few minutes. First a TV talk show, and now this! Shame on you! History will judge you without mercy.

Russia: Slave of Oil & the KGB

Writing in the Daily Mail, Lord William Rees-Mogg, a former editor of the Khaleej Times, declares that “Russia is still the slave of oil and the KGB.”

Oil is the core of the world economy; it is certainly the core of Russia’s economy. Last Friday, Egor Gaidar, the economist who was acting prime minister of Russia in 1992, was arguing in an interview on the Russia Today channel that the unexpected collapse of the oil price in 1985 was the mechanism that led to the break-up of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Oil dictates Russian politics.

The last Russian leader who was prepared to take big risks to try to save the Soviet Union was Yuri Andropov, the cultured and utterly horrible man who was head of the KGB for 16 years and became general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and leader of the USSR for a brief period after the death of Leonid Brezhnev.

Andropov was totally ruthless. In 1956, he played his part in repressing the Hungarian revolt. He was probably responsible for authorising the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II. His purpose was to remove the pope’s support for Polish independence.

Andropov had blood on his hands in the service of Soviet communism. Mr Gaidar told his interviewer that he had seen a letter from Andropov to Brezhnev, in which Andropov wrote that it was necessary ‘to co-ordinate efforts with world terrorists to keep oil prices high’. He seemed to think Andropov’s analysis had been correct, in that the Soviet Union of the late Seventies would not have been able to survive a big fall in the oil price.

Indeed, Mr Gaidar thinks such a fall would be difficult for Russia today. He ranks the instability of the oil market as the biggest threat to the Russian economy, and the medium-term instability of the Russian pension system as the second most important threat.

Historically, the world oil price has always been volatile, though there have been some periods of relative stability. The demographics of Russia suggest the current rates of pensions might, on present policies, have to be cut by as much as a half over ten to 15 years. A combination of the two factors would threaten social order. The oil price and, therefore, the Russian economy are doing well: Europe is heavily dependent on Russian supplies of gas; the world depends on Russian oil.

Yet even if oil prices remain high, the demographic problem will remain. There is a contradiction between the apparent strength of Russia’s economy and these underlying weaknesses. Russia has only recently emerged from the immediate trauma of the break-up of the Russian empire 15 years ago. If one looks at the state of Britain 15 years after Indian independence, one can see a profound collapse in national confidence. That was the period of the Profumo scandal, when it seemed that no public figure could keep his trousers buttoned.

It was also the time when Britain first applied to join the European Union (then the European Economic Community), on the principle that we could not manage our own business and should let Europe do it for us. In the British case, our post-imperial morale recovered only in the Eighties, nearly 40 years after the original shock. Like Britain, Russia must be expected to have a long period of recovery. It is normal that the Russians should now be reasserting their status. The position is an unusual one. Russia is probably the second most important defence power on Earth, though China has greater conventional resources, with some seven times the Russian population.

Yet Russian and China combined could not match the technological lead of American defence. Russia is important in geography, and in resources of raw materials and oil.

Russia is in the first rank as a producer of industrial commodities and energy, with vast resources still to exploit. Yet at the same time Russia, though with some first-class scientists, is inadequate in terms of industrial productivity. As well as the West, Russia is threatened by terrorism.

The politicians of any nation can only play the role that their national economy allows. Russia’s economy is unbalanced, and Russia’s leaders tend to alternate between overbidding and under-bidding their hands. President Vladimir Putin is concerned to regain international respect; he prepared for the G-8 conference in Germany in an aggressive way, but his demand for status is a sign of national insecurity. We need not fear that.

Last February President Putin made a speech in Munich in which he said America was ‘overstepping its boundaries in every way’. Last week, he told journalists Russia ‘wanted to be heard’. The Russians do fear the American proposals to site missile defences in Poland and Romania, just as the Americans would be anxious if Russia mounted similar defences in Mexico or Cuba. Missiles and counter-missile defences are sensitive subjects.

There are also domestic political considerations in Russia and America. It was an oddity of this G-8 conference that there was one new boy among the heads of government, Nicolas Sarkozy, but three lame ducks.

Under the American constitution, George W Bush has to retire in January 2009; under the Russian constitution Vladimir Putin has to retire next year, with an election in March. Tony Blair will be gone by the end of this month.

It takes a party machine to win a modern General Election. In Britain, the machines belong to the parties. In America, they seem increasingly to belong to the dynasties; it is entirely possible that there will be another Clinton, Hillary, to follow the last five terms when the presidency has run Bush, Clinton, Clinton, Bush, Bush. One cannot even exclude two terms for Hillary, or, more remotely, Jeb Bush running when Hillary retires. After Jeb, it would presumably be time for Chelsea.

In Russia, the Putin machine is likely to win the 2008 presidential election. That will be based on oil revenues, Russian nationalism and the network of the KGB, to which Vladimir Putin belonged. The most likely candidate of that machine is said to be Sergei Ivanov, a retired KGB general and the current First deputy prime minister. Obviously, the British regard the KGB with suspicion, and the Putin presidency as authoritarian.

The tradition of the KGB, however sinister, has also been one of the realistic pursuit of Russian national interest. Even Andropov, who was a wicked man, was far from stupid. The former KGB men know the Soviet Union cannot be brought back to life; they may, however, do fatal damage to the development of Russian democracy. They are not the friends of freedom.

Putin’s Labyrinth

A reader points La Russophobe to the following column in the Chicago Tribune by Luke Allnutt, an editor at the Prague-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Note how easily the analogy to Josef Goebbels. Once again, the people of Russia are descending into darkness and ignorance — but let’s not forget that this time they are doing it willingly, with their eyes wide open.

Putin’s Labyrinth

The behavior of Russian President Vladimir Putin has left politicians and diplomats scratching their heads. Last week, Putin threatened to point his missiles at Europe; now, at the Group of Eight summit in Germany, he says he wouldn’t mind a joint U.S.-Russia anti-missile radar base, as long as it was sited in Azerbaijan rather than the Czech Republic.

The spat over the missile shield is the latest in a long line of dramas that are best understood not as part of a coherent Russian foreign policy, but rather as choreographed scenes intended for domestic consumption.

It was Josef Goebbels, Nazi Germany’s propaganda minister, who once remarked “we must create the image of the enemy.” In a year that will see parliamentary elections in Russia and the likely anointing of Putin’s successor, that is exactly what the Kremlin is doing.

First, it was the Georgians, when, last fall, a routine spying row, which usually would have been handled quietly by diplomats, turned into a war with expulsions and bans on Georgian wine. Then, in April, after the removal of a Soviet World War II monument, a Russian delegation made a very public dash to Estonia. Russian television denounced Estonians as unreconstructed fascists. The Putin-loyal Nashi movement attacked diplomats and then hacked Web sites. Such events are only really significant when taken together as the building blocks in Russia’s great new narrative.

The narrative goes something like this: In the 1990s, the West took advantage of an emasculated Russia, using oligarchs to strip the country of its wealth. Russia is encircled, with NATO perched on its borders. The colored revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia were funded and engineered by the West. Pro-Western neighbors are traitors, ungrateful for Soviet liberation from the Nazis. But now, Russia, emboldened by oil and gas wealth, is back on the world stage. Russia was humiliated, but will never be humiliated again. As the popular tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda wrote on May 31, “it’s a rare day that the average Russian citizen doesn’t hear warnings about another Cold War or World War III. Citizens are informed of how the United States and NATO are establishing military bases all along Russia’s perimeter.”

This narrative of avenged humiliation is simplistic and undemanding, a comfort zone where outsiders are to blame for Russia’s ills, where there is no scrupulous moral examination of the communist past or the increasingly authoritarian present. And it is understandable why so many Russians, who lived for so long with perhaps the greatest tale of all, Marxism, are receptive to this new narrative. Humiliation hurts. In the 1990s, Russians couldn’t afford to join the country club. They kept the greens and took out the trash. But with more than 6 percent economic growth, a burgeoning middle class and a leader respected, if not feared internationally, they’re back. Now they’re paid-up members, on the golf course, crowding the bar area, and ordering tray after tray of gin slings. Russians credit Putin with this. And it is this, and the economic growth, that explains his continually high approval ratings of more than 70 percent.

But like every good narrative, there is an element of the fantastical. In Guillermo del Toro’s recent film, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” Ofelia constructs her magical kingdom to shield her from the horrors of fascist Spain. In Putin’s Russia, the delusions of grandeur, or of national rebirth, serve the same purpose: They comfort but, in the long-term, they will not sustain. Oil prices won’t stay high forever and the Russian economy has not diversified enough. There is an increasing gap between rich and poor and a looming population crisis. Freedoms are rapidly being eroded, with essentially a one-party system; supporters of the political opposition are beaten on the streets.

Political systems often collapse when the narrative diverges so widely from the reality. And that is Russia’s worry; that is what has commentators gingerly making parallels between Putin’s Russia and Weimar Germany. But for now, it appears to be working, and we can expect more of the same in 2007. To avoid a chaotic and damaging transfer of power next year, the Kremlin will continue to shore up its support at home with posturing abroad. No doubt, the narrative will be further fleshed out and refined, with new players, new villains, and if Putin chooses a successor, even a new hero.

Andrew Wilson, an academic at University College London, predicts the “animating” narratives in Russia’s election year are likely to be the “threat of extreme nationalism or the threat of Islamic terrorism.” It is also possible that more of Russia’s neighbors could have their gas cut off, their Web sites hacked, or their products boycotted. Or perhaps the Kremlin will spin a yarn about the threat of another colored revolution, this time in Russia. The Rose and Orange revolutions were just dry runs, spin doctors will say. Now the United States, armed with its missile-defense shield, is ready for the big one.

Putin’s Labyrinth

A reader points La Russophobe to the following column in the Chicago Tribune by Luke Allnutt, an editor at the Prague-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Note how easily the analogy to Josef Goebbels. Once again, the people of Russia are descending into darkness and ignorance — but let’s not forget that this time they are doing it willingly, with their eyes wide open.

Putin’s Labyrinth

The behavior of Russian President Vladimir Putin has left politicians and diplomats scratching their heads. Last week, Putin threatened to point his missiles at Europe; now, at the Group of Eight summit in Germany, he says he wouldn’t mind a joint U.S.-Russia anti-missile radar base, as long as it was sited in Azerbaijan rather than the Czech Republic.

The spat over the missile shield is the latest in a long line of dramas that are best understood not as part of a coherent Russian foreign policy, but rather as choreographed scenes intended for domestic consumption.

It was Josef Goebbels, Nazi Germany’s propaganda minister, who once remarked “we must create the image of the enemy.” In a year that will see parliamentary elections in Russia and the likely anointing of Putin’s successor, that is exactly what the Kremlin is doing.

First, it was the Georgians, when, last fall, a routine spying row, which usually would have been handled quietly by diplomats, turned into a war with expulsions and bans on Georgian wine. Then, in April, after the removal of a Soviet World War II monument, a Russian delegation made a very public dash to Estonia. Russian television denounced Estonians as unreconstructed fascists. The Putin-loyal Nashi movement attacked diplomats and then hacked Web sites. Such events are only really significant when taken together as the building blocks in Russia’s great new narrative.

The narrative goes something like this: In the 1990s, the West took advantage of an emasculated Russia, using oligarchs to strip the country of its wealth. Russia is encircled, with NATO perched on its borders. The colored revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia were funded and engineered by the West. Pro-Western neighbors are traitors, ungrateful for Soviet liberation from the Nazis. But now, Russia, emboldened by oil and gas wealth, is back on the world stage. Russia was humiliated, but will never be humiliated again. As the popular tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda wrote on May 31, “it’s a rare day that the average Russian citizen doesn’t hear warnings about another Cold War or World War III. Citizens are informed of how the United States and NATO are establishing military bases all along Russia’s perimeter.”

This narrative of avenged humiliation is simplistic and undemanding, a comfort zone where outsiders are to blame for Russia’s ills, where there is no scrupulous moral examination of the communist past or the increasingly authoritarian present. And it is understandable why so many Russians, who lived for so long with perhaps the greatest tale of all, Marxism, are receptive to this new narrative. Humiliation hurts. In the 1990s, Russians couldn’t afford to join the country club. They kept the greens and took out the trash. But with more than 6 percent economic growth, a burgeoning middle class and a leader respected, if not feared internationally, they’re back. Now they’re paid-up members, on the golf course, crowding the bar area, and ordering tray after tray of gin slings. Russians credit Putin with this. And it is this, and the economic growth, that explains his continually high approval ratings of more than 70 percent.

But like every good narrative, there is an element of the fantastical. In Guillermo del Toro’s recent film, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” Ofelia constructs her magical kingdom to shield her from the horrors of fascist Spain. In Putin’s Russia, the delusions of grandeur, or of national rebirth, serve the same purpose: They comfort but, in the long-term, they will not sustain. Oil prices won’t stay high forever and the Russian economy has not diversified enough. There is an increasing gap between rich and poor and a looming population crisis. Freedoms are rapidly being eroded, with essentially a one-party system; supporters of the political opposition are beaten on the streets.

Political systems often collapse when the narrative diverges so widely from the reality. And that is Russia’s worry; that is what has commentators gingerly making parallels between Putin’s Russia and Weimar Germany. But for now, it appears to be working, and we can expect more of the same in 2007. To avoid a chaotic and damaging transfer of power next year, the Kremlin will continue to shore up its support at home with posturing abroad. No doubt, the narrative will be further fleshed out and refined, with new players, new villains, and if Putin chooses a successor, even a new hero.

Andrew Wilson, an academic at University College London, predicts the “animating” narratives in Russia’s election year are likely to be the “threat of extreme nationalism or the threat of Islamic terrorism.” It is also possible that more of Russia’s neighbors could have their gas cut off, their Web sites hacked, or their products boycotted. Or perhaps the Kremlin will spin a yarn about the threat of another colored revolution, this time in Russia. The Rose and Orange revolutions were just dry runs, spin doctors will say. Now the United States, armed with its missile-defense shield, is ready for the big one.

Putin’s Labyrinth

A reader points La Russophobe to the following column in the Chicago Tribune by Luke Allnutt, an editor at the Prague-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Note how easily the analogy to Josef Goebbels. Once again, the people of Russia are descending into darkness and ignorance — but let’s not forget that this time they are doing it willingly, with their eyes wide open.

Putin’s Labyrinth

The behavior of Russian President Vladimir Putin has left politicians and diplomats scratching their heads. Last week, Putin threatened to point his missiles at Europe; now, at the Group of Eight summit in Germany, he says he wouldn’t mind a joint U.S.-Russia anti-missile radar base, as long as it was sited in Azerbaijan rather than the Czech Republic.

The spat over the missile shield is the latest in a long line of dramas that are best understood not as part of a coherent Russian foreign policy, but rather as choreographed scenes intended for domestic consumption.

It was Josef Goebbels, Nazi Germany’s propaganda minister, who once remarked “we must create the image of the enemy.” In a year that will see parliamentary elections in Russia and the likely anointing of Putin’s successor, that is exactly what the Kremlin is doing.

First, it was the Georgians, when, last fall, a routine spying row, which usually would have been handled quietly by diplomats, turned into a war with expulsions and bans on Georgian wine. Then, in April, after the removal of a Soviet World War II monument, a Russian delegation made a very public dash to Estonia. Russian television denounced Estonians as unreconstructed fascists. The Putin-loyal Nashi movement attacked diplomats and then hacked Web sites. Such events are only really significant when taken together as the building blocks in Russia’s great new narrative.

The narrative goes something like this: In the 1990s, the West took advantage of an emasculated Russia, using oligarchs to strip the country of its wealth. Russia is encircled, with NATO perched on its borders. The colored revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia were funded and engineered by the West. Pro-Western neighbors are traitors, ungrateful for Soviet liberation from the Nazis. But now, Russia, emboldened by oil and gas wealth, is back on the world stage. Russia was humiliated, but will never be humiliated again. As the popular tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda wrote on May 31, “it’s a rare day that the average Russian citizen doesn’t hear warnings about another Cold War or World War III. Citizens are informed of how the United States and NATO are establishing military bases all along Russia’s perimeter.”

This narrative of avenged humiliation is simplistic and undemanding, a comfort zone where outsiders are to blame for Russia’s ills, where there is no scrupulous moral examination of the communist past or the increasingly authoritarian present. And it is understandable why so many Russians, who lived for so long with perhaps the greatest tale of all, Marxism, are receptive to this new narrative. Humiliation hurts. In the 1990s, Russians couldn’t afford to join the country club. They kept the greens and took out the trash. But with more than 6 percent economic growth, a burgeoning middle class and a leader respected, if not feared internationally, they’re back. Now they’re paid-up members, on the golf course, crowding the bar area, and ordering tray after tray of gin slings. Russians credit Putin with this. And it is this, and the economic growth, that explains his continually high approval ratings of more than 70 percent.

But like every good narrative, there is an element of the fantastical. In Guillermo del Toro’s recent film, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” Ofelia constructs her magical kingdom to shield her from the horrors of fascist Spain. In Putin’s Russia, the delusions of grandeur, or of national rebirth, serve the same purpose: They comfort but, in the long-term, they will not sustain. Oil prices won’t stay high forever and the Russian economy has not diversified enough. There is an increasing gap between rich and poor and a looming population crisis. Freedoms are rapidly being eroded, with essentially a one-party system; supporters of the political opposition are beaten on the streets.

Political systems often collapse when the narrative diverges so widely from the reality. And that is Russia’s worry; that is what has commentators gingerly making parallels between Putin’s Russia and Weimar Germany. But for now, it appears to be working, and we can expect more of the same in 2007. To avoid a chaotic and damaging transfer of power next year, the Kremlin will continue to shore up its support at home with posturing abroad. No doubt, the narrative will be further fleshed out and refined, with new players, new villains, and if Putin chooses a successor, even a new hero.

Andrew Wilson, an academic at University College London, predicts the “animating” narratives in Russia’s election year are likely to be the “threat of extreme nationalism or the threat of Islamic terrorism.” It is also possible that more of Russia’s neighbors could have their gas cut off, their Web sites hacked, or their products boycotted. Or perhaps the Kremlin will spin a yarn about the threat of another colored revolution, this time in Russia. The Rose and Orange revolutions were just dry runs, spin doctors will say. Now the United States, armed with its missile-defense shield, is ready for the big one.

Putin’s Labyrinth

A reader points La Russophobe to the following column in the Chicago Tribune by Luke Allnutt, an editor at the Prague-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Note how easily the analogy to Josef Goebbels. Once again, the people of Russia are descending into darkness and ignorance — but let’s not forget that this time they are doing it willingly, with their eyes wide open.

Putin’s Labyrinth

The behavior of Russian President Vladimir Putin has left politicians and diplomats scratching their heads. Last week, Putin threatened to point his missiles at Europe; now, at the Group of Eight summit in Germany, he says he wouldn’t mind a joint U.S.-Russia anti-missile radar base, as long as it was sited in Azerbaijan rather than the Czech Republic.

The spat over the missile shield is the latest in a long line of dramas that are best understood not as part of a coherent Russian foreign policy, but rather as choreographed scenes intended for domestic consumption.

It was Josef Goebbels, Nazi Germany’s propaganda minister, who once remarked “we must create the image of the enemy.” In a year that will see parliamentary elections in Russia and the likely anointing of Putin’s successor, that is exactly what the Kremlin is doing.

First, it was the Georgians, when, last fall, a routine spying row, which usually would have been handled quietly by diplomats, turned into a war with expulsions and bans on Georgian wine. Then, in April, after the removal of a Soviet World War II monument, a Russian delegation made a very public dash to Estonia. Russian television denounced Estonians as unreconstructed fascists. The Putin-loyal Nashi movement attacked diplomats and then hacked Web sites. Such events are only really significant when taken together as the building blocks in Russia’s great new narrative.

The narrative goes something like this: In the 1990s, the West took advantage of an emasculated Russia, using oligarchs to strip the country of its wealth. Russia is encircled, with NATO perched on its borders. The colored revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia were funded and engineered by the West. Pro-Western neighbors are traitors, ungrateful for Soviet liberation from the Nazis. But now, Russia, emboldened by oil and gas wealth, is back on the world stage. Russia was humiliated, but will never be humiliated again. As the popular tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda wrote on May 31, “it’s a rare day that the average Russian citizen doesn’t hear warnings about another Cold War or World War III. Citizens are informed of how the United States and NATO are establishing military bases all along Russia’s perimeter.”

This narrative of avenged humiliation is simplistic and undemanding, a comfort zone where outsiders are to blame for Russia’s ills, where there is no scrupulous moral examination of the communist past or the increasingly authoritarian present. And it is understandable why so many Russians, who lived for so long with perhaps the greatest tale of all, Marxism, are receptive to this new narrative. Humiliation hurts. In the 1990s, Russians couldn’t afford to join the country club. They kept the greens and took out the trash. But with more than 6 percent economic growth, a burgeoning middle class and a leader respected, if not feared internationally, they’re back. Now they’re paid-up members, on the golf course, crowding the bar area, and ordering tray after tray of gin slings. Russians credit Putin with this. And it is this, and the economic growth, that explains his continually high approval ratings of more than 70 percent.

But like every good narrative, there is an element of the fantastical. In Guillermo del Toro’s recent film, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” Ofelia constructs her magical kingdom to shield her from the horrors of fascist Spain. In Putin’s Russia, the delusions of grandeur, or of national rebirth, serve the same purpose: They comfort but, in the long-term, they will not sustain. Oil prices won’t stay high forever and the Russian economy has not diversified enough. There is an increasing gap between rich and poor and a looming population crisis. Freedoms are rapidly being eroded, with essentially a one-party system; supporters of the political opposition are beaten on the streets.

Political systems often collapse when the narrative diverges so widely from the reality. And that is Russia’s worry; that is what has commentators gingerly making parallels between Putin’s Russia and Weimar Germany. But for now, it appears to be working, and we can expect more of the same in 2007. To avoid a chaotic and damaging transfer of power next year, the Kremlin will continue to shore up its support at home with posturing abroad. No doubt, the narrative will be further fleshed out and refined, with new players, new villains, and if Putin chooses a successor, even a new hero.

Andrew Wilson, an academic at University College London, predicts the “animating” narratives in Russia’s election year are likely to be the “threat of extreme nationalism or the threat of Islamic terrorism.” It is also possible that more of Russia’s neighbors could have their gas cut off, their Web sites hacked, or their products boycotted. Or perhaps the Kremlin will spin a yarn about the threat of another colored revolution, this time in Russia. The Rose and Orange revolutions were just dry runs, spin doctors will say. Now the United States, armed with its missile-defense shield, is ready for the big one.

Putin’s Labyrinth

A reader points La Russophobe to the following column in the Chicago Tribune by Luke Allnutt, an editor at the Prague-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Note how easily the analogy to Josef Goebbels. Once again, the people of Russia are descending into darkness and ignorance — but let’s not forget that this time they are doing it willingly, with their eyes wide open.

Putin’s Labyrinth

The behavior of Russian President Vladimir Putin has left politicians and diplomats scratching their heads. Last week, Putin threatened to point his missiles at Europe; now, at the Group of Eight summit in Germany, he says he wouldn’t mind a joint U.S.-Russia anti-missile radar base, as long as it was sited in Azerbaijan rather than the Czech Republic.

The spat over the missile shield is the latest in a long line of dramas that are best understood not as part of a coherent Russian foreign policy, but rather as choreographed scenes intended for domestic consumption.

It was Josef Goebbels, Nazi Germany’s propaganda minister, who once remarked “we must create the image of the enemy.” In a year that will see parliamentary elections in Russia and the likely anointing of Putin’s successor, that is exactly what the Kremlin is doing.

First, it was the Georgians, when, last fall, a routine spying row, which usually would have been handled quietly by diplomats, turned into a war with expulsions and bans on Georgian wine. Then, in April, after the removal of a Soviet World War II monument, a Russian delegation made a very public dash to Estonia. Russian television denounced Estonians as unreconstructed fascists. The Putin-loyal Nashi movement attacked diplomats and then hacked Web sites. Such events are only really significant when taken together as the building blocks in Russia’s great new narrative.

The narrative goes something like this: In the 1990s, the West took advantage of an emasculated Russia, using oligarchs to strip the country of its wealth. Russia is encircled, with NATO perched on its borders. The colored revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia were funded and engineered by the West. Pro-Western neighbors are traitors, ungrateful for Soviet liberation from the Nazis. But now, Russia, emboldened by oil and gas wealth, is back on the world stage. Russia was humiliated, but will never be humiliated again. As the popular tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda wrote on May 31, “it’s a rare day that the average Russian citizen doesn’t hear warnings about another Cold War or World War III. Citizens are informed of how the United States and NATO are establishing military bases all along Russia’s perimeter.”

This narrative of avenged humiliation is simplistic and undemanding, a comfort zone where outsiders are to blame for Russia’s ills, where there is no scrupulous moral examination of the communist past or the increasingly authoritarian present. And it is understandable why so many Russians, who lived for so long with perhaps the greatest tale of all, Marxism, are receptive to this new narrative. Humiliation hurts. In the 1990s, Russians couldn’t afford to join the country club. They kept the greens and took out the trash. But with more than 6 percent economic growth, a burgeoning middle class and a leader respected, if not feared internationally, they’re back. Now they’re paid-up members, on the golf course, crowding the bar area, and ordering tray after tray of gin slings. Russians credit Putin with this. And it is this, and the economic growth, that explains his continually high approval ratings of more than 70 percent.

But like every good narrative, there is an element of the fantastical. In Guillermo del Toro’s recent film, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” Ofelia constructs her magical kingdom to shield her from the horrors of fascist Spain. In Putin’s Russia, the delusions of grandeur, or of national rebirth, serve the same purpose: They comfort but, in the long-term, they will not sustain. Oil prices won’t stay high forever and the Russian economy has not diversified enough. There is an increasing gap between rich and poor and a looming population crisis. Freedoms are rapidly being eroded, with essentially a one-party system; supporters of the political opposition are beaten on the streets.

Political systems often collapse when the narrative diverges so widely from the reality. And that is Russia’s worry; that is what has commentators gingerly making parallels between Putin’s Russia and Weimar Germany. But for now, it appears to be working, and we can expect more of the same in 2007. To avoid a chaotic and damaging transfer of power next year, the Kremlin will continue to shore up its support at home with posturing abroad. No doubt, the narrative will be further fleshed out and refined, with new players, new villains, and if Putin chooses a successor, even a new hero.

Andrew Wilson, an academic at University College London, predicts the “animating” narratives in Russia’s election year are likely to be the “threat of extreme nationalism or the threat of Islamic terrorism.” It is also possible that more of Russia’s neighbors could have their gas cut off, their Web sites hacked, or their products boycotted. Or perhaps the Kremlin will spin a yarn about the threat of another colored revolution, this time in Russia. The Rose and Orange revolutions were just dry runs, spin doctors will say. Now the United States, armed with its missile-defense shield, is ready for the big one.