A Day of Reckoning for Putin’s Mini-Me
This country’s murder rate is soaring out of control, among the worst on the planet. It has a crude, thuggish dictator who hates America and is trying to crush every aspect of civil society, whose power depends solely upon the international price of crude oil, now in freefall. The national economy is imploding, with inflation out of control and industrual production contracting.
No, it’s not Vladimir Putin’s Russia we’re discussing, though that benighted quagmire satisfies every one of those criteria in spades. It’s the Venezuela of his “mini me” Hugo Chavez, a poor Russian’s Fidel Castro, surrogate of Putin’s cold war in South America, that we refer to.
And he’s in big trouble.
With the price of oil plunging, regional elections were held in Venezuela and Chavez had his head handed to him. It seems the citizens of Venezuela are quite a bit more civilized and courageous than the denizens of Russia. More than 20% of Venezuela’s regions rejected Chavez, who went on national TV and warned the opposition parities that they shouldn’t think they control the regions where they’ve won. During the election, he’d referred to those parties openly as “traitors” and “swine.” It was an emphatic blow to Chavez’s dictatorship. “Winning the majority of state governorships but losing the key ones cannot be spun as a victory by a man who campaigned as if his life depended on it,” said Pedro Mario Burelli, a former director of Venezuela’s state oil company. All the major urban areas were seriously in play against Chavez, while he retained steadfast support only in rural villages cut off from anything like real information. Luís Pedro España, an economist who studies poverty issues, said: “The more modern part of the country wants political change.”
Though we don’t expect any such heroism from the people of Russia, there are cracks in Putin’s foundation as well, and seeing his key ally in South America teetering on the brink of revolution is surely one of them.
Another is the Politkovskaya trial. Public pressure has now forced the trial judge to open the trial to media coverage after seeking to impose a gag order, the Supreme Court is investigating possible misconduct by the judge, and now the defense attorney representing the four accused of killing the heroic reporter is alleging that her killing was ordered by a Russian politician, not by Boris Berezovsky as the Kremlin has attempted to claim in the past. “During the investigative stage, the prosecutor general stated that [the person who had ordered the killing] was someone big and horrible abroad. But in court we can see in the indictment [conclusions] that this someone is not so big and horrible – it is a politician based in the country,” the lawyer said.
The bloom is slowly coming off the Putin rose. Public opinion approval is sagging, and some begin to find the courage to speak out openly against the worst excesses of his government. It’s all due to the falling price of oil, which betrays Putin as a dictator whose power is based on the thinnest of reeds, not a solid brick-and-mortar foundation. It has forced Putin to allow the value of the national currency to begin to slide, a fact no amount of the Kremlin’s “blame America” propaganda can paper over. The resulting cold war rhetoric that has issued even from Putin’s other mini-me, Dima Medvedev, betrays Russia’s fundamental weakness and panic just as surely as do Chavez’s crude babbling about treachery.