Mr. Putin’s Kitchen
The chart above shows how Russian GDP has entered a state of freefall as the country’s financial system has collapsed. The Russia Economy Watch blog states: “If we look at the monthly contraction rate as a reflection of the current quarter on quarter contraction, we find a rate of minus 1.6%, which means that the present rate is something like a 6.5% annualised shrinkage rate.”
It’s getting rather hot in Vladimir Putin’s crooked kitchen. There can be only one response: We must turn up the heat. At long last, we seem to be starting to understand that.
Last Friday, in one ear Putin had to sit like a pathetic scolded infant as EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso castigated him for the murder of Stanislav Markelov and then chastisted him even more vehemently for attempting to dodge the issue by complaining in a unhinged, childish manner that Dmitri Medvedev was not present. It was by far Putin’s most humiliating moment in public life (and to top it off, it was revealed that Putin is a closet ABBA fan). On Saturday, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer made it a one-two punch, repudiating strategic cooperation with Russia and declaring: “I cannot see how we can have such a serious discussion of such a new architecture, in which President Medvedev himself says territorial integrity is a primary element when Russia is building bases inside Georgia, a country that doesn’t want those bases. That cannot be ignored and it cannot be the foundation of a new European security architecture.”
And then in the other ear he heard it from the formidable team of Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Milov and Boris Nemtsov, who held a press conference on behalf of their new Solidarity organization to blast Putin’s mismanagement of the economy and misdirection of oil windfalls away from the real needs of the Russian people. In past years Putin could dismiss such statements with the back of his hand, but with hundreds marching in the streets of Vladivostok saying the same thing, that’s no longer an option.
Putin’s critics have been emboldened not only by the collapse of the Russian economy (Russians are going back to the barter system, as in Soviet times, and posting prices once again in “conditional units” instead of unreliable rubles) but also by Putin’s repeated ham-handed miscues on foreign policy, from Georgia to Ukraine. A year ago, pollster Globescan found that 35% of world citizens had a positive view of Russia while 34% had a negative view. This year, the company found 42% viewed Russia negatively while only 30% had a positive impression. What had been a slight net positive has turned into a massive net negative. The Moscow Times reports: “In the United States, 64 percent of respondents had a negative opinion of Russia, up 28 percent compared to the previous year.” A whopping 70% of Germans had a negative view of Russia, making them the world leader in Russophobia. Nice job, Mr. Putin!
Putin clearly cannot take the heat. Challenged for the first time in his public life as the total failure of his economic policy leaves his country in financial ruins, he shows himself utterly unable to cope and his only response is to lash out, both verbally and physically, to seek to liquidate his inconvenient foes just as Stalin once did.
The Moscow Times reports, for instance, how Putin’s malignant minions are spying on every opposition entity under the sun. In the time of Richard Nixon, such conduct brought down the American president — but Putin barrels merrily along without a word of protest from his craven polity. According to the MT, Putin is dispatching Kremlin-paid spies to every organization from Oleg Kozlovsky’s Oborona to Mikhail Kasyanov’s People’s Democratic Union to Eduard Limonov’s National Bolshevik Party to Grigori Yavlinsky’s Youth Yabloko. Oborona has a detailed story in Russian which we are working on translating; Oborona’s main website has a similar story, with video).
The revelations came from a defector, Anna Bukovskaya, who ran a number of the spies in her prior life as a NASHI coordinator. The MT quotes Ilya Yashin, former leader of Youth Yabloko, saying he feared for Bukovskaya’s safety in light of her claims: “She is in a dangerous situation. She mustn’t be left alone.” It reports: “A Kremlin spokesman said he did not have time to comment on the claims and promised to call back. He did not call back and declined to comment in several subsequent phone calls, saying he was busy.”
This is the only way that a crude thug like Putin can deal with criticism and adversity. It didn’t work for Stalin and it won’t work for Putin. Unless the people of Russia want their nation to go the way of the USSR, they’d better act.
And act soon.