Putin the Puritan
Perhaps for the first time since Vladimir Putin took power, the people of Russia last week got a crystal clear image of what their lives would be like a decade from now if Putin is allowed to become “president for life” like Sadaam Hussein of Iraq. It is not a pretty picture.
At one stroke, just as if he were Stalin, Putin shut down every formerly legal gambling casino in the country and threw hundreds of thousands of Russian workers onto the unemployment lines. Just as many contended Russia could “never go back” to a Soviet style of living, many believed Putin would never carry through on his Puritan threat to close the casinos, at least not while unemployment was in double digits and the economy was foundering badly.
But he has done it. And that’s not all he has done.
Putin also announced plans to implement massive new taxes on other “vice” industries like tobacco and alcohol. He even considers the consumption of gasoline in a private automobile to be a vice, and is considering massive new taxes on that as well.
At the same time, in manner that was absolutely psychotic, he ordered Russian banks to lend out $13 billion over the course of the next year, while the Kremlin will only guarantee repayment on half of the face amount of each loan. He lectured the bankers about the chilling effect their lack of lending was having on the economy, telling them they couldn’t take vacations until they’d found borrowers. He ignored the chilling economic impact of his own polices, just as he ignored the risk that unworthy borrowers will be found resulting in massive new loan defaults and also ignored the reality that banks can’t lend when they need reserves to cover a tidal wave of bad loans already on their books which the government hasn’t addressed at all. The Fitch ratings agency says Russian banks will need a whopping $80 billion to cover this contingency.
What’s next for Putin’s Russia? How long before Putin decides surfing the Internet or reading the pages of Novaya Gazeta is a “vice” that must be taxed into oblivion or simply outlawed? Didn’t the USSR already try this tactic, fail spectacularly and collapse? Is Putin really going to repeat not only the disastrous cold war but also the equally horrific crackdown on personal pleasure?
You bet he is. And how can anyone be surprised? After all, this man spent his entire life as a loyal servant of the USSR’s KGB, and didn’t separate himself from that activity voluntarily. What else would he do, if given power, other than seek to revive and restore the Soviet government and all its policies as quickly as possible?
Welcome back to the USSR. The world will gape in disbelief as Putin continues to repeat the mistakes of the Soviet past and drive his nation to the brink of ruin. Meanwhile, the people of Russia will turn a blind, cowardly eye, just as they did decades ago, and allow their children to be victimized in exactly the same way that they themselves were.
Surely, that is the greater crime.