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Hussain Abdul-Hussain

The strong government of a weak nation

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the seventh annual VTB Capital "Russia Calling!" Investment Forum in Moscow on 13 October 2015. (AFP/Sergei Karpukhin)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has become the most recent autocrat to conflate two contradictory ideas under the guise of nationalism. Putin thinks that a nation is strong not when it is free, stable and prosperous, but when its government rules with an iron fist.

 

Strong-arming citizens into becoming submissive subjects, with no opinion on public affairs, is relatively easy, especially in states where governments can acquire wealth out of natural resources, independent of economic output. Wealth from oil and gas is usually enough to maintain brutal police agencies and nourish a kleptocracy like Russia, but is too little to keep the whole economy afloat.

 

‘Elected’ dictators like Putin and Iraq’s late Saddam Hussein usually dispose of their domestic enemies fast and start looking for military adventures beyond their borders to show their force and feed their egos.

 

Over the past 15 years, Putin has fought four wars in Chechnya, Georgia, Ukraine and now Syria. In Putin’s mind, terrorists are found everywhere, whether in Greek Orthodox Ukraine or Sunni Syria. The West is set to destroy Russia by arming terrorists and only heroes like Putin can save Russia and the world from evil Western plans.

 

In the minds of dictators like Putin and Saddam, their aggression is an act of redressing past grievances. Putin believes America the superpower beat its rival, the Soviet Union, and conspired to stay on top by keeping Russia behind. Now Putin is correcting such injustice by reestablishing himself as America’s counterpart. Over the past decade, Putin has been itching for American attention and world recognition as America’s equal.

 

For years, Putin used petrodollars to buy influence inside Washington. He hired lobby firms, think tanks and analysts. He bought friends and opened an English-language TV station. When everything failed to establish Russia as the world’s other superpower, Putin wanted to beat America in its own game — the economy. He tried to transform BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) it into an economic power under his leadership by creating a BRICS bank. When the bank failed, Putin thought he could hitch a ride with China – the world’s second economic power. Putin offered the Chinese his energy at low cost to spite the West.

 

When oil prices fell, Putin stressed his role as a contrarian in foreign policy. Whatever the UN Security Council wanted, Putin obstructed it. He tried to skirt sanctions on Iran through barter trade.

 

Now Putin believes he is constructing a new Middle East to replace an older one left by a retreating America. The reluctant President Obama, the most amateurish of all US presidents on foreign policy, made Putin think his time has come to regain Soviet glory as a superpower.

 

Reality, however, is different. Russia’s population is shrinking and its oil-dependent economic might is declining.

 

Putin has not been able to recreate the appeal that Soviet Russia once had. The Soviet Union had a set of defining principles. The Soviets wanted to break down borders and capitalist governments and replace them with imagined equitable societies. Putin has nothing. His intellectual powers are abysmal. He teeters between dreams of a grandiose Russian nation and Russia as the leader of the world’s Greek Orthodox Christians, along other minority groups in the Middle East.

 

But even the Greek Orthodox don’t look to Moscow for leadership. When Greece sank in debt, it did not expect Russia to come to the rescue. When Washington asked Athens to block transit of Russian arms and troops to Syria, Greece listened and forced Putin to go through Iran and Iraq.

 

Putin then looked around and saw a growing Iranian empire that he thought he could control. The Russian dictator even thought he could assemble a pro-Russian axis with Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Israel.

 

Like his BRICS bank, his agreement with China, and his land grab in Georgie and Ukraine, Putin’s plans have been either pointless or a failure.

 

The Soviet Union was once a powerful nation with a strong central government. The lack of liberty and freedom eventually obstructed creativity that became the hallmark of growing economies since the 1980s. Soviet power thus retreated, and then its government collapsed. Putin revived the government, but he has failed miserably in recreating Soviet scientific and intellectual power, the prerequisites for economic prosperity and eventually world dominance.

 

Because he has failed but insists on leaving a mark, Putin is now holding his breath and turning blue, and he wants the world to listen to him and recognize him. He will probably die slowly instead.

 

Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington Bureau Chief of Kuwaiti newspaper Alrai. He tweets @hahussain

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the seventh annual VTB Capital "Russia Calling!" Investment Forum in Moscow on 13 October 2015. (AFP/Sergei Karpukhin)

Putin has nothing. His intellectual powers are abysmal. He teeters between dreams of a grandiose Russian nation and Russia as the leader of the world’s Greek Orthodox Christians, along other minority groups in the Middle East."

  • WVD

    The usual garbage as one could expect from a Kuwaiti newspaper. I think the local sheiks love it.

    October 27, 2015

  • WVD

    Phil: take this claim as an example:'The Soviets wanted to break down borders and capitalist governments and replace them with imagined equitable societies.' The guy here I guess never heard of the heated discussions among the radical left in the first decades of the last century about 'Socialism on one country' as favored by Josef Stalin against the idea's of Leon Trotsky. Ask the Greek communists about it. they'll tell you.

    October 27, 2015

  • miksosh1

    This article is so biased it lacks objectivity.

    October 21, 2015

  • Phil؟

    Care to elaborate please? If you don't have arguments to back your brilliant eureka statement, there's absolutely no need to post it.

    October 23, 2015