The BBC have an interesting article by Oliver Bullough about a little known and often forgotten speech that Putin made upon becoming Russian Prime Minster back in 1999. At the time, Russia was in a pretty bad way. Having defaulted on its national debt a few months earlier, corruption was rife, the nation becoming little more than a fiefdom of various Oligarchs and gangsters. And the countrys alcoholic President Yeltsin was going through Prime Minsters almost as quickly as he went through cases of Vodka.
So its no surprise that many assumed that Putin, the countrys 5th PM in a year wouldnt last a month in the job and few people took his acceptance speech as anything more than the usual propagandist, nationalistic posturing. However, its becoming clear that he meant everything he said in that speech, notably about regaining Russias soviet era status as a major power.
One could draw parallels with Hitlers Mein Kampf. When he wrote this he was in prison for a Munich beerhall brawl (that started as a crude half-baked attempt at a revolution). And even after he came to power, most dismissed it as sloganeering nonsense, the sort one would expect to hear from a confirmed right-wing loon. Again, the assumption was that the nazis time in charge of Germany would be short. It wasnt until the 1938 before people realised the awful truth.
Now while Im not saying Putin is a nazi, hes certainly an authoritarian and like others in the dictator club its unlikely he will relinquish the reigns of power easily, nor listen to reason, not least because theres unlikely to be anyone left in his inner circle willing to try and talk sense into him. As I mentioned in a prior post, hes probably done huge damage to Russias defensive capabilities by all but guaranteeing that many of Russias neighbours will now join or co-operate with NATO, leaving him ringed by NATO bases.
And the Russian economy will inevitably suffer too. And this is important, as one of the reasons for Putins actions in Crimea might be that even before events in the Ukraine, the wheels were starting to come off the Russian economy. Much like how the Argentina Junta invaded the Falklands to distract the public from an economic downturn, its possible this is what Putin has been attempting in Crimea. However, while he might not be facing a military intervention from the West (yet!), economic pressure and sanctions are the last thing the Russian economy needs right now.
Russia is now rated as badly in corruption terms as tin-pot dictatorships such as Mali or Azerbaijan. Inward investment into Russia is for the very brave or stupid, insuring against a debt default is now impossibly expensive, and indeed many wealthy Russians are already hoarding their wealth outside the country. The only thing sustaining the Russian economy right now is high oil and gas prices. And of course this limits his options in terms of turning off the European gas supply (as he could only maintain such an embargo for a short period). And oil prices are a fickle thing. One can never rely on them behaving as expected, particularly given that its Americas allies in OPEC who ultimately set the worlds oil price.
And theres another trend of history that one considers here. It is a myth of history that it was the actions of Western intelligence and military spending by Reagan and Thatcher that brought down the Soviet Union.
Actually, the real reason why the Soviet Union collapsed like a house of cards, was because it was a house of cards. It was a badly run, authoritarian regime that was ultimate crushed under the weight of its own bureaucracy, corruption and incompetence. And a collapse of oil prices was a key factor in triggering the USSRs final death throes, as I touched on this in a prior post.
And it seems unlikely that Putin (an ex-KGB man) realises this (and again less likely that any of his inner circle would dare tell him), hence the risk that hes basically now going to repeat all of the soviet unions mistakes only to see the whole sorry mess collapse around him.