Ukraine and the new cold war

Despite the efforts of Putin’s cult of personality (which now includes many of those on the political right in the UK) to deny it, the fact is becoming clear that Russian troops have invaded Ukraine and are fighting alongside the “rebels” (those who aren’t Russian that is).

Evidence includes photos of tank variants known to be only operated by Russia, satellite images from NATO showing them crossing the border, the capture of several Russian servicemen by Ukraine and secret funerals for Russian soldiers killed in action in Ukraine.

While Putin’s strategy is something known only to him and his cronies, its likely they are hoping to carve out an enclave in North Eastern Ukraine which will serve as a bridge head to Russian occupied Crimea.

The implications of this are quite serious. As I speculated would happen some months ago, Ukraine has now announced its intention to join NATO or enter into some sort of mutual defence treaty with NATO. This plus the fact that Russia will now be occupying disputed territory puts us right back to 1947 and the cold war with NATO and the Warsaw pact facing off over Berlin and the two halves of Germany.

Back then it was generally accepted that if the cold war went hot, it would likely be due to one side, trying to take over the rest of Germany by force (likely by an attack through the so-called Fulda Gap), something that would likely have eventually resulted in a nuclear exchange of some sorts.

However the Ukraine crisis threats not just a return to the balance of cold war terror, but something more serious, given that much of the on the ground fighting will be by rebels and other groups who will not be taking into account the implications of their actions on the wider political situation.

Back during the cold war there were strict orders to military forces about what they should or should not do, so scared where the leadership about a stray shot starting world war III (both sides were quite happy to lose a few men, the odd plane or even ship to prevent Armageddon). This is how an attempted defector (Peter Fechter) was left to bleed to death at Checkpoint Charlie for several hours in full view of Western media.

Furthermore, back during the cold war it was generally assumed that the Soviets with their superior ground forces would be the likely antagonists. However, now the boot is on the other foot. As I pointed out in a prior post, NATO now has a massive tactical advantage over Russia in terms of the location of its bases (in many cases ex-Warsaw pact bases in Eastern Europe!), technology, numerical superiority and the levels of training of its forces (most Russian soldiers are conscript’s while most of NATO’s are professional soldiers). There is little doubt that Russia would struggle to stop NATO in any future conflict. And given NATO’s improving ABM capabilities this would probably force them into an increasingly hair trigger launch on warning scenario, something which has nearly led to nuclear war in the past, most notably in the 80’s and in during the Yeltsin era.

Of course there is some hope that economic pressure on Putin will bring down his regime. My suspicion is that Putin’s major flaw is he didn’t learn the lessons of history and could well be about to repeat the mistakes of the soviets. For example in retaliation for western sanctions, his government imposed counter sanctions on food stuffs…which of course inevitably triggered price rises of between 10 – 60% in just a few days and could well lead to the return of the long food queues Russian’s remember from the last days of the soviet empire.

Indeed the Russians have several queuing jokes from the soviet era that they might need to rehash, such as:
Two men in a queue in Moscow, one goes to the other “I’m sick of this, the Communists have ruined the country, I’m going to the Kremlin to kill Brezhnev”….a few hours later he returns “did you kill him?” his friend says “no, I got to red square and there was an even longer queue there!”

But jokes aside, whosever in charge of that Doomsday clock needs to dust it off and move it a minute or two closer to midnight by my reckoning.

And it might be a time to watch again the Beeb documentary series from the 90’s Cold War.

The Totalitarian tendencies of UKIP and the Tea Party

And speaking of Putin, one of the issues that came up during last nights debate was Farage’’s admiration for Vladmir Putin. This despite the fact that his hero is clearly showing many signs of becoming yet another of the world’’s despot’s, and is greatly undermining world security. Indeed if anything, Putin’’s actions highlight why we need an EU to present a united front against him and avoid a European policy on Russia being dominated by the interests of the US.

Inevitably in the mind of a fantasist like Farage, he cannot understand why anyone would be so desperate as the Ukrainians to join the EU. He fantasied also last night that in the event of the UK leaving, the EU would implode without Britain, trying to suggest that protesters in Greece and Cyprus were fighting to break up the EU.

Actually what the protesters were opposing was the lack of EU solidarity for the situation in Greece, which they argue is not in keeping with the spirit of co-operation (i.e. they want an EU that isn’t dominated by right-wing, free market acolytes like Farage, Cameron or Merkel).

And in truth if the UK left (interesting to read how Brussels reacted to the debate), the rest of the EU would likely heave a huge sigh of relief, probably move towards greater federalisation…which, as was pointed out to Farage last night, he’’d have no choice but to sign up too (and pay for!) as part of the price of getting a free trade agreement with the EU.

But leaving such obvious contradictions and hypocrisies aside, I would argue that Farage’s fawning over Putin betrays the fact that inside UKIP or the Tea Party types talking loudly about “liberty”, there’s an Authoritarian fighting to get out.

The fact is that many of the policies that UKIP or the Tea Party propose are impossible to implement (at least within a democracy) and often contradictory, as I’ve discussed in a prior post.

For example on energy, UKIP have this strange obsession with nuclear (which we should probably be worried about!) wanting to get much of the UK’s energy from nuclear. But a nuclear building programme would be a major international project that would take many decades and require much free movement of migrant workers. Even the French, despite their massive investment in nuclear cannot build an entire plant by themselves. Indeed the core of the reactor as well as many other crucial parts would almost certainly come from either Japan, China or Korea. So obviously this plan is incompatible with UKIP’’s policy on immigration.

Indeed who is going to pay for these reactors? The British financial service’s industry turned its nose up at nuclear, even with the government offering to allow them to charge up to three times the going rate for electricity, hence why Hinkley point C is being financed by the Chinese.

And this mirrors the reality that much of the inward investment into the UK over the last twenty years has come from Asia and Europe, the very places which UKIP proposes to shut the door on, the very people whom they and the Home office are driving around telling to “go home”. How exactly would the UK fund its economic growth with policies that effectively make inward investment into the UK impossible?

And then there’s UKIP’’s policy on tax. One of the major hurdles faced by governments at the moment is the so-called “baby boomer” pension time bomb, which represents a demographic shift with far more retirees and less and less working age people paying tax to fund pensions. There are questions as to how the UK or many other Western states will avoid bankruptcy and afford to fund these pensions. Up until now the UK has managed to get around these demographics, by working age migrants coming in, getting jobs (sometimes as carers for the elderly!) and paying tax. Better yet, not only do we not have to pay for the education or upbringing of these migrants, many of them ultimately leave the UK before they get old and become a burden on the tax payer.

Where Farage see’s scary dark skinned foreigners, the Treasury see’s free money. As I’ve mentioned before migrants, be they from the EU or beyond, are less likely to claim benefits that British citizens and the tiny amount this costs the taxpayer is easily outweighted by the taxes from those migrants who are working and earning. So many of those old folks cheering on Farage last night need to consider that a vote for him is probably a vote for a reduced pension and living out your days living on cat food while burning furniture for warmth.

Inevitably if UKIP ever made it into power, either as a majority party or a coalition partner, its likely that like so many other far right populist parties in other European countries, they’d be confronted with a fairly swift reality check. They would find it impossible to implement their policies (as they are often unworkable and often non-starters from day one). Even their cherished “in or out” referendum on the EU (consider it took the SNP many years and two parliaments to get this on the ballot paper despite holding a majority) would not be guaranteed, nor as straightforward to implement as they propose, as I’ve discussed before.

What has resulted in other EU states, is typically that the Populist Party simply implodes at this point as it fails to achieve its stated goals, amid infighting and backstabbing, leading to an early election and them being crucified in the polls.

The alternative route however, which we’ve seen in other parts of the world, is to implement such radical policies by eliminating the principle obstacle – democracy. Hence when a UKIP government finds the energy industry still wants to build wind farms (about a third of the electricity in republican Texas now comes from wind) or indeed the industry spooked by uncertainty stops all infrastructure improvements, forcing a messy nationalisation of the entire energy industry (maybe not a bad idea, but Farage’s icon Thatcher would be rolling in her grave). When immigrants start leaving and taking their money with them, the state reacts (as Putin has done in the past) with capital controls. When prices soar as a result of the impact of the country’s reduced trade with other countries, the state starts trying to fix prices.

When pensioners and the (former)working class types who originally voted them into power, show up outside parliament banging on pots and pans, the government is suddenly looking for new police powers to stop them. And when the media reports on this crack down and starts making a big deal about it, the state looks to censor these stories. This is essentially how Farage’’s hero Putin when from populist to defacto dictator.

Similarly the American Tea Party is beset by obvious contradictions (as I mention in this long post here). Should you think Farage is a little unhinged, just listen to Rand Paul, the poster child of the Tea Party and US libertarians. He has endorsed a view that Christianity should be the state religion of the US, that it would be okay for a restaurant to refuse to serve someone based on their race and the discrimination against disabilities act should be repealed.

And those are among his less insane political positions, as he has also suggested that Medicare payments to doctors (i.e. hundreds of thousands a year) amounts to “slavery”, takes his pro-life views to the point of wanting to ban the morning after pill, blames World War 2 on the US and wants to face off against his opponents not with a debate, but by fighting duels (pistols at dawn!) :crazy:.

Meanwhile the religious conservative wing of the Tea Party wants to not only ban gay marriage but adopt policies like those in Uganda (which were inspired by a US preacher) and ban it altogether. If you think Obama’’s too authoritarian with Obamacare, one can scarcely think of a government that is more authoritarian than one which not only comes in the door of your house, but up to the bedroom and tell’s you want you can and cannot do.

And the Libertarians favourite, the imposition of the gold standard, shows they are poor students of history. As a gold standard would probably have the oppose effect they believe (interesting lecture on that from an economist here), where we would see the rolling back of many of the post-Nixon free market reforms and a return of Keynesian style government intervention in the economy. Now while a little bit of that might not be a bad thing, the point is the end result of such a policy would be more “big government” not less.

Back in the real world, politicians often use the term “realpolitik” to describe the dilemma they often face. As there are certain policies that would just be impossible to implement, either because they would lead to massive discrimination and unfairness to certain people (democracy can be characterised as “majority rule with minority rights”) or the end result would be so hugely unpopular that the government of the day would be guaranteed to lose the next election, or the policy is just not practical or workable.

So while populist politicians might make interesting sound bites, the truth is that much of what UKIP is about is right wing political fantasy. Hard core political porn for disaffected Tories.

But should Clegg have taken Farage on? Not in the context in which the debate was held. “Debating” with someone who lives in a fantasy world make about as much sense as playing blind poker with a compulsive liar. You say you’ve a 4 of a kind, he say’s he’s got a full house, you get an all blue, he claims to have a flush. You can’t win!

Putin’s Speech

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 country’s alcoholic President Yeltsin was going through Prime Minsters almost as quickly as he went through cases of Vodka.

So it’s no surprise that many assumed that Putin, the country’s 5th PM in a year wouldn’t last a month in the job and few people took his acceptance speech as anything more than the usual propagandist, nationalistic posturing. However, it’s becoming clear that he meant everything he said in that speech, notably about regaining Russia’s soviet era status as a major power.

One could draw parallels with Hitler’s “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 nazi’s time in charge of Germany would be short. It wasn’t until the 1938 before people realised the awful truth.

Now while I’m not saying Putin is a nazi, he’s 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 there’s unlikely to be anyone left in his inner circle willing to try and talk sense into him. As I mentioned in a prior post, he’s probably done huge damage to Russia’s defensive capabilities by all but guaranteeing that many of Russia’s 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 Putin’s 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, it’s 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 America’s allies in OPEC who ultimately set the world’s oil price.

And there’s 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 USSR’s 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 he’s basically now going to repeat all of the soviet union’s mistakes only to see the whole sorry mess collapse around him.

Other News of the Week

The Dictator’s Daughter in trouble
Last week I made mention of Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Karimov, the Uzbek dictator, aka “the dictator’s daughter” or according to wikileaks diplomatic cables “the most hated person in the country”. Anyway, the BBC revealed a letter from her, allegedly smuggled out of prison, that suggests a spectacular fall from grace.

Gulnara, never shy of publicity, has been noticeably absent the last few weeks. Her twitter feed went dead a few weeks ago. She also made the unprecedented move of openly criticising her father a few weeks back. Anyone else who’s remotely thought of doing that has been killed or arrested. All this suggests a feud going on, possibly even a power struggle between dictator and his charismatic daughter.

Now while one cannot help but be sympathetic to her plight, they are probably more than a few who will conclude that what goes around comes around. Gulnara cannot feign ignorance as to the crimes of her father, not least because she’s been intimately involved in more than a few of them! Evidence suggests that she has been directly involved ibn racketeering, bribery and general acting like a spoiled despotic bimbo.

Indeed, what may well have triggered this whole sequence of events was her implication in a massive bribery scandal in Sweden and in Switzerland, one which involved hundreds of millions of pounds (possibly the biggest ever in Sweden). Its possible that the excesses of his daughter simply became too much for the despot.

Or equally its possible that she tried to move against him (rumours suggest he’s not well and might be dying). Indeed the BBC have a series on right now about the Plantagenet kings. One unfortunate trend for the Plantagenet’s was how king after king, no sooner had he the crown on his head, but his own relatives, often his own sons and wife, were plotting his overthrow, often helped out by the king of France. Such is the way of any despotic government, which is why we need to do everything possible to topple such regimes.

Farage v’s Clegg on Europe
Speaking of authoritarian, right wing nut jobs, I missed the whole Farage v’s Clegg debate. But that wasn’t so bad, for as I predicted would happen a few weeks back, the debate was ruined by Farage repeating the old nazi trick of telling big lies often enough such that people start to believe they are true :no:.

According to Farage, 29 million Romanians and Bulgarians (or was it 500 million!) are about to descend on us (btw that’s more than the entire population of both countries!), 120% of the UK population are now immigrants, 98.7% of whom are only here to claim benefits, steal our jobs, commit crimes, butcher horsemeat, spread diseases and commit terrorism in what little free time this busy schedule allows :)).

It is no use “debating” something with someone who is going to rattle off a load of bullshit. We see the same thing when scientists try to debate creationists or climate change deniers. The only situation where a debate with Farage would be acceptable would be if we had a moderator able to act as fact checker and call out Farage’s porkies and half backed myths as he goes along. Otherwise its like wrestling a pig, you both get dirty and the pig seems to enjoy it ;D.

TB in moggie’s
Of course the tabloids soon had another thing to obsess over other that the EU debate, the fact that TB might have spread to cats, possibly from Badgers and then to humans. I would note the risk of infection is pretty low, but then again when have you known the tabloids to let a few “facts” get in the way of a good story!

I would argue that this shows the faults in the government’s policy on Badgers. That a policy of vaccination of badgers and cattle is better than culling. As you can never be sure to get all the badgers and inevitably disrupting an eco-system by killing badgers in the area can have all sorts of consequences…such as badgers from neighbouring areas moving in and spreading new diseases too that area. Now while this is unlikely to have been the trigger for this outbreak, a future TB outbreak could easily be triggered by such a sequence of events.

In short humans meddling with nature rarely has the consequences we intended. And if you don’t believe me about that, go ask the Australians about toads and rabbits.

NHS budget’s under pressure
One of the big Tory lies promises was that NHS spending would be safe under them. Well we’ve seen yet more evidence that this simply isn’t so. A report suggests that many NHS trusts are now in deficit. I suspect this may have something to do with the Tories ridiculous policy of allowing doctors (hardly the best people to put in charge of a budget, that’s why we have accountants for!) greater control over budgets, apparently so that we the health care users get more “choice”.

Ya, that’s the one thing I wanted in an NHS hospital, more “choice”. That way if injured I could choose not to be taken to the nearest A&E but maybe remain in agony a few minutes longer to go to a different one down the road. Or how about a choice between a lime green X-ray machine and a blue one? ;D

As if to compound matters, there are also reports of councils, who have come under severe budgetary pressure from the government, dipping into NHS funds to pay for certain services. Again, given the enormous pressure council budgets are under, this is hardly a huge surprise. In fact it’s a bit like waving a chuck of raw meat in the face of a lion and acting surprised when he bites.

Of course the danger is that the Tories will merely use the failure of any NHS trust as an excuse to try and privatise it.

The New Czar

And in relation to my last post, we are seeing Putin starting to tick all of the boxes to be labelled as a tyrant.

Certainly his decision to host the winter Olympics in a Southern Black sea town has to strike one as bizarre. One wonders why none of his advisers spoke up to question this…clearly because they were too scared of him to do so. And squandering $50 billion on it seems a tad excessive. Consider what would have likely happened had and government in the UK spend anything like that on the London 2012 games?

And we see clear indications of megalomania. One thing I’ve noticed for example, whenever Putin gives interviews these days he’s usually seated on a raised platform or seat of some kind…A tactic long used by royalty I might add. He’s also taken to building many extravagant palaces for himself, the latest being part of the Sochi games construction projects.

And there’s have been numerous “suspicious” deaths of his opponents, including those of Litvinenko and Berezovsky within the UK. As for the media, as I mentioned in a prior post, the Russian media these days is about as fair and balanced as that under the soviets. Reporters without Borders rates Russia under Putin as one of the most dangerous places to be a journalist.

And in Crimea we saw one of the other hallmarks of a dictatorship, that of a rigged ballot to give them the veneer of democratic legitimacy. It is for good reason that many are deeply sceptical of the supposed margin of victory in the Crimean “referendum” of 96%, with a turnout of 89%…considering that about 40% of the population (ethnic Tartars and Ukrainians) were boycotting the poll. And of course this poll gave only two options, neither of which offered the option of staying part of Ukraine!

Ultimately we need to realise that power has gone to Putin’s head and Europe has a megalomaniac dictator on its borders, likely surrounded by a horde of his cronies who are either too afraid to criticise him, or too busy making money off the back of his regime to care. Russia is not so much a rogue state, but as one author has described it as “a mafia state” where Putin is the Cap di tutti Capi.

Now it’s bad enough having such tyrants in charge of some African country or oil rich emirate, but having a dictator like this in charge of a sizable army, gas & oil reserves and nuclear weapons is not good for world security. Already NATO are supposedly weighting up their options.

And what will be worrying NATO is the knowledge that you can count on one hand the number of tyrants who have gone from power willingly. Most have either been hounded from office by a popular uprising, as occurred in Serbia. Or the dictator has been forced from power by civil war, as is currently ongoing in Syria. And indeed recall the whole reason there is a Syrian civil war is thanks to Putin (otherwise its likely he’d have been ousted sometime ago, much like Gaddafi) and one of the primary concerns was the fate of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles in the event of a power vacuum.

In short this can all only end badly for Russia. While Putin might be able to maintain his cult of personality through the good economic times, he’ll struggle to do so when inevitably these sanctions start to bite and the Russian economy starts to suffer. And at this point its difficult to predict the end game for his regime.

Again, one does not need to dress up in khaki and invade Poland to earn the label “dictator“. All one needs to do is show a completely disregard for all the checks and balances on political power intended to stop one person becoming too powerful. Which even the ancient Greeks, in the world’s first democracy(ish!) realised, was exceptionally dangerous.

Viva la Vida

I’ve been reading a book by journalist David Wallechinsky in which he profiles tyrants and dictators both past and present. One can see many common strands of behaviour among tyrants. Suppression of human rights, use of death squads to silence opponents and torture are all too common.

Bizarre behaviour
But another trend he identifies is the tendency to pass bizarre laws. For example, Ne Win, the former dictator of Burma, once ordered all vehicles to start driving on the right one morning (meaning bus passengers must get on and off buses in the middle of the street!). The late dictator of Turkmenistan, Niyazov passed all sorts of strange and bizarre laws, ranging from the banning of lip synching, smoking (only after he had to quit for health reasons), dogs, long hair and ballet.

Gaddafi, never to be outdone in weirdness, once ordered all Libyans to start breeding chickens, even those living in apartments (and presumably making jokes about not counting chickens before they’ve hatched were banned too!).

In another example Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov has this strange thing about keeping lions and tigers as pets and has also passed laws that include banning of energy drinks, although murdering and torture of his opponents is still apparently legal.

Meglomania is another all too common trait. Lukashenko of Belorussia insists that he be called “Batka” (dad) by Belorussians. In another example, Niyazov had the month of January renamed after him (and April after his mother, plus September after a book he wrote…which is required reading for anyone joining the civil service!).

In Africa, Obiang Nguema (the dictator of Equatorial Guinea) has claimed to be “in permanent contact with the almighty”. While in Cameron (the country not “call me dave” ;D) under Paul Biya, it is reported that one cannot get a job with the state, even that of a lowly police officer, without “you have to show that you support the president actively, that you love him and his party”.

And of course we have the squandering of public funds. Niyazov (again!) for example had a 12 metre high gold statue of himself erected on a platform that rotated so that it always faced the Sun.

The Kim’s of North Korea have spent billions of their impoverished countries money on a grand capital with numerous gaudy landmarks, vast (largely empty) skyscrapers and vast boulevards (in a country where practically nobody is allowed to drive).

Saudi Arabia under the house of Saud, is considered so institutionally corrupt (regularly topping the poll for Transparency International) most companies doing business in the kingdom have to set aside hundreds of millions in their budget to pay for kickbacks and bribes.

Similarly Karimov, the dictator of Uzbekistan, was lambasted in the wikileaks diplomatic cables for squandering most of his country’s wealth on himself and his family, notably his daughter, described as “the most hated person in the country” by the diplomatic cables.

Suppression of the Media
Dictators also have a habit of suppressing the media and tend not to be terribly happy with those who criticise the regime. For example in Laos, under the communist dictator Sayasone, it is illegal to “propagate information or opinions that weaken the state or slander the state”. Lukashenko once threatened to “wiring the necks” or protestors. A law in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe is so broad that merely making a statement such as “don’t be a thinkhead like Mugabe” to a friend on a bus can get you imprisoned.

A good example of the effects of this media manipulation can be seen via the ongoing saga over the missing Malaysian Airliner. There have been some slightly bizarre reactions from the Chinese relatives, with some convinced the airliner is okay or not able to understand why they’ve been searching in the wrong place. Some have threatened to go on hunger strike, as if that is somehow going to magically make the airliner (or more than likely now its wreckage) appear.

Of course the problem here is that the Chinese are used to being lied to by their government or have facts hidden from them, as much for their own protection as to hide the bungling incompetence of the Communist party. While we in the West are well used to seeing politicians running around with they’re hair on fire or standing around in the middle of a crisis looking stupid (G. W. Bush was particularly skilled at this one!), Chinese citizens are not.

Elections – Tyrant style
It is quite common for dictators to try and justify their actions with a veneer of democratic legitimacy by holding highly suspect “elections” or referendums. Such “elections” tend to be passed with results of +90%, e.g. Obiang’s “election” in 2002 saw him get 97.1% of the vote, Niyazov 99.5%, Karimov 90% and Saddam out did them all with 100%.

Such results are usually borne out by the fact that the ego of most dictator’s cannot stand the notion that someone might actually disagree with them. I mean, one suspects that David Cameron is all too aware that a sizeable proportion of the British population regard him as an upper class twit and would sooner eat a ballot paper than vote for him (hence why his tactic is to ignore them and try to bribe the rest of the country with tax cuts while blaming everything bad on Nick Clegg, the EU and immigrants). But dictators cannot tolerate the idea of any form of opposition, failing to realise the total hypocrisy that this reveals of themselves and their regime.

Psychology of the Dictator
But what goes through the mind of a dictator? Why do they do it? In some cases it’s because they are basically evil cruel bastards (Francisco Nguema and Duvalier are good examples of this), with little thought for anyone. Many are clearly vain and insecure egomaniac’s. In other cases they are simply deluded fools surrounded by a bunch of cronies and yes men who won’t dare not tell them the truth.

Nicolae Ceaușescu the late dictator of Romania is a classic case study here. He was apparently oblivious to how much he was universally hated by his people until the 21st of December 1989, when in the midst of a mass propaganda rally, with the Warsaw pact imploding around him, he was booed off the balcony by the crowd (see here). His regime, once one of the most iron fisted of the Soviet bloc effectively ceased to be right there and then. He was captured an executed by partisans a few days later, still largely at a loss as to why he was loathed so much. Similarly the downfall of Erich Honecker’s East Germany is another classic example of a deluded dictator unaware of how is universally loathed, suddenly learning the truth the hard way.

Overthrowing dictators
Unfortunately the overthrow of dictatorships isn’t easy. More than a few have been replaced by a regime not much different from the one before. Perhaps a more relevant question is to ask how to stop dictators achieving power.

In this regard, Wallechinsky considers G. W. Bush (then in power at the time of publication) as a sort of “special case” as Bush demonstrated many of the same tactics of a dictator. Be it a contempt for human rights laws (such as prohibitions on torture), rendition of suspects, secret trials (or imprisonment without trails), starting wars illegally, disputed elections (Florida and all that), manipulation of the media (Foxnews and the swiftboating of John Kerry) and corruption (Cheney’s secret energy committee the minutes of which are still unpublished and the matter of many billions of money for Iraqi reconstruction that just disappeared).

While Bush didn’t become a dictator as such, he shows the dangerous slippery slope which occurs when you allow any leader to ignore or violate those all-important checks and balances. Clearly maintaining these are the best way of protecting people from tyranny.

As for those dictators already in power, well most won’t be there were it not for the support by the West and other major powers. An economic boycott (either an official one or a public unwillingness to shunt said nations products) could also serve to put pressure where it is needed. And also there is the international criminal courts. Seeing the likes of the rogues I’ve mentioned brought to account would certainly act as a firm deterrent to the rest.

Putin Crimea Gambit

I’m not usually one to agree with William Hague, but when he describes what’s going on in Crimea as “Europe’s biggest crisis for a century” he ain’t half wrong. Of course, part of the problem here is that Putin is surrounded by a circle of yes men who won’t dare criticize him (lest they get whipped by Cossacks, or invited out for sushi).

Military Matters
For example, one of the unintended consequences of his actions might well be that Putin has drastically altered the strategic balance within Europe…to the detriment of Russia! Indeed short of getting out a shot gun and blowing his and every general in the army’s toe’s off, one can scarcely thing of a more effective way of crimpling his own military, long term.

As I mentioned in a prior post, his actions raise the risk that Ukraine will now join NATO, along with other Western Allies in the region, such as Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Georgia. This would drastically alter the balance of forces within Europe. NATO air power would now be within range of most of central Russia, even Moscow itself. One scenario I doubt the Russians have ever war gamed is having to maintain air superiority over their own capital.

While Russia has a large airforce, the bulk of this is made up of obsolete cold war era jets (MIG 25’s & 31’s, SU-27’s, etc.).These are no match for the latest in Western 4.5th generation and 5th generation fighters. Any time such aircraft have encountered modern Western Jets, they’ve generally been hacked from the sky. While Russia has a small force of its own 4.5 gen aircraft, they have less than a hundred of them…versus a combined NATO armada of around a thousand 4.5th or 5th gen aircraft and many thousands more 4th gen fighters in support!

Thus you don’t have to be a military genius to figure out that in the event of a shooting war, NATO would quickly gain air superiority over most of central Russia. Russia’s remaining air, naval and ground forces would then be forced to flee out of range of NATO air strikes (which would mean leaving most of Russia’s major cities undefended), or else face destruction and ultimately defeat.

Now the Russians will probably point to their nuclear forces to save them from this. This is also what worries me, as Putin’s actions in Crimea threaten to undermine the effectiveness of the Russia’s nuclear deterrent, and that in of itself raises the risks of a future nuclear war as a result.

Russia has, since the 1980’s, largely adopted a second strike policy (as have the Indians, Pakistani’s and until recently the Chinese). This was largely due to the fact that Russian missiles lack the accuracy of Western missiles and NATO’s sophisticated early warning system means it’s highly unlikely the Russians could launch a credible first strike without suffering annihilation in the insuring counterstrike.

However a crucial requirement for a second strike policy is the assurance that your missiles will still be there to be fired after the enemy has attacked. A Russia ringed by NATO, particularly when you consider there are gaps in the Russians own early warning systems, is at risk of NATO trying to knock out their arsenal, possibly using conventional forces (e.g. stealth aircraft or drones), before they can push the button in Moscow. Now while I doubt the Obama’s of this world would give such an order, I’m not so sure about the Sarah Palin’s or the Nigel Farage’s. And that’s exactly the sort of scenario which could start WW3!

This is why the Cuban missile crisis was such an issue, as the Americans argued the Russians putting missiles that close to their shore undermined their second strike capability (of course the Russians pointed out they were ones to talk what with American missiles in Turkey!). Similarly G. W. Bush’s ABM plan was so contentious because it was feared it would undermine the Russian’s ability to launch a 2nd a strike. This crisis was only defused when it became obvious that the ABM system in question didn’t actually work properly!

However, the US and Israel have been busy developing their ABM systems. And if they could mount them sufficient close to their Russian launch sites, its possible they could counter much of Russia’s nuclear deterrent. Indeed Russia’s own 2010 assessment of “threats” to its own deterrent lists just the sort of scenario’s I paint above.

Of course there are solutions for the Russians. Developing and building more advanced fighter aircraft. Developing more accurate long range missiles which can counter ABM systems. However that’s going to cost money, lots of it. Just look at the amounts the West spent on mega-projects such as the F-22 (total cost to date: $62 billion!) or the Eurofighter. Consider that the UK is planning to spend £20 billion just upgrading the existing Trident system (which I still say is a waste of money).

Now while there were many reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union, ranging from mismanagement of its agricultural policy, failed economic policies and awful politics (as it’s been said, the Soviet union collapsed like a house of cards because it was a house of cards), as well as the effect of a sudden drop in oil prices in the late 80’s. But trying to compete with the West on military spending was another contributory factor, one I doubt Putin’s in a mood to repeat.

Its about the Economy: Stupid
And the cautionary tale of the Soviet’s collapse was probably why the Russian stock market has tanked recently. By sending tanks into Ukraine Putin has sent a signal to the markets that Russia is not a safe place to do business. And as a result, the markets have panicked and begun to pull out.

While Putin thinks he’s safe from Western sanctions due to the fact he supplies Europe with natural gas, he perhaps forgets that the money to pay for that gas flows through New York, Frankfurt and London. And while the EU might not impose sanctions it might not have too if the markets vote with their feet and start pulling money out of the country.

And as far as that Gas is concerned, Putin turning off the gas isn’t a decision he can take lightly. Obviously if he doesn’t supply the gas, Europe ain’t going to pay for it, and he’s still going to have to pay the workers. All the pipeline’s run West to Europe, so its not as if he can just start selling it to the Chinese. And of course we’d be assuming the Chinese are as dumb as us Europeans, as to allow themselves to become dependent on Russia for their energy (why do you think China’s talking about building hundreds of GW’s worth of wind and solar power? Too save the whales? Or because they don’t want to be dependent on foreign energy imports?).

If that doesn’t get the message across, lets look at another example. Russia’s space industry. The Russians, along with the Ukrainians are supplying rocket parts and engines to a number of Western companies, such as Sea-launch, Boeing (Atlas V first stage) and OSS. They also now launch Soyuz rockets from French Guiana. I’m doubtful how long these relationships will last, given the situation in Ukraine. No doubt the directors of these firms I mentioned are having crisis meetings as we speak looking for alternative hardware suppliers who aren’t Russian or Ukrainian.

So while many Russian industrial workers or oil and gas workers might be moved by nationalistic fervour to support Putin, that novelty factor might start to wear off rather rapidly once their pay checks start bouncing. And once his general realise the mess he’s gotten them into he won’t be able to rely on their support anymore. And there is history here. Several of Putin’s allies ranging from Yanukovych and Milošević were ultimately brought down, not by NATO air strikes, but because their policies wrecked the economy and the people drove them from power.

Putin’s his foot in it…again!

I didn’t really follow the winter Olympics much, indeed my most enduring image was that of the pussy riot “band” being whipped by Cossacks!

I say “band” because I don’t think it would be fair to consider them a legitimate pop group. I mean has anyone ever heard them sing? They’re worse than the sort who show up on the X-factor. If Simon Cowell ever hears them I think he’ll probably just die on the spot for internal haemorrhaging :oops:.

Consequently if Pussy riot were protesting against, say Cameron and Clegg, chances are they would simply ignore these protests, as would the media, save when they need one of those “and finally tonight” stories about the daft dog who dances. Of course in Putin’s Russia, where dissent of any kind is to question the unfathomable wisdom of the supreme leader its a little different.

However the cult of personality that surrounds Putin is simply not compatible with the world of social media and twitter. This isn’t the 1970’s and he can’t simply disappear people into the Gulag, nor censor all articles that portray the leader in an unfavourable light. One need only look at the backlash to Thatcher’s cult of personality for proof of this, as witnessed by the fact that street parties were held to celebrate her death in several parts of the UK, not to mention a successful campaign to make “ding dong the witch is dead” number one in the charts.

And one need only look to the Ukraine to see the consequences of how and why Putin’s and the Kremlin’s tactics are counter productive. It is unthinkable that the Ukrainian president would have gone along with any violence towards protesters without first getting the nod from Moscow. Indeed with him increasingly looking like Putin’s lackey, its increasingly probable that the shooting of protesters was the Kremlin’s idea to begin with.

However these heavy handed tactics have backfired spectacularly, with Ukraine going from pro-Russian to anti-Russian in the space of a week. It is essentially a repeat of the scenario in Iran in the 1970’s where America backed the murderous Shah, only for him to be overthrown and Iran to go from America’s strongest Middle East ally to a nation where the phrase “death to America” was practically the national motto.

And Moscow seems to be compounding their mistake by attempting to take over the Crimea, without first considering the consequences of that. And those consequences are the very strong possibility of Ukraine applying for EU membership. Something that many, even pro-European reformers in the Ukraine would considered fanciful a few weeks, if not days ago. And if the Crimea were to be annexed by the Russians, its almost certain that Ukraine would be seeking membership of NATO too.

Such a turn of events would be the stuff of nightmares for any Russian general. Suddenly their strategic port of Sevastopol would be a few minutes flying time from a NATO airbase. NATO would get a foothold in the Black Sea, rendering Russia’s Black sea fleet a “fleet in being”…that “being” likely lasting about ten minutes into any shooting war with NATO!

Worse the whole of the Russian heartland, including Moscow and the Kremlin itself would now be within bombing range of NATO fighter aircraft and cruise missile forces. Russian miltary planners have never considered the possiblity of having to ensure air superiority over Moscow itself, as they have only a handful of the latest 4.5 generation and 5th generation fighters compared to what Western airforces possess.

In short, Russia’s only defence against the West would be its strategic nuclear forces, and if the Americans ever got to deploy their latest ABM systems (or the Israeli’s) that close to Russia’s likely launch sites, its questionable how effective those forces would actually be.

In short, Putin’s Kermlin cronies need to wander down to the nearest café and discover what this much fangled “internet” thing is all about, before they get themselves into a mess they can’t get out of.