The Failure of Putin

Colin Liddell

Note: It is remarkable that since this article was published, Putin has avoided further failure and has instead enjoyed great success by following exactly the path outlined here. 

Things either have logical coherence or they don’t. If they do, then there is a high chance that every component element is sound and true, each validated by the other. If they don’t have logical coherence, then obviously something is false and wrong, and we can begin the search for the flawed or broken element.

For a long time, those on the alternative right have tried to view Putin as some kind of saviour, as a force for traditionalism and a much-needed opponent to a globalist West run amok. But who is there among us who has not had his doubts? We all have, and those who haven’t can be dismissed as idiots or unthinking Slavophiles.

But although many have had their doubts about the Putin-as-saviour narrative, much of this has focused on rather superficial criticisms that fail to tackle the fundamentals of Putinism. So, before proceeding to the real problems, I will deal with some of these lesser issues.

On the surface, the clearest evidence that Putin is not “quite right” from an alternative right viewpoint is his suppression of Russian nationalist groups and the thought crime laws he has introduced that are aimed at suppressing historical viewpoints critical of the Red Army and the Holocaust/ Holohoax narrative, something which can now get you more time in jail than desecrating an Orthodox church. Many accusations of Putin being a secret Zionist tool originate from this.

I don’t deny the possibility that there might be Zionist influence in the Kremlin, but there are other possible explanations for Putin’s suppression of nationalism and historical revisionism that are in accord with the need to create a strong Russian state. As a de facto multicultural state, Russia has to be wary of straight-forward ethno-nationalism, as the more it galvanizes the more it also divides and alienates important fringe populations.

On the historical front, excuses can also be found for Putin’s actions. For a state to be strong, it needs to believe in itself and its history. One reason why former major powers like Britain, Germany, and Japan are comparatively weak nowadays is because they have lost faith in their own histories.

Germany is the best example, but Japan also was presented with a narrative – in keeping with the more pacifist parts of its Buddhist culture – that its trajectory from the 1890s to the 1940s was “evil” or at least “unfortunate.” There are now signs that the nation is beginning to shake off these mental shackles. A more truly schizophrenic case is presented by Britain, a country that perversely prides itself on the few years it spent fighting Hitler, while deploring much of the rest of its history because this is “tainted” by the evils of slavery and colonialism. The main point, however, is that unless a country believes in itself as an historical entity, its political and geopolitical mojo can be greatly compromised. For this reason there is some rationale for modern Russia’s despicable hagiography of its vile Soviet past.


The past that Putin is pimping

Some would argue – I include myself in this group – that Russia could best be strengthened by a thoroughgoing uprooting and denunciation of its Soviet Past, but, in the short term, it would present many problems. Modern Russians would have to saddle themselves with more guilt than modern Germans do, because the evils of the Soviet Union were much greater than anything done by the Nazis, even if you accept the Holocaust narrative with knobs on.

In such a hypothetical case, Russians would have to consider the possibility that such unique evil as represented by the Soviet Union must somehow be rooted in the dark Russian soul. Or else they would have to make the case that through an aberration of history and a mass lack of agency, starting around 1917, their society was hijacked by a small, malevolent, alien minority – the Jews – a narrative that, although partially true would still place Russia in a morally humiliating and feeble position vis-à-vis the West.

Such a narrative would also be highly divisive, as many of the elites in Russia have connections to the old Soviet regime, Putin being the most obvious example, or have parents or grandparents who were implicated in or benefitted from that evil state. Alas, those who were on the other side of the divide are unlikely to even have descendants, having ended their days on pointless infrastructure projects like the White Sea–Baltic Canal or providing point-blank shooting practice for the Cheka and its subsequent rebrandings.

Although I don’t agree with it, there is nevertheless a reasonably strong case for Russia to embrace its long, malformed, and unsightly history. In related news, the Elephant Man should take the bag off his head and smile more often.

Losing by Winning

Leaving propaganda and PR to one side, however, let us now consider the essence of Putinism. The myth is presented in the visual meme of Putin simultaneously playing chess with a range of rival Western leaders. The message here is that Putin is a geopolitical genius, capable of running rings around his rivals. These claims are now looking extremely shaky with the collapse of the rouble in recent days, but this is just one more fallout from a geopolitical policy that offered tactical gains while ensuring strategic defeat.

Putin Chess Player

The myth

The reason Russia is in such trouble now is that the policies that Putin has pursued since he was enraged by the popular uprising in Kiev early this year, rather than challenging the power of the West, have actually ended up supporting it. As a judo aficionado, Putin should realize that if you push directly at a larger opponent, you are more likely to help him keep his balance than throw him off it. In effect, this is what Putin has been doing with the West.

The West is a complex economic and geopolitical entity and has two main parts – Europe and America. This is signposted in its military alliance – NATO – which draws attention to the geographical feature that separates these two, roughly equivalent parts. The global dominance of the West is based on a simple economic fact: two of the three giant economic blocs in the world are politically aligned. As long as the EU and the USA are tightly bound together to the point where they share a similar geopolitical outlook, the West will prevail. China is the only major economic counterweight, and that is only recently. Also it is more dependent on the West than the West is on it.

But the West is only at its strongest if directly challenged. Because it is a composite entity, there are also inherent divisions within it of a political and economic nature. We can see this in trading, monetary, and welfare policies, as well as differing approaches to the Middle East, where the USA blindly supports Israel, while the Europeans veer towards a more common sense position that also recognizes the interests of the Palestinians and the feelings of the Arab street.

The more the West is directly challenged, the more these divisions close up; the less it is directly challenged the more they open up.

So, what has the great genius Putin been doing? Yes, he has been following the path of most resistance, ramming his head into the Ukraine, promoting narratives of its dissolution and floating the idea of annexing territory up to the Moldovan border. This has put up the backs of the Europeans and invoked the ghosts of Soviet tyranny, reminding Europeans of just what a good idea the alliance with America once was.

Putin’s present economic problems are the direct result of this move, but even if Russia was economically ironclad, pushing into the Ukraine would be a loser strategy with any tactical gains being more than offset by strategic losses as the West became more powerfully united against the threat from the East.

This is a pity because Putin has not been without golden opportunities to show real geopolitical judo skills. In the last few years, two main geopolitical arenas have been open to him: one in the Ukraine, the other in the Middle East.

Seizing the Crimea, early in the year, was a relatively good move – or to be more precise, a large tactical victory for a small strategic defeat. The province was largely Russian and was almost an island so there were few border issues, and it salved Russian pride in the aftermath of the revolution in Kiev. The peninsula had also only been connected to the Ukraine administratively for a comparatively short time. Reasonable people everywhere could accept such a move, even if they didn’t like it. Played the right way, Putin could have lulled Western European elites back to sleep, and waited for the inherent divisions in the West to widen again. But instead he embarked on the murky and difficult-to-end conflict in the Donbas.

The justification for this war – the right of local ethnic minorities to self determination – is a good and interesting idea, but apply it to the rest of Russia and the country loses about 30% of its territory overnight. By making such a move, Putin has in effect strengthened a principle that works to the dissolution of the Russian empire – and it cannot even be said with certainty that the two provinces would have voted to have joined Russia! That decision was taken away from them by men with guns.

Cat Ukraine

Playing cat and mouse in the Ukraine

From a Russian point of view, the Ukraine is a strategic self-defeating mechanism. Any tactical gains Putin makes on the ground around Donetsk, or by threatening the existence of the Ukraine, simply strengthens the Western alliance and the interdependence of its two great parts. By strengthening the West in this way, Putin also threatens the continued existence of Russia as an independent polarity. While Putin has been quick to clamp down on Russian nationalists, he has given more liberal elements – except blatant homosexualists – a free ride. There are still strong liberal elements in Russian society, especially in the business community, who see their country’s destiny as joining the globalized West. Russia’s recently demonstrated economic fragility will only strengthen these elements and allow them to appeal to other segments of society.

But the main point to always bear in mind for Russa is that as long as Europe and North America are banded together, Russia is doomed to secondary status in any global equation, and the globalist system will remain in force.

Rather than the mistaken Eurasianist policy that Russia has been following in one form or another since the time of Bismarck, what it needs is an Atlanticist policy, a policy, in short, that seeks to make the Atlantic into a geopolitical fact.

The alliance of the West exists to eradicate the fact of the North Atlantic’s existence and align the twin pillars of the West’s global hegemony. This is even encoded in the main symbol of Western power, the almighty dollar sign ($), with its twin parallel lines (||) entwined together by the ‘S’ of the great world serpent. Russian policy should always aim to dis-entwine these twin pillars. Putin could do well to study the Aesop’s fable of The North Wind and the Sun. Pushing into the Ukraine, even at the relatively cautious rate that he has been doing it, is a chill breeze that works against Europe divesting itself of its pro-American garments.

The Significance of Bush and Obama

If Putin really were the great geopolitical genius and nemesis of the West that he has been made out to be, he would leave the Ukraine alone, religiously respecting its borders and supping vodka with whoever the Maidan mob threw up.

He would also do all he could to show what a decent and reliable chap he is, and to reassure the Merkels, Hollandes, and Camerons that their Eastern flank rested on the edge of benevolent entity that accepted much, if not all, of their cosy liberal morality. And then he would look elsewhere – to the fissures and breaking points of the Western alliance. These lie in the Middle East.

The secret of Obama’s presidential selection was simple. It was a reaction by the geopolitical consciousness of the West to the increasing alienation between its twin pillars, Europe and the USA.

Much of this had to do with America’s Middle Eastern policy, with its clunky attempts to demonize, bomb, invade, and Westernize parts of the world far beyond its legitimate area of interests. At the deep level of collective unconsciousness, America’s wars in the Middle East also invoked Europe’s own demonization, bombing, invasion, and Americanization in WWII and its aftermath. This was why there was such a powerful and visceral reaction against it, so that these wars had to be hard sold to Europeans with blatant lies, media overkill, and political manipulation in the face of million-man peace marches.

With the Soviet threat gone, Europe was finally awakening and emotionally retreating from America. This is why these wars – relatively unimportant in themselves – rankled so deeply with many Europeans and stimulated that great upsurge of anti-Americanism, for which the Bush years will be mainly remembered.

Obama 2008

The inexplicable popularity of Obama in Europe finally explained.

By the end of Bush’s twin terms, the European loathing of America was deep and intense. Putting someone similar to Bush into the White House would not work. Obama’s main value was that he was the anti-Bush, a totemic signal of a complete change of direction that could effectively undercut a lot of this anti-Americanism, while also generating a feel good factor with Europe’s vaguely left-of-centre balance of power. After 50 years of being “America’s nigger,” Europeans finally felt represented in the Whitehouse, and the ‘S’ entwined its grip tightly around the twin pillars once again.

Open Goal

But while America’s attempt to reorganize the Middle East in accord with the notions of the Neocons evoked a deep, negative, atavistic response from Europeans, the other important point to bear in mind is the massive degree to which these policies failed on the ground.

At the time there were constant invocations of the example of America successfully democratizing “former fascist states” like Germany and Japan. Afghanistan and Iraq were supposed to follow this simple pattern. What a joke this now seems. On every level – economic, social, political, and geopolitical – America’s attempt to remake the Middle East has failed.

It is this failure that is the best point at which to attack America, yet Putin has failed to capitalize on this open goal. America’s Middle Eastern foreign policy is the point at which it most diverges from its European partners. It therefore stands to reason that the more Middle Eastern affairs are activated in a geopolitical sense, the greater the divisions will be between America and Europe, and the greater the strategic benefit to Russia.

Russia has also been dealt an extremely favourable hand. While America maintains close ties with the anachronistic Gulf monarchies, Russia has close ties with neo-traditionalist Iran and secular modernist Syria, relatively broad-based states. Shiite Iraq naturally fits into this alliance, which, if it could be consolidated, could put enormous pressure on the Gulf Monarchies, undermining American hegemony and pushing up oil prices as well, to Russia’s obvious benefit.

For this to happen, Russia merely has to help Syria and Iraq destroy ISIS, a move that would be universally popular, except with those whose direct geopolitical interests were affected – US elites, Israel, and the Gulf States.

ISIS could easily be crushed by sending a few thousand crack Russian troops to spearhead the Syrians, Iraqi Shiites, Kurds, and Iranians who are already fighting them. The Russian lives that are being wasted in the Donbas could achieve a massive geopolitical victory if deployed further south, against the feeble and unwarlike Middle Easterners.

But what is holding Putin back from such a promising geopolitical course that would prise apart the West and upend the US? Mainly it is his idée fixe on the Ukraine. This not only sucks him into a messy war in Eastern Ukraine, it also distorts Russian policy towards countries in the vicinity of the Ukraine, like Hungary and Turkey.

While Putin is seen as a firm supporter of President Assad of Syria, this is a hollow image. He is at best ambivalent. The main reason for his lukewarm support is because Putin is also seeking to cultivate ties with Turkey, although some people also mention a desire to appease Israel.

Recently Russia was forced to scrap its South Stream pipeline project to supply gas to southern Europe without crossing Ukraine. This was due to EU objections. Putin immediately named Turkey as its preferred partner for an alternative pipeline, with the usual sweetener of large discounts. The undue deference that Putin is showing to Turkey reveals that even his Middle Eastern policy is entirely subordinated to his Ukrainian policy. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that he doesn’t have a Middle Eastern policy, only a Middle Eastern adjunct to his Ukrainian policy.

For Putin, Turkey as an important potential ally and counterweight to the West. This is something that Eurasianists like Alexandr Dugin have talked about, suggesting that Putin is closely following Eurasianist theory here. Turkey is, of course, a traditional rival of Syria and a tacit supporter of ISIS, so this cuts directly across the much more promising Russia-Syria-Iraq-Iran axis.

Putin’s recent moves suggest that he is no longer the Bismarck of the 21st century – if he ever was. Nor is he a geopolitical judo master, skilfully using the bulk of his opponents against them. Instead, he seems to a pedantic politician, emotionally driven, with fixed ideas and a naive faith in a crudely revanchist Eurasian doctrine that is guaranteed to bolster the architecture of his own inferiority.