It used to be possible to understand Vladimir Putin, if not defend him, but now one has to wonder what his game plane is. Even assuming he wants to recreate the fabled glories of Greater Russia, his behavior doesn’t make sense. Perhaps he is just living day to day.
Now his government is kicking Catholic priests and nuns out of Crimea, following a law passed by the Russian Parliament that handicaps foreigners and takes a dim view of Russian citizens who deal with foreigners. In the case of Catholic priests in Crimea their “foreign” nationality is chiefly Ukrainian.
So first you engineer a fake revolt in Crimea and provide Russian special forces without Russian uniforms to operate it. Then, after the takeover, you kick out the “foreigners”–people who have lived there all or most of their lives. The Catholics now, the Tatars later.
What does President Putin get out of such high handed actions? His country is on the verge of recession because of falling oil prices and the sanctions provoked by his takeovers and intimidation of Western neighbors. Small banks are closing weekly and even formerly sympathetic overseas investors are being frightened off by Putin’s increasing bellicosity and unreasonableness. Tourism at Sochi, the costly resort renovated for the winter Olympics, is virtually defunct, and what business arriving there comes from Putin policies that subsidize it for Russian cronies and government employees. Crimea, too, is a burden, not a cash cow.
The conventional answer to my question as to what Putin hopes to get from all this is that he gets even greater popularity at home by stirring up Russian paranoia about other countries. It is a great and a traditional Russian distraction from a contracting economic future.
But surely he knows that a failing economy eventually will become obvious to the public at large, and that the blame will have to go to the leader in charge. He can’t at that time blame foreigners and suggest that attacking them will solve things.
Or can he?
One reason to think not is that a great many Russian citizens are Ukrainian by background, or partly so. They somehow don’t think of their kinsmen as “foreign.” People at some point won’t blame Ukraine, or the EU, or the US, but the Kremlin. Another reason to think his schemes are vain is that, despite his efforts, Putin has not closed down the Internet. Word gets out eventually.
The United States could have helped Russia more than when did when the Cold War ended. I’ve said that for years. But the blame for the declining prospects for Russia mainly rests with the authoritarian government that has developed there.