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The Corner

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On the Eurasian Express



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The New Republic’s Julia Ioffe tries to keep pace with events in Moscow. There’s been a massive purge of what remained of the independent media, and even the liberals’ “tiny Internet ghetto” is no longer safe.

And in between the grotesqueries, she picks up on the deeper undercurrents:

Vladimir Yakunin, head of Russian Railways, the biggest company in the country, proposed spending “trillions of rubles” on a “Trans-Eurasian Development Belt” that would take certain non-Western, non-Anglo-Saxon values into account. Yakunin added that the West had foisted onto Russia a form of economics . . . that was all growth for the sake of growth, and which annihilated Russia’s intrinsic spirituality.

That’s an old tune in the “Third Rome,” however hypocritically sung (Yakunin is said to be a billionaire) with echoes of Marx, Russian Orthodoxy, and for that matter and from further afield, of the ideology of Vichy (a regime forever railing at the wickedness of “Anglo-Saxon” finance), not to speak of some of the commentary (“the idolatry of money” and so on) that we have been hearing from the man that John Boehner has just invited to speak to a joint session of Congress.

The irrational moves politics as much, or more, as the rational.  

As this reminds us (my emphasis):

Putin’s approval ratings have grown to their highest level in three years. Nearly two-thirds of Russians think there is no legitimate government in Kiev and that there is anarchy on the streets of Ukraine. Over half said that moving Russian troops into Crimea was legal; of those, two-thirds agree that this is basically Russian land. Nearly half of those polled said that a Russian presence in the area brings stability, and that Crimea should be brought into the fold of the Russian Federation.

And, in a way, so does this:

The economic elites most likely to suffer from a plummeting ruble and sanctions have been shut out of the decision-making process.

Something that, in turn, fits in with what Mark Galeotti is describing in Foreign Policy:

Putin’s regime was never as unreservedly autocratic as it often seemed. Putin was first among equals, deriving much of his power precisely from his ability to manage, balance, and build coalitions within a varied and fragmented elite. Since his return to the presidency in 2012, he has become increasingly isolated, apparently by his own design. Bit by bit, this is eroding his position. But given that the controls on him were political rather than institutional, it leaves him virtually unconstrained at the moment.

Figures such as Alexei Kudrin, the former finance minister, and political technologist Vyacheslav Surkov — who once could tell him tough truths — fell from grace. The nationalists, bigots, and ex-spooks (often one and the same) who were always a part of his court, now seem to dominate it. People who understand the wider world end up relegated to simply executing the orders from the Kremlin.

Here in Moscow, for example, sources in the foreign ministry and the military make little secret that they were neither involved in the deliberations about Crimea nor have any real sense of where the Kremlin is taking them…..

Back to Ioffe:

This is all about intangibles, the things that reason can’t hook, the things impervious to logic and reasoning and even the cynical algebra of geopolitical interests. This is about pride and values and the Trans-Eurasian Development Belt.

And that’s bad news. Cynics know when to call a halt. Crusaders do not. 



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