Sunday, July 20, 2014

Back to the Future: It's the Cold War All Over Again

Vladimir Putin: He'll sputter out just like the Soviet Union. Of course, it'll be messy.

I spotted this blog post by TPM's Josh Marshall, and I agree with his assessment: The shootdown of the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet over rebel-held eastern Ukraine is a game changer. Check the declining polls for Putin and Russia, before the shootdown. Imagine the polls now, especially as the rebels run roughshod over what should be a solemn duty to the dead and to the investigation of what caused this crime against humanity.

Though I don't respect California Senator Diane Feinstein as much as I did before she became such a mainstream centrist, I do agree with her that we've slipped back into full-on cold war with Russia. It certainly is back to the future on this one.

Commentators all over the map are fond of saying Russians are chess players, and so we should view Vladimir Putin's moves as carefully calculated. Yes, Putin may be playing well back on the Russian stage, but out in the world, Putin is single-handedly driving Russia's reputation into a ditch, one he won't easily extricate it from.

The world will soon accept that the state of things in eastern Ukraine are Putin's doing, and so is the fate of flight MH17. He as good as shot it down himself, he's that culpable. When you go around throwing bombs and one of them inadvertently causes death and mayhem, it's your show. Putin should know this by now.

I had imagined a few weeks back that he'd learned his lesson and backed off just in time. Then he thought, "Wait, I can get away with some more mischief before the West catches on." Trouble was, he was busted, and Obama slapped more sanctions on him, with the EU piling on just a little. Now, with the passenger-plane shootdown, Putin drowning in his own soup. He'll splash around for awhile, thinking he can play fast and loose when no one looking again, but that isn't going to work.

Why? The U.S. and Europe can ride out a bump in relations, but Russia can't. Its economy is dependent on Europe more than Europe is dependent on Russian oil, gas, and resources. Sure, Russia can make nice with China, but that only goes so far. Then it has to make nice with China, and  there can be high opportunity costs.

Undoubtedly, things won't go exactly the way I hope they will. Europe won't cut Russia off. But as things grow tougher in Russia, as they most certainly will, the Russian people may tire of Putin's counterproductive antics. He may then only get by with Stalinesque tactics. He may stay in power but lose the love of the people. Then he becomes a punk in the eyes of the world, including the Russian people.

Then it's only a matter of time. Putin -- and his brand of skinhead behavior -- will be on his way out, sooner or later.

You can lock up Pussy Riot, but you can't lock up your nation, forever.

Thanks to TPM's excellent reporting.

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