Russia’s Surrealistic August

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By Brian Whitmore, EurasiaNet:

Russia appears to have survived August without a major catastrophe this year.

There have been no coups and no defaults. No submarines have sunk, no trains or shopping malls have been bombed, and no wars have started — well, at least no new ones.

There’s been plenty of silliness, to be sure: bulldozers running over forbidden goose meat in Tatarstan, the mass slaying of contraband Ukrainian ducklings in Belgorod, and a viral video of a crazed man (or good actor) sticking it to the West by destroying iPhones and iPads, just to name a few examples.

There have also been the routine exposes of the elite’s opulence, this time Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s $620,000 watch and lavish honeymoon on a yacht. And there were surprises, like the shock resignation of Vladimir Yakunin, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest cronies, as head of Russian Railways.

But if this August was largely uneventful, it has been marked, at least among the chattering classes, by a sense of foreboding.

Russia is stuck in a quagmire in eastern Ukraine. The economy is buffeted by falling oil prices, a sinking ruble, and Western sanctions. And the best the Kremlin can do is wage a war on foreign cheese.

This, together with signs of stress in the regime like Yakunin’s departure, have led many leading Russian commentators to conclude that things cannot continue as they are — and that something big just has to be coming soon.

Speaking to Ukraine’s Espreso TV, political analyst Andrei Piontkovskisaid “strange tectonic shifts are taking place around the Kremlin.” According to Piontkovski, “panic and confusion” are evident in the elite and “a showdown in the upper echelons of the authorities” is looming.

Likewise, Aleksei Venediktov, editor in chief of the Ekho Moskvy radio station, said Putin’s relationship with his inner circle has changed dramatically.

“The Kremlin’s towers are battling as always,” Venediktov told Novy Kaliningrad, using the euphemism for clan wars among the elite. “But if in the past these battles were waged for influence over the president, now they are being conducted over how to get away from him. This has to be done gracefully so one is not charged with desertion.”

And Valery Solovei, a professor at the elite Moscow State Institute of International Relations, suggested the whole thing was about to collapse.

“What I think is clear, and even inevitable, is the departure of the current political regime in the not-too-distant future,” Solovei wrote recently on his heavily followed Facebook page. “Its governance has been an absolute failure and this is gradually becoming evident to everybody. Even propaganda won’t save it. And the fall of the regime will likely be bloodless and banal.”

So are we on the verge of a palace coup? Is September the new August?

Who knows? Russia’s chattering classes are notoriously alarmist and the Kremlin’s inner sanctum, opaque in the best of times, is a virtual black hole today.

In recent years, the narrative on Russia has tended to swing between two extremes: Putin Is the Master of the Universe! and The Regime is About to Collapse!

The collapse narrative reigned during the mass protests of 2011-12, the master of the universe meme took hold following the annexation of Crimea and the patriotic wave that followed it.

And the surrealistic August we’ve just experienced has caused the pendulum to swing yet again. By Brian Whitmore. Originally published by EurasiaNet.org.

Not too long ago, the state-controlled energy conglomerate was one of the Kremlin’s most potent geopolitical weapons. Now it’s a financial shadow of its former self. What happened? Read… Russia’s Energy Giant Implodes

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  17 comments for “Russia’s Surrealistic August

  1. Michael Gorback
    Aug 31, 2015 at 6:00 pm

    Is this about Russia or did they take an article about the US and change a few words and names?

  2. Julian the Apostate
    Aug 31, 2015 at 6:18 pm

    I have to agree with you, Doc. Sounds like a cautionary tale to me…

  3. Stavros h
    Aug 31, 2015 at 7:35 pm

    Well, if Eurasia Net and the Euromaidanites in Kiev think (wish) that Russia is about to collapse (surrender) then I guess that it must be true.

    • Sep 1, 2015 at 12:22 am

      Surrender? Collapse? Did the author or anyone else say anything about surrender or collapse? What have you been smoking?

      • Stavros H
        Sep 1, 2015 at 12:55 am

        And I quote:

        “The collapse narrative reigned during the mass protests of 2011-12, the master of the universe meme took hold following the annexation of Crimea and the patriotic wave that followed it.

        And the surrealistic August we’ve just experienced has caused the pendulum to swing yet again.”

        Also: “panic and confusion” “Russia appears to have survived August”, “something big just has to be coming soon” or that the Kremlin inner circle that used to fight for the attention of the President now are fighting to get away from him, or: And Valery Solovei, a professor at the elite Moscow State Institute of International Relations, suggested the whole thing was about to collapse.

        “What I think is clear, and even inevitable, is the departure of the current political regime in the not-too-distant future,” Solovei wrote recently on his heavily followed Facebook page. “Its governance has been an absolute failure and this is gradually becoming evident to everybody. Even propaganda won’t save it. And the fall of the regime will likely be bloodless and banal.”

        So are we on the verge of a palace coup? Is September the new August?”

        If all of the above is not predicting imminent collapse, then I really do not know what is.

        • Sep 1, 2015 at 1:17 am

          The author is talking about a change in government, which happens periodically in other countries as well. The entire article is about a change in government and a political struggle within Russia, not a “collapse” or “surrender” of the country. These are two totally different things.

      • Stavros H
        Sep 1, 2015 at 1:29 am

        As for my use of the word “surrender”. Allow me to clarify. As the article above is clearly predicting/hoping for the fall of Putin, such an eventuality would be tantamount to surrender on the part of of Russia since this is the explicit goal of the NATO alliance.

  4. Stavros H
    Aug 31, 2015 at 11:02 pm

    I wanted to add one more thing. Websites like this or ZH, tend to doom-monger to en extreme degree. Sure there are problems in Russia, the USA Europe, Japan and China. In fact there are serious economic risk in every country or region on the planet! But there are also positives and they should be mentioned as well.

    If one keeps predicting recessions all the time, then one will be correct some of the time by definition.

    On the issue at hand, the western mainstream media tend to be (for their own self-serving reasons) extremely prejudiced against Russia, while most of the alternative media, tend to be doom-mongering on just about everything.

    In fact, what is very interesting today, is that the most optimistic people in relation to the future of capitalism are, wait for it, some hardcore Marxists who are wise enough to tell, that at some stage (once the overhang from the excess bubbles is worked out, and enough money has been piled up) a new cycle of capitalist upswing is probably bound to take place. This is of course quite uncertain, but is the most likely scenario.

    • Sep 1, 2015 at 12:24 am

      Did you even read the article? Apparently not.

      • Stavros H
        Sep 1, 2015 at 1:15 am

        I was making a general comment on many of the alternative news sources that tend to emphasize the negatives over the positives.

        I am generally sympathetic towards what is usually being posted here, but I was just making the point that there is certain bias towards negative news and analyses.

    • Colin
      Sep 1, 2015 at 7:18 am

      The real unemployment rate is over 10%, food stamps are up big time compared to pre-recession levels, new home sales are down drastically compared to pre-recession levels. What positives are you referring to?

  5. Mike R.
    Sep 1, 2015 at 7:26 am

    Russia has one big thing going for it. A bully United States. This alone has/will continue to unite the Russian people and provide some semblemnce of justification for their suffering.

    What does the US have? They’re trying to make Russia the big bad bulley, as usual. But that’s about it.

    • Merino
      Sep 2, 2015 at 4:15 am

      Quite right. Ordinary, and not so ordinary Russians were quite alarmed by the sanctions at first, but have settled down to see it all out now: like aerial bombardment in WW2, it achieves the opposite of what was intended – strengthened resistance.

      And real Russians are very patriotic and stubborn. ( Not the liberal sellers-out.) The WW2 myth is very central to their mental outlook.

      Now, if Putin fails to feed, employ, and keep warm the mass of the people, they will rebel, but not before; and least of all to play into the hands of their very obvious enemies in the West.

      The masses are patriotic, the intellectuals understand unsentimental realpolitik very well.

      Moreover, if the US aggression succeeds in overthrowing Putin having discredited him, by means of sanctions, the Ukraine, etc, they might get more than they bargained for: there are truly anti-Western elements in Russia who would not take further provocation lightly and might lose their heads.

  6. Julian the Apostate
    Sep 1, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    Stavros, I have heard this line of argument many times. I can count on the fingers of one hand the websites that are worth reading on this issue. You mentioned two of them. The rest of the financial media, though, usually just recites the talking points the government and the Fed give them. And don’t look now, Sir, but even they are sounding like ZH. We are after the truth here, Sir, and Mr. Richter always presents the data to back his claims, he never asks us JUST to take his word for it. The regular commenters on this site are from diverse backgrounds and different trades but every one of them is sharp as a tack and we do not suffer fools gladly. Just saying we have a doomsday bias doesn’t make it so. Present your evidence and we will consider it. Otherwise, as Jack Bauer says, you shouldn’t play with the adults.
    I am, etc. JULIAN

  7. randombypasser
    Sep 1, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    Greetings from Finland!
    This sounds so familiar, the Great Russian Regime Circus, on it’s never ending world tour.
    The main thing for (Russian) regime is to promise and deliver one to the people, and some other to elite. After the delivery regime starts embezzling with both groups so that soon neither cannot be sure of it’s status quo and what might be coming next.
    And as with any ruling regime, when one has domestic (political) problems one makes or takes some foreign thing to point one’s finger at and starts a some kind of campaign against that (Iraq, Ukraine, etc.).

  8. Secret Agent
    Sep 1, 2015 at 7:26 pm

    The plan is almost complete.
    1). Strangle Russia with sanctions
    2). Isolate it diplomatically
    3). Bankrupt it by collapsing oil prices
    4). Get it to squander precious resources in a prolonged border war
    5). Color revolution.

    The architects of this plan think they can get someone like Yeltsin back in power but the liberals are totally discredited. It’s more likely that someone like Streitlov the nationalist will come to power. They will not engage in diplomacy.
    Personally I think the plan will fail.

  9. Julian the Apostate
    Sep 1, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    Well said, Sir.

Comments are closed.