Bangkok, Thailand – He even shed tears – an unlikely remake of “From Russia with Love”. The Russian Orthodox Church – which steadfastly supported his campaign – was more than pleased. The tears of the Tsar were, in theory, in honour of the citizens of “a great country”, to whom he wants to guarantee “a decent life”. He’s back – with a vengeance; the gentler, softer Putinator.
The task at hand is formidable. His vertical model of democratic sovereignty – designed by former adviser Vladislav Surkov – is already being tweaked. He must simultaneously fight horrendous corruption, curb bureaucracy and discipline central and local oligarchies.
He must fight a non-stop brain drain of over two million Russians so far.
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He must maximise the returns of a staggering $1.5tn in oil exports since he first came to power in March 2000. That still has not been enough to substantially improve Russia’s infrastructure.
I vividly remember March 2000 in Moscow; no one could even imagine whether the Tsar would have the skills to lift Russia from the wobbly, Washington-dependent Yeltsin years – or would just slog on as a puppet.
And no one could ever imagine how he would break the bank with his now-legendary February 2007 speech in Munich – when he forcefully denounced the Bush administration’s warmongering and declared the end of a unipolar world.
Washington was blind with fury. After all, the new strategic design placed Russia as no more than a trusted vassal. Yet suddenly Russia hatched its own foreign policy. Russia was back reshaping its influence over the Central Asian “stans”. BRICS members Russia and China started getting closer and closer – when Russia was supposed to meekly accept NATO’s missile shield and be assigned to “contain” China.
No wonder Washington elites – and their hagiographers at Time Warner, News Corporation and The New York Times – are still puzzled or barely disguising their stupor.
It was Putin who almost single-handedly reorganised Russia as a state-controlled energy superpower; the Gazprom nation – the world’s top exporter of natural gas and its second-biggest exporter of oil, behind only Saudi Arabia.
Now the challenge is to offer a “decent life” to each and every Russian. According to Sberbank, Russia’s biggest lender, the Tsar will have to spend no less than $170bn a year over his six-year term. It will be tight – considering the bill for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and the 2018 World Cup.
“Putin sees Russia as open for business with everyone, never autarkic economically.”
And even tighter, when one considers that capital flight from Russia in 2011 was an astonishing $84bn. The Tsar badly wants to reverse it and make Russia attractive to foreign capital – jumping from a lowly 120th place to at least 20th.
The world according to Putin
There’s no hidden conspiracy. Putin’s essential worldview is here. No war on Iran. No “humanitarian” bombing. No predominance of “illegal instruments of soft power” (a new concept to smash the so-called colour revolutions). The main pillar of the world order remains “the time-honoured principle of state sovereignty”. Tell that the to Three Graces of R2P (“responsibility to protect”) – Clinton, Rice and Power.
Increased geopolitical coordination among the BRICS – the top emerging powers, which produce over 25 per cent of global GDP and rising – will be crucial. Putin qualifies the BRICS as “the most telling symbol of transferring from a unipolar to a more just world order”.
Putin sees Russia as open for business with everyone. Never autarkic economicall, Russia is more than ready to “catch the Chinese wind in the sails of our economy”.
Counteracting Washington’s Greater Middle East – which the Pentagon deploys from western Africa to Xinjiang in China – Putin will focus on a Eurasia that includes the whole of China, the southern rim of Central Asia, Iran and Southwest Asia (also known as the Middle East). India definitely likes the idea – because an intimate relationship with Moscow works as a counterweight to the Sino-Pakistani axis, while for Moscow a more assertive India in Central Asia works as a counterbalance to China.
Most of all, forget about the March 2009 Clinton-Lavrov “reset” of formerly Cold War US-Russia relations. Not by accident, the label on the button both of them pressed was translated into Russian as “overload” instead of “reset”!
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Washington and NATO – obsessed by missile defence – are bound to feel the full force of the Putinator. Although Putin admits that Obama’s idea of a “reset” may have been sincere, he bluntly dismisses the practical results: “In missile defence plans, it gave nothing.” That’s because the US is bent on acquiring “complete invulnerability” through missile defence, and is not guaranteeing in full that Russia will never be a target. Assuming there will be an Obama II, the reset will have to be reset all over again.
May you live in interesting times
Chris Hutchins, the biographer of Princess Diana and billionaire Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, and author of a new book – Putin that took six years of research to complete, swears that the Tsar is “the most interesting politician on the world stage today”.
Fans of carnivalesque Silvio “Bunga Bunga” Berlusconi – a close pal of Putin’s – may disagree. Yet the Tsar might indeed personify the ultimate Everyman, constantly surpassing his own limits, and so demonised in the West – but not in the East. Call Dr Freud – and blame it on Western fears of its own decline. In contrast, the Putinator is relentless in his self-belief – and in his blunt, stinging criticism of limitless Western hypocrisy.
Few Anglo-American elites – unlike Germany, with which Putin will solidify a strategic partnership – will ever give Putin credit for battling hard to position Russia in the emerging, multipolar world.
His previous motto – “stability” – worked out so well that most Russians never felt as stable since the fall of the Soviet Union. Now it feels like there may be a whiff of Rosa Luxembourg in the air. Reform or revolution?
Forget about a colour revolution in Russia. It will be reform, but under the Putinator’s terms.
Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times. His latest book is named Obama Does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).