Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Power Vertical

Making The World Safe For Dictators

War without end. (Cartoon by Sergei Elkin, RFE/RL)
War without end. (Cartoon by Sergei Elkin, RFE/RL)
By Brian Whitmore

A funny thing happened when the shaky ceasefire brokered by Russia and the United States kicked in this week in Syria.

Almost immediately, Moscow began re-escalating the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Pro-Moscow separatists increased their attacks near Luhansk, intensified their shelling of four villages in the Donetsk region, and moved 88 tanks up to the cease-fire line near Debaltseve.

It was all as cynical as it was predictable.

It's happened before, after all -- albeit in reverse: when Russia intervened in Syria's civil war back in September, it promptly de-escalated in Donbas.

Moscow's bait-and-switch tactics illustrate that Ukraine and Syria are two fronts in one war that Vladimir Putin's regime is waging on the West and on the post-Cold War international order.

Putin wants a world without rules, one where might makes right; One divided into spheres of influence in which great powers decide the fates of small nations.

The Daily Vertical: Putin's Bait And Switchi
March 04, 2016
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.

WATCH: The Daily Vertical -- Putin's Bait And Switch

And he wants to make the world safe for dictators -- whether they be Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic, Ukraine's Viktor Yanukovych, Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, or Syria's Bashar al-Assad.

"The Russian president wants to win the ideological debate with the West, by showing that democratic regime changes and humanitarian interventions sow chaos, and that supporting 'legitimate' regimes can be a way of resolving crises more fruitfully," Kadri Liik, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, wrote recently.

This means propping up autocrats, like Assad. And when that fails, as was the case with Yanukovych, it means manufacturing counterrevolution and mayhem.

In this sense, Putin has conflated the pro-Western colored revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia with the chaos that erupted in the Middle East in the aftermath of Arab Spring.

Putin's antirevolutionary fervor, and his desire to establish Russia as a conservative bastion of traditional values, is reminiscent of the Holy Alliance, the partnership among the monarchies of Russia, Austria, and Prussia in the aftermath of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.

Just as the Holy Alliance sought to protect the divine rights of kings, Putin is seeking to preserve what he sees as the inalienable right of autocrats to rule unhampered.

The difference, of course, is that in 1815, Russia's aims were largely shared by other European rulers and it had the staunch backing of two of the continent's strongest powers -- Prussia and Austria -- in its antirevolutionary crusade.

Today, the Kremlin's crusade is supported by...Marine Le Pen.

"Kremlin policy envisions a global struggle between sovereignty and outside interference, while the West prefers casting it as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism," political commentator Ivan Krastev, head of the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, wrote in a recent commentary.

Ukraine and Syria also represent two steps in Putin's quest to restore what he sees as Russia's imperial greatness.

In Ukraine he is trying to demonstrate his mastery over the former Soviet space; in Syria he is trying to lay claim to the mantle of world power.

He needs both. And any de-escalation on one of these fronts, will invariably be accompanied by an escalation on the other.

Putin is at war with the West, and he is not going to stop until he gets what he wants -- or until he is defeated.

"Russia is seeking to undermine what the West considers the global institutional order, and not because it wants to return to Soviet 'imperialism,' but because it has chosen to champion the fight against worldwide revolution led, it believes, by Washington," Krastev wrote.

"That formula has the potential to provoke endless conflict."

NOTE TO READERS: Be sure to tune in to today's Power Vertical Podcast where I will discuss the topics raised in this post with guests Michael Weiss, Kadri Liik, and Andreas Umland.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: elmer
March 04, 2016 14:58
Brian, once again you have hit the nail on the head.

It is very clear that Putler seeks to protect himself against democracy - just as in 1815, the Russian king sought to protect himself against democracy.
In Response

by: Dale from: US
March 05, 2016 12:24
I still have concerns as the US proxy terrorists ISIS and the like are not included in the cease fire so I'm thinking they could take full advantage of this. Especially as US claimed they now have nuclear weapons no doubt from Israel. Power tho to Russia and Putin the only one with common sense and respect for humanity. Our savior from Zionist slavery.

by: Isa from: Peja
March 04, 2016 15:21
Interesting in that you cited Milosevic, considering his fate. Hopefully Assad with follow suit.
In Response

by: Miguel from: USA
March 05, 2016 12:34
On February 19 a Russian draft resolution condemning any plans for foreign military intervention and warning against violations of Syrian sovereignty was rejected by the US and French ambassadors, as having ‘no future’ ahead of a UN Security Council meeting.

This means at least the United States and France are on the side of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, who want to invade Syria with the ground forces. And it is a complete violation of all international laws and norms, which will only lead to a major war and more destruction. I have the impression that the Western world completely lost its sanity.
In Response

by: JamesRus from: USA
March 07, 2016 03:16
What scares gubm't propagandists like RFE/RL's Whitmore is that we're entering an era where the U.S. can no longer violently impose its will on places like Serbia, as Russia's Deputy PM Rogozin recently said if the Serbs had S300s back in 1999 the U.S. wouldn't have dared bomb the place or risk losing pilots to do so. And now there is real pushback against years of crushing U.S. dominance of European politics, to the point that MY tax dollars are being spent on RFE/RL propaganda to convince Britons that they should not and must not vote for a Brexit. As if the sovereignty of the United Kingdom from a transnational corporatist, unelected bureaucratic superstate like the EU(SSR) is any of our bloody business. But it isn't.

What terrifies people like Whitmore and their handlers is that we are about to see a role reversal, wherein the U.S. becomes the late USSR, NATO is the new Warsaw Pact, and Le Pen is the new Walesa telling the imperial hegemon to go home. In fact, if Donald Trump gets elected President of the United States I fully expect German cops obeying Merkel's orders to violently disperse AfD or PEGIDA rallies to be taunted with shouts of 'Trump, Trump' the way the cool kids in East Berlin taunted the East German borderguards with mocking shouts of 'Gorby!' in 1989. Europe desperately needs a springtime of nationalism and awakening to its ability to tell Washington to screw off before it gets flooded with millions of Islamic migrants NATO isn't doing a damned thing to stop.

by: Marco
March 04, 2016 15:46
A war between Globalization vs. Nationalism. The western elites are Internationalist (that is what they openly declare time and again). They believe that history is on their side and that the course of Globalization is inevitable. They believe that they have the right to spread Globalization though colour revolutions through out the world.

Do nations like Russia have the right to defend Nationalism ? Do people have the right to claim territorial rights to their nations ? Or are we forced to accept Globalization and the violent and chaotic Multicultural society that our western leader are pursuing ?

Russia is waging a defensive war against Globalization.
In Response

by: peter from: ottawa
March 04, 2016 19:29
Russia is waging a defensive war against Globalization with a toothpick.
In Response

by: Marco
March 04, 2016 20:25
And they are coming for you !
In Response

by: peter from: ottawa
March 05, 2016 20:04
I'm not worried dog breath ,I live in North America and I'm very well armed.
In Response

by: Mr Stuie from: UK
March 04, 2016 19:46
Do people have the right to claim territorial rights to their nations?

Good question, ask the two Russian lawmakers who have taken it upon themselves to reinstate the terms of the Molotov pact in denying the rights of the Baltic states and their people to hold their own territories.
The answer, it would seem, is no.
In Response

by: Marco
March 04, 2016 20:28
The lawmakers are just trolling. The Duma is part a comedy club. Russia is a very strange country.
In Response

by: Kerry K from: US
March 05, 2016 12:38
What is the Truth — when the lie becomes the truth there is no turning backwards.

When war is upheld as a humanitarian endeavor, Justice and the entire international legal system are turned upside down: pacifism and the antiwar movement are criminalized. Opposing the war becomes a criminal act. Meanwhile, the war criminals in high offices of USA, Israel, UK, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Turkey, Germany, etc have ordered a witch hunt against those who challenge their authority.

The Big Lie must be exposed for what it is and what it does. It sanctions the indiscriminate killing of men, women and children. It destroys families and people. It destroys the commitment of people towards their fellow human beings.

It prevents people from expressing their solidarity for those who suffer. It upholds war and the police state as the sole avenue.

Break the American inquisition. Members of the armed forces should disobey orders and refuse to participate in a criminal war.

It doesn't require any conspiracy theorizing to see what's happening here. Indeed, it takes extreme naiveté, or willful blindness, not to see it.

That willful ignorance is a phenomenon that has been growing year by year and has reached a level where it is a serious threat to our national well being and that of the world at large. These beliefs and attitudes revolve around an apparent inability to deal with reality so people make up stories in order to make themselves feel better.
In Response

by: Greg from: Canada
March 06, 2016 14:33
poppy cock!!! Putin is working to build an Empire so he can be worshiped. Yes this Empire is different than the West. Putin believes only he can make rules and force any country to submit to his rule. Russia provides very little in way of value to any nation. He wants people to be subjugated.

I see no help from Russia to world disasters, in fact help comes mostly from Western nations. Medical supplies, food and equipment to deal with the disaster. Russia is never in involved, China sometimes is.

All this talk about whatever sins the USA may have committed has nothing to do with Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Putin has invaded because Ukraine will not submit! Period! USA sins are discussed in order to side track away from Russian abuse.

Russia has a long history of destroying everything. Putin cannot understand why Ukrainians do not embrace his view of the world. Yet he refuses to acknowledge Ukraine is a country or that Russia murdered millions of Ukrainians. So why would any country want to embrace Russia?

People speak of NATO expanding, well it is each country who wants to be a member of NATO and why, because they have real experience with Russian love, love which kills. If Russia would stop being an aggressor nation, then other countries would not want to join NATO.
In Response

by: harry
March 06, 2016 15:37
Russia is waging war for Russian imperialism. Your thesis is totally false, as it does not include Ukrainian, Georgian, Moldovan, Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian , etc nationalism
In Response

by: JamesRus from: USA
March 07, 2016 03:20
"because Ukraine will not submit!" and non-Kiev occupied Donbass will never submit to being misruled by greater Galicia chauvinists and the UPA/Bandera worshippers and USA cargo cultists that Brian Whitmore calls Ukrainian democrats. Kiev and Lvov will choke on the number of body bags coming back from Donetsk and Lugansk if they ever make another push to take it -- and some Polish and US advisors who 'weren't' helping that push would get killed too. All because the next President if Trump is defeated will be hellbent on showing the world it can 'stand up to Russia' and that Uncle Sam is still the boss.

It's interesting how much talkback against RFE/RL's ridiculous propaganda supporting a failing, bankrupt and fascist state in Ukraine is coming from Americans with American IP addresses. Well we have to pay with our tax dollars to fund people like Whitmore so we have the right to talk back and tell them they're full of crap, as is our embarrassing Twitter-trolling Embassy staff in Moscow who cites Eiot friggin' Higgins for God's sakes from his couch in England as an authoritative source on MH17. What an embarrassment. Reagan would be embarrassed by the neocon Trotskyite lunatics waving his name around today.

by: Richard Skala from: Czech Republic
March 04, 2016 16:07
One minor correction is necessary in the sentence "[T]he Holy Alliance, the partnership among the monarchies of Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Prussia in the aftermath of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars".
The Holy Alliance had been established in 1815, whereas Austria-Hungary came into existence as late as 1867.

by: robert stout from: phoenix,arizona
March 04, 2016 20:05
I thought the USA was the only country that has the divine right to support dictators we like...We prop up gangsters all over the world including in the Ukraine...The USA smashes dictators we don't like, including Libya and Iraq...The USA is no stranger to using overwhelming force on the little people....
In Response

by: Clark. N from: UK
March 05, 2016 20:17
We are told that Russia is an aggressive, imperialist power and that NATO's concerns are about opposing the Russian ‘threat’. But I looked at the map the other day and while I could see lots of countries close to (and bordering) Russia that were members of NATO, the US-led military alliance whose members have bombed and attacked many countries in the last 15 years, I could not see any countries close to America that were part of a Russian-military alliance, or any Russian military bases or missiles situated in foreign countries bordering or close to the US. Yet Russia, we are told, is the ‘aggressive one’. I'm totally confused...

by: Abdel from: Germany
March 07, 2016 13:47
US-NATO are criminal warmongers specializing in destroying, occupying & plundering countries including Yugoslavia & Serbia, Ukraine, Iraq, Libya, Syria... THEY MUST BE TRIED FOR CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY ON A MASSIVE SCALE. OUTRAGEOUS, AMORAL HYPOCRITES & LIARS!

by: Volodya
March 09, 2016 04:45
The opinion pages have been taken over by useful idiots of the Kremlin. Thankfully the vast majority of your readers have experienced Moscow's 'love', and know to ignore such rubbish.

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or