Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Sochi Games were no boost to dictator Putin's grand strategy

The most wasteful and corrupt Olympic Winter Games ever are now history. The godfather of the Sochi games, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, may think that the games were a boost to his grand strategy, but events in Kiev show that his rival "civilizational model" does not have much appeal.
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat's analysis is well worth reading:
... there is a vast difference between Putin’s grand strategy and both its Czarist and its Soviet antecedents.
The czars sought a “Holy Alliance” to defend a still-extant ancien régime — a rooted, hierarchical system that still governed many 19th-century European societies. But today’s Russia, brutalized by Communism and then taken over by oligarchs and grifters, is not a traditional society in any meaningful sense of the term, and the only thing it has in common with many of its potential developing-world allies is a contempt for democratic norms. In the Romanov era, the throne-and-altar idea still had a real claim to political legitimacy. But there is no comparable claim Putin can make for his own authority, and no similar mystique around his client dictators, be they Central Asian strongmen or Bashar al-Assad.
The Soviets’ claim to be in history’s vanguard, meanwhile, earned them allies and fellow travelers not only in Latin America, Asia and Africa, but among the best and brightest of the liberal West. No comparable Western fifth column seems likely to emerge to enable Putin’s goals. A few voices on the American right have praised his traditionalist rhetoric — but only a few. As beleaguered as America’s social conservatives sometimes feel, we’re a long distance from signing up as useful idiots for a thuggish, obviously opportunistic “family values” crusade.

Which is not to say that Putin’s geopolitical approach is all folly. On the contrary, he often plays the great game far more effectively than his European and American counterparts.
But the weakness of Russia, its government’s corruption and the unattractiveness of its alleged traditionalism all combine to foreclose his grandest ambitions.
This is basically what we’re watching happen in Ukraine. Despite the blunders of the European Union — which courted Kiev without seeming to realize that Russia might make a counteroffer — Putin is struggling to win a battle for influence in a country that both the Romanovs and the Soviets dominated with ease.
And the struggle is particularly telling given that the Great Recession exposed the E.U. as a spectacularly misgoverned institution, whose follies consigned many of its member states to economic disarray. Yet even that record hasn’t persuaded the majority of Ukrainians to warm to Moscow’s embrace instead. It takes much more than mere misgovernment to make the European project less attractive than Putin’s authoritarian alternative.

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