On Russia, Are We Not Pessimistic Enough?

Over at The New Republic, Julia Ioffe counsels that the best way to anticipate Russia’s actions is to take the most pessimistic view possible. Apparently, that’s what she learned from covering the Moscow beat. It’s no secret that Ms. Ioffe takes a dim view of Vladimir Putin, but that doesn’t mean she’s wrong.

One of the reasons I left my correspondent’s post in Moscow was because Russia, despite all the foam on the water, is ultimately a very boring place. Unfortunately, all you really need to do to seem clairvoyant about the place is to be an utter pessimist. Will Vladimir Putin allow the ostensibly liberal Dmitry Medvedev to have a second term? Not a chance. There are protests in the streets of Moscow. Will Putin crackdown? Yup. There’s rumbling in the Crimea, will Putin take advantage and take the Crimean peninsula? You betcha. And you know why being a pessimist is the best way to predict outcomes in Russia? Because Putin and those around him are, fundamentally, terminal pessimists. They truly believe that there is an American conspiracy afoot to topple Putin, that Russian liberals are traitors corrupted by and loyal to the West, they truly believe that, should free and fair elections be held in Russia, their countrymen would elect bloodthirsty fascists, rather than democratic liberals. To a large extent, Putin really believes that he is the one man standing between Russia and the yawning void. Putin’s Kremlin is dark and scary, and, ultimately, very boring.

I share the following merely because I admire the imagery.

This is another howl you often hear rending the skies over Moscow: Western double standards. But let’s get real for a second. We’ve spoken already about the U.N., but what about the holy Russian mantra of non-interference in a nation’s internal affairs? When it comes to Syria, to take a most recent example, the fight between Assad and the rebels is something only the Syrians can sort out. Ditto every other country in the world—unless it’s in Russia’s backyard, where Russia still experiences phantom limb syndrome. The internal issues of former Soviet republics, you see, are not truly internal issues of sovereign nations.

The thing is, true amputees don’t have the option of putting their limb back together. For Ukrainians, the concern is that they are about to be reattached.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com