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ALL dictators have a shortcoming; they surround themselves with sycophants who reinforce the dictator's perverted view of the world. This is the only way one could explain Russian President Vladimir Putin's “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Putin's parallel universe is based on his oft-repeated assertion that the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 was “the major political blunder” of the 20th century. The inference is that the leaders of the Soviet Union were a bunch of incompetents who failed to take appropriate measures to maintain the Union. Putin's mission accordingly is to correct the blunder and through his resolute leadership, revive the Soviet Union. In other words, Putin is trying to reverse the outcome of the Cold War.
Putin's simplistic assumption led to the current “special military operation,” a euphemism for actual war. The stated goal is the “de-nazification” of Ukraine. It was expected that the Ukrainians would welcome Russian forces for their “liberation from Nazism.” The operation would be of short duration with such minimal casualties the Russian people would overlook them.
The real universe tells a different story. The dissolution of the Soviet Union was the product of the conflict between nationalism and the most basic tenet of Marxism, i.e., that the world will divide along class lines, with the proletariat trumping the bourgeoisie after a “class struggle.” At the conclusion of this struggle, there will be a proletarian paradise and the state will wither away.
In 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was formed by 15 autonomous republics. The Marxist goal of establishing a proletarian paradise was the major consideration that enticed the 15 republics to form the Soviet Union. A corollary enticement in this regard was the promise of “equality of development” among the 15 republics and the “leveling of wages” among their citizens, essential features of what would be a classless society.
By the 1980s, it was evident that these utopian goals of Marxism were a mirage. Instead of a classless society, there was rigid social stratification in the Soviet Union. A ruling class emerged termed the “nomenklatura,” consisting of ranking officials of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Like all ruling classes, the nomenklatura accumulated vast political powers and economic privileges in the USSR.
Economy of scarcity
The economy of the Soviet Union then had been termed an “economy of scarcity.” The USSR was devoting up to 40 percent of its GDP for defense. This massive expenditure was needed to fund the export of the communist ideology to the rest of the world. Inputs for agriculture and consumer goods were diverted to armaments. Consequently, there was a persistent scarcity of consumer goods in the Soviet Union. Lining up for two hours to buy bread, milk or basic goods was a common experience of its people.
However, the nomenklatura was not subject to this hardship. They were paid in “hard rubles” which were convertible in the world market. They could thus do their shopping in Western Europe or in the Beryioska Shops in Moscow reserved for diplomats and expatriates. The ordinary Russian was paid in “ordinary rubles” which was non-convertible and could be used only in the Soviet Union. The nomenklatura could travel to other countries and own dachas (summer houses) in the warmer parts of Russia. Their children attended international schools where they learned foreign languages. In contrast, ordinary Soviet citizens were not even allowed to mingle with foreigners.
Instead of “equality of development,” by the 1980s, the three republics in Europe, i.e., Belorussia, Ukraine and Russia, each had a per capita GDP 6.5 times greater than the “Southern Republics” of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, etc. This inequality in contravention of the Marxist doctrine of a classless society was the major cause of the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991. The force of nationalism that had lain dormant gained ascendancy over Marxist doctrine. Instead of the state withering away as Marx had prophesied, it was the Soviet Union that withered away.
Nuclear civil war
Using force to prevent the implosion of the USSR was not an option. Four of the republics — Belorussia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine — had nuclear weapons. The prospect of a “nuclear civil war” was a possibility. The last president of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, admitted that the possession of nuclear weapons by the four republics was an important factor in his decision not to use force to prevent the breakup of the Soviet Union. Simply stated, if Putin had been the president of the USSR in 1991, it is difficult to see how he could have arrived at a decision different from Gorbachev's. To save the Soviet Union, he would have had to destroy it.
In Putin's parallel universe as noted earlier, the implosion of the USSR was the product of the incompetence of the Kremlin rulers and the aggression of the Western alliance. In his view, the citizens of the 15 republics will thus welcome the revival of the Soviet Union; the citizens of Ukraine will regard the Russian invading force as “liberators.” This explains the ridiculously puny size of the Russian invading force of around 200,000 troops. In Operation Barbarossa in 1941, the German Army Group South, which invaded Ukraine, had 1.1 million troops and needed 84 days to overrun the country.
Putin has chosen a bloody route to revive the Soviet Union. In 1979, in Afghanistan, the Soviets toppled the existing government and replaced it with the Babrak Kamal regime within 48 hours. The Spetsnaz (Soviet special forces) who seized power, did not suffer a single casualty. The heavy casualties came in the subsequent operations against the insurgent mujahedeen which lasted 10 years. In the Afghan War of 1979-89, the Soviet forces suffered 10,000 casualties in 10 years of operation. In the current conflict, the invaders suffered the same number of casualties in only 30 days of combat. At this rate of loss, the Russians will incur over 1 million casualties if the war lasts 10 years.
In World War 1, two empires consisting of diverse nationalities, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, were dismantled. The thrust of the European Union was to reverse this process and restore a union of diverse nationalities into one sovereign entity. But this effort is based on the mutual consent of the members, and it is a process that has consumed a lot of time. The EU originated from the Schumann Plan of 1950 consolidating the steel and coal industries of six West European countries. Although much progress has been made toward forming a political union, there is still a long way to traverse before the EU becomes a federation.
Putin's attempt to revive the defunct Soviet Union is analogous to the ongoing efforts to convert the EU into a federal republic. His mistake is that to revive the Soviet Union, he is resorting to force and wants it done in short order. Given the enormous casualties and loss of war material of the Russians in the Ukraine invasion, his aspiration is a pipe dream. To achieve his goal, he will have to invade and station an occupation force in the remaining 13 republics of the former Soviet Union. Obviously, that is beyond Russia's means.
Given those realities, Putin, were he a rational person, will revise his goal. If he persists and does not change his course, we could be dealing with a dangerous megalomaniac who possesses nuclear weapons. Putin's continuation in power poses a danger to mankind. The Russian people are in the best position to settle this issue.
The author is a career ambassador who has a graduate degree in Sovietology from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He served in Moscow from 1985 to 1989 during the tenure of the reformist Mikhail Gorbachev. He is sharing with our readers his unique experience on the frontlines that led to the present crisis in Ukraine.
Ukraine quagmire: Putin's perverted vision – The Manila Times
Read this in The Manila Times digital edition.