Trump and Corbyn, Le Pen and Farage; Putin and the Crisis of Democracy
Vladimir Putin runs a managed democracy. He controls the media, he ensures that any opposition figures that make it to telly, are risible tosspots. Credible ones are killed, unless they’re too famous, like Gary Kasparov, then they’re just ignored. The country Putin governs responded to the collapse of its empire and subsequent “humiliation” by electing, and then submitting to someone who trades in a simple narrative; that of Russian greatness. We’ve been here before.
Those homo-erotic pictures of a bare-chested Putin hunting, much mocked in the west, are part of a pretty scary cult of personality centred on someone who is by some measures the richest person in the world. He oversees a kleptocracy where wealth flows from power, and power flows from the Kremlin. Why did the Sochi winter olympics cost $51bn? Because grand construction projects are a good way to distribute state funds to chosen cronies.
Much is made of Russia’s “humiliation”. In reality, the former satellites of Russia’s brutal empire are seeking protection against their former master. The Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians and Poles who escaped Moscow’s grip have absolutely no desire to go back. Georgians sent troops to work with Americans in Afghanistan in a desperate bid to secure NATO membership, and the protection that offers from Russian aggression. Ukrainian’s government are desperate for western support against Russia in their frozen conflict in the East.
Meanwhile Russia is pumping out their Narrative: that Ukraine is “not a real country”, that Russia is responding to NATO “aggression”, and that its neighbours do not warrant full autonomy as independent nations. And useful idiots from left and right lap up this toxic, stupid narrative. Otherwise intelligent people claim there’s moral equivalence between Estonia’s enthusiastic and voluntary membership of NATO with the aggressive annexation of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Crimea and the ambiguous warfare in the Donbass. Putin’s lie that the people who stood on the Maidan in Kiev were “fascists” and that the protests were “western-backed” stands no scrutiny. Fascists made up 3% of the parliament post-Yanukovych. The Maidan protests were not western backed, and any agents provocateurs there may have been on the Maidan were most likely (though no proof as yet) to have been Regime-backing Russians.
Recently, in a grand and theatrical gesture, Russia deployed a few squadrons of bombers to Syria to prop up the ailing Assad regime. This wasn’t done to “fight ISIL” as many would have you believe. They’re mostly bombing the people the west want to win. It was to secure a say in post-Assad Syria, place Russia (and by extension, Mr. Putin) at the centre of world affairs; ultimately to buy bargaining chips for Putin to negotiate away the sanctions that are crippling his country’s economy. Further benefits: destabilising the middle east may raise the oil price, and the ongoing refugee crisis (made worse by Russian bombing) destabilizes the EU, an organisation second only to NATO in the Kremlin’s demonology.
Social media discourse on politics in general and Russia in particular has become prone to what is known as the “Pish gallop” in Scottish politics. Putin was one of the Few world leaders to endorse Scottish independence, and Russian observers were the source of the rumours of stuffed ballot boxes: the “Pish Gallop” describes the tactic of overwhelming an opponent with multiple lies, each of them egregious but without sufficient time to refute them all, you end up leaving the central idea unchallenged: the grand lie that Russia is responding to NATO “provocation”.
What has this to do with the west?
The lunatic fringes, left and right buy into the narrative of a corrupt and decadent western “elite” which is somehow to blame for everything bad. Syria? the west’s fault for invading Iraq. Libya: the west’s fault for bombing an armoured column in a country that’s already at war. No Arab; not Mohammed Bouazizi, nor the people from Benghazi to Cairo who rose up to overthrow dictators are credited with any agency in all of this. Everything is somehow a grand (and often “zionist”) conspiracy. This is comforting to people who want to see themselves as courageous crusaders against a decadent establishment. But this is self-serving and childish disatisfaction with the messy compromises of electoral politics. Morons have always yearned for Fuhrerprinzip of the charismatic dictator.
Putin is busy corrupting discourse on social media, with professional trolls who go around commenting on everything from the Daily Mail, to this blog. These trolls support all opponents of the status quo, from Anti-fracking activists (Putin has no interest in Western Europe being self-sufficient in oil), to UKIP (an EU without the UK would be much weaker) and “Peace” activists (who mostly share the Kremlin’s belief that NATO is always the problem) and political extremists of all stripes in a general policy of throwing sand in the faces of the entire decision-making apparatus of a free democracy.
Even if these Fringe politicians steer clear of outright support for Putin, the Trumps and Farages, the Corbyns and Le Pens all share some or all of the Kremlin’s assumptions. While Putin’s Russia is far, far weaker than the old USSR, the moral certainty the west once enjoyed has gone. The Kremlin may be weaker, but its “Useful Idiots” are stronger.
The problem is without an enemy – and we’ve been schooled to see Russia as a friend for most of the last 25 years – freedom becomes complacency. The success of western economies means people way down the income distribution no longer have a significant struggle to find enough calories or shelter, and thanks to social media, their voice is now being heard. Those who once struggled for survival are now looking for self-actualisation and respect. Putin is pouring poison into the discourse and seeking to crow-bar open the cracks in our society, even as its success becomes manifest.
Take a step back. The UK spends 2.2% of GDP on its military, lower than at any point in our history. NATO is an association of free democracies (though Turkey is at the moment stretching that definition). Russia is an aggressive kleptocracy, who spends disproportionately on a new and highly mobile military; a nation with an appalling human rights record which has repeatedly annexed territory from its weaker neighbours, and is bent on overturning the post-war security architecture of the world. NATO’s “aggression” is, in reality holding at arms length Russia’s former clients, who’re clamouring to join us in the west with our freedom and market economies. The west faces no significant challenge, but we’re blind to the poison being poured in.
The aim of all this disinformation and posturing is that when the little green men pop up in Narva to “defend” the “Rights” of “Russians” living in Estonia (defence they’ve not asked for, of rights they’re not denied), and Estonia asks for help, the populations of the west will not support NATO kicking the Russians out. The result of which is the Baltic states must once again fall under the sway of Moscow, slice by slice. And this means their proud nations, this time, will die. Is this the best we can we offer the two million brave people (about 1/3rd of the population) who joined hands in 1989, determined to look west? And where will an emboldened Russia stop? Donetsk (Twinned, ironically, with Narva)? Kiev? The Vistula? We’ve seen a dictator play this salami-slicing game before. Stopped early, war can be prevented.
Putin is feeding the “anti-establishment” lines, which get far more traction than they deserve. Our “elite” is not “corrupt”, NATO is not “an aggressor”, our democracy isn’t a sham, Russia isn’t being “provoked”, Fracking doesn’t “poison the water supply”. The ballot boxes were not stuffed in the Scots independence referendum, we are not being lied to by “the mainstream media”. Please stop repeating Putin’s lies, however much you want to agree with them. Please be sceptical of Russia Today. Please don’t say “Putin stands up for his people” because he doesn’t. He is prepared and able, unlike our leaders, to sacrifice the Russian people at will, to the greater aim of Greater Glory of Vladimir Vladimirovic Putin. Do not be his useful idiot.
In return for introducing me to the phrase "pish gallop", may I offer you the word "proctocracy" meaning "rule by arseholes"? That word, or the American version, "assholeocracy" was invented to describe a situation in which Donald Trump might be in charge of anything. Le Pen and Farage were less prominent at the time, but they fit the description.
Prococracy is added to the dictionary. Expect me to use it lots.
TBF, Pied Piper of Wankers is good. I'm struggling to put that in Greek…
Pish gallop is truly a glorious word for a common lefty tactic and I totally agree with your characterisation of Putin's Russia.
There are two categories of lies.
There are those founded on a grain of truth and there are those that contain no such kernel.
A tremendous lot of of Putins lies are category II lies but there are plenty of cat I lies as well.
While our elites are nowhere near so corrupt as the kremlin nomenklatura both in washington and brussels corporate lobbyists and avaricious politicians have successfully forged a comfortable and profitable system in which vast amounts of laws and regulations are tailored to the convenience of multinationals to put it mildly.
The propaganda we get from state owned media in western countries doesn't compare with the bollocks on steroids churned out by RT etc but it is still propaganda, very often a regurgitation of government and eu press statements, presented with little analysis and less balance. The free press is free but it would be idle to deny that the most influential eg the beeb, the grauniad are follow a heavily politicised line, usually lefty, pro eu, pro agw, pro PC – you know that as well as I do.
http://www.epageuk.com business and personal webpages from united kingdom.