You know things have gone really wrong when the leader of a major industrialized nation goes on national television to threaten an entire segment of society deemed traitorous because of their “slave-like” Western values.
It’s not the first time Vladimir Putin has spoken of a “fifth column” of disloyal, pro-Western Russians, but his recent outburst was of a very different nature.
In a rambling but chilling tirade, using language reminiscent of Stalin’s brutal purges, the Russian president spoke of the “self-cleansing” of Russian society, in which the “scum and the traitors” of the “political nice world” in Europe and America would be captured “like a fly” would be spat out.
It sounded not only like a green light for a much broader security crackdown, but an invitation for loyal, hard-working Russians to unleash violence against anyone suspected of living a potentially decadent “Western lifestyle.” His examination of “gender freedoms” was particularly revealing.
The disturbed speech came as the Kremlin pledged to increase Russia’s minimum wage and the salaries and pensions of all public sector workers to counter the impact of punitive sanctions, a move likely to have the opposite effect.
The war against Ukraine has backfired. One only has to look at how quickly the Russian economy collapsed to know that. Transformed into a pariah state overnight, Russia has experienced the equivalent of a financial heart attack, leaving it on the brink of a sovereign debt default for the first time since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. A deep recession this year seems a certainty.
The invasion itself is also in deep trouble. Western intelligence seems increasingly certain of this. Just three weeks into the war, Russia’s advance has “largely stalled on all fronts” with its forces suffering “heavy casualties,” according to the UK MoD.
As a result of fierce resistance by well-coordinated and well-armed Ukrainian forces, the “vast majority of Ukrainian territory, including all major cities, remains in Ukrainian hands,” she added.
Backed by a steady stream of Western-supplied weapons like Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, some defense analysts are now beginning to believe the unthinkable – that the Russian army could eventually be forced to retreat.
But only now are we seeing the first real signs that the Russian regime is collapsing under the weight of international sanctions.
Putin’s downfall is particularly alarming. The famously cold and calculating demeanor has quickly subsided, and the Russian leader is sounding irrational and off-kilter. Is it possible that a man who boasted about being a vicious street thug in his youth might actually be scared?
There are fears the pandemic has left him feeling isolated and paranoid. There are also rumors of an addiction to steroids. Speculation about his mental state is so high that Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s chief spokesman, felt it necessary to reassure the world that Putin’s mental state remains completely “normal”.
But Russia’s track record on this front hardly inspires confidence. Soviet and Russian leaders from Leonid Brezhnev to Konstantin Chernenko and Boris Yeltsin have medical histories, and the Russian state has a corresponding tendency to desperately try to cover up their decline.
Still, at least one country skilled in the art of disinformation has finally begun to acknowledge that sanctions hurt.
Even the most skilled propagandists would have difficulty arguing otherwise in the face of such overwhelming evidence.
The collapse of the ruble has triggered vicious price spikes in imported goods, while the exodus of Western companies from Russia has created shortages reminiscent of Soviet rule.
With the prices of cars, smartphones, televisions and other consumer goods soaring between 10 and 20 percent in less than a month, and with similar increases reported for some staples, Putin has had to admit that rising inflation is “seriously affecting people’s incomes.” . .
This should not be confused with a mea culpa. Putin wasted little time in portraying Russia as the victim of a Western conspiracy with “one aim – the destruction of Russia”. He has even tried to portray Russia’s predicament as ultimately beneficial because it will lead to greater independence from the West.
However, it is still too early to celebrate Russia’s fate. The central premise behind sanctions is that they foment such widespread chaos that Putin’s rise to power suffers a devastating blow. However, there is a risk that the opposite will occur. The decision to hike wages and pensions smacks of panic and is likely to backfire, if past wage-price spirals have taught us anything.
That suggests it could have come directly from Putin. it is Hard to believe it was sanctioned by the moderates in charge of managing the economy. If their influence is dwindles and Putin listens less to respected adults like central banker Elvira Nabiullina, it likely means he pays even more attention to the dangerous, hard-line nationalists who control the FSB and other security services.
That would be a worrying turnaround not only for the Russian people, but also for Ukraine and the West.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/echoes-of-stalin-as-isolated-putin-goes-from-clinical-and-cold-to-unhinged-41464336.html Echoes of Stalin as an isolated Putin range from clinical and cold to off-kilter