The Russians Came
It was only 15 years ago that former U.S. president George W. Bush found permanent Russian President Vladimir Putin to be “very straightforward and trustworthy.” Now, at last the mask is off, and we see a barefaced dictator with an iron hand, one finger of which is poised over the nuclear button.
Is Weakness A Sign Of Strength?
Since the Crimea crisis erupted, Vladimir Putin is probably the most adored and most hated man of the 21st century. His approval rating has risen above 80 percent in his native Russia — almost as high as in foreign Syria, Venezuela, or North Korea. At the same time, the whole civilized world watches him with suspicion and nervousness. It’s clear to everyone that Russia will not limit itself to the Crimea. Its historical and strategic ambitions are spread far beyond the rocky peninsula in the Black Sea.
Will Russia invade the rest of Ukraine? Moldova? Latvia? Estonia? Only Putin knows the answer.
Former secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was the first noted political figure to compare his aggression in Ukraine to actions taken by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in the runup to World War II. Very recently, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said he saw parallels between the annexation of Crimea and Hitler’s land grab of Sudetenland in 1938. As leader of the strongest nation on Earth politically, economically and militarily, U.S. President Barack Obama simply could not stand aside. He declared that Russia’s aggression was a sign... of weakness. This was the most annihilating criticism against Russia that fell from his lips.
In his recent statements, Obama has clearly signaled that the U.S. will not protect its European allies, much less Ukraine. He obstinately refuses to hear the warnings from the Pentagon and NATO that Russian military activity on Ukraine’s borders could be a prelude to a military invasion. Or maybe, on the contrary, he hears them too well?
The main problem of liberal democracy is its unwillingness and inability to use force in support of its ideals. The European welfare state which cannot defend itself desperately needs an outside power to protect it. The United States has played that protective role since the end of World War II. But with Obama showing such obvious weakness in foreign affairs, America certainly cannot be considered as a dependable ally.
And Russia’s president understands this very well. From the bottom of his soul he despises the West and thinks it is rotten to the core. Rather a natural point of view for the former secret policeman who has described the collapse of the USSR as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”
In the 21st century, we stand on the threshold of much more terrible catastrophe. It is called the global rebirth of fascism.
Raised From The Ashes
In recent years, “fascism” has become a label used by anyone to discredit everything and everybody. Politics regard it as some dirty “f-word,” often interpreted very emotionally and very negatively.
Today, arguments over the exact definition of fascism are not very important. After the Crimea’s conquest and its inclusion in the Russian empire, you can feel it, taste it, and see it with your own eyes. It is simply here, that is all.
To verify this, it suffices to recall to the fourteen typical characteristics of “Eternal Fascism,” or “Ur-Fascism,” from the famous essay written by well-known Italian philosopher Umberto Eco in 1995 which appeared in the New York Review of Books. According to Eco, “it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.”
The first four of the 14 properties are as follows:
1. The cult of tradition.
The central site of Moscow (and Russia) is the ancient Red Square -- a huge cobblestone rectangle with its long history of public executions and military parades, its brightly colored onion-shaped domes and squat Lenin’s Tomb. The first 21st-century czar of Mother Russia likes to receive foreign dignitaries at the Great Kremlin Palace glittering with gold and marble. Old and dusty heroes, from Alexander Nevsky to Peter the Great and Stalin, are more popular than pop singers and television stars. The Russians prefer to look back on their dark (they say it’s glorious) past, rather than forward.
2. The rejection of modernism.
In this case, modernism is the movement of progress, a general view of history in which the present is much better than the past, and the future holds everything hopeful for us. Most Russians are generally quite pessimistic and don’t have much faith in a better life in the future. Sitting on the couches and watching talk show after talk show, they hear a constant and repetitive message that the modern world has degenerated due to “liberal-bourgeois fags” and “national traitors.” The modernization programme launched by temporary president Medvedev in 2009 has passed into oblivion, and no one noticed.
3. The cult of action for action’s sake.
“Action must be taken before, or without, reflection,” Eco wrote. “Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism.” In Russia, we see numerous confirmations of this statement, from Lenin’s catch phrase “The intellectual forces of the workers and peasants... are not its brains but its shit” to the frequent use of such expressions as “blabbing intellectuals,” “foureyes” and “botanists.”
4. Disagreement is treason.
In February, hundreds of people -- along with members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot -- were arrested in Moscow for protesting against Putin. Then a number of prominent opposition leaders, including activist and blogger Aleksey Navalny and former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, were sentenced to several days in prison. Last in this long list of traitors is Andrey Makarevich, whose band The Time Machine performed at the Kremlin’s election event in 2008. Russian patriots started the campaign for the musician’s deprivation of all state awards in connection with his critical position on events in Ukraine and in the Crimea.
The other characteristics of the Eternal Fascism are: “Fear of difference,” “Appeal to a frustrated middle class,” “Nationalism,” “Envy of enemies,” “Denial of pacifism,” “A popular elitism,” “The cult of heroism,” “Condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits,” “Selective populism” and, finally, “Using of impoverished vocabulary.” In fact, each one of them is perfectly fitted with the reality of Russian life.
If Umberto Eco was right, then all of the problems the world facing in Syria, Iran, Somalia, North Korea and all the other countries of the Third World will be pale in comparison with the Ukrainian disaster.
Russia’s military forces have decayed and weakened since the Cuban crisis of 1962, but they still have sufficient amount of nuclear warheads and are capable of destroying human civilization with no warning. Right now, tens of thousands Russian troops are massed on the borders of Ukraine and in the direction of the Ukrainian city of Donetsk.
Meanwhile, the pro-Russian protesters who seized the regional government building in Donetsk have declared a “people’s republic.” Reading from a paper, a bald, grey-bearded man acclaimed protesters would call on Russia to send in a peacekeeping force in the event of aggressive action by the authorities in Kiev.
The big question is what happens tomorrow, or after tomorrow, or some other day? Not just in Donetsk, but in the whole eastern Ukraine, which Putin would also dearly love to snap off. The West already let him swallow the Crimea in the hope his invasion stops there. It didn’t work with the Führer in 1938, and only the most naive politician would bet his best tie that it will work with Russian leader now.
It is not known what Barack Obama thinks of it, because he keeps an enigmatic silence. So we have to settle for quoting President Richard Nixon who once said that the attitude of Russia towards Ukraine will make or break the international order established in the aftermath of the victory over Hitler and his Reich.
Indeed it is broken. Will Putin try to achieve new order -- his own new order -- in Europe? In the rest of the world?
We will see. Soon enough.