Moscow's Blizzard/New York's Blizzard

Just after Christmas, both New York City and Moscow, Russia faced blizzard conditions, and their airports were shut down.  But even though New York is far less familiar with winter emergencies, the lights stayed on in the Big Apple's airports.

In Moscow, they were out for fourteen hours.

Not only did the lights go out, but airport officials at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport, Russia's LaGuardia, were unable, or perhaps just unwilling, to provide any food or drink to the helplessly stranded passengers.  They sat hungry, thirsty, and terrified, with many children among them, for more than half a day in chilly darkness.

More than eight thousand of them.

Passengers described being treated with "complete indifference" by airport officials, who provided no information or communication of any kind.  Many panicked, verging on hysteria.  It is likely that only the sheep-like demeanor of most Russians towards authority, after decades of totalitarian horror, prevented fatal rioting.

Russia's prime minister, Vladimir Putin, spoke out aggressively the day after the Domodedovo disaster.  He called for imposing severe new limits on jury trial rights so that now, only those accused of capital crimes will be tried by their peers. 

As if to emphasize his point, the judge who tried businessman and opposition political leader Mikhail Khodorkovsky almost simultaneously announced that Khodorkovsky had just been convicted again, again without a jury, of the same alleged tax evasion crimes that he had already served many years in prison for.  Double jeopardy?  Another frivolous Western innovation for which Russia has no use.

Russia's leadership is, in other words, just as in Soviet times, unable to respond to failure with any means other than repression.  The USSR's inability to acknowledge fault and reform brought it to ruin.  Now, history is repeating itself.

Former Russian parliamentarian Vladimir Ryzhkov writes:  

As 2010 and the first decade of the 21st century wind to a close, the dominant social, political and economic trends of the year raise serious doubts about Russia's future survival as a sovereign country. Chinese analysts, who have been closely observing Russia for the past 20 years, perhaps put it best: Russia is the world's largest dying power.

It's hard to disagree.  Studies show Russia becoming more corrupt, less economically competitive and progressive, and far more violent and undemocratic.  Race riots recently swept through Moscow, and it was clear the virulent nationalism that has been Putin's bedrock ideology was fanning their flames.

Putin now hires and fires governors and mayors at will.  He owns and operates all the national television broadcasters, he executes journalists who do not toe his line, and he jails anyone, like Khodorkovsky, who stands even the slightest chance of challenging him politically.  Slowly but surely, he is abolishing civil rights throughout the criminal justice system, and he is using any sign of disorder as an excuse for further and more draconian crackdowns.

Yet for all that, Putin is vulnerable, just as were his Soviet ancestors, because his misguided policies undermine economic and political stability.  Yet Putin has found himself with the great good fortune of Barack Obama's election as president.  Obama does not care at all how bad things get in Russia, how badly American values are trampled, or how thoroughly American national security is undermined.  He cares only about gathering propaganda opportunities, like his sham nuclear treaty with Russia, and is willing to sacrifice all to that god -- especially now that his domestic policy agenda is unraveling like a cheap suit.

So because of Obama's cowardice and that of his close advisors like Michael McFaul, Putin will consolidate his power and run Russia into the ground, just as his ancestors once did.  Long after Obama has left power, the world will remain to pick up the pieces as Russia, once again, terrifies the world and then collapses.