When a despot begins to lose control, he starts 'warfear'

The Russian people are not happy with Vladimir Putin, who has been running his kleptocracy for his oligarchs at the expense of the country and its resources for the last twenty years.

Jacob Fraden is an electronic engineer, inventor, entrepreneur, educator, artist, and writer who emigrated from Russia to the United States in 1977.  In a recent article in American Thinker, "Why a War Over Ukraine is Unlikely," he explained how things really work in the former Soviet Union.

[A]lmost all Russian nouveau riche got their money through financial fraud or by stealing it from the collapsed USSR.  Ever since Stalin's time, the structure of the country's government has been modeled after the Mafia, where everything is ruled from the top by a "godfather."  Any opposition to the "family" leads either to a physical elimination of the renegade or to his imprisonment.

Those who try to look into the affairs of the mafia and their possessions are eliminated mercilessly (many murdered Russian journalists, the attempts to poison Skripal, Navalny, and others).  The plundered country has long produced nothing but weapons.  Alas, the weapons that they produce are based on the old Soviet-era designs, while most of the parts and materials are sourced abroad.  All the supposedly newest weapon systems are nothing more than fiction to feed their own naive populace.

He explains that the brain drain from Russia left the country with plummeting social and medical services, rampant inflation, and product shortages.  He suggests that the only way the kleptocrats can keep stealing is to put on a show to convince the Russian people that there is something worse than Putin: the evil Americans. 

The "Things going poorly?  Start a war!" technique has been used throughout the centuries.  The problem is that Russia is so degraded that the cost of a real war would be more than it could bear, and things would get even worse in the homeland.

So it's all about posturing, distraction, and bluster.  Putin hopes to get the U.S. and the Europeans to give in on some minor detail and declare victory over the "evil West" so he can keep the stealing going for another few years.

The problem is that there's another country with an unpopular leader experiencing plummeting social and medical services, rampant inflation, and product shortages.  It's the United States, headed by Joe Biden, reeling from his Afghanistan disaster and widespread corruption and incompetence in his administration.  He, too, is playing a game — this one called "The evil Russians are going to attack any day now!"  Biden's first response to the Ukraine threat was to try to look less weak by sending 8,700 troops to NATO countries.

In a call to the Ukrainian president, Biden warned Zelensky that an imminent invasion is a "distinct possibility."  But Zelensky told Biden to "calm down the messaging," warning of the financial impact of panic and stated that he disagreed with Biden's dire assessment.

The good news is that Russia can't afford the cost of invading and occupying a country the size of Ukraine.  The bad news is that Biden has already given Putin all his concessions without anything in return.  He shut down the Keystone pipeline and ruined U.S. oil production, leaving Russia to swoop in and control oil and gas production for all of Europe.  Oil prices went from $53 a year ago to $88 today, an increase of 66%, putting millions of extra dollars into Russian pockets.  When Biden dropped opposition to the Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline, he made Putin's advantage in Europe permanent.  Biden has nothing left to give, yet he can't afford to appear any weaker than he already is.

This is like two drivers playing chicken on a long highway.  In this case, the scarier it looks, the better both do, but neither can back down.  It's a battle between the feckless and the soulless, both desperate to keep the game going to stay in power.

Ukraine is stuck in the middle.

Where this game stops, nobody knows.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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