Streetwise Professor

December 18, 2014

The Madness of Tsar Vlad, Annual Press Conference Edition

Filed under: History,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 10:13 pm

Putin gave his annual press conference today. It turned into a 3 hour and 10 minute marathon, which is pretty much par for the course.

Several times before I have pondered whether Putin is mad, or just feigning madness. I had been favoring the feigning alternative, but today’s event tilts the scales heavily to the “truly nuts” verdict (as @libertylynx has been arguing for some time).

Why do I conclude that? Here’s why:

You know, at the Valdai [International Discussion] Club I gave an example of our most recognisable symbol. It is a bear protecting his taiga. You see, if we continue the analogy, sometimes I think that maybe it would be best if our bear just sat still. Maybe he should stop chasing pigs and boars around the taiga but start picking berries and eating honey. Maybe then he will be left alone. But no, he won’t be! Because someone will always try to chain him up. As soon as he’s chained they will tear out his teeth and claws. In this analogy, I am referring to the power of nuclear deterrence. As soon as – God forbid – it happens and they no longer need the bear, the taiga will be taken over.

We have heard it even from high-level officials that it is unfair that the whole of Siberia with its immense resources belongs to Russia in its entirety. Why exactly is it unfair? So it is fair to snatch Texas from Mexico but it is unfair that we are working on our own land – no, we have to share.

And then, when all the teeth and claws are torn out, the bear will be of no use at all. Perhaps they’ll stuff it and that’s all.

So, it is not about Crimea but about us protecting our independence, our sovereignty and our right to exist. That is what we should all realise.

QED.

I think said bear is not snacking on berries and honey, but is grazing on magic mushrooms, for he is clearly hallucinating.

The paranoia is palpable: “someone will always try to chain him up! They will declaw and defang him!” Note too the explicit nuclear threat.

You know the “they” is the United States. The speech is shot through with paranoid and critical ravings about the US. Nothing is Russia’s fault. Certainly nothing is Putin’s fault. The country’s torments are attributable to the US, first and foremost.

The statement about “high-level officials” lamenting the unfairness of Russia having sole access to Siberia is also a shot at the US. Here Putin is recycling an urban myth that he first trotted out in 2007. In the telling, Madeleine Albright (a has-been high-level official) allegedly uttered these words. Here’s the story:

When Alexander Sibert told President Vladimir Putin that former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had said Siberia held too many resources for Russia alone, Putin dismissed the statement as “political erotica.” Albright might have found “political fantasy” more appropriate.

Putin said he was not aware of the comment, Albright denies ever making it, and no one else seems able to provide any evidence that she did.

But this hasn’t stopped Putin and others from attributing these thoughts to foreign figures who they say wish Russia harm.

Sibert, 70, a mechanic who works at the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Novosibirsk, brought up the purported statement in a question during Putin’s annual call-in show last month.

“I know some politicians entertain such ideas in their heads,” Putin replied, adding that Russia was able to and would protect its natural resources. [How does he know that? Just wait! All will be revealed.]

The only problem is that Albright, who is now a principal at the Albright Group strategic management and lobbying firm, denied through a spokeswoman that she ever entertained the idea.

“I did not make that statement, nor did I ever think it,” she said.

On Tuesday, Sibert was unable to provide a source for the alleged quote, or even a guarantee that he had heard it.

“I don’t know. I might have made a mistake,” he said by phone from Novosibirsk. “But I don’t think I did.”

But wait. It gets better!

In perhaps the strangest part of the story, there are those who argue that it doesn’t matter what Albright said — they know what she was thinking.

Boris Ratnikov, a retired major general who worked for the Federal Guard Service, said in a December 2006 interview with government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta that his colleagues, who worked for the service’s secret mind-reading division, read Albright’s subconscious a few weeks before the beginning of the NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia in 1999. [So now we know how Putin knows what is in the heads of foreign leaders.]

[Read the rest of the story. It adds even more ludicrous details.]

In other words, Putin is regurgitating a story that was proved to be bullshit seven years ago. A story that he himself dismissed once as “political erotica.” (Weird choice of words, that, especially given that Madeleine Albright is involved <shudder>). A story allegedly based in part on the security services’ “mind reading division.” You cannot make up this stuff. Go ahead. I dare you to even try.

He flogged the tiresome story (which as fantastical as the Albright one) that Nato violated a pledge not to expand to the east:

It is not now that this happened. You are an expert on Germany and on Europe. Didn’t they tell us after the fall of the Berlin Wall that NATO would not expand eastwards? However, the expansion started immediately. There were two waves of expansion. Is that not a wall? True, it is a virtual wall, but it was coming up. What about the anti-missile defence system next to our borders? Is that not a wall?

You see, nobody has ever stopped. This is the main issue of current international relations. Our partners never stopped. They decided they were the winners, they were an empire, while all the others were their vassals, and they needed to put the squeeze on them. I said the same in my Address [to the Federal Assembly]. This is the problem. They never stopped building walls, despite all our attempts at working together without any dividing lines in Europe and the world at large.

I believe that our tough stand on certain critical situations, including that in the Ukraine, should send a message to our partners that the best thing to do is to stop building walls and to start building a common humanitarian space of security and economic freedom.

You have to hand it to Putin, he is generous, letting 300+ million Americans live in his head, rent free. But I for one hate what he’s done to the place.

There was also a weird interlude where a slurring reporter from Kirov asked why stores were more likely to stock Coke and Pepsi than kvas, the fermented, putrid Russian drink. (In the summer it is sold by vendors from large wheeled tanks that could well be used to hold diesel or pesticide at other times of year.) Putin made a crack suggesting the man was drunk, which was a faux pas because his slurring was due to multiple strokes, rather than overindulging the kvas as Putin suggested. Putin then slurred Coke: “I do not know whether Coca-Cola is a harmful drink, but many experts say it is [harmful] for children”. Whatever.

As for the substance of the speech, it was tediously unoriginal, a 280 minute spinning of the hamster wheel. The Ukrainian government was overthrown by a coup. Russia’s population is growing. Blah blah blah.

He gave no hint of backing down in Ukraine.

He did acknowledge economic difficulties (how could he not?) but minimized them. He actually suggested there is a pony in there somewhere in the economic manure pile in which Russia currently finds itself: it will give the country an opportunity to diversify.

Like we’ve never heard that before. Hasn’t happened yet. Won’t happen anytime soon. The hamster wheel will just spin faster.

Putin grudgingly conceded the crisis could last for two years, at most, but the country’s massive reserves would prevent catastrophe: the markets certainly disagree. After that, things will be hunky-dory:

However, it is equally certain – and I would like to stress this – that there will be what experts call a positive rebound. Further growth and a resolution of this situation are inevitable for at least two reasons. One is that the global economy will continue to grow, the rates may be lower, but the positive trend is sure to continue. The economy will grow, and our economy will come out of this situation.

How long will this take? In a worst-case scenario, I believe it would take a couple of years. I repeat: after that, growth is inevitable, due to a changing foreign economic situation among other things.

Growth is inevitable! Well, eventually the economy will grow, but by how much? Post-2009, growth has been moribund. Absent another reversal in energy price trends, growth after the current crisis is likely to be moribund as well, given that it is almost inevitable that the institutional and legal changes necessary to encourage growth will not be forthcoming while an aging Putin is in power.

In sum, Russia is ruled by an autocrat with a tenuous (at best) connection to sanity, and who is not going to change policy one whit despite almost total isolation abroad and looming economic catastrophe at home. An deranged autocrat with the largest nuclear arsenal in the world-a fact that he never misses an opportunity to remind us of. Since he will only get more insane, the next months and years will be fraught indeed.

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26 Comments »

  1. wonder how could you watch that totally meaningless concotion of lies. You are right that world should be on a lookout , cause this psychopath wouldn’t hesitate to nuke if completely cornered.

    Comment by erik — December 19, 2014 @ 2:38 am

  2. Maybe he wants everyone to think he’s crazy. Nixon tried it and he was in a somewhat stronger position at the time.

    Comment by srp — December 19, 2014 @ 3:30 am

  3. srp– he is sort of victim of his own propaganda that combined with mental problems makes him unpredictable devil

    Comment by erik — December 19, 2014 @ 4:03 am

  4. @srp-That was my previous conjecture, and I alluded to it in the first paragraph. In previous posts I’ve quoted Machiavelli: “How at times it is a very wise thing to simulate madness.” But the more I watch Putin, the less plausible that becomes to me. If he is feigning it, he is an actor worthy of Olivier.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 19, 2014 @ 9:43 am

  5. Note how he is building his lies on top of his previous lies (about unfair posession of Siberia, http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/putting-words-in-albrights-mouth/193094.html ). With the plentiful resources that they (used to) have, the Kremlin gang can construct whole alternative Universes purely from lies.

    Comment by Ivan — December 19, 2014 @ 9:49 am

  6. Sorry, had only read the beginning of your posting before commenting 🙂

    Comment by Ivan — December 19, 2014 @ 9:54 am

  7. @Ivan-That’s OK. The NYT ran an article based on the old MT piece this morning. I’m sure they got the idea from me 😉

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 19, 2014 @ 10:03 am

  8. “they were an empire, while all the others were their vassals, and they needed to put the squeeze on them”

    Talk about projection. Putin’s and his gang’s paranoia about the US clearly stems from their knowledge of their own way of thinking. Try to imagine the US as a dictatorship with all the current resources, headed by a low-ranking KGB officer. Certainly a reason to be scared, and so they are.

    Comment by Ivan — December 19, 2014 @ 10:25 am

  9. I still lean towards pretending to be crazy. Getting sanctions lifted is a high priority and invoking nukes makes him look just crazy enough to get the West to blink. Notice also that he now has invited the one world leader to Moscow who has mastered crazy even better than Putin – Kim Jung Un.

    Comment by Ben — December 19, 2014 @ 11:11 am

  10. @Ben You mean, invited to get some quick coaching?

    Comment by Ivan — December 19, 2014 @ 12:06 pm

  11. I have to say, Professor, you are being a bit unfair to kvass – when properly made (not too sweet, not too sour, not watered-down), it is a nice alternative to any cold drink on a hot day.
    🙂

    Comment by LL — December 19, 2014 @ 12:39 pm

  12. Here is something that took my attention todya: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/dec/16/russia-economy-west-vladimir-putin

    I am wondering if “Putin is crazy! crazy! and he has nukes!” meme is being spread by the Russians themselves.

    Comment by LL — December 19, 2014 @ 12:43 pm

  13. Its too bad its impossible to follow when their Central Bank intervenes, presumably since their banks no longer have to market to market their assets the CBR can just as easily invent the number of dollars in its reserve but its amazing watching these huge spikes down around the 60 ruble-dollar corridor every once in a while. Poor Zerohedge writers are so confused — rubble is collapsing yet Russia is buying gold. Whats going on, gold is supposed to defeat those Jewish Banksters?!

    Comment by d — December 19, 2014 @ 12:50 pm

  14. If Madeleine Albright hasn’t thought this way, then she must be stupid. I think it’s obvious to anyone that Russia would have been better off if Siberia’s natural resources had been managed by say Norway or Scotland on Russia’s behalf.

    Gotta disagree with you about kvas though. It’s an acquired taste. The problem is that it’s high in calories, so definitely not healthier than Coke.

    Comment by aaa — December 19, 2014 @ 12:56 pm

  15. He is not crazy at all. In 2012, he realized that his modernization drive failed and there was no hope for making Russia richer under the current system, short of ever exploding crude prices (hence all the Arctic shenanigans). On the other hand, he saw what happened to various soft and hard dictators from Egypt to Ukraine. On the eve of Ukraine, his popularity stood at 29%, now it’s 80%. Whatever role his own resentment plays in this is not very material, he channels Russian resentment, since he cannot offer anything else.

    Comment by Krzys — December 19, 2014 @ 2:09 pm

  16. @aaa-Chinese are far more likely to think this way than Madeleine Albright. I mean that in all seriousness.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 19, 2014 @ 3:11 pm

  17. Interesting comments today. So, I am confident that everyone is aware that after the Revolution, large areas of Russia were occupied by Western Armies, including the US’? And we also know that in the 30’s, Japan did try to invade Siberia, and probably not because of the nice weather. And that Germany has invaded Russia twice, once trying to grab land in the First World War, and the next time trying to grab oil in the Second?

    I ask because I know from personal experience, having lived there, that every Russian is *very* aware of these events, and it was Russians, after all, that Putin was talking to.

    Comment by jon livesey — December 19, 2014 @ 3:13 pm

  18. @jon-And no doubt Russia is buzzing Swedish airspace and sending subs into Swedish waters is to get back at Charles XII and the other Vasa bastards.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 19, 2014 @ 3:16 pm

  19. They decided they were the winners

    No Vlad, they were the winners. As I said on my own blog back in August:

    For all the complaints modern Russians have over how they were treated by the West in the post-Soviet era, they actually came off very lightly. Aid money poured in, overseas visas were issued by the tens of thousand, and genuine attempts were made at reconciliation by both sides. The worst that can be said is the Russians were given well-meaning economic advice but, as nobody realised the degree to which they were prepared to beat the shit out of each other and kill over money, the results were disastrous. But note that Poland was given the same advice, and we don’t hear stories of mafia wars raging in Warsaw and Gdansk for a decade. By historical standards Russia, as part of a collapsing empire which had been defeated after a long and often bloody struggle against an ideological, military, and political enemy that remained strong, got off awfully lightly.

    Comment by Tim Newman — December 19, 2014 @ 3:46 pm

  20. I ask because I know from personal experience, having lived there, that every Russian is *very* aware of these events, and it was Russians, after all, that Putin was talking to.

    It’s good that they’re aware. But it would be better if they didn’t think that Russia alone is unique in having been invaded in the 20th century. Russians might do well to at least acknowledge that their fears of invasion should not be given any greater consideration than those of, say, Poland or Lithuania. And at least the Poles aren’t in the position of promoting a fear of invasion having spent half of the past 100 years invading and occupying its neighbours. Russians “fears of invasion” may generate an ironic snort or two in any passing Pole, Finn, Hungarian, Czech, Estonian, Latvian, or Lithuanian.

    Comment by Tim Newman — December 19, 2014 @ 3:51 pm

  21. @Tim-It’s not just the 20th century. They also go on about the Mongol Freaking Horde and the Tatar Yoke. Ironically, it was Kievan Rus proper, not the Muscovites, who bore the brunt of this. But the point is that they never get over it. Never.

    WWI is very equivocal: the Russians invaded Germany first. Even WWII is equivocal, when you consider Molotov-Ribbentrop. Russia/USSR not a hapless, innocent victim either time.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 19, 2014 @ 4:06 pm

  22. +++I ask because I know from personal experience, having lived there, that every Russian is *very* aware of these events, and it was Russians, after all, that Putin was talking to +++

    Too bad you were not able to recognize the obvious telltale signs of the Stalinist revisionist version of history. Which is still taught in Russia as the history.

    Comment by LL — December 19, 2014 @ 4:14 pm

  23. I think an honest appraisal of Russian history shows that Russian exceptionalism and trying to do things “the Russian way” has lead to nothing but underachievement and humiliation for centuries. Russia seems to start realizing it’s potential only when there is a conscious effort to become more European, such as under Peter the Great.

    Comment by JDonn — December 19, 2014 @ 5:01 pm

  24. @Tim-Adenauer said that Germans were Belgians with megalomania. Russians are basically Poles with megalomania.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 19, 2014 @ 7:54 pm

  25. @JDonn. Russia is the Wile E. Coyote of nations. Russians have always had these crazed ambitions, and crazed plans to achieve them. They always end up in some absurd catastrophe.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 19, 2014 @ 8:05 pm

  26. Good kvas ia excellent. But seriously, meeting Kim Jung is political erotica and the following link is what is on Putin’s mind, see https://twitter.com/molodyko/status/545747542647259136/photo/1

    Comment by traveler — December 20, 2014 @ 12:08 pm

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