Tags Posts tagged with "President Vladimir Putin"

President Vladimir Putin

Insomnia. METRO photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Have you been waking up thinking at night? There is so much to think about, even to be deeply concerned about. There is COVID-19, of course. No one wants to get the disease, and if you already had it, you don’t want to get it again, as some people reportedly have. You also don’t want any of the long-hauler symptoms to afflict you: fatigue, brain fog, aches and pains, trouble breathing, dizziness, headache, and at least nine more on a reported list. In fact, the list is so comprehensive, it’s enough to give you anxiety, especially if you already have had the illness. Oh yes, and anxiety is also one of the symptoms.

Then there is the Ukraine. Normally a country that was somewhere in Eastern Europe, in the same general area as “Fiddler on the Roof,” now its whereabouts as Russia’s western neighbor are known around the world. We watched as Putin sent more than 100,000 soldiers to overrun its borders. Poor little Ukraine, horrid bully Russia. We are sending them an unprecedented amount of money and military aid, and we have lowered our national oil and gas supplies. Will we have enough resources if we are attacked? Even as we cheer the valiant resistance and success of the victims of naked aggression, we worry about Putin’s possible use of nuclear arms. He has over 2000 small such weapons, apparently, and it’s the Cold War all over again.

The problem of immigration was brought right to our door with the arrival of immigrants sent by southern governors of border states. They have been literally deposited here by the thousands via buses, and they have been humanely received, if we are to accept what we are told by the media. As I have written in this column before, they can represent an opportunity as well as a challenge for areas in need of Help Wanted. Indeed, I am now reading that some of the immigrants are put to work cleaning up the devastation wrought by hurricane Ian in Florida. They are even being sent back down there to help. Who knows what to believe?

If you are going into New York City, how likely are you to ride the subway? The reports of incidents underground are frightening. So are horrible, unprovoked attacks on the streets. Now, I grew up in the city, and I am used to all sorts of miserable statistics concerning crime there, but I somehow never felt fearful. With some eight million people, crime is unfortunately inevitable. And NYC isn’t even statistically the worst. New Orleans is. But somehow, these recent incidents seem more violent.

Climate change has finally penetrated national conversation. The destruction and deaths in Puerto Rico and now in Florida and the Carolinas caused by the last two hurricanes have made those of us who live on islands and along the shores more conscious of future threats. While there have always been hurricanes, some with even legendary force, the prospect of more and stronger blasts due to climate change has prompted scary instruction about emergency bags and escape routes.

Inflation and its direction are also of grave concern. Going to the supermarket now seems to net about half as many bags of groceries for the usual food budget. Restaurants have decidedly become more expensive, as they have to pay more to function. And home values seem to have stopped rising and begun to cool. The stock market, while it is not the economy, has dropped like a rock. That negates the “wealth effect” homeowners and investors feel that encourages them to spend more freely.

Heck, I even worry about the New York Yankees. Yes, they have won their division, and you might say, “handily.” That’s exactly the problem. The last time they won by a big margin, they lost their competitive edge, along with the series, remember? It even happened this year right after the All-Star break. Teams do better when they have to fight until the last minute.

Awww, forgeddaboutit! Go back to sleep.

Russian nesting dolls

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Incredibly, one man has altered the world. 

On Feb. 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin directed his troops into neighboring Ukraine, and the killing began. Ukrainians, Russian soldiers, mercenaries, sympathetic foreign fighters, civilians — all shot each other. Eastern Ukrainians were deported into Russia by the thousands, cities throughout Ukraine were destroyed, families were ripped apart, millions of Ukrainians fled to other countries, schools stopped, medical services halted, commerce and cultural activities were squelched, random bombings put lives in a lottery. Those are just some of the horrific consequences of Putin’s order against one country.

But the repercussions of that one act are being felt around the globe. Countries that depended on wheat and other agricultural supplies grown and shipped from Ukraine and Russia, are now frantically seeking alternate sources, if they can afford them. Oil and gas, primarily piped from Russia and Ukraine, have been cut off. Exports of hundreds of other products from these two countries have stopped. Oil and gas prices have skyrocketed, leading the way to global inflation. Nations have realigned geopolitically and militarily or strengthened their defense pacts by sending troops and weapons to allies. And other campaigns, to control climate change and suppress the coronavirus, have diminished as national budgets are modified.

What does Putin want?

There has been much speculation about his goals and his fears. They may have crystalized during these ensuing months, or Kremlin watchers may have caught on. One such scholar, who writes about Russia’s politics, foreign policy and, for a score of years, has studied Putin’s behavior, has put forth a cogent scenario in this past Tuesday’s The New York Times. Tatiana Stanovaya believes that Putin has a grand scheme whose goals are threefold.

The first is the most pragmatic: the securing of a land bridge through the Donbas region of the southeast to Crimea. Russian troops seem to have already captured Luhansk, which is part of the Donbas. Apparently, Putin believes the West will accept that Russian troops cannot be dislodged from there and will not cross any red lines to directly engage in such a military effort, eventually abandoning the idea and the territory to Russia.

The second goal is to force Kyiv and the Zelensky government to capitulate from exhaustion and demoralization after one or two years. Russia would then launch a “Russification” of the country, erasing Ukrainian culture and nationhood and imposing Russian language, culture and education. Thus Russia would have expanded its territory and stopped NATO from reaching Russia’s current borders.

The third goal is the most ambitious: Putin wants to build a new world order. “We are used to thinking that Mr. Putin views the West as a hostile force that aims to destroy Russia,” according to writer Stanovaya. “But I believe that for Mr. Putin there are two Wests: a bad one and a good one.”

The “bad” one is the one currently in power and led by elites who are “narrow-minded slaves of their electoral cycles who overlook genuine national interests and are incapable of strategic thinking.” And the “good West”? He believes that “these are ordinary Europeans and Americans who want to have normal relations with Russia and businesses who are eager to profit from close cooperation with their Russian counterparts.”

Today, Putin is convinced, the bad West is declining while the good West is challenging the status quo with nationally oriented leaders like Viktor Orban in Hungary, Marine Le Pen in France, and Donald Trump, “ready to break with the old order and fashion a new one.” 

The war against Ukraine, with its undesirable consequences like high inflation and soaring energy prices, “will encourage the people to rise up and overthrow the traditional political establishment.” This fundamental shift will then bring about a more-friendly West that will meet the security demands of Russia.

If that has a familiar echo, it is not so different from the Communist expectation that the proletariat will rise up and embrace Marx and Lenin. We know how that turned out.

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

The idea that wars would cease if countries were economically tied tightly together seemed to make sense to the world’s leaders immediately following World War II. It sounded like a reasonable premise. After all, why would any nation attack its neighbor if its economy depended on trading with that neighbor, right? In past centuries, wars were started to gain land and the riches they yielded.

Before the Industrial Age, economies were agrarian and depended on land ownership. But by the middle of the 20th century, a huge variety of goods could be exchanged across borders cheaply, especially with advances in transportation. Countries could be locked together by mutual profit rather than by expensive and bloody wars.

For more than 70 years, this theory actually worked in practice. Europe was a prime example. The British had already stopped fighting the French, who stopped fighting the Germans, who stopped attacking Slavic countries, and so on. Instead, they did business together, more or less peacefully, vacationed in each others’ mountains and on each others’ beaches and even formed what they called a European Union. It is not like the United States in that its 27 members must act unanimously or be expelled, but despite infighting, countries want to be in it. Once in, nations can enjoy more cheaply the fruits of economic transactions and a certain amount of financial support. 

The Russians were the world’s third largest producer of oil. They got some $123 billion of their export revenue from supplying crude oil to the rest of the globe, plus refined petroleum-like petrol and diesel at $66.2 billion, gas at $26 billion and coal at $18 billion (2019 figures), especially to neighboring European countries, including Ukraine. Russia was the largest exporter of wheat, plus iron and nickel, nitrogen-based fertilizers and a wide variety of raw materials.

If at war, Ukraine would halt its trade with Russia, which could affect Russia’s economy. So why would Russia start a war with its Ukrainian neighbor? It doesn’t make economic sense. There goes the theory that countries who trade together play nicely together. In fact, it is as if a bully in the schoolyard has begun beating up a smaller child who is supplying him with candy.

President Putin says he fears the encroachment of NATO and must have a buffer between Russia and the other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that was organized expressly to defend against a possibly aggressive Russia. Churchill always considered Russia the biggest threat. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, nor of the European Union. Putin further says more that makes no sense about denazifying Ukraine.

One thing seems to be obvious. Putin is not trying to grab Ukraine for its GDP. His army is pursuing a scorched earth attack, destroying apartment buildings, hospitals, industrial plants and whole cities, as it tries to establish a land bridge between the Donbas in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. This would afford Russia uninterrupted access to the Black Sea, a goal of landlocked czars for centuries. But what he is really after is power.

Perhaps, Putin thought that his trade ties with other countries would keep them from interfering in his “special military operation” in Ukraine. No military riposte materialized after he grabbed Crimea. Perhaps he hoped his actions would serve to divide NATO members in their response to him. In fact, only Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary, has refused to condemn Putin, straining what has been a Warsaw-Budapest alliance within NATO. On the opposite side of the spectrum, German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, said that no one could assume Russia would not attack other countries given its violation of international law in Ukraine, and that he would support Finland and Sweden if they decided to join NATO. Scholz made his comments despite Germany’s dependence on Russia for most of its import of gas.

So much for the hope that economic ties peacefully bind.

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

If it was President Vladimir Putin’s intention to be the center of global attention, he has certainly succeeded. Not much can push the latest COVID news off the top spot. Maybe inflation and how it is affecting the average resident can, but that’s nothing compared to the dominance of the situation in Ukraine and the speculation about what Putin’s next move will be. There seem to be numerous Putin specialists who profess to have studied the Russian dictator’s every move for many years and know what his plan is. Or, does he have a plan? Is this a story that he is writing as he goes along? This makes for lots of rhetoric among the pundits. 

One thing is sure. The serious possibility of Russian aggression has caused North Atlantic Treaty Organization members to stand together and reaffirm their alliance. Perhaps this was Putin’s test. There was little reaction when the Russians invaded and took over Crimea in 2014. Would anyone really care if they took over all of the Ukraine?

Well, the answer to that question is decidedly YES. And the United States has stepped forward to reaffirm it alliance with and leadership of NATO by organizing the threat of severe economic sanctions against Russia, sending military equipment to Ukraine and finally sending a symbolic number of troops to NATO countries that border on Ukraine, namely Poland and Romania. A small number of soldiers also went to Germany, perhaps to bolster the resolve of the newly elected German leader, Chancellor Olaf Scholz, to honor its alliance. 

Germany has the most to lose as far as its energy supply goes. Some 38% of the European Union’s natural gas comes from Russia, according to Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office. Much of it is imported by Germany to heat homes in winter and enable factories to operate. The loss of that source of energy would certainly cause economic pain to Germans and other European residents, who would have to pay more for significantly less supply. And of course, that furthers the impact of inflation.

Russia’s overt demands include halting NATO’s expansion and reducing its military exercises and presence in Eastern Europe. Specifically, Putin wants guarantees that Ukraine will not be allowed to join NATO, which its current leadership has indicated it would want to do in the future. However, noted globalist and New York Times columnist, Thomas L. Friedman, suggested in the issue of February 16, that Putin’s fear is that “Ukraine becomes Westernized. He fears that one day Ukraine will be admitted to the European Union.” If  such an event were to happen, which Friedman believes young Ukrainians dream about, they feel it could “lock in their frail democracy and lock out corruption and Putinism.”

Friedman goes on to point out that “Putin seized Crimea and first invaded part of Eastern Ukraine in February-March 2014. What else was happening then? The European Union’s 28 member states were forging a new E.U.-Ukraine Association Agreement to foster closer political and economic ties, signed on March 21, 2014.” Putin’s greatest fear, according to Friedman, “is the expansion of the E.U.’s sphere of influence and the prospect that it would midwife a decent, democratic, free-market Ukraine that would every day say to the Russian people, ‘This is what you could be without Putin.’” 

Meanwhile, Putin is deciding, according to Friedman, “If  I go ahead with a full scale invasion and it goes bad — wrecking Russia’s economy and resulting in Russian soldiers returning home in body bags from a war with fellow Slavs —could it lead to my own downfall?”

Whatever Putin’s thoughts are, he has used the threat of military force to bring the Western leaders to the table for extensive talks. Perhaps the diplomats will remake the Eastern European map without resorting to war. 

Until there is some sort of resolution to this stand off, what can we, here in America, expect? We will have to deal with the possibility of growing shortages and accompanying inflation, which in fact we are already experiencing at the gas pumps.