Personal observations #7: Putin’s Russia is a bigger threat than Daesh
In contrast, Putin’s Russia represents a significant threat to liberal democracies. Unlike Daesh, Russia is an important piece of the global jig saw, controlling an intricate pattern of complex, politically sensitive borders in the west and a long, porous border with China in the east. Although Russia’s territory is vast its influence is much reduced since 1989. The country is sore about this, especially old school Soviet patriots like Putin, who hates the fact that former colonies like the Ukraine and Estonia are now among Moscow’s critics. By transgressing international border agreements Putin can destabilise these countries and distract domestic attention away from Russia’s sinking economy. These dangerous games risk provoking a conflict with NATO. Putin’s willingness to play politics with Russia’s gas supplies to Europe is a threat to the world’s fragile international system. His support for Assad’s regime in Syrian may yet lead to Russia and the US fighting a proxy war in the Middle East. Meanwhile the quality of life of ordinary Russians degrades year-on-year and corruption has choked up the country’s old bureaucracy.
Russia’s democracy is now a sham (read Ben Judah’s excellent Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell in and out of love with Vladimir Putin). A modern day Tsar, Putin controls everything from the Kremlin – he personally appoints the Russian Federation’s regional governors, a key criteria is how much tribute they will pay. Putin’s court shares his KGB and / or St Petersburg background. His intimates are all enormously rich, there is no one to hold them to account, and they are gradually bleeding Russia dry. Some regard Putin’s grip on power and control of the public space as stable. Others see it as unsustainable. Certainly, Russia’s exhausted, cynical middle class hope Putin’s regime will one day end. But Putin’s replacement might not be an improvement – Stalin came after the Romanovs. Next year is the 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution, but there is no threat in sight – Russia’s most credible opposition leader, Boris Nemstov, was assassinated on the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge, just outside the walls of the Kremlin, in February 2015.