A friend recently said ‘despite having amazing chess players, Russia seldom can think more than a moves ahead.’
Nice sounding analogy but in reality very few long-term geo-political policies work out. There are simply too many variables (actors, lack of information, random events). No one predicted the Wall would fall when it did. Many (including me) have predicted north Korea will collapse and it hasn’t. No one saw IS arriving and no one foresaw 9/11 and the consequences of that. Fukuyama’s repeat of Hegel’s End of History thesis proved equally myopic.
The idea of control is elusive and explains why Iraq fucked up because not only did the US not really a plan, it didn’t understand the region. This critique also extends to journalist who admire power (mostly right wingers or capitalist for obvious reasons). Forbes named Putin the most powerful man in the world in only May 2014.
However Russia is complex, far more so than the US in terms of the opaque nature of power, the coalitions that have to be made, the fact that almost no serious business makes an official profit but still makes an unofficial profit, the sheer breadth of the nation and the organisation it takes to run a country which is inefficient and constantly relies on soft and hard power inside the country to get anything done. Only China and India have greater complexity.
On this issue, the lack of diversity in the economy, the lack of bankable profit, the inefficiency of the state and its people, coupled with the difficulty getting standard investment due to instability, US & EU sanctions and a basic lack of trust of the state coupled with the crippling drop in oil prices by Saudi to primarily cripple Iran is royally fucking the state and as the state is the economy, the people.
Putin is in a tough position. He controls the media and it’s been very light on the crisis so far. However, news is out and it’s not long until panic begins to creep in. A run on the banks would be disastrous. Usually the West would be blamed and Putin is still popular enough to get away with it. But in the depths of winter, Russians are cynical enough. Right now the rouble will continue to sink. No traders are touching the rouble and Russians are hoarding dollars and trying to shift their money out of the country. In a country where serious wealth is controlled by only a few hundred people, this is ruinous for the rest.
What happens next? 1. Putin negotiates. 2. gets aggressive or 3. the state, meaning Putin, collapses. If its option 1, he will be playing for time. If its option 2, it gets scary but the West will have to face him down. If its option 3, in the long-term, that the best option but in reality, with the oligarchic power and so little political, civil society, it may simply be a shuffling of power rather than any fundamental changes.