Vladimir Putin’s Potemkin Russian Empire
Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security
Russian President Vladimir Putin loves the Olympics so much that his country is setting a new world record, spending $48 billion with plans to spend $51 billion. He has established his state as a Potemkin village for human rights enthusiasts and international spectators. Also Potemkin Russia is a falsehood in another critical area besides democracy- that of safety and security. Russia is in the midst of a wave of Islamist terrorism in response to separatist movements in the Caucasus and Syrian Civil War involvement.
Once upon a time in Russia, a count and major-general named Grigori Potemkin established fake villages and planted happy villagers on display to fool the foreign dignitaries and Catharine the Great of his progress in building the annexed territory in Crimea. Back then, Russia was proud as ever to be a young nation-state but not on the same footing as their refined European models. Russia, under Peter the Great had remodeled itself under France and French customs and Catharine followed the Eropeanist reforms. Appeasing foreign interests and the image of positioning herself as an enlightened Queen; along with Potemkin’s motivation of pleasuring his suspected mistrust and close confidant Queen, Catharine, led to the legacy of the Potemkin to this day.
Today, Vladimir Putin sees himself as a tsar of global sports activities. To secure his position, he has put on the old Russian Potemkin tricks of history or myth in releasing prisoners and the guarantee of safety. As the games of the 2014 Olympics approaches, Putin becomes more and more emotionally ecstatic and also vulnerable. Any small hiccup here or a big break in the invested money and politics of a cultic zealotry image he himself has formulated would shatter his dreams to pieces. He has affixed himself to the Olympics so directly and enthusiastically that he is more than determined to remain one with them than ever before as the days come closer and closer.
But does the international community believe Putin’s Potemkin strategy? Not really.
President Thomas Bach, of the the International olympic Committee (IOC) has attempted to promote the “universal laws” and “global ethics.” The “Sport for Peace and Development: Building a Peaceful and Better World through Sport and the Olympic Ideal” was submitted to the UN General Assembly as a four page document and draft resolution in October.
“Recalling the recognition of the valuable contribution of sport in promoting education, development, peace, cooperation, solidarity, fairness, social inclusion and health at the local, regional and international levels…”
What is known as the “Olympic Truce” between states and the efforts of the IOC to promote peace and human understanding across the globe have begun. Any concessions and liberal gestures from Moscow were immediately welcomed but now the Olympic thrust has lost its steam and concerns now rest not with liberalizing Russia politically and economically but on the safety of foreign and local spectators from real terrorist threats.
Long before the Olympics, Putin has pimped his Russia as the next “big” superpower state, without such reality backing the claim. What has happened instead is a falling out of the international system and international favor; and especially the West; meanwhile remaining in power election after election. The charm offensive to placate American enemies has been cited by many but the Syrian diversion and international diplomacy took over precedence for Russian foreign policy measures and regional issues closer to home became more and more important. Regionally, Russia uses operations and strategically they have attempted to turn a weakness into an inflated image via diplomatic brokering. Russia advertises itself as your designated mediator to the Central Asia epicenter conflicts or Iranian authorities.
In his corner pocket is also the American techno-traitor Edward Snowden, who is under a virtual house arrest in Moscow, visited daily by Russia’s internal security agency, the FSB, and also intelligence handlers. Reports of him working for an unknown Russian website and potential earning funds [or possibly even selling information or consulting with a foreign intelligence service] are high on the list of many suspicions but Russia has in many ways outplayed America here too: where there was an initial test and Russia denied entry for Snowden who waited day after day in an international airport. Then there was a flip of the switch; either a deal could not be made between Washington and Moscow or Snowden sang a song of interest. In any case, Russia found out that it was better to keep Snowden around; especially if it hurt the US and he gained the Russian welcome.
Trickery becomes the best Russian foreign policy against the stronger Western adversary. Anywhere it can take the advantage, it has instead chosen to do so; as long as reprisal and retaliation were at a minimum and the actions were strategic and political. On the issue of cooperation with the adversary, it is acceptable in so much as it is to Russian advantage; but trickery works so much better.
While the US could use the Potemkin strategy of trickery and illusion against Russia, it has not done so using any effective soft-power counter-strategy other than the issuance of a neglected cooperation- in which Russia has taken advantage of an extended hand. Ironically, mirror imaging is still an issue, as in the Cold War; and most likely Russia believes it was a trick of the enemy. So American can start learning how to play diplomatic tricks or continue to get led around, outplayed or cheated on the international stage.
In Ukraine, who controls the Bridge to the East of Europe? Russia exerts greater authoritarian control via the Ukrainian leadership of President Viktor Yanukovich’s government. Many have come out and spoken against the present regime’s coup against democracy and independence from Moscow. Nevertheless, leaving Russia is harder for a state than a person; and especially one of geopolitical and strategic interests, such as Ukraine possesses via leasing of the military bases and an exclusive economic exchange.
Ukrainian ex-Rear Admiral Ihor Tenyukh said, “Tomorrow the regime will enslave you too. Therefore we are calling on you to fulfil your military oath of loyalty to the Ukrainian people and not to the authorities who have gone off the rails.”
Admiral Tenyukh recognized this situation in 2010, where the Ukrainian naval chief was let go from all military service. Russia moves in, Ukraine loses independence and democracy; the US and Europe lose Ukraine to Russia: end-set-match; checkmate? Not so fast…
Massive protests in Ukraine began November as a resulted of President Yanukovich rejecting a major EU relationship agreement, accepting Russia’s counteroffer and imposing just last week a ban on protests to further control political opposition.
Today’s clashes of protestors and Ukraine security officials were labeled the result of “provocateurs and extremists” by the Ukrainian Interior Ministry. Tens of thousands defy the ban. The situation is increasingly bleak, hit rioting police with sticks to march back to Independence Square, where it has been cordoned and guarded against them. Echoes of the Orange Revolution reverberate loudly. Chants of “Shame!” and “Revolution!” are heard from the streets.
It seems that for now, the world will have to accept Vladimir Putin’s Potemkin Russian Empire and tolerate him and his national veneer at the coming 2014 Olympic Games; and Europe sits peacefully by a tyrant for twenty-six days.
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