Research: Commentary

Burnished Perspective of Russia is Just Implausible

Financial Times, January 1, 2015 | Letter

By Harry Blaney

Sir, It is fine to note, as Eugene Rumer does, Vladimir Putin’s own myopic and fantastical perspective of the world and of the interests of his own nation (“From inside Putin’s parallel universe, the crisis looks bright”, December 23). But it is just as strange for Mr Rumer to take this burnished perspective of Russia as a successful economy and nation and implausibly contrast it with his own image of the weakness of the west and the failings of our western leaders.

Mr Rumer seems to imply that the west is faring much worse than Russia, and that western leaders are worse than President Putin, his henchmen and the oligarchs that have plundered that sad country. Equally strange is his suggestion that Mr Putin’s aggression has been successful and justified in some way that, frankly, I can’t comprehend, considering the cost to Russia in both the short and long term.

Let’s be realistic. Living conditions for the average Russian are abysmal; their health is among the worst of any European and most developed Asian nations. There are areas of deep poverty and alcoholism is widespread. Further, the decline of oil and gas prices are not likely to be a passing fancy, but instead will suck the air out of Russian economic growth. Predictions are that Russia may be in for up to two years of recession. People are worried about bank failure, the rouble’s rapid fall has increased the fragility of an already marginal economy based on commodities. Not least, Mr Putin is making Russia a very dark place of growing authoritarian rule.

And if he does not leave Ukraine alone, which Mr Rumer thinks he will not, the sanctions now in place and the likely new, harsher ones will add to Russia’s troubles, and these are not likely to be insignificant. The expensive rearming of his army came at great cost to the average Russian citizen, who needs the basics of life, not sabre-rattling.

In short, there is a mismatch to Mr Rumer’s view of the condition and prospects of Russia and those of the west. Russia in any deep analysis is a failing state on so many levels. This could change, but Mr Putin, or Russia, has to turn from the path of self-destruction towards some semblance of rationality. And the west has to plan a strategy that entices Russia to be a more open, co-operative nation, while holding at bay its destructive, aggressive instincts.

CIP in the Press