Saturday February 2, 2013

Anyone who follows the news is aware that recently Vladimir Putin put a stop to the adoption of Russian children to Americans. It is believed that the "Baby Ban" was retaliation for U.S. legislation on human rights. Last year, Americans adopted more than 900 children from the Russian orphanage system. Surprisingly, the Russian public actually supports the new policy. This is just one of the many indicators that Putin is leading his country down an increasingly cooler path in the world theater.

Over the years, Putin has pursued grim policies; he is making greater use of the military and secret police, which equals more repression. Additionally, Putin has moved his country closer to centralization to the point where he is creating a Russia that looks like the old Soviet Union. The downside to all of this is strained relations with neighbors and the west in general. The downside to the U.S. is the re-ignition of the Cold War, with its associated defense costs and foolish cloak and dagger games. We certainly don’t want to go back to those days, but we can’t stop Putin from initiating it on his own. So far he is doing a pretty good job of it.

If you look at Russian history, it seems inevitable that the country would drift towards autocracy when given the opportunity. Like the German Democratic Republic, A.K.A. East Germany, it has taken years to undo the state mind set of its people after the Germany’s were re-united. It’s probably going to take another generation before the old mind set is finally in the past. Looking back over the last 20 years, it seems as if Russia had a flirtation with democracy, nothing more. Self determination is a foreign concept in Russia, and while the country is not like the old Soviet Union, it appears that certain factions would like to retreat into the comfort and familiarity of a totalitarian state.

Further proof of this drift is the war on Chechnya. When Putin first came to power he launched a war, which essentially pits the new order against democracy, Chechen or any other form. That’s a strong indicator of where the country is at under Putin. While there have been a number of rumblings that Putin is unpopular with the Russian public, there are just as many indicators that demonstrate public acceptance. Is that the old propaganda factory back in full production? Looking at the Yeltsin years, Russia seemed to be the wild west of the east for a while. It was capitalism gone awry, causing the pendulum to swing too far in an unfamiliar direction. Putin has been all about correcting that shift.

I’ve always been fascinated by Russia and Russian literature. Reading Dostoyevsky and Solzhenitsyn made a powerful impression. You see a people who can be easy to fall in love with, yet a nationalistic tendency towards intrigue, plots, and conspiracies. To many Americans, Russia is synonymous with deprivation and a tragic attraction to pain and suffering. At the same time you see a country that is rich in natural resources, beauty, and likeable individuals. It’s a country that is holding a multi billion dollar lottery ticket that expired two seconds ago, or one big gold mine and no possible way of getting at it. Therein lies a possible answer.

Here’s an interesting fact; Russia is granting the ultra rich of the west citizenship to help them avoid excessive taxation. French movie star Gerard Depardieu has taken them up on the offer, along with many others. This is a sign of the old Soviet Union. Strapped for cash and willing to do things on a level with desperation to keep itself going. I’m thinking that this is where the root of the problem lies. Putin wants to stir up all the old rivalries with the west to get the dismantled Russian military machine cranked up again, providing work, and giving the people a sense of pride and accomplishment. The facts support the reality, producing war materiel can be a great economic stimulator. I wonder how much different we are when it comes to this war machine economic model. It is just one more sad reality that humankind still hasn’t figured out how to create prosperity for all without blood shed for some. Now, why is it that we would want to go there again?

Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.