It is difficult to dispute the stark assertion of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy that Russia’s war on his country will become an “endless bloodbath”. While he and his people will continue to be applauded for their courage and spirit, they will not get what they want: international intervention on a scale that will halt the barbarity of Vladimir Putin. Neither will Putin get the imperialist vindication he craves, a frustration that has already hardened his resolve to settle down for an exhaustive war of attrition.
Historians of the future will devote considerable effort to defining the essence of Putinism, and they will find that, prior to the war on Ukraine, there were plenty of signals as to what drove his project. In many ways Putin is firmly on the path to what Andrei Kovalev, who served during the final years of the Soviet Union in the USSR ministry of foreign affairs, described in his 2017 book Russia’s Dead End. Billed as an “insider’s testimony from Gorbachev to Putin”, Kovalev’s book depicts a Putin’s Russia dragged backwards: corrupt, authoritarian and with increasing unpredictability and antipathy towards the West and its allies. But Kovalev holds out the possibility that eventually Russia will be rebuilt from within, from the bottom up, a task that will take at least three generations. Kovalev also chastises the West for its self-interest and naivete in appeasing Putin.
Embezzlement and remilitarisation
Kovalev focuses on how “a rather narrow but powerful circle of ideologues vanquished history and established a monopoly over historical ‘truth’ or, more accurately, ‘pseudo truth’.” Russia’s 21st century czars simply kept the Soviet methods and apparatchiks in place, with Kovalev suggesting the West’s indulgence allowed Putin the space and wealth to exploit Russian citizens in a manner indicating a distressing degree of continuity. He quotes the poet Nikolai Nekrasov from 1875 who observed in the midst of the 19th century imperialism that Russians had endured tough times historically but none that were morally more despicable. Kovalev argues that verdict is even more applicable to recent times with the added ingredient of an unprecedented rise in world prices for oil and gas, enabling vast sums to be embezzled and spent on remilitarisation, an essential ingredient in the overall project of “restoring Russia’s greatness” …….