2020-10-20 › Vladimir Putin has become tangled in his own web
The problem with freezing things in a defective
fridge is that after a while they start to stink. That’s what happened to the
nasty ancestral feud between the Armenians and Azeris in the rugged mountain
terrain of Nagorno-Karabakh. Vladimir Putin slammed them into the freezer drawer
marked “Eastern Ukraine, South Ossetia, Transnistria and miscellaneous other
territories – to be consumed at leisure” and forgot.
Now he is faced with a full-scale war on the
southern borders of Russia that could soon turn into a geopolitical flashpoint.
That’s how imperial power unravels: the centre
neglects the periphery, blood is spilt and strength ebbs away from the leader.
When he came to power 20 years ago Putin had two aims. The first was to replace
the imploding Soviet Union with a web of influence across the old empire. It was
spun with crafty diplomacy, targeted arms sales and energy supplies; its goal
was to stave off Russian decline.
Having created a strong, stable state he would
then project the Kremlin’s authority around the world, seizing opportunities
where he could. The intelligence services reported back when they detected signs
of American withdrawal in every continent. Cybertroops probed the chinks in
Putin began his time in the Kremlin with a
blunderbuss military operation against Chechnya in the northern Caucasus. After
the flattening of Grozny and largely unpunished atrocities against civilians, he
handed over the running of this low-intensity war to the GRU and the pro-Russian
Chechens of the thuggish Ramzan Kadyrov, who remains a loyal vassal. Chechnya
fell silent, was deemed “stable” and was placed in Putin’s deep-freeze.
To the west, he prodded Belarus towards a formal
union with Russia. He snatched Crimea from Ukraine and stirred unrest in the
Donbas, thus ensuring Ukraine would be written off as too unstable to become a
full member of NATO. To the east, he encouraged central Asian dictators to
enrich themselves in return for fealty to the Kremlin.
Now that system of delegation to loyalist henchmen
is falling apart.
In Nagorno-Karabakh, the ethnic Armenian enclave
that Azerbaijan says is rightfully its own, perhaps 1500 have died since
fighting began in late September. Ceasefires have collapsed because Putin can no
longer be trusted as an honest broker. If the war spreads across the border to
Iran, Putin will have an even deeper conflict of interest since he is counting
on selling bumper deliveries of weapons to Tehran now that the arms embargo
against the regime has been lifted.
Turkey, meanwhile, is supplying surveillance and
armed suicide drones to Azerbaijan. They are ripping Armenian tanks open like
tin cans. Otherwise it is chiefly a kind of trench warfare.
Soon the Armenians will turn to Putin for more
weapons and he will be put on the spot. He can’t escalate a war, and tip it in
Armenia’s favour, while trying to patch up a quarrel that threatens the
stability of his southern borders. It would, for one thing, push Azerbaijan into
a permanent axis with Turkey, which is already at loggerheads with Moscow in
northern Syria and Libya.
Perhaps Recep Tayyip Erdogan thought this was
going to be the first major drone-led blitzkrieg; instead Turkey’s involvement
will certainly ensure a long war. Armenians are bound together by the collective
memory of the 1915 “great catastrophe” – the slaughter of hundreds of thousands
of Armenians by Ottoman Turks.
In the First World War Armenian volunteers joined
the Tsar’s Caucasian army against the Turks. Their hope was to win their own
independent homeland under Russian protection after the war. That’s not
something that will be easily shaken off.
This is part of the broader paralysis of Vladimir
Putin. He is surrounded by seemingly unwinnable conflicts. He finds Alexander
Lukashenko, the Belarusian president, embarrassing and ducked out of at least
one meeting in Moscow, yet under pressure from Minsk he has put the Belarus
opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, exiled in Lithuania, on the Russian
wanted list. If Putin wants quiet on Russia’s western front, he has decided,
Lukashenko has to be propped up.
In Kyrgyzstan, popular anti-corruption protests
have toppled the third president since 2005. Neighbouring China is wooing
potential new leaders with promises of Covid-19 vaccines. Suddenly, to secure
the east, Putin has to compete more actively with China for influence in his own
Is he sleeping soundly in the Kremlin, I wonder?
Technically he can hang on to power until 2036. In fact, a new generation is
pushing its way up.
In Khabarovsk, in Siberia and physically close to China, there have been months
of street protests on behalf of a popular governor who the demonstrators say has
been framed for murder.
One plausible theory is that the Russian
opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned in August to stop him bringing his
ingenious protest methods to Siberian townships. If that’s true it’s a measure
of how far the Putin circle has failed to hear the rumble of discontent in
provincial cities from those frustrated by the deep problems that have been put
on ice by the former KGB spy who never quite came in from the cold.
источник › https://www.theaustralian.com.au/world/the-
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