Thursday, June 18, 2015 at 6:53 AM

Putin’s Military Maneuvers Just Mercenary ‘Distractions’?!

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

There’s no denying the potential triggers inherent in NATO forces conducting military exercises in the Baltic Sea this week. Especially given that Russian forces are more poised than ever to invade Ukraine, and Putin is planning to deploy new intercontinental ballistic missiles. Not to mention that Obama is planning to deploy tanks, armored vehicles, and artillery bases in eastern Europe as a bulwark against Russian aggression.

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This situation is ripe for miscalculations, accidents, or provocations, which could lead to hostile fire between Russian and Western forces. But even a few skirmishes are not likely to escalate into full-scale war.

Yet, not surprisingly, CNN and other news organizations are reporting on these developments as if they were as grave as allied forces crossing the English Channel to confront German forces on Normandy Beach.

Mikhail+Khodorkovsky+Mikhail+Khodorkovsky+nqhzKPlalu-lThis is why I am so heartened that Russian dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky has offered a perspective that should allay concerns about Putin’s intent.

Khodorkovsky, of course, is famous for making the improbable journey from an ordinary Russian Jew to the richest man in Russia, only to become an imprisoned martyr (for over ten years) and now a celebrated dissident. I have written a fair amount about their fateful relationship in such commentaries as “Putin Decrees Khodorkovsky, His Political Nemesis, a Russian Madoff,” December 31, 2010.

Khodorkovsky is all too familiar with Kremlin machinations. What’s more, his political activism poses a far greater threat to Putin’s presidency these days than NATO’s military exercises.

Accordingly, it’s worth noting his authoritative take on Putin’s military maneuvers:

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s confrontation with the West is ‘artificial’ and aimed at protecting Russia’s ruling elite and distracting attention from a corrupt system, a former Russian oil tycoon said on Wednesday.

‘The current confrontation with the West is absolutely artificial,’ Mikhail Khodorkovsky told the Atlantic Council think tank.

‘The cooling of relations has been inspired by those Russian elites who want to hold on to power.’

(Reuters, June 17, 2015)

15662361_1-300x201Mind you, I still think Obama should counter Putin’s maneuvers by arming the pro-Western Ukrainian forces fighting Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. After all, as former world chess champion and fellow dissident Gary Kasparov might advise,, Obama can’t play checkers while Putin’s playing chess.

As it happens, I share Khodorkovsky’s view that Putin is just playing military games to distract ordinary Russians from the ravages of his kleptocracy.

In fact, here is what I opined over a year ago – in “Ukraine’s (Peaceful) Orange Revolution Turns ‘Red’,” February 25, 2014 – was motivating him to do so.

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It would make a mockery of the Cold-War principles he governs by if Putin allows these Ukrainian revolutionaries to put his puppet Yanukovych on trial — the way Egyptian revolutionaries are doing with their former leaders Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi; or worse, if he allows them to execute Yanukovych in the streets like a bunch of hungry hyenas devouring a gazelle — the way Libyan revolutionaries did with Muammar Gaddafi.

After all, Putin has made no secret of his contempt for what he decried as Obama’s failure to protect America’s puppet leader, Mubarak, from avenging mobs.

Let me hasten to clarify, however, that Putin’s contempt was and remains entirely self-interested. Because his only reason for standing in solidarity with everyone from Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia to Yanukovych of Ukraine [and al-Bashir of Syria] is that he lives in mortal fear that the popular uprisings that toppled them might topple him too. Period.

This is why he must’ve been a little unnerved yesterday when even pro-Russian Ukrainians were calling for Yanukovych’s head after they got a glimpse of the obscenely opulent, Louis-XVI lifestyle he was living at their expense. So just imagine what Putin’s peasant supporters in Russia would want to do to him if they were suddenly presented with clear and convincing evidence that he lives a lifestyle that’s a thousand times more extravagant than Yanukovych’s, having amassed billions in ill-gotten gains over the years as a KGB officer turn politician.

After eight years in power, Putin has secretly accumulated a fortune of more than $40bn. The sum would make him Russia’s (and Europe’s) richest man.

(“Putin, the Kremlin Power Struggle and the $40bn Fortune”, The London Guardian, December 21, 2007)

Trust me, Putin lords over a kleptocracy that has fleeced public funds on such an unprecedented scale that it makes kleptocracies headed by notorious African despots seem petty by comparison. Which of course is why he is so anxious to stoke the combustible geopolitical crisis in Ukraine to deflect the international media from drawing unavoidable parallels between Yanukovych’s illegal accumulation of wealth and his. Far better, for example, to get Russians drunk with pan-Russian pride than to have them pose sober questions about the billions he and his cronies embezzled from the $50-billion price tag for the Sochi Olympics.

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Enough said?

Related commentaries:
Putin decrees
Ukraine’s revolution

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