What is going on in Russia, and in Ukraine to some extent, is on my mind. Even more on my mind is what I've been reading in some of the non-mainstream corners of the web. Peak oilers, doomers and so forth seem sharply divided about exactly what happened in Ukraine, and what the larger context is.
The mainstream media, and even some peak oilers, think that Putin is Hitler or something close to it. The takeover of Crimea through a rigged election is a renewal of the Cold War and Russian expansionism. Troops are massing on the border, ready to take over the rest of Ukraine, and Estonia is next. The US must intervene militarily, or at least by funding anti-Putin Russian activists. The whole thing could end in World War III.
Some of them claim that the revolution in Ukraine (against a democratically elected government, though the elections themselves were thoroughly corrupt) was bought and paid for by the US to the tune of 5 billion dollars, and that the protestors were largely unregenerate Nazis or even that all the western Ukrainians are Nazis.
Meanwhile, a few other pundits mostly think that Putin is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Putin has called for a Russia in which individual rights are less important than traditional values. Sure, the members of Pussy Riot have been beaten and flogged, and homosexuals increasingly have reason to fear for their very lives, but who cares about those Bad Women and Awful Perverts when the vast mass of Russians -- and now the Crimeans, too -- are being protected from the tyranny of the increasingly psychopathic Western banksters and corporations?
Obviously, I think they're both wrong, or I'd hardly bother to think this through, much less post about it.
That Dmitri Orlov
thinks this is perhaps not too shocking. He's a Russian-American, and he's already shown his MRA-bro attitude toward feminism. But The Saker
, too, believes that Putin is the great white hope against the West.
Orlov and The Saker are, simply, dangerously misguided with their hero worship of Putin, who is just one more narcissistic, power-hungry asshole among all the other narcissistic, power-hungry assholes who currently run the US, Europe and Asia. Putin doesn't care about Russia; Putin cares about Putin.
Yes, Russia is -- currently -- enjoying one of those upward jags on the sawtoothed graph of civilization's decline. Most of this is actually no thanks to anything Putin has done: of all the asinine things Westerners have said about Russia, John McCain was closest when he called Russia a giant gas station masquerading as a country. The Soviet Union's collapse came during that period of very low gas prices in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and Russia's current upswing is largely to do with the rising price of fossil fuels.
That may seem a good bet these days, but the problem will eventually be demand destruction
, a concept which many libertarians and capitalists refuse to understand. In Europe, the price of living the good fossil-fuel life has already slipped out of reach of many Spaniards and Greeks. They're returning to a lower-tech, shorter-lived agricultural lifestyle without oil. And that's starting to spread outside of the PIIGs. We don't really know how many Americans have already dropped out of sight of our official records and the official lifestyle, and we probably won't know just how bad it's getting for a while longer. But when you raise the price of a commodity past what most people can afford, demand for it drops. Then prices collapse again. Never back to what they were before, and the commodity is unlikely to regain much demand, but enough to exert deadly economic pressure on the producers.
(This is why we'll never actually run out
of oil and gas, by the way. What will
happen is that it will become too expensive to get the stuff out of the ground, when prices go up past the point anybody can afford while profits still
aren't high enough to offset the costs of production.)
True, the Russian people are safe from ruthless Western exploitation. They are now free to be exploited and systematically drained of wealth by their own
homegrown power elite. For now, Putin looks good, because the economy is expanding. He won't look so good when Russia hits the next jag downward. The Saker can perhaps be forgiven for failing to understand this, but as a peak-oiler Orlov should know better.
The ultimate proof, to my mind, of Putin's true character is precisely his expansionism. Russia is currently trying to gain new territories, rebuilding an empire, during a period of good times. This is a fantastically short-sighted move; to do this involves burning through what remains of their fossil-fuel wealth. Perhaps, like the Roman Empire before him, Putin hopes to gain more in resources than he loses, at least for a while.Robert Scribbler
, on the other hand, is furiously denouncing anybody who defends Russia in the comments to his blog. The simple fact is that he doesn't see how things look to the average, mainstream Russian. As I've said, Putin looks good to most Russians right now.
The Russian Mafia is pretty much gone. For the first time since the collapse, the average Russian lifespan is increasing, and Russia is economically expanding. If you refrain from criticizing the government and especially Putin, and you don't side with Those People against traditional Russian Orthodox family values, you can live a very good life, at least for now.
And he's going to look even better in the near future, because in my opinion western Ukraine is inevitably headed toward failed-state status. It's in the same situation as Greece, mired in debt. Bizarrely, it's hoping to join the EU so it can run up the bill even higher, under the impression that this will magically solve all its problems and raise the living standard to something resembling Germany or at least Great Britain. It's easy to see where they got that idea, given that that's still the official line in Western media -- it's being sold to us as well. And the EU is undoubtedly eager to have Ukrainians buy this illusion, because it's increasingly desperate for another country to loot and strip resources from. Ukraine will learn too late that the wealth pump runs only one way.
As western Ukraine spirals into chaos while Crimea does reasonably well under Russian rule, Putin's image is going to get a big boost, even in the West. John Michael Greer has predicted that Marxism will see a resurgence in intellectual fashion in the West in the coming years; this might become one of the impetuses for that. Larger context
You remember that "food price index" that predicted the unrest of the Arab Spring? Well, this spring, it's been bumping along at roughly the tipping point, 210. In March it was at 212.8
. Trouble was pretty much bound to break out somewhere
; Ukraine and Venezuela happened to be those somewheres.Why
does Russia have such a hardon for Ukraine? Historical reasons, of course, but it's not impossible that there are others. Ukraine is conspicuously lacking in fossil-fuel deposits of any sort -- the kind that draw the unwelcome attention of the great powers. What it does have is some of the planet's greatest farmland.
Is Putin merely doing another power-grab, or is he far-sighted enough, clear-sighted enough, to understand the value of that? Probably the former, but at least some other eyes may have an eye toward future food shortages.
But the most disturbing thing in this scenario is fallout from global warming. The majority of Russia's land mass sits on permafrost. While many Americans still sit with their fingers in their ears, chanting "Global warming is a liberal lie!", Russia is already suffering its effects. That permafrost has been steadily thawing and drying out for a while now. Since it is a dense mass of peat-like vegetation, it makes good fuel. And it has begun to burn on a massive scale
The burning spread into agricultural areas, so it's beginning to directly affect Russia's ability to feed itself. So far, of the bloggers I've mentioned, Scribbler is the only one talking openly about this. Take a look;
it makes for chilling reading.
I don't want to think about the boost this is going to give to global warming. I really don't.
It's amusing that apparently some people believed the thawing of the permafrost would create more agricultural land. Their only contact with plants must be the potted plants in the buildings they work in, cared for by maids and servants. They seem to be unaware that crops need not only sunlight but soil, and decent soil takes thousands of years to create, not a few seasons of warmth. Tundra soil is piss-poor; that's one reason the plants growing in permafrost have the special adaptations they do.
My conclusions, such as they are:
-- The fact is that the US no longer has the power to project its presence that close to Russia and that far from its power base. We are no longer that strong.
-- Sooner or later, Putin is going to run Russia right into another Afghanistan. (For those who don't know, Afghanistan was the Soviet Union's Vietnam.)
I tried to have no more posts of doom, I really did. But I need to talk out loud, so to speak, to sort out in my head all that's going on here.