Egos and Paranoia in Ukraine

Russia-Crimea You are probably aware of the situation. Vladimir Putin exercises his power, political judgement and ego. Russia with some military posturing assists Crimea in annexing itself from Ukraine and then legislates to join Russia. This follows public turmoil in Ukraine following years of economic malaise and rule by an increasingly oppressive and pro-Russian government.  The newly installed Ukraine Government rejects the annexing and defies Russia by looking to the west – the EU and NATO. That has to upset Russia. The Nato alliance and the UN complain about Russia’s behavior and threaten to implement economic sanctions particularly against wealthy Russian government officials. A simplified class analysis of whose at the big table making the decisions in this drama could be enlightening as to what happens next and as a way of seeing through a lot of detail.

The question is what classes of people are represented in the political class and those making the decisions? In Russia Putin and the key decision makers come from the Military Class (include police and any state secret service in this class as they act as the intellectual arm).  This class can get a bit paranoid. Is my army bigger than your army? Is NATO encroaching on our territory? It can also feed Nationalism (Whose team are you on? If you’re not with us then you’re against us.) They would generally prefer to have a fairly direct approach to a problem. When a military class is in ascendency then it is common practice to use the tools available as political instruments. These tools include media control (propaganda), prisons, physical intimidation and violence.

The Russian commercial class is increasingly wealthy in Russia and will be consulted but they are simply not at the big table.  They may make their opinions known but it will likely be couched in sycophantic terms as they remember what happened to a Russian Billionaire who developed political pretensions.  Russia’s intellectual classes, be they expert or ideological, are also sidelined and replaced by their military class equivalents.  So we can expect Russia to push as far as possible with the muscle while trying to placate on the financial economic side. They may even retaliate with economic sanctions of their own simply to send the message that they are not afraid.  They will not broker weakness in their ranks and will not want to be the first to blink.

Of course there are a lot of countries involved here but I said this was simplified so let’s just look at the US.  The Americans have a more diverse group of classes represented at the big table.  The most powerful class is the commercial class largely representing big business and big money.  The commercial classes have become deeply entwined with the military class including the CIA and other National Intelligence agencies (often referred to as the Military Industrial Complex).  The military class will have a seat at the big table and will be taken seriously though they will not be the primary decision makers.  The intellectual class in the US is split between the privately commissioned intellectual class (Think tanks etcetera) that is  highly politicised and there largely to support the commercial class; the Military Intelligence class and the Independent Experts (Universities etcetera). Independent expert advice is likely to be sought but it will be easily washed away by the interests and prevalence of the commissioned and the military classes.  The point is that the neurosis of the Military classes will not be very far from the surface, though at first it will be economic and financial objectives front and centre.  No doubt the military class is developing it’s own response independent of the Commercial classes and will be taking quiet steps to position that response. The US political class will itself be concerned with maintaining it’s power.  So what does it do?  The tools are diplomacy (keep talking) and then economic and diplomatic sanctions first.  The cost of conflict is simply too high for the margin of power and influence to be gained over Crimea.  Crimea was already host to the Russian Navy. The US and allies do not want to lose face, while Russia somewhat enhances it’s territory and has a political win. This might be the outcome the West has to hope for. The fear is that this is only the start of Putin’s agenda and that this same scenario will play out a few more times.

Economic sanctions will be a secondary factor in what Russia chooses to do. It will need to hold nationalism and egos in check and that can be hard after a success (actually the same goes for the US). One hopes that on the ground in Crimea it does not erupt into celebratory violence against Ukrainian supporters and in Ukraine, paranoid recriminatory violence against Russian supporters.  Either could spark more political events.  Quiet unreported oppression of dissenters would be preferred by Russia. If Russia starts militarily or politically posturing over more of  Ukraine (and it might just do that) expect that the sanctions will harden and the NATO alliance will feel the need to assert itself militarily.  This will be done by moving troops and equipment closer to the Russian borders and perhaps more radically a naval blockade of Crimea.  They will of course feel that they have been left no option.  That could turn nasty. Escalation and brinksmanship will become the norm. Nobody actually wants big powers going to war. The cold war simmers!

Note 1: I’m not sure when it happened but it is clear that the independent US intellectual elite have not been a strong influence on US Federal politics for a long time. They have been replaced by a pseudo intellectual class (e.g. commissioned partisan think tanks and consultancies) that have served to polarise popular opinion and politics particularly on the right. The role of many think tanks is to generate arguments to support a predetermined political and ideological positions. I believe the shambles that is US politics and policy is in part a direct result of the failure of the US to engage it’s intellectual class which just so happens to be one of the best in the world. Note 2: Corporations have their own class structure and this largely defines how they will see and react to issues.

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March 18, 2014 · 10:36 am

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