Thursday, January 4, 2018

Is Putin the Pyrrhus of the 21st Century?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 4 – In classical times, Pyrrhus, kind of Epirus, was noted for winning victories against Macedonia and Rome at such a great price that his kingdom could not afford any more triumphs – which are now called “pyrrhic” in his honor.  Ever more Russian commentators are now suggesting Vladimir Putin is the Pyrrhus of today.

            In a blog post yesterday, Igor Yakovenko describes the Kremlin leader’s last year as one of “catastrophic victories” as a result of which “the internal size of Russia has been reduced” according to Leo Tolstoy’s formula in which “the numerator is what he represents and the denominator is what he thinks of himself” (

                If one uses this way of measuring Russia’s real size, the numerator is “the sum of all that Russia has achieved in economics and politics, while the denominator is what is said about the country on television and what its population thinks about Russia,” a number that is more or less accurately reported by Levada Center polls.

            As for the denominator, Yakovenko says, “the television speaks round the clock about the greatness of Russia and about how it by itself is saving the world from world terrorism, the treachery of the West and the fascists who have seized power in Ukraine.”

            That Russians accept this, he continues, is shown in the poll results which show that today 64 percent of Russians think that their nation is a great one and has a particular importance in world history, “five times more than in 1992,” while the fraction of those who think the Russian nation is like other peoples has fallen from 80 percent in 1992 to 32 percent now.

            As for the numerator, he suggests, despite Putin’s continuing lies, the real incomes of Russians continue to fall, and “more than 20 million citizens of Russia are now living in poverty, having incomes below the minimum standard of living.” But despite this, Russians are proud of the pseudo or even fake victories the Kremlin claims in foreign policy.

                Putin claims and Russians believe that Russia defeated ISIS on its own, but “the terrorist quasi-state ISIS has two capitals, Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. Both were liberated from terrorists with the support of an international coalition led by the United States,” Yakovenko says.  “Neither the forces of Asad nor the forces of Putin took part in this.”

            “This doesn’t mean,” he continues, “that Russia did not take part in the defeat of ISIS.” But it has strongly exaggerated its role. “That is, the denominator approached infinity while the numerator represented a quite modest figure.” Indeed, the only thing Putin achieved was “the preservation of the power of the dictator and murderer over part of Syrian territory.”

            At home, Yakovenko argues, a parallel phenomenon can be observed because 2017 for Russia was “a year of obscurantism, a year of the triumph of villainy, pseudo-science, and banality and also the year of the loss of any future.”

            The first of these was highlighted by Natalya Poklonskaya’s campaign against the film “Mathilda;” the second, by the behavior of the ministers of culture and education who showed they had no respect for either; and the third, by the behavior of Igor Sechin and his campaign against Ulyukayev and Ramzan Kadyrov’s ability to act in an increasingly outrageous way. 

             But the worst development of all, Yakovenko suggests, was Russia’s loss of a sense of a future for itself. “The symbol of earlier years, a nuclear cinder which TV host Kiselyov threatened to transform America was replaced in 2017 by a new symbol, a bucket labelled ‘excrement’ which TV host Sheynin brought to the studio and said he’d use against opponents.”

            That degeneration was exacerbated by the start of the pseudo-campaign the outcome of which is a foregone conclusion, something that sent “a quite clear message” that ‘RUSSIA HAS NO FUTURE.’”

            “The project of a communist future of Russia died in the 1970s and was buried in 1991,” Yakovenko says. After that the now naked Russians tried on many possible clothes, but not seemed to fit, and they were left like the kind of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale believing they were well dressed when they were wearing nothing.

            “The deception didn’t last long. Russia became disappointed in any ideological clothing” and was willing to listen to the latest leader who proclaimed the myths about “’rising from one’s knees,’ ‘the return of greatness,’ and other nonsense which the ‘Crimea is Ours’ emotions gave a new impulse and enriched tales about ‘the Russian world,’ ‘Novorossiya,’ and so on.”

            Over the last 12 months, “all these myths dissolved in the air. No one believes in ‘the Russian world,’ in ‘Novorossiya,’ and other nonsense. Russia again remains naked and without any guide showing it the outlines of the future.”  Sentenced to Putin forever, the country “has fallen into a state which recalls a coma.” What will wake it up is “impossible to predict.”

            As 2018 begins, Russians haven’t recovered consciousness or even displayed any particular interest in their fate. And “by the way, the entire rest of the world is ever less interested in Russia. If it were not the second largest nuclear power, humanity would completely agree to forget what is situated in the northern part of Eurasia.”

            Consequently, if one uses Tolstoy’s formula, Yakovenko concludes, “the size of Russia with its striking after an infinite ‘denominator’ and an ever smaller ‘numerator’ is slowly but truly approaching zero, despite its enormous territory” and the bombast about its supposed victories past and present.

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