Archive | June, 2016

No Foreseeable End – Vladimir Putin

President Putin

Vladimir Putin

Starting with my episode 170 podcast on Putin, I will be sharing my scripts with my audience moving forward. Hope you enjoy it.

Over the past nearly six years, I’ve covered a number of topics relating to Russian history. In the beginning, when I planned this podcast, I was going to spend a couple of years covering the people who ruled over the country my mother’s side of the family came from. Well that plan went out the window early on.

I fell in love with Russian history. My initial plan was to have around 60 or so episodes. Currently, this is the 196th one as some were not numbered.

About six months ago, I decided that it was time to end things. My professional life was entering a new phase with some amazing opportunities coming to reality. As the months went on I resigned myself to putting together a plan to wrap the podcast up.

Problem was, my family knew that this podcast and the tens of thousands of my listeners were now part of my life and who I am.

On New Year’s Eve 2015, my wife and youngest daughter convinced me to continue the podcast as long as I wanted which I will continue to do as long as there are topics to cover.

Since I made the announcement on Facebook that the show will go on, I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response. Thanks for that.

So what will the next phase of the podcast be? I will go back to the beginning premise of the show except I’m going in reverse. I’m going to cover the Russian rulers all over again but differently.

Instead of recounting their lives, achievements and failures, I’ll give you my take, or opinion on their impact on history, on the people and the world. I will be a fair amount more opinionated in the forthcoming Rulers podcast series. When I get back to other facet of Russian history, I’ll go back to my more objective self. I feel like I’ve earned a few opinions and hope no one gets offended by them since that will not be my intention. Since I covered each of the Rulers, I’ve learned so much more about the history of Russia that I’ve developed a different point of view in many instances than I did initially. So, I’m going to start with Putin and work my way back to Rurik.

Of course, the most difficult will be Putin as his history has yet to be written and who knows what his legacy will be. Hence the title of today’s podcast, ‘No Foreseeable End.’ Neither this podcast or Putin’s leadership has any end in sight.

An example of what you might hear is a new take on the rules of Catherine the Great, which will not be all that flattering, and a new opinion of her son Paul, which will be way better than my original thoughts.

I’ll also try to do a better job of covering a couple of rulers I did a poor job of in the first instance such as Leonid Brezhnev and Vladimir the Great.

Now on to the last Russian ruler. Way back on episode 117 on May 13, 2013, we covered the life and rise of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, the son of Vladimir Spiridovich and Maria Ivanovna Shelomova born on October 7, 1952.

He is the first post-Lenin leader who did not live through the reign of Joseph Stalin, actually only a few brief months as a baby. Putin didn’t have to go through the horrors of World War II as well. Vladimir grew up through the height of Soviet power and prestige while also experiencing its fall, collapse and breakup.

By the time he assumed power after the resignation of Boris Yeltsin on December 31, 1999 Russia was in a mess. It had lost its prestige on the global stage in the eyes of many, especially in the West. They did not lose their feeling of being a superpower in their own eyes which made the Russian people and certainly their government feel disrespected. It is something they are feeling to this day and I believe it effects their policies and actions since and into 2016.

Because of when he was born, Putin was indoctrinated in the Soviet way. As many of you know, the Communist Party had strict controls on what was taught, what the media was able to say and much of the social and political life of the country. Their rule was one done with an iron fist.

Recently, on the forum Quora, I answered a question as to whether today’s problems in Russia had anything to do with Soviet policies. My answer was that there wasn’t a whole lot different between the Tsarist bureaucracy and that of the Soviet Union except different people. Catherine the Great instituted and codified a bureaucracy that is so entrenched in Russian society and government that very little can get done unless you grease the palms of so many people that the cost of getting anything done is staggering. Case in point, the Sochi Olympics and their near $50-billion-dollar price tag.

Vladimir Putin inherited this system and it is entirely ingrained into the psyche of the people. Also, I believe that the only way to handle this level of corruption and stagnant behavior is through a strong leader. Yes, the ideal is to rid the country of the corrupt people but pray tell how do you do that without grinding things to a halt? My final line in my response to the question on Quora was that while my answer may not be satisfying, it would probably qualify as a dissertation question for a PhD candidate in Russian and Soviet history. It is that complex.

Back to Putin. Since the last podcast about Vladimir back in May of 2013, a lot has gone on in Russia as you might know. They annexed Crimea and had surrogates of theirs take control of parts of eastern Ukraine. Has there been direct involvement of Russian troops in the Ukraine? Undoubtedly. Has the Russian government acknowledged their involvement? Of course not.

Putin’s stance has been that this is internal to Russia and is no one else’s business. Of course the rest of the world didn’t buy that line so sanctions were put in place to make their point of view known. Putin dismissed the sanctions as he was making enough money as a major oil producer when prices were much higher, around $104 a barrel, so Russia’s economy was doing fine, money was flowing in and Putin looked like a genius.

But, we all know what has happened since then. As of January 17, 2016 the price has dropped below $30 a barrel. The ruble has crashed and the once vibrant Russian economy has come to a grinding halt. Putin was forced to cut tens of thousands of government jobs, cut back on much needed infrastructure repairs and expansions and things are looking pretty bleak. Of course, he blames the West and the sanctions and not his, in my opinion, very myopic economic policies.

Oil prices dropping are not the only problems his economy faces. Across the board, many resources the Russian’s supply to the world have dropped. Many precious metals can be found around the country but their prices have dropped below levels that make it economical to pull out of the ground. Until these prices rise, the Russian people and Putin’s image will suffer.

My fear at this point is whether a crisis will arise that will cause the price of oil to rise. A manufactured one may come about, who knows. All that is certain is that the Russian economy will not recover until the price of oil recovers. Even though Putin has a very high approval rating, estimate vary between 70-90%, this won’t last long if people don’t have jobs, food and other basic necessities.

I believe that the crisis in Ukraine was caused by the need to keep global tensions up which in turn would prop up the prices of commodities such as oil and minerals. What the Russians didn’t count on was Saudi Arabia’s idea that they could turn the spigots all the way on which created a glut on the market driving the prices down. That and the slowing of the Chinese economy was a double whammy on Russia.

As of January 17, 2016, Putin is, in my opinion, caught between a rock and a hard place. He put his economic chips in with the price of oil and now he is feeling the brunt of its drop in price. Where things go economically from here is anyone’s guess.

This is where I will stop with Vladimir Putin. In a few years, I will come back to him and see what he’s done and do a further assessment on his Presidency and impact on Russia.

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