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Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Russian fatalism

In my 11 April 2015 blog, it became clear that Russia never was a Superpower for the past 5,000 years unlike its rivals. The tragic reality for Russia is that it will never be a Superpower despite its vast dimensions, immense natural resources, and its highly intelligent population. Russia is surrounded by rivals (China, Europe, Turkey and USA), governed by leaders who seem to care more about themselves than their country, and a climate that generally caps its ambitions.

The Russian climate is not only a cap on its (military) ambitions (eg, Black Sea Fleet, Bosporus) but has also been crucial in the Russian defence against invaders (eg, Napoleon). In fact, Russians cope remarkably well with their volatile climate: record lows of -70C (-96F) to record highs of +45C (+113F) - or degrees Celsius (Fahrenheit).

Actually, I'm finally beginning to grasp the essence of the Russian fears which we often consider as paranoia. In human history, Russia has seen many (world) wars: Russian-Turkish wars, the fragile Russian-Chinese relations, French-Russian wars, German-Russian relations (eg, WW-1 and WW-2). The rise and later (the self-inflicted) demise of the Soviet Union must have been a huge blow to Russian self-confidence. Russian fatalism clearly has its historic roots.

And fate always seems to be against Russia. Russia witnessed the Chinese economic miracle and now its imminent implosion (see part 1 and part 2 of my blogs on China). Russia cannot even profit from this as it is in serious financial difficulties. Its oil export - and thus its income - has been hurt badly from the oil price collapse of 70% over the past 18 months (eg, FT-1, FT-2).

On 24 October 2015, Turkey - once again - challenged Russia by downing a Russian fighter jet. On 29 January 2016, Turkey implicitly threatened Russia doing it again following alleged new air space violations (eg, BBC, CBS). Given the history of Russian-Turkish wars it's no surprise that Russia has hit back hard at Turkey and, interestingly, with the same effective punishment that Russia received after its invasion of the Crimea: economic sanctions (eg, FT).

The Russian leaders and the Russian people do not trust each other - and with reason. Opposition leaders and critics of the Russian leadership still die in suspicious circumstances (eg, Alexander Litvinenko, Sergei Magnitsky, Boris Nemtsov, Anna Politkovskaya and many others). Even the very wealthy Russian oligarchs face suspicious deaths (Boris Berezovsky), imprisonment (Mikhail Khodorkovsky), or exile (Boris BerezovskyMikhail Khodorkovsky).

The Guardian (1 March 2015): "It has been suggested for a long time that the serious popular threat to Putin comes not from liberals but from nationalists, and these forces have been newly invigorated by the war in east Ukraine". This could make the MH-17 tragedy an internal Russian event planned by Russian nationalists to destabilise the Russian leadership and blame Ukraine.

I suppose history has taught Russians not to trust anyone. For centuries foreign countries invaded Russia and invoked wars. Russian governments never really trusted their own citizens, especially since the Russian Revolution of 1917. Russian citizens never really trusted their governments since the aftermath of the Russian Revolution (eg, Lenin's Red Terror and Stalin's Great Terror).

In his autobiography Ecce HomoNietzsche referred to Russian fatalism. I suppose it's genuine.

Note: bold and italic markings are mine

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