When two-term Russian president Vladimir Putin finally relinquished the title of presidency to the pupil of his gramarye of nearly two decades on May 7, 2008, Dmitry Medvedev, and on the next day assumed the office of Prime Minister (a position largely that of a busboy per the Russian Constitution); there was mass hysteria as to if this was really and truly descent from absolute power. Lilia Shevtsova of the Moscow Carnegie Center was quoted in the Washington Post as wittingly saying at the time, “If we’re trying to answer our favorite question—‘Who’s in charge?’—we simply don’t know.” But fret not world! Prime Minister Putin did soon put all these hysterics to rest, and as Georgia and other breakaway states from the old Soviet powerhouse are finding out firsthand, perception is indeed the mother of all realities.
Putin is Russia. Putin with his presidency coming to an end, was named by a unanimous vote chairman of the dominant United Russia party; and with the party as a proxy, controls both houses of parliament which can at a moment’s notice give President Medvedev t he packing order and any incongruent regional governors. With the Russian free press effectively and systematically tranquilized by the Kremlin, Putin effortlessly controls dissemination of information at the heart of this powerhouse. And as further bulwark, remnant of his days as an agent of the dreaded Soviet KGB perhaps, he retained key officials from his presidency when he hand-selected members of the new Russian cabinet.
Ever since the 16th century rise of the Tsardom of Russia ruled by Czars, most notable Ivan the Terrible, the Caucasus and surrounding regions have been a “sphere of influence” as the Kremlin recently referred to its old Soviet siblings–and not until the eventual mass disintegration of the Soviet Union in the 20th century did things fall so irrevocably apart. Putin, a lifelong bureaucrat, understands this. And the extensive sideline seat accorded Russia by the United States in the last decade by virtue of the U. S. being the number one superpower, has only strengthened his resolve to pull skeletons of the old Empire back from the depths of the abyss. The invasion of pro-Russia breakaway region of South Ossetia on the day preceding the 2008 Beijing Olympics was a gift to Putin from Georgia: It had unwittingly provided the warlock the political umbrella of his longest and inmost incantations.
Since the weeks following this all out assault on Georgia, Russia has thrown to the birds the cease-fire agreement brokered by France calling for withdrawal of Russian troops to pre-war positions. Russia is in a unique position in time and history, and Putin knows it. All Europe has done in the immediate is woof sharply-worded rhetoric from afar and try to save face; and the U. S. is conceivably in no better posture. Russia is an armor-clad pit-bull immune to tranquilizer darts at present, shortfall of full frontal confrontation by the U. S. and a cataclysmic natural disaster, nothing is muzzling it up. With the over-extension of the U.S. military in two wars, and a thuggish Iranian regime in the wings, any talk of a military maneuver should be treason punishable by death. The best the U.S. can serve its allies in the region is provide them with monetary aid, sophisticated weapon systems, and the intellectual know-how; and even then it still has to be very careful—a covert American boot found near Russian-controlled territory spells big trouble.
So far as energy remains the currency of this world (Russia has the largest natural gas reserve known to man, eight largest oil reserve, and immense influence over the means of transportation for these in the global market), Putin is further comforted knowing he doesn’t have to run to the table. Talks of punishment by the West, most notably denial of inclusion into WTO after 13 years of trying by Russia, was easily dismissed by Putin when he said he saw “no advantages” to it after all. And in a further sign of ghosts of Czars past rising, six old Soviet states in a joint statement condemned the actions of Georgia and lauded “Putin” for “helping peace and security” in the region. Putin’s Russia has arrived on the world stage with a vengeance, and the claim of the U. S. assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Daniel Fried, that Russia’s newly found assertiveness is a “sign of weakness” must be viewed as just that. . .hotly-worded rhetoric.