A Blog by Jonathan Low

 

Aug 29, 2022

How Russia's Failure In Ukraine Reflects Its Rejection of Modernity

Generations of conformity, submission to authority and apathy seem to have been more powerful than any urge to modernize and compete with - let alone join - the civilized world. Even China has shown more imagination, innovation and pluck.

Until Putin dies, this will probably continue. But the problem is that whatever follows may be more of the same since as many as 1 million younger, more ambitious and tech savvy Russians have given up and emigrated after the Ukraine invasion began believing - based on their experience - that there is no future in Russia any different from the past. JL

Maria Snegovaya reports in War In the Future:  

For RU, what is happening has catastrophic consequences similar to 1917 - another failed modernization attempt - and presages a rollback to decades ago. The tiny civil society and its ability to resist turned out to be weaker than most pessimistic forecasts & was destroyed within a couple of months from mid-2020 on. I think the decision to attack UKR was shaped then, following the Belarus protests. There is no consensus among Russians on the war. Apathy,indifference and conformism continue to dominate.This convinces the West that nothing can be done about RU and predetermines tougher sanctions (such as lifting tourist visas). Russia under Putin in the foreseeable future (10-20 years)will keep moving away from the civilized world, stagnate and become more isolated in its aggressive confrontation against the West.

BETTER THAN IT COULD BE, BUT WORSE THAN IT SHOULD BE. Quick thoughts on 6 months of Russia's war in Ukraine. 1) This is likely a protracted war for years to come that will go on until Putin's death. It's now clear that it did not begin in 2022, but in 2014 or even in 2003.

 

And it might continue with periods of recess and escalation until Putin's death, at least. Contrary to the popular idea, the problem is not only Putin, but the Russian elites and society, the lack of fundamental changes in their thinking after 1990.

 

Having analyzed the composition and views of the Russian elites since the early 1990s & societal behavior, I am convinced that post-imperial revanchism of post-Soviet Russia was in some shape or form historically inevitable.Western support for Ukraine is unprecedented for recent decades,and that's great. However,it is not enough for a radical change (i.e. radical victory for Ukraine, a return to at least Feb 23 borders). And no certainty that the West will be able to sustain it for years to come.

 

It's not yet obvious to me that Ukraine has already won this war (concept that has become as popular among RU liberals, as "Putin's imminent end" used to be).Russia's progress in UKR while weak and slow still continues. Hymers are somewhat shifting the situation in UKR favor.But bad scenarios are still possible,esp given that RU still controls Kherson and its port. Unclear whether UKR can take it back. This means that RU still has an opportunity to take Odesa in the future and completely destroy UKR economy. Under no circumstances should this happen.

 

Initial sanctions' effect was weaker than expected (esp due to super-high oil prices), but now, six months in(!) it is finally becoming more pronounced. Sanctions are unlikely to stop the war, but they can make RU more economically weak, esp after West's oil and gas embargo.Sanctions' scale is unprecedented in today's global economy.Thus,their cumulative longterm effect is hard to assess.China and other non-Western countries adopted intermediate stances and have imposed sanctions under West's pressure. It's good news and increases sanctions' effect.

 

For RU, what is happening also has catastrophic consequences similar to 1917 - another failed modernization attempt and a rollback to decades ago. Alas,the tiny civil society and its ability to resist turned out to be weaker than most pessimistic forecasts & was destroyed within a couple of months from mid-2020 (I think the decision to attack UKR shaped already back then, following Belarus protests). A significant anti-war movement of Russians failed to emerge even outside of Russia (only the same few Russian liberals actively oppose the war), and that's because there is still no consensus among Russians on war issue,apathy,indifference and conformism continue to dominate.This convinces the West that nothing can be done about RU and predetermines tougher sanctions (such as lifting tourist visas):as "Russia will be Russia".

 

This is a failure of modernization, and the remnants of RU civil society should recognize that we lost at this historical moment. New attempts at modernization, if at all, will be made by future generations of Russians. Russia under Putin in the foreseeable future (10-20 years)will keep moving away from civilized world, stagnate and become more isolated in its aggressive confrontation against the West. Its nuclear status will prevent much change. Hence what is left is to ensure that RU state has as few resources as possible for external aggression.

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