The Times-Gazette published a political cartoon the other day (June 20, 2020) that characterized the current turmoil in America by showing different reads on what was happening: civil unrest, political divisions, dismantling of democracy, with the last reader concluding “Putin is Winning.” I beg to differ. No he is not.
Vladimir Putin has long tried to perpetuate his myth that autocracy is the governing model of the future. His argument goes something like this. Autocracy and authoritarianism generates stability and stability is worth the tradeoffs of individual freedoms. Further, he argues that centralized planning and “oligarchic capitalism,” is best suited for a globalized world. His economic and social delusions would impress the Wizard of Oz behind his fanciful curtain.
Economically, Russia is a failing state. Who would want to invest in Russia now? According to The Moscow Times, “Foreign direct investment (FDI) into Russia accounted for only 0.2 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) from 2015 to 2018, putting it at the bottom of the list of emerging markets. Russia’s economy is a one-trick pony — oil — and current prices have plummeted due to the pandemic and the OPEC price wars. It’s trillions of devaluing roubles short of revenue to hit its current budget forecast.
Then there’s the COVID-19 pandemic. Initial misinformation about how well Russia was smothering the virus has given way to calamity. Cases of the virus are soaring in Russia and the numbers being reported are by almost all authoritative estimations way underreported. The government clearly underestimated the risk and slow-walked its response. Putin tried to blame regional governors. His leadership has suffered from blows to his credibility. At first, he boasted that everything was “under control.” Then the rhetoric changed as the situation worsened. “We have a lot of problems,” Putin said. “There is nothing to boast about…” Viruses are equal-opportunity pathogens. News flash: They don’t favor authoritarian states, monarchies, democracies, republicans, or democrats. Putin can’t bully these bugs to oblivion.
So what do the Russian people get for all these Putin “successes?” Limited access to useful global information. Limited rights to free speech. Limited rights to protest against authoritarian rule. You can follow the “Russian Dream,” but only if you happen to be on good terms with an approved oligarch and are willing to pay sovereign tribute to Mr. Putin and his coterie of sycophants.
No, Mr. Putin is not winning. He’s struggling to keep his head above water. His approval ratings have hit an all-time low in Russia. His cynical tactics of trying to undermine our democracy are acts of desperation as he and his government are failing to compete internationally, failing to create an economic environment conducive to international investments, failing in the global realm of innovation, failing to create a dynamic economy, and failing to give his people the information and rights necessary to compete in today’s world. No, Mr. Putin is not winning, he’s losing.
Bill Sims is a Berrysville resident, an author, and with his wife runs a small farm in Berrysville. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.