(I’ll write a subpost tomorrow regarding reasons for my return here. Although this piece centers on Russia we all know that any turmoil there can have very unfavorable repercusssions for her client states which include the Islamic Republic of Iran. Also, much of this fits Khamenei’s predicament just as well. Those that don’t concern unique consequences caused by Russian geography, weather and demographics. No prediction is guaranteed, thanks to too many variables but I like the challenge).
RUSSIA‘S FUTURE (MY APOLOGIES FOR AN EXTREMELY BLEAK ANALYSIS)
Growing popular discontent will eventually force any strong man ruler to the same painful decision–either you make drastic concessions to satisfy most critics or you crack down harshly and thereby multiply the original grievances tenfold in order to shut the people up right now. A “Law of Crackdowns” might read like this: “The longer and more brutal it becomes, the smaller any regime’s prospect of a return to ‘normal.’” Forget the Tianneman Square quickie. It was an exception inapplicable to Russia, Iran or Arab Spring countries.
Rhetoric suggests Putin will choose “brute force” this spring. Let’s look at his potential assets and liabilities. All dictators start with a huge military advantage which in this case is likely to decrease over time (Note: any substantial introduction of drone aircraft might shift prospects in a regime’s favor) A second factor (geography and climate), works both for and against Putin. While sheer size precludes as impractical any foreign intervention, it also makes any revolution damn hard to suppress once underway.
Protestors can take advantage of the regime’s inability to react quickly. The experience of “successfully” putting down a protest in one place only to see it re-ignite just after you’ve been sent to stop demonstrations elsewhere is demoralizing, physically tiresome and induces sleep privation. (Side note: After the Battle of Verdun–mainly conducted by artillery, some troops claimed to have gone eleven days with almost no sleep). Wear and tear all gets worse if new outbreaks occur simultaneously in once “secure” locations.
Here are three more rules any would be tyrant leader must consider: “Lousy conditions precipitate defections” (as the Czar learned in 1917), “Defections tend to go one way only” and “ The more often troops are compelled to murder unarmed protestors, the more defections you can expect.”
In Russia’s case, demographic trends complicate the central problem: finding enough military age boys to confront large scale outbreaks in too many cities with too much space between them–and lousy roads elsewhere (Consider the asymetric potential of IED devices planted along those long roads). Ethnic Russians are not just divided politically. They are disproportionately elderly with low replacement rates. Relatively fertile minorities who despise Putin’s “russification” might supply some of the necessary manpower if not for the fact that many are more likely to revolt that die for Putin‘s cause.
Putin now survives on bribery and force. The reason mercenaries historically make lousy fighters is obvious when you think about it: What good is money unless you live to spend it? Stalin’s once effective way of motivating troops (a machine gun at your back as you charged German troops) will not work quite so well when your troops admire the enemy far more than their own officers.
Unless Putin retires, which I doubt, geography may dictate a prolonged ugly, ugly struggle which no one can win quickly–something similar to the four-year long civil war after 1917, but in this case perhaps followed up by another conflict that could be as bad or worse. Anyone can see the explosive potential in a victorious coalition made up of strong-minded, incompatible, well-armed and suspicious factions (fascists, communists, liberals) with fresh combat experience. Toss in the grievances of minorities determined to escape the meat grinder. The outcome of it all will have powerful impact on three countries that depend greatly on Russian support–Belarus, Syria and Iran.
To see why it appears Putin will choose “brute force“ over softer measures, read: