The West and Russia: a Divergence of Values? #2
Nationalism and the ‘dictator’ meme
In the wake of Crimea, Gallup’s Julie Ray & Neli Esipova reported Putin had polled 83% approval, a massive gain from 54% the previous year – see graphic below. Clearly the Crimean takeover made Russians feel good about their president!
Also interesting is the way approval slowly but surely dropped from 83% in 2008 to its low point in 2013. Was this drop a reflection of growing public awareness of corruption, the slowing of economic growth, restricted opportunities for personal advancement and widespread poverty? If so, it indicates Russians squarely put the blame on their president.
From the same set of surveys, Ray & Esipova – see graphic below – found that Russians reported greater confidence in their institutions after Crimea.
Again there is a high in confidence in 2008 for national government and the electoral process, followed by a decline in confidence in the following years. Only the military bucks this confidence trend. However, all three institutions receive a significant boost in 2014.
What is that much more interesting about the second set of results is that it allows us to see that, all institutions received a boost in 2008 – the year of the war with Georgia. Perhaps Putin is smart enough – 2nd Tier thinking? – to realise that infecting the wider population with the meme of nationalism by championing ethnic Russians outside the motherland, even to the point of (successful) military intervention and being prepared to defy Western critics, deflects from domestic controversies and boosts confidence in him and his government.
If so, he won’t be the first politician to benefit from a successful patriotic war. Margaret Thatcher went from being the UK’s most unpopular 20th Century prime minister to a landslide electoral victory on the back of the Falklands War in 1982.
The problem for Putin may be that Crimea has enabled the ‘beast’ of Russian nationalism to escape from the leash. The day after the Crimean referendum The Guardian’s , Conal Urquhart & Alan Yuhas reported Russian nationalists streaming across the border into Donetsk and other eastern cities to stir up their sizeable ethnic Russian populations. We now know that Igor Strelkov, former Russian intelligence officer and now overall-commander of the pro-Russian forces in the Ukraine, was one of them.
What has happened in the Ukraine since March does not resemble 2nd Tier thinking at all. Rather, it is a bloody mess, born of RED-driven demagogues exploiting PURPLE/BLUE nationalism. It lacks Putin’s sure touch in international affairs…which, in turn, suggests either that 2nd Tier thinking has eluded Putin in this context or that he is not in absolute control of Russia…which, in turn, suggests he is not the egomaniacal tyrant the Western media have been portraying him as.
A second problem with the way Putin and Russia are reported in the West is that lazy Western journalism has been content to portray Putin as a dictator for years – this stereotype being expedient every time Russia is at odds with the West. Accordingly, Russian internal politics is chronically under-reported in the West. The lack of sophisticated thinking amongst Western leaders means that they all too often seem infected memetically with the media stereotype, rather than working to decipher the information that hopefully is being collected by their intelligence agencies about what is really happening in Russian internal politics.
Like most rulers in fact, Putin has advisers who jockey with each other and compete for influence. And since Russia is a faux-democracy at least, many of those competing advisers have genuine independent influence in the Douma and even their own electoral bases. Others occupy senior positions in the civil service and the military. Yet others are philosophers and political ideologues who publish their views in all kinds of social and formal media with little or no restraint but are often able to tap into and amplify popular feeling.
On the ‘doves’ side, Putin has Dmitry Medvedev. Their closeness was demonstrated 2008-2012 when, to comply with the constitution inhibiting a third successive term, Medvedev subbed as president while ‘prime minister’ Putin continued to pull the strings behind the façade. According to blogger Pietro A Shakarian, Medvedev opposed Russian intervention in the Crimea and has been instrumental in counselling Putin against military intervention in eastern Ukraine.
On the ‘hawks’ side, there are ultra-nationalist writers like Aleksandr Dugin and Aleksandr Prokhanov and politicians like Dmitry Rogozin. Some of these have taunted Putin publicly for cowardice, for not intervening militarily in eastern Ukraine, reports the Associated Press’ . In late June Putin’s economic adviser, Sergei Glazyev, topped a series of bellicose statements with the proposal to send Russian military jets to protect the rebels in eastern Ukraine from government air raids. The Kremlin disavowed his words, saying Glazyev was expressing his private opinion.
Just how much Putin supports the Ukrainian rebels philosophically we might never learn but, once the caricature of the absolute tyrant is done away, it is clear that Putin is under pressure from multiple sides and that he does not have total control. Thus, it is more than likely sympathisers and ex-colleagues in the Russian military, are enabling Strelkov to access old but still formidable technology like the T-64 tanks and BUK SA-11 missiles – one of which is widely presumed to have brought down MH17.
How much Putin is aware of this and how much he is for or against it is a moot point; but the current non-reporting of government aircraft brought down by rebel missiles indicates the supply may have been cut off.
The West and the False Value Consensus
Western leaders have to realise that Putin is not an absolute dictator but has to balance all kinds of pressures on him. Just as they do…but, through history and values, some of those pressures are very different.
In the 11 years from 1999 to 2009, NATO has expanded East to incorporate a number of the former Soviet Union’s former Warsaw Pact partners, eventually even the Baltic states, once an integral part of the Soviet Union. Whether Gorbachev was misled over Germany or not, this expansion provides an in-your-face challenge to the nationalist Putin who declared: “Russia has been a great power for centuries, and remains so. It has always had and still has legitimate zones of interest ….”
Do any Western leaders have the sophisticated thinking to ponder how NATO expansion plays out to Putin’s electorate – and particularly the nationalists…?
Keeping the Ukraine out of NATO’s and the European Union’s hands, then, is vital if Putin’s talk of Russia’s ‘zones of interest’ is to have any credibility left in Europe – and with his own nationalists back home. The insensitivity of Western leaders to the Russian’s leader’s needs is epitomised by the June partnership deals the EU signed with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova – all once integral parts of the Soviet Union. Whatever he thinks of the mess Strelkov and the rebels are making, Putin simply cannot afford to let Ukraine go easily.
It is part of the Assimilation-Contrast Effect, developed by Don Beck (2003) from the work of Muzafer Sherif (Muzafer Sherif & Carl Hovland, 1961; Muzafer Sherif & Carolyn Wood Sherif, 1968) that, when differences occur, the RED vMEME pushes the other party away by exaggerating the differences (contrasting) while ORANGE and GREEN draw the other party closer by minimising the differences (assimilating).
Thus, when Russia appeared to embrace Capitalism in the mid-late 1990s and joined the G8 in 1998, Russia was now perceived by ORANGE and GREEN dominated Western leaders to be ‘one of us’ – the False Consensus Effect. When PURPLE/BLUE Russian nationalists, led by RED-driven demagogues, broke the BLUE rules of international law, seized Crimea and then agitated violently for secession in eastern Ukraine,, Western leaders came down the Spiral/Hierarchy in true Maslowian fashion to exaggerate their differences with ‘dictator Putin’ and portray him and Russia as defective.
In fact, it seems Putin never truly embraced the ORANGE/GREEN liberal democracy values that have increasingly dominated the mindsets of many Western leaders over the past 40 years. As The Independent on Sunday’s Fareed Zakaria (p36) writes: “The crucial elements of Putinism are nationalism, religion, social conservatism, state capitalism and government domination of the media. They are all different from and hostile to Western values of individual rights, tolerance, cosmopolitanism and internationalism.”
While ignoring the effects of and levels of corruption, Zakaria is describing the Russia Putin and his governments have developed post 2008. There may be a question here of whether the boost in popularity the government gained from the Georgian war gave Putin and his chief ministers the confidence to decelerate the trend towards Western-style Capitalism and reintroduce certain aspects of the Soviet system…but that is beyond the immediate scope of this article.
Zakaria almost certainly exaggerates the hostility between Putin’s socio-economic approach and that of the Western liberal democracies…but it does show the ORANGE/GREEN’s assimilating effect of what has been really more a BLUE/ORANGE approach. Viktor Orbán, prime minister of EU member Hungary and an admirer of Putin, now terms this approach ‘illiberal democracy’. Orban’s naming of the approach gives it a sheen of philosophical credibility which requires it to be investigated and classified by the social sciences…and that is likely to lead to more of a contrasting effect with the liberal democracies.
Managing the differences
Western leaders need to gain the understanding offered by tools like Spiral Dynamics so that they can understand and manage difference.
They need to understand not only that not every government supports their values but that the other culture’s values may, in fact, be appropriate for them. Then they should be able to accept that Democracy-for-everyone is an imposed etic and the emic of tribal government is appropriate for countries like Iraq and Afghanistan where PURPLE and RED are the dominating cultural vMEMES.
If George W Bush and Tony Blair had employed such understanding in 2001 and 2003, Iraq and Afghanistan may well not have turned into the life-consuming catastrophes they have become.
If today’s Western leaders had such understandings, the EU would never have entered into the partnership agreements with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. A second referendum would be held in Crimea under UN supervision to almost certainly confirm the March referendum and thus legitimise the Russian annexation. As for Ukraine, it would become a neutral state in the way that Switzerland is assertively neutral and the rights of ethnic Russians in the Ukraine would be constitutionally protected.
Putin the nationalist has to restrain the ultra-nationalists. To do that, his more moderate approach has to be seen domestically as working and it has to both enhance his personal reputation and increase his power base. On a Maslowian basis, if Putin is capable of thinking 2nd Tier but life conditions are activating his RED and we want him to think 2nd Tier, then we have to help him resolve issues of power so that his mental energies can focus at 2nd Tier. That will facilitate him in isolating the ultras.
To a degree Western displeasure at Russia’s nationalist aspirations and European Union sanctions have been helpful in that the flight of capital has been enormous and a number of Putin’s connections in the elite have seen their assets in the West frozen. This is irritating for the elite in the short term and seriously threatening to their wealth in the longer term, with the result that they are likely to put the pressure on Putin to ‘normalise’ relations with the West sooner rather than later. However, as the effects of sanctions, etc, are felt more in the general population, the results are likely to be counter-productive as the PURPLE/BLUE vMEME harmonic of nationalism is likely to rally them to the cause and people conform to the old meme of being victims of Western aggression.
More helpful to Putin in reigning in the ultra-nationalists would be Western collaboration in addressing the issue of the Russian diaspora. Without this being addressed, Russian nationalism will always have a cause.
Such was the anti-Russian feeling in those countries that broke away from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991 that the ethnic Russians – termed ‘occupiers’ by some – were not automatically granted citizenship of the newly-independent countries even though they were born there. Many who worked in the public sector lost their jobs and were discriminated against in other ways. In Latvia, for example, even now ethnic Russians cannot vote or work in the public sector unless they pass a citizenship test. This requires them to be fluent in the Latvian language and demonstrate knowledge of Latvian culture. Many of the older ethnic Russians do not speak Latvian and so could not pass the citizenship test. Others, according to the BBC’s Damien McGuiness, refuse to take the test on principle because it clearly discriminates against their heritage.
Yet the Baltic states – Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania – are all members of NATO! They are also members of that ultimate advocate of ‘human rights’, the European Union! Where was the West’s GREEN, one might ask, when countries were signed up which openly discriminated against ethnic Russians born on their territory to ethnic Russian parents who simply happened to live in the country when it seceded from the remnants of the Soviet Union?
NATO and the EU collaborating with the Russian government to ensure ethnic Russians in the breakaway countries are guaranteed equal rights constitutionally would undermine the ultra-nationalists by showing diplomacy and cooperation work better in the ethnic Russians’ interests than secessionist violence.
NATO and the EU need to recognise and respect Russia’s traditional interests in eastern Europe and encourage countries like Ukraine and Moldova to adopt a Swiss-style neutrality. That needn’t preclude certain trading agreements but it would prevent them being seen to be in one camp or the other. Remove the threat of encroachment and the ultra-nationalists lose another cause.
A key principle in both Maslow and Graves/Spiral Dynamics is that needs which are ‘felt’ need addressing. Russians need to feel good about their country and about its place in the world; and they need to feel good about their president and their government. The more the West can help Russia address those needs while respecting the differences in culture and tradition, the more Putin and Russia are likely to be cooperative partners.
It also should be said that Western cooperation with Russia needs to be from a position of strength, not weakness. The kind of dithering Obama indulges in or the kind of bombastic name-calling David Cameron has gone in for only serve to convince the ultra-nationalists that the West’s threats are empty and their sanctions can be ridden out – thus weakening Putin’s position as a moderate nationalist.
Putin has shown himself capable of complex thinking and of being a worthy partner to the West, providing Western leaders can get beyond the imposed etics of Capitalism and Democracy and accept that Russia has some different values.
Western leaders desperately need to up the complexity of their thinking so that they can see what Putin needs and then give him a modicum of support.