Russia: Vladimir Putin and Tsar Nicholas II
If you have not stopped by larrysmusings in a while, you may want to visit and see the new theme we are using as of a couple of days ago. The blog page does look better now and is easier to read.
Vladimir Putin, current leader of post communist Russia (he goes back and forth from President to Prime Minister and back again), is charting an independent course for Russia. Mr. Putin does not want his country to be beholden to any foreign power. He appears to me as being a Russian nationalist who correctly recognizes that we are moving towards a multipolar world. (The USA, lone superpower, is financially bankrupt and cannot play the role of world’s policeman.) Some observers have labelled Putin as a populist.
The American media tends to portray Putin in an unfavorable light and many radio personalities go further by vilifying him mainly because he does not do what Washington would like him to do. Yet, consider what Putin is doing from a Russian point of view. He is trying to build a weakened Russia into a stronger country and is willing to work with any and all countries willing to do business with Russia or who have common security interests/concerns.
Putin took over (in 2000) from Boris Yeltsin, a man who had left Russia in a mess. The economy was in shambles, the currency (ruble) had collapsed in mid 1998, and the country (rich in some natural resources) was being looted by various organized crime figures. Mr. Putin quickly put a stop to the looting of the nation’s wealth. Organized crime figures responsible for the looting either fled the country or were brought to trial. With the subsequent rise in oil prices after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Russian economy began to recover as foreign currency reserves and trade surpluses increased greatly. The ruble recovered some of its value and Russia was able to pay its international debts. Obviously, the rise in oil prices and the consequent increased earnings from the sale of its oil and natural gas, were not Putin’s doing. But, he cracked down on corruption and fraud so that the economy could become more efficient and international investor confidence in Russia was largely restored.
Is there more progress needed? Yes. But, it is hard to see the progress made thus far happening under the tenure of a man like Yeltsin. Have Putin’s methods sometimes been harsh? Yes, by Western standards. But, in the context of Russian history, not excessively so. Like him or despise him, Vladimir Putin gets things done. (He is an intelligent and knowledgeable man who does not feel the need to be glib or cute to be likeable or to sway public opinion.)
Tsar Nicholas II, albeit canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church after the fall of the Soviet Union, appears to us to be a villain. Notwithstanding the horrible murders of the Tsar and his family (wife, four daughters and one son – see link below ) in July, 1918, Nicholas has much culpability for both the outbreak of World War I and the seizure of power (in Russia) by the Bolsheviks. (Both of which were disasters for Russia.) Let me explain.
When Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo in June, 1914, Germany suggested to Austria to take a tough line on its restive subjects. This matter was essentially an internal matter for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and really ought to have remained so. However, it did impact Slavs and as the Tsar saw himself as the protector of all Slavs, he ordered mobilisation (for war) within Russia.
What message or signal was thus sent to Vienna and to Berlin? A much larger country in manpower that had common borders (at the time) with both Germany and Austria’s empire had just been ordered to mobilise for war. Berlin and Vienna would naturally feel threatened and would also prepare for war (which is what happened). When multiple countries within a region start preparing for war, the likelihood of war increases.
The Tsar could have opted for a different approach. He could have used diplomatic means and public relations actions to pressure Vienna to grant concessions or to work towards some sort of autonomy for the various groups of Slavs in the Balkans under Austrian rule. But, he did not.
War did break out within weeks. Russia’s experiences in World War I have been likened to the USA’s experiences in Vietnam a half century later. The hardship on the Russian people, however, was much more severe. The war became very unpopular as it dragged on (with mounting casualties) and that served to give the Bolsheviks another (potent) issue with which to gain support for their cause (they would put an end to the disastrous war).
Could war have been averted in 1914? If so, with all the secret alliances in Europe and diplomatic backstabbing, would it not have broken out over some other flashpoint in say 1915 or 1916 or 1917? Perhaps.
One thing is certain. The “peace” that came out of Versailles after the war was not just and was not lasting. Another result of the First World War is that the Bolsheviks gained power in Russia in 1917. Given Nicholas’ ineptitude and his misreading of the forces for change at work within Russia (and his thinking that he could play the role of autocrat given the frustrations of his people), the Bolsheviks might very well have toppled him sometime in the 1920s. That outcome appears likely to have happened. Nicholas resisted yielding any power to the people. He granted a Duma just to dissolve it later. And, the Duma had no real power or authority. He could not effectively deal with his neurotic wife and made many missteps because of this.
So, we point out that many people in the USA have a dim view of Vladimir Putin, who is trying to build Russia up, and many also have a positive view of Nicholas II, who through his serious character flaws hurt the Russian people immensely, and indirectly (or perhaps not so indirectly) hurt the world through his helping to start that conflagration a century ago that did so change the world.
Below is the title of a book that deals with what I have mentioned about the last Tsar. Even before reading this book a little more than a year ago, I held these views of Nicholas II. This book just reinforced my views of him.
Originally published in 1928, this book has much input from individuals who lived through the final years of the Romanovs in Russia.
The Fall of the Russian Empire – The Story of the Last of the Romanovs and the Coming of the Bolsheviks. Written by Edmund A. Walsh, S.J., Ph.D. ISBN: 1-929291-31-0
Roman Catholic Books, Fort Collins, Colorado (2002, 267 pages plus many pages of appendices)
Here are links to more on the Tsar and his family.