Russia Unhinged

By Hal Lindsey
Vladimir Putin longs for Russia to regain its former glory from the days of the Soviet Empire.  Russian military aircraft have again been pressing the boundaries of U.S. airspace and that of several U.S. allies around the world.  It was a Cold War tactic, so they’re doing it again.  Putin’s yearning for the good old days also explains why he keeps reminding the world of the size of his nuclear arsenal.  He wants his nation to again be treated like a superpower.
But unlike the days of Khrushchev or Brezhnev, this new Cold War contains a massive hot spot.  Putin is engaged in a full-blown war against America in cyberspace.  Fought with computers, it is an all-out war and it’s going on right now.
Hacked data from U.S. government servers are already paying off for the Russians and Chinese.  The Los Angeles Times reports, “Foreign spy services, especially in China and Russia, are aggressively aggregating and cross-indexing hacked U.S. computer databases — including security clearance applications, airline records and medical insurance forms — to identify U.S. intelligence officers and agents, U.S. officials said.”
The Soviet Union was once a major player in the Middle East, and Putin has Russia headed back there in a big way.  He has agreed to sell advanced S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran.  In other words, he’s giving the Iranians the ability to protect their nuclear sites with a near state-of-the-art anti-aircraft system.  U.S. officials speaking off the record, say that S–300 missiles have the ability to stop both American and Israeli aircraft.
Ynet News and other Israeli sources say that a Russian expeditionary force is now being deployed to Syria.  Ynet reports, “In the coming weeks thousands of Russian military personnel are set to touch down in Syria, including advisors, instructors, logistics personnel, technical personnel, members of the aerial protection division, and the pilots who will operate the aircraft.”
RT TV, a state-funded Russian television network, claims that unnamed military sources have told them the story is not true.  But that begs the question.  If it’s not true, why does a quasi-official Russian news organization need to depend on unnamed sources?
The story fits with Russia’s recent pattern.  While they seem to be joining the world’s fight against ISIS, their primary objective is to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power.  He’s a close ally of Iran, and Russia is anxious to curry favor with the mullahs running that country.  Putin understands the vast financial windfall that the nuclear deal will soon bring to Iran, and he wants a piece of it.
Russia’s own economy is still terrible.  Their second quarter GDP fell 4.6% from the previous year.  The Russian Economy Ministry promised it would be the nation’s “lowest point,” but the Russian people have heard such promises before.
Oil is their economic lifeblood.  However, a glut in the world’s oil supply is keeping those prices low, and that is wreaking havoc in Russia.  The majority of people there are now having a hard time paying for food, and food prices just keep going up.
Even with severe economic problems, Putin’s popularity has been unassailable… until the last few weeks.  In May, his approval rating stood at a record high.  But recent polls show a dramatic drop.  He remains popular, but there is a definite downward trend.
As usual, he responded to the negativity by jailing critics and showing photos of himself in the midst of macho activities.  Last week, Putin released a video of himself exercising.  In a major media event a couple of weeks ago, he went on a journey to the bottom of the Black Sea in a small submersible.
From the days of the Czars up through the time of the communists, cults of personality have been a major part of Russian governance.  Putin is not a man of great personal charisma, but it’s important to his constituents that he seem strong, gallant, and in charge.  The elites want someone who will help them keep their power and wealth.  The poor want someone who will help them feed their families.  All of them want to feel proud of their nation.
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year, America responded with economic sanctions.  For Putin, the timing was fortuitous.  Falling oil prices were about to put the Russian economy into a nose dive anyway, and with the sanctions he could blame the U.S.  It worked beautifully.  Despite enormous economic distress, his popularity went through the roof.
But national pride takes a back seat to something as basic as groceries.  Over time, high food prices and low availability result in a deep sense of distress among the populace.  They don’t entirely forget national pride, but their priorities shift toward the essentials.
Since Putin seems powerless to fix Russia’s economy, he’s stuck with the old stand-bys.  He reminds people that he is bigger than life, gives them the impression that he can fix whatever is wrong, and he blames what’s wrong on America and the West.
But that can only work so long.  The Russian GDP was falling precipitously even before the rest of the world economy went into its recent tailspin.  That means things are about to get much worse.  Hungry Russians will soon feel desperate.  So will Putin.  And desperation is a dangerous thing.
Putin clearly sees Iran and the Middle East as his greatest hope in these dark times.  So to the already volatile and confusing mix of forces active in that region, we can add Russia — a country that controls the world’s largest arsenal of thermonuclear weapons.
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