In a thousand years or so, the great rivalry between the United States and Russia is going to be one of those fantastic stories of rivalry between powerful peoples, like the Greeks and the Persians, or Rome and Carthage, or England and France. It will play out as black farce, two totally self-unaware colossi, each acting unintentionally as the other's mirror. A lot of elephants have been dragged over a lot of Alps in the last century or so. I mean to say that it's been both a bleak and a foolish time.
Every once in a while, though, someone comes along and sees through it exactly. I think Kubrick did when he made Strangelove. Ironically, the man who's currently piercing the veil publicly and with regularity is everyone's favorite ex-KGB, black-belt autocrat, Vladimir Putin.
This would probably be the time to include a lot of caveats about how praise notwithstanding, he's still a pretty lousy bastard. So, noted. But he just keeps telling the truth, operating I suppose under the old nostrum that the best hiding place is in plain sight. He predictably sends Anne Applebaum, one of those experts whose understanding seems always to have our Others acting exactly as we'd suspect them to act, and for all the same reasons we'd expect of them, into condemnatory epilepsy, her brain wracked by great storms of offended lightning.
Averring on why it is that Russia bothers to hold elections, AA writes:
The need for legitimacy also helps explain the string of vitriolic, aggressive attacks on Western democracies that presaged yesterday's election. In the past couple of years, Putin has openly compared America to Nazi Germany, set up an institution designed to monitor America's supposedly dubious democracy and frequently accused both Americans and Western Europeans, especially the British, of hypocrisy and human rights violations. This rhetoric serves several purposes, but above all it is designed to inoculate the Russian public against the example of more open societies. The message is simple: Russia is not merely a democracy, it is a better democracy than Western democracies.This is really wrong only by degree, but what a degree! She's read it barely but exactly wrong. The message isn't that Russia is a better democracy than the ones in the West, but that it's the same. He mocks our pretensions by setting up half-assed parodies of our institutions. He mocks our rhetoric by repeating it back to us as hysterical hyperbole, but unlike our own autocrats, who actually believe their own bullshit, who holler and wave their arms and Make Demands, Putin delivers his punch lines in flat tones with his lipless mouth drawn into the world's greatest extant smirk and his deep eyes glowing black. He delights in breaking down the fourth wall.
He knows that Russia, the resurgent power, isn't going to outlive him. It is a sclerotic, aging, ailing, dying empire ripe for further contraction. Because he's the most formidable man in the world, he has managed to staunch the bleeding, tame his rivals for power, the infamous oligarchs, and inject a little martial pride into his dour nation. Vladimir Putin is Russia, and that's why they fucking love him so much. Everybody knows that whatever comes after is going to be worse. America, of course, is on a similarly declining path, albeit a little further up the hill yet. Our allegorical image is going to be two dead geezers facing each other across a table, locked in a staring contest, beards and decrepit fingernails hanging toward the floor.