Viktor Orbán’s Russian policy is unchanged, at least for the time being

A couple of days ago I saw a fascinating interview with András Bruck, a writer and an astute observer of the Hungarian political scene. Every time a new Bruck article appears, which is not that often, there is great excitement among people whose political views are similar to mine. For a number of years now, I have been an admirer, but this was the first time that I saw him in an interview situation. He didn’t disappoint me.

During the long interview Bruck talked about an interesting characteristic of Viktor Orbán. The greater the pressure, the greater his boldness. As if he were tempting fate. Almost as if he were testing the threshold at the point of no return. This characteristic has become especially pronounced lately as pressure on him, both internationally and at home, mounts. If Hungary’s allies don’t like his policies toward Russia, he makes sure that in every speech, whether the reference is appropriate to the occasion or not, he talks about the soundness of his foreign policy. If there is serious discontent at home because of his government’s corruption and his own questionable business dealings, he flaunts his close connection with two of his front men by attending the opening of their new ill-gotten businesses. Almost like a serial killer who gets bolder and bolder with each new murder, as if he wants to be caught.

Today I’m going to concentrate on one manifestation of that boldness: Hungarian-Russian relations. It is abundantly clear that neither the United States nor the European Union is happy with Orbán’s Russia policy. This unhappiness has been expressed in all sorts of ways, some subtle, some less so. One would expect that Orbán, even if he didn’t heed Western advice, would at least not call attention to his close ties to Vladimir Putin. But not so. In the last couple of days Orbán made it known that in his opinion Hungary’s national interest is his only concern and that a friendship with Russia is of paramount importance to his government.

On November 19 Orbán addressed the Diaspora Council, one of the many new Fidesz creations that is supposed to strengthen “national unity” across borders. He delivered an hour-long speech in which he felt it necessary to explain his position on Russia.

We have a given geopolitical situation…. We have more powerful and bigger neighbors to the East and to the West. Germanic people to the west, Slavic to the east, and a bit father the Russians. Consequently, we will be loyal to our NATO allies even if we do not share even 50 percent of what they say and think… We do not want a new Cold War. I grew up in the Cold War and I have no wish to end my life in another one…. We will express our discontent to anyone when we see our national interests being harmed. We do not want a new Wall to the East.

Two days later, in a speech to an audience of about 150 people at the Stiftung Familieunternehmen in Baden-Baden, he returned to the topic but this time the message was different. After all, he delivered that speech in Germany. Here he showed himself to be a great friend of Ukraine, the sovereignty of which is of the utmost importance to Hungary because “we think that there must be something between Russia and Hungary…. We once had a common border with the Soviet Union and that was quite an adventure.”

Now let’s look at Hungarian-Russian relations from the vantage point of Moscow. On November 19 Vladimir Putin hailed Hungary as one of Russia’s most important partners. “We share the attitude of the Hungarian leadership aimed at growing constructive dialogue, jointly carrying out planned very large investment projects,” Putin announced at a Kremlin ceremony where Hungary’s new ambassador presented his credentials. He said Russia considered Budapest “one of the most important political, trade and economic partners.”

On the same day Péter Szijjártó was in Moscow to talk with Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister. As MTI reported, both men were upbeat after their meeting. Lavrov praised Hungary for not being antagonistic toward Russsia, adding that “there are more and more responsible member states in NATO and the European Union” who urge dialogue based on mutual respect. Hungary is certainly one of these, he added. Lavrov especially appreciated the fact that Hungary had confirmed its resolve to build the Hungarian section of the Southern Stream project.

Sergei Lavrov and Péter Szijjártó, Moscow, November 19, 2010

Sergei Lavrov and Péter Szijjártó, Moscow, November 19, 2014

Szijjártó was also upbeat. He expressed his hope for early negotiations between the European Union and Russia over the construction of the Southern Stream. He emphasized that Hungary looks upon Russia as an important partner that plays a key role in ensuring the energy security of Central Europe. The rebuilding of practical and constructive cooperation between Russia and the European Union is in Hungary’s interest, Szijjártó emphasized.

Finally, a piece of information about Hungarian-Russian relations that the Hungarian government neglected to tell the country’s inhabitants. The most widely read Russian news portal, Gazeta.ru, ran an interview with Liubov Shishelina, a Russian expert on Hungary. From that interview we learned that Szijjártó went to Moscow not only to talk with Lavrov and other Russian politicians but also to prepare a forthcoming meeting, the fifth since 2010, between Putin and Orbán. This is not the first time that we learn details of Hungarian foreign policy from Russian sources.

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30 comments

  1. Exactly this is what some of us have been saying. Subconsciously Orban wants to be symbolically annihilated, but that implies a force stronger than what he in his current position can muster. He is a mentally sick person, driven by a death drive, I’m convinced of that.

    But the capture of a serial killer is possible because catching a person is unquestionably within the powers of the the police and the courts. Right now nobody is in a position to potentially wield such a power over Orban. Also, the parallel of the serial killer is less than perfect, because a serial killer is proud of his accomplishments which he cannot make public unless he let’s himself be caught. He seeks recognition by capture. Orban has been in the limelight for decades now.

    Only a violent overthrow of his regime could represent such an overwhelming power, I just don’t see any non-violent political configuration in which he could be “caught” or stopped in his amok running to turn Hungary into a thoroughly corrupt Russian vassal state of sorts.

    But this (stoppage) is what he wants, he is provoking the world into a unified force which will do away with him. Perhaps he wants recognition by the size of the force that defeated him.

    In fact I would venture that deep down he already resigned to the idea that he will be caught and terribly punished, although in public he plays the tough manly man from the provinces ready to face the urban, effeminate, decadent enemies (which is one reason why he is so well liked among his supporters). He will continue to up the ante to ensure that the force against him is respectable enough.

    It’s like with Hitler, especially after 1943. People were loyal to Hitler until the very last moment and I expect the same from the people around Orban. I mean even now, in late 2014 no serious fidesznik has dared to even mildly criticize publicly his madness.

  2. Maybe I am confused but I believe Péter Szijjártó explicitly asked that the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to withdraw its troops from Eastern Ukraine. Now that surprised me because the Russians consistently, and ridiculously I would add, have denied they have any troops in the Eastern Ukraine at all. So Péter Szijjártó effectively by his comment accused the Russians of lying. None the less Lavrov laughed off the comment saying he “understands that Hungary needs to comply with the requirements of NATO and the EU.” But the Hungarians are really good fellows who are critical of EU and US sanctions against Russia.

  3. I beg to differ with the general assumption that Organ has a subconscious desire to be annihilated… that’s not what is driving his bold moves. The uncompromising attitude of a narcissist is usually self-destructive. A narcissist cannot accept fair criticism. as he thinks he is always right. Admitting not being right is just way too threatening to the narcissist’s ego. So the more criticism Orban gets over his choices and decisions, the more adamant he is going to be, the more he’ll stick to these choices and decisions, and make similar decisions, in a way subconsciously justifying his earlier choices.

    Another issue is the questions of control. Giving in to criticism for Orban is giving in to control. So the more the West criticizes, the less likely Orban is going to compromise (which he sees as giving in to control). Of course, Orban is trying to play the West (peacock dance) by seemingly listening sometimes, but this is just to ensure that the West won’t make a move that could seriously hurt him. It is a chess game.

    Putin, on the other hand, knows exactly how to play Orban: by giving him what he craves, attention and the feeling of being important and being somebody. This reaffirmation also comes from somebody (Putin) whom Orban sees as strong and powerful. Putin does not criticize Orban, for one, he really has no reason to do so, for second, that would push Orban away. Putin knows how to manipulate Orban. Orban will end up in a more serious bind, but he won’t even notice.

  4. Right at the beginning of the interview, there is a collection of sentences that Orban said in his last Friday’s radio interview. He is using the first person singular now about everything he talks about: “I have calculated that I’m going to take a thousand billion forints from the banks now. The thousand billion that I’m forcefully taking away from the banks, I am going to give them to the people. (…) I will not allow this to happen again. I will not let them do this again, I will defend the people.” Etc etc.

    I’m usually cautious about armchair-psychiatry, but I am, too, convinced that this man is not thinking rationally. He is locked up (alone) in his world, in which everything is interpreted in terms of weakness and strength, where naked force (nyers ero) is the only means to get by with. The other day in parliament he said “Up until now Hungary has allowed, BECAUSE SHE WAS WEAK, these [foreign supermarket] companies to pour cheap rubbish onto us, but we’ve had enough of it now.” This remark about Hungary being weak, was completely out of context and didn’t make much sense, but he uttered it with a face as if he was saying something very important and solemn.
    I agree with those who say Orban considers compromise or admitting a mistake a weakness, and weak to him is the one thing he cannot allow himself to be. That’s probably why the more mistakes he makes, the more he provokes and the more he raises his game. I’d leave it to experts to decide whether it is an illness and if so, what, but:
    For a country to be run entirely in the first person singular by someone who has this problem is very bad news. The only good thing is that more and more people seem to be willing and keen to talk about it openly.

  5. Yes Petofi the KGB or FSB connection to Gasprom has been well established. The British newspaper the Independent did a good article on the issue in 2006, see
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/all-the-presidents-men-the-kgbs-great-powergrab-427965.html

    There are a lot of former KGB heavy weights in the Russian oligarchy, Alexander Lebedev, Alexei Kondaurov, Philipp Bobko, Andrey Belyaninov, Sergey Chemezov, Nikolay Tokarev, Viktor Ivanenko, and Alexander Lebedev to name some of the richest ones. These will be the new rulers of Hungary once Orban sells off the nation to these sertés orosz.

  6. POX POPULIS

    @An: I’m no clinician, but I think OV scores even higher on psychopathy and machiavellianism than on narcissism — though you may be right that narcissism will prove to be his undoing. But even that’s much more than just narcissism — more like delusions of grandeur, and a seething abhorrence of being defied.

    As for his sycophantic entourage, they are mostly just low-grade manipulators and bullies (a common trait of lawyers). As I’ve said before, despite the fact that many of his critics express a (reluctant) admiration for the skills of Orban and his cronies — even sometimes seeing them as a kind of intelligence — those are in fact amount to nothing more than a complete lack of scruples: Without scruples, you can do a lot of things that people with scruples cannot do.

    (That’s also why I think people are being much too hard on the opposition; their main handicap is scruples; it makes them defenceless against the Fudesz M.O.; and by now it’s not just unscrupulousness they are up against, but a legal system that has entrenched and pseudo-legitimated the Orban regime through a bogus constitution and bogus legislation. The opposition’s fatal flaw is a kind of narcissism too, after all: inability to set their individual egos aside and unify in opposition to Orban instead of petty wrangling amongst themselves.)

    But let’s not forget the biggest pathology behind all this: it’s not the “dark triad” of Orban and his henchmen, nor even the fecklessness of the democratic opposition, but the self-pity, defensiveness, petty delusions and shrugging off of corruption by the Hungarian voters (and, just as guilty, the non-voters). Without those, Orban would just be the unprincipled loudmouth everyone ignores.

    After all, the ones indignantly demonstrating against Orban today are the ones who failed to vote him out when they had a chance…

  7. Gabor Simon the corrupt socialist criminal a few days ago paid 128 million to the courts to pay penance for his earlier crimes. A plan to lessen the damages caused by the criminal activity of him Gabor Simon. But how did he have 128 million (600 000 $) in his back pocket? All his accounts were frozen!!!! And by paying in this money he also admitted that the original corruption money found in Austria and 4 other countries was his. At the time he said he “was just keeping the money” for others and it wasn’t his. Now the story is changing to deflect blame off of the utterly corrupt MSZP party? Nobody could think that Simon acted alone in his corruption and in his crimes. The MSZP party was unaware of the doings of the 2nd most powerful man in the party, Gabor Simon??

    Gabor Simon was the vice chairman of the MSZP, the largest and most powerful opposition party in Hungary. So how can an honest, decent person with all bank accounts frozen just pay in 128 million from his back pocket?

    The answer is that he was always a corrupt criminal who had limitless funds. This is why it is no problem to just pay in 128 million cash with all accounts completely frozen.

  8. I like the title of this post “for the time being”. This implies the possibility that Orban will change course.

    This will not happen, certainly not until he signs the politically (and financially for him) all-important gas supply agreement which is up for renewal in 2015.

    But Putin and his people are no amateurs either, they know exactly that after securing the agreement Orban could potentially turn away. Let me assure everyone, the Russians have thoroughly prepared for this contingency too.

    Moreover, An above has right regarding the attention (love) Putin pours on Orban. Putin is a person whose “love” is an important validation of Orban’s worth.

    Liking by Merkel or Hollande (Sarkozy) or Cameron on the other hand would mean zero to Orban because these are fundamentally weak (also constrained by law) characters incapable of acting decisively and Orban just detests such people.

    This doesn’t mean that Orban wouldn’t love to have a photo-opp with Merkel etc., but that would be just for the purposes of selling the pics to his supporters (see “Merkel doesn’t hate me as the communist media imples, we have a splendid relationship with Germany”). Merkel’s sole role is to play the approval giving influentiial lady.

    Anyway, Orban will not change course. He won’t because admitting defeat and going against his Gyula Tellér (and Dugin) inspired ideology would not be him.

    Also, there are cold financial and thus legal interests at stake which would prevent him from doing an about face.

    And finally, he doesn’t care if Hungary is kicked out of NATO. He anyway figures that NATO has a bigger interest in keeping Hungary. He calculates that NATO would not let Hungary be the symbolic tipping point for the “Peak West”, after which countries will leave the western organizations, Turkey could also exit NATO and declare that it no longer cares about the EU and so on.

    Conclusion: Orban will continue to love Putin and Russia until he effectively cedes Hungary to the Russian siloviki.

    In a perverse way, if Orban succeeds he will see his theory proven right, according to which the West is decadent, weak and never cared about Hungary. So all this sales process of Hungary to Russia is really a provocation calling for the West to act and prevent him.

  9. If you want some really strong words on Putin, you’ll have to read this blog (I’ve linked to it before):
    http://cicerossongs.blogspot.hu/2014/04/those-that-live-by-sword.html
    “The crushing of all free media, all opposition points of view and even the slightest dissent in Russia has proceeded, it is now all too clear that Putin’s contempt for freedom is absolute. He is openly dismissive of all Western democratic values which, in an eerie echo of Fascism, he regards as “decadent”.

    Like Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, he has turned his tyranny abroad as well as at home. His unprovoked aggression against Ukraine breaks all treaties and all the norms of international law. Across the entire planet, it is clear that Russia is now a pariah state. Putin is a barbarian who rules a criminal regime. There can be no compromise with him, no deals that he will honour, no respect that he will give us. He is an outright enemy of democracy, tolerance and freedom.”
    I totally agree – and there are more postings like this on the blog.

  10. R e a l p o l i t i k is not a bad approach toward Russia, that is what Orban follows, in the footsteps of Willy Brandt. So why the uproar? OV follows a historical precedence.
    And the Soviet Union was far more dangerous then than Russia is now.

  11. Fidesz vice chairman Kosa has followed my advice.

    Yesterday I wrote that his account (if it is in Dubai) is not safe from scrutiny from September 2018. After 3 days in Dubai, he has flown to New Zealand.

    Remark:
    There are regular flights from New Zealand to Vanuatu.

  12. Todays teacher demonstration in Budapest finished with Verdi’s Slave Chorus in stead of the National Anthem..

  13. Re: Joe Simon writes in support of Orban’s eastern winds doctrine that ” the Soviet Union was far more dangerous then than Russia is now.” I don’t agree. Militarily prior to the Russian defeat in Afghanistan without question Russia had considerably more military power than it does today.

    But Putin now presents himself as the leader of the far right in Europe, and the leaders of Europe’s right-wing parties including the Jobbik pledge their allegiance. Russian propaganda via Russia Today insists to Westerners that the problem with Ukraine is that its government is too far to the right, even as Russia has put together a coalition with the European far right.

    Extremist, populist, and neo-Nazi party members went to Crimea and praised the electoral farce as a model for Europe. Hungarian Jobbik supporters were election monitors recently which should be very reassuring. Anton Shekhovtsov, a researcher of the European far right, has pointed out, the leader of the Bulgarian extreme right launched his party’s campaign for the European parliament in Moscow.

    The Italian Fronte Nazionale praises Putin for his “courageous position against the powerful gay lobby.” The neo-Nazis of the Greek Golden Dawn see Russia as Ukraine’s defender against “the ravens of international usury.” Heinz-Christian Strache of the Austrian FPÖ argues that Putin is a “pure democrat.” Even Nigel Farage, the leader of the U.K. Independence Party, recently shared Putin’s propaganda on Ukraine with millions of British viewers in a televised debate, claiming absurdly that the European Union has “blood on its hands” in Ukraine.

    All of us on this blog have access to the Jobbik website which is translated into English. We can easily read where this all is going in Hungary. Gabor Vona has an article linking the protests to a US take over of Hungary and argues: ” Fidesz has become unworthy of governing this country. Organizationally and professionally, Jobbik has to prepare for taking over the government. However, we must emphasize and repeat every minute and upon each step we take: we want to defeat Fidesz through our own efforts, not as a puppet of the US services.” (To see the entire article go to http://www.jobbik.com/maidan_coming_hungary )

    Putin’s gangster capitalist Russia is far more dangerous than was the old Soviet government which really did not fully participate in the world market. Putin and his oligarchs want to economically expand into Central Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. Putin is a dangerous man who must ultimately be politically destroyed so his supporters back off their support for his greater Russian dreams. In the long run the containment approach via economic pressure being pursued by my government in the USA and the EU will lead to greater military conflict and we must be prepared for that possibility with significant increases in military expenditures as I have stated on this blog many times.

  14. Wolfi,

    I hate to break it to you, but Russia is far from a pariah state, since Putin seems to have no problem with the countries that together contain the majority of the people in the world. Yes, he is an outcast among the developed countries and some that are still developing, but China is not treating Russia like a pariah, nor is India (yet). That’s 2.4 billion people or so right there, and then there’s Latin America and Africa, with plenty of countries led by people who would love to join the new anti-democracy grouping that’s forming to oppose Europe and the other rich countries. I predict that Iran and Russia will become good friends (they already cooperate in Syria), thus making the sanctions against Iran pointless. The new Cold War is imminent, and the other side has no ideology, other than anti-democracy and a hatred of human rights. Meanwhile, Europe is austerity-ing itself into irrelevance, Japan has essentially arrived at irrelevance, and the US is close to being fully controlled by Putin’s kindred spirits, the Republicans. Canada, Australia and New Zealand cannot win the war by themselves, and the Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonians should start brushing up on their Russian language skills.

    This is a very pessimistic view, and things could easily change, but nobody in the “West” seems to care enough to do what is necessary to stop this scenario before it’s too late. I hope I’m wrong!

  15. Googly I hear repeatedly in our media and even from Henry Kissinger we are headed to a new Cold War that needs to be avoided or as you stated its imminent. Most US military analysts believe that the rubicon was crossed months ago and we are now full scale in a new Cold War with Russia. I agree with those military analysts and for that matter I believe most military analysts of the European NATO states are in agreement with that perspective based on the simulated attacks Russian Federation forces have been conducting against numerous NATO states.

  16. Also the Republian party in the USA is in no way pro-Putin, they have been calling for a military build up to confront Russia in the Ukraine. See this article
    http://blogs.rollcall.com/wgdb/republicans-warn-of-dark-and-dangerous-future-if-putin-isnt-confronted-on-ukraine/

    It is one of many articles you can find reflecting the tough stance of Republicans towards Putin. Where do Hungarians come up with the theory that the Republican Party is more pro-Orban and Russian? The US Republican Party is not comparable to far right European parties the ideology is far different and is founded on states rights, deregulation of commerece, and individual rights for things like gun ownership and school choice. I have had members of my own extended family in Hungary tell me this too.

  17. It’s rather sad to watch how the Hungarian policies and conclusively the life of Hungarians revolves around the twisted mind and sick personality of one single person, Orbán.
    While we hardly ever concern ourselves of the personalities of leaders of civilised countries, we are actually forced into to scrutinise the Orbanian behaviour: where are we going and what could come next?

    Here we really have an unscrupulous person with over-compensated inferiority complex and all the above named glitches, allusion of grandeur, narcissism and so on, who will stop never to prove himself against anybody and anything – and always remains insecure and unsure, so, he will increase the bets, again and again to prove himself against.

    Otherwise it would turn out, that someone else even better, you se…

    So, I don’t think that he will ‘go as hero’, – he just unsure, that his latest performance really was that good as he thought at the moment, so he has to higher the rib just to be sure. And again, endlessly.

    A miserable way of life, that’s for sure.
    If it was only his problem, I would even pity him. However, when he takes the whole country with him I have no pity or even sympathy toward Orbán. Such unscrupulous parasites must go for ever.

    Stevan is also right regarding the opposition: they have scruples, while Orbán has none.

    I expressed many years ago that one of Gyurcsány’s biggest mistake was that he took Orbán for gentleman – we’re talking about the same thing.
    No norms, no conventions, no civilised manners, no moral, no religion will ever stop Orbán to pursue his goal, no price is too high to him.

    But of course, since all the price going to be paid by the mislead/forced millions of others – isn’t it nice?
    But really?

  18. @tappanch re Dubai

    I think it is not a coincidence that the current ambassador to the UAE is one Zoltan Jancsi. According to a little internet search it turns out under Orban’s first government Jancsi was within the Prime Minister’s Office the head of the so-called National Security Supervision (Nemzeti Biztonsági Felügyelet). That was in 1999, a year after Orban gained premiership for the first time without much experience. Jancsi must have had excellent fidesznik and national security backings to occupy this post as Orban and Kövér are rather paranoid. Jancsi also became one of the select few főtisztviselő, an elite corp of bureaucrats Orban wanted to entrench. My suspicion is that the UAE occupies a very important place in the Fidesz financial empire, just as Singapore does/did. The UAE is a notorious place, from Afghanistan bales of cash are transported to the Dubai on a daily basis. For these Fidesz leaderships transactions one needs the politically most reliable assistant on the ground, preferably an operator with national security background. I guess that’s the case.

  19. @tofett
    “So how can an honest, decent person with all bank accounts frozen just pay in 128 million from his back pocket?”

    – Borrowed from Szijjártó?

    You see, when accounts are frozen, one can not use them at his/her will for his/her benefit.
    However, one can pay his/or her fines to the government by allowing that it could be drawn from his (frozen) accounts. Otherwise, in my knowledge up to date there is no conviction in Simon’s case – do you have conflicting information?
    Would be wise to share with us in order to take you more than another paid badmouth.

    But of course, it’s your choice, dear.

  20. Istvan,

    I didn’t mean to imply that the Republicans were pro-Orbán or pro-Putin, in the sense that they support those thieves, I meant to say that the Republicans who are currently in charge of the party have a similar approach to governing as Orbán, Putin, Mugabe, Chavez (until recently, anyway), Lukashenko, Yanukovich, etc. – in other words, no morals, no conscience, and no ideology other than to gain power at any cost and become wealthier (ask former majority leader of the house Eric Cantor). The governor of the state of New Jersey could teach Orbán a thing or two about power politics and petty tyranny, as well as getting away with bullying and naked political patronage, and he is considered to be a reasonable, bipartisan moderate in the party. Just like Fidesz, the Republican party, as it is constituted today, is willing to destroy the economy, the system of government, and the good name of the US, all in order to gain more power. The Democrats may be only somewhat less inept and corrupt than the MSZP, but they share one thing with MSZP that should make all Americans sad: they look like saints compared to their competition.

    All of this after the Republicans had convinced me that they could not possibly be worse than they were from 2003 to 2007, when they used their complete control of all branches of government to put the world on the road to financial ruin and the two wars they started on the road to failure. Yet the American voters, in their infinite wisdom, decided to hand the keys of government back to this cabal, which has only gotten more greedy and less interested in governing for the common good. Sound familiar? It should to Hungarians.

    As for the coming Cold War II, Russia isn’t what makes me nervous, and I’m sure that the US could handle Russia without breaking a sweat. What makes me nervous is the fact that the short-sighted bureaucrats in Brussels and Berlin have used austerity to make the EU so unattractive and unpopular that it seems to have given the political space to anti-EU fascists in France, of all places, to seriously threaten to destroy the whole project. Not just France, but Belgium, the Netherlands, and Italy, not to mention the UK, Greece, Slovakia and Hungary, among many others. Meanwhile, the Republican-engineered destruction of the world financial system has discredited not just the US and the Washington Consensus, but all of capitalism, at least in the minds of too many impressionable people around the world. All this has served to make Russia far more powerful in the governments of other countries (including those EU-doubting countries I listed earlier) than they could ever hope to be militarily (nukes aside, of course). Russia wouldn’t stand a chance against the “West” on its own, but with China and many other autocracies and dictatorships newly emboldened by Putin’s machismo, the new anti-democracy bloc will make the Warsaw Pact look small and pathetic by comparison. Will Modi decide that Hinduism is better off on the side of countries that don’t ask uncomfortable questions about how minorities are treated? Will all of the Islamic countries decide that the US is the crusader that Russia will protect them from? Will China’s weak neighbors decide that the decadent West can’t protect them from China, so it’s better to just start groveling now? Thailand apparently has, and Myanmar, so promising just last year, seems to have sensed a change of the winds.

    Without strong leadership and stronger economic growth, the democratic club might find that the populations of its countries aren’t the only shrinking numbers they need to worry about – I predict a further shrinking of the number of democratic nations in the world, especially since there is no sign at all of unity or strong leadership among any of the countries currently in the democratic camp. For the next two years, Merkel will be worrying about economic growth (still), yet not getting the fact that austerity doesn’t produce it (still). Obama will be worrying about his retirement, since he will have no power whatsoever (except to help a few illegal immigrants). None of the other leaders of major democracies will be able to do anything without these two (especially Hollande, who will be worrying about which country he will have to move to in order to escape the hatred coming from virtually all French people), and Cameron has already maneuvered himself into irrelevance on all sides of the Atlantic.

    The Coldest Cold War of all is still shaping up – I hope I’m wrong, but this confrontation with Putin looks like it’s just an appetiser.

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