Staunton, October 12 – The Moscow media are filled with stories suggesting that Russia is preparing for war, but a close examination of the Russian government budget calls that conclusion into question, leaving open an even larger one: will this media firestorm lead to a real one or will it burn out of its own accord?
Anyone who has carried followed the news from Moscow over the last several weeks, the Meduza portal notes, has to conclude that “Russia is preparing for war. The newspapers and television channels are talking about sudden checks of the military and military exercises … the construction and location of bomb shelters … and rations … in the event of military action” (meduza.io/feature/2016/10/11/rossiya-gotovitsya-k-voyne-no-poka-vrode-by-tolko-v-smi).
But a close examination of the Russian state budget, Ekaterina Schulmann of the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service says, shows that “spending on defense is not growing but declining.” What is growing is spending for agencies that can suppress “domestic disorders” (life.ru/t/звук/915335/politologh_shulman_rossiia_nie_ghotovitsia_k_voinie_–_biudzhiet_ghovorit_ob_obratnom).
“If someone thinks that we are preparing for a world war,” Schulmann says, “this isn’t visible” from the budget. “If we are preparing for something, then it is for some kind of internal disorders. We intend to feed our defense ministry a little less and to feed out special services and internal force structures more,” at least judging from the budget.
But can what is going on in the media lead to something real, can the war on television become a war in reality? That is a question Moscow commentator Oleg Kashin addresses because he says if the current situation were a movie, the news would be a leading indicator (spektr.press/vojna-idet-vojne-dorogu-kak-ugrozy-s-teleekranov-vdrug-stali-neotvratimoj-realnostyu/).
That may not be the case now, he suggests, because for the current Russian elite, “foreign policy always was only a continuation of domestic policy.” All of Putin’s words and actions are addressed in the first instance to the people of the Russian Federation and are intended to ensure that he and his entourage will remain in power.
Talking about war is one thing – it may be very good politics – but going to war is something else because it would destroy almost everything that Putin has achieved up to this point and cast doubt on his ability to remain in power in any meaningful war, the commentator continues.
To be sure, Kashin says, “we really can’t imagine what is in the heads” of the people in the Kremlin, the former KGB officers. “The little pictures which they draw for internal use have begun suddenly to come alive,” and thinking about what that could mean has got to be horrible for them, as does backing down, given the domestic consequences of doing so.
“What is to be done? They do not know.” They know how to ramp up anger but they aren’t prepared to live with taking the obvious next step. Sergey Shoygu likes playing military commander but only as long as it is play and not the real thing, Kashin argues, given what he has to know a real war would amount to.
Everything Putin has done, the Moscow commentator says, has been “subordinate to a single goal, that his power will be beyond dispute and that no one else will have the opportunity to make politician decisions … Long ago [he and his entourage] achieved this, and now, they don’t have anyone to divide responsibility for what they have brought about.”