My uncle Ken Goodman, who cut his teeth on radical politics picketing the Detroit Tigers’ failure to integrate their team in the late 1940s, long predicted the possibility that capitalism and communism could collapse on the same day.
Although he didn’t live to see Vladimir Putin’s unilateral assault on 43 million Ukranians, he would not be surprised by the way leaders from Washington to Beijing are responding to challenges created by this war.
With the world victimized by global supply chain shortages — from auto dealers in Fresno to empty grocery store shelves in Moscow — now is as good a time as any to explore how both central planning and private enterprise are vulnerable to a butterfly flapping its wings on the other side of the globe.
The assumption that sanctions will somehow bring an end to this war — that China will stand aside as Russia’s economy plummets — is not based on historical fact. Soaring inflation and unprecedented trade restrictions ultimately threaten economies worldwide, including our own. Economic elasticity is not unlimited. At some point, the cost of this war may exceed the world’s ability to pay for another Marshall Plan, millions of refugees, a new arms race and soaring commodity prices. In the wake (or throes) of a global pandemic, no less.
A decade ago no one would have predicted that a Ukrainian Jewish comedian would be the finger in the dike that has held off the Russian army from subjugating his countrymen. With NATO’s line in the European sand and China hedging its bets on how far to go to prop up the Russian Federation’s collapsing economy, it’s critical to understand why this war threatens us all.
When Putin and his minions suggest that their current posture — stalled ground campaign, the deaths of half a dozen generals and Naval commanders, the loss of as many as 10,000 soldiers and failure to depose President Volodymyr Zelensky via a Chechen hit squad — means that the war is “going according to plan,” we need to understand what that plan is.
Like you would expect of an antisemetic, homophobic, kleptomaniac war criminal, professed Christian, Putin knows that shutting down independent media, arresting thousands of brave opponents and paying tens of thousands to attend his Nuremberg style hate rallies is a great way to ensure his reelection in 2024.
Alas, victory comes at a considerable price. It appears that Putin’s larger goal is creating a new world order in which everyone from Joe Biden to Xi Jinping must genuflect to his caprices.
From his Kremlin throne, Putin need not suffer the inconvenience of bad news. It’s never been easier for him for him to dispose of messengers who go off message.
One of his predecessors, who killed an estimated 20 million people, is his role model. As Adam Hochschild explains in The Unquiet Ghost, “Execution was the favored solution to every problem, including those caused by previous executions. When the national census showed that his reign of terror was shrinking the country’s population, Stalin ordered the members of the census board shot. The new officials, not surprisingly, came up with higher figures."
Today, both freely elected leaders and dictators must attempt to negotiate with a man who could trigger a nuclear reactor meltdown that decimates one of the world’s most important bread baskets, a vast agricultural region central to the food supply of millions. This is the transition from state-sponsored terrorism to the state as terrorist.
The fact that Zelensky’s plea for a No Fly Zone has been shot down by Western allies gives Putin time to create the biggest refugee crisis in European history. His threat of a nuclear attack gives him the kind of power Hitler could only dream of. In this environment, no one is safe — not even his FSB spy chief who is now under house arrest.
Why, you might ask, does Putin not simply go in and take out Zelensky by carpet bombing Kyiv? Is it possible that the Russian autocrat sees the Ukrainian president, who lost family in the Holocaust, as an asset? As long as the Ukraine holds out Putin can use Russian media to build his case against a Jewish head of state, bombing civilian shelters, hospitals and schools while also kidnapping thousands of children.
By indulging in the blood libel that Zelensky is fronting for Nazis, Putin is also cementing his Russia First reelection campaign. This Big Lie underscores his message that all of his imaginary “Nazi” opponents want to cave to the west.
None of this could have happened were it not for the Western and Chinese politicians, business leaders, attorneys and investment bankers who, following the fall of Communism, helped Russia escape much of its sovereign debt obligation, rebuild the nation’s floundering economy and create an unprecedented network of billionaire oligarchs, including Putin himself. This rebuilt economy helped pay for the military that quashed the Chechen and Syrian resistance.
The flight of Western businesses, current economic sanctions and China’s reluctance to provide military support could leave Putin doing a monologue on the world stage night after night. Is it possible that capitalism and communism could wind up in the crosshairs of Putinism?
Could that Orwellian outcome force leaders of the free world and dictators everywhere to agree that Ukraine is fighting a battle that ultimately reaches far beyond its borders?
If that day comes, it’s possible that heads of state will realize that decades of cozying up to a dictator for economic gain may not serve the long-term interests of any nation. How fortunate we are that one brave nation has the courage to stand up to a bad actor willing to sacrifice the welfare of his own citizens to persecute people living in countries where they are free to elect their own leaders.
Ultimately, all of us must determine what Putin is after when he uses this unjust war to remain President For Life. Is he talking about his life or ours?
Roger Rapoport is the Muskegon producer of three award winning feature films, Waterwalk, Pilot Error and Coming Up For Air. His new play Old Heart, adapted from the Peter Ferry novel and directed by Karl King premieres May 14 and 15 at Detroit’s Redford Theatre.