Upon Reflection (23 October-27 October)

Time to consider weekly global headlines in an ever-changing world

Selected News Headlines

for the
Working Week
23 October-27 October 2017

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny released from jail, plans to attend rally

23 October 2017, Moscow, Russian Federation – Associated Press (AP) –Russian president, Vladimir Putin’s hold on power appears unlikely to diminish in the near term. Significant opposition leaders and non-compliant members of the Russian press seem to have an unhealthy habit of meeting their untimely end for challenging the authority of the Russian president.

This was not the case this time round for Russian Opposition Leader, Alexei Navalny, who was released from jail on Monday 23 October. He spent 20 days in prison for having called for an ‘unauthorised’ political demonstration.

But in a political environment tightly controlled by the instrumentality of state which is largely loyal to Putin, the idea of building an effective political opposition is near impossible.

It is not that that are no people who are sceptical of where Putin is taking Russia, it’s just that the Russian intelligence apparatus headed up by the FSB, the successor to the Soviet Union’s KGB, has effectively penetrated all organised political groups and can therefore easily disrupt their moves and conduct pre-emptive actions against them.

How long this game can be played out by Putin depends as much on his ability to push Russian interests internationally, as well as delivering economic security to his people.

If people believe that Russia is strong as an international actor, they may well believe that Putin is strong internally.

However, Russia has been under sustained international pressure since its annexation of Crimea in 2014. As Putin, a former KGB agent, is well placed to anticipate the moves of his opponents and to head them off before they can develop a centre of gravity, it would take a similar level of cunning by opposition leaders to outfox the Russian president.

Displays of public anger and antipathy, however controlled, will never be enough to dethrone Putin. They just enable Putin to open a small release value for public frustrations, trading on his already established ‘autocratic liberal’ tendencies. As he is no Joseph Stalin, or Ivan the Terrible, Putin is a veritable democrat.

Unfortunately for those seriously fighting for more political liberalism in Russia, this relativistic argument both inside and outside Russia’s borders has credibility and therefore works against the Russian opposition.

Read Flake’s bombshell Senate speech: ‘Mr. President, I rise today to say: Enough’

24 October 2017, Washington D.C., United States – The Republic | azcentral.com – In a sign that not all is well within the American Republic, moderate Arizona Republican Senator Jeffery Flake stated that he would not be seeking another term in office and would not contest the 2018 Congressional elections.

Considering the massive internal power shifts that are happening within the Republican Party where power among Trump loyalists seem to be consolidating, this move by Flake is not only seen as a blow to Republican moderates, it shows that momentum is on Trump’s side.

For those who were hoping that there would be enough people left within the Republican Party who may act as a brake against some of the American president’s more extreme statements and policy pronouncements will be disappointed by this turn of events.

If the centre does not hold, there will be nothing other than the president’s physical removal from office, that will prevent the radical Trump agenda from being fulfilled.

In the next episode of STRATEGIKON, the podcast of SIA, due out in time for Halloween, listen to Dr. Jonathan Z. Ludwig give his account of developments in the United States.

Spain sacks Catalan government after independence declaration

27 October 2017, Barcelona/Madrid, Spain – Reuters – In a move that will surely see large-scale organised violence return to Spain, the Spanish government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed the pro-independence Catalan government headed by Carles Puigdemont.

Nothing about this escalation of the Spanish Crisis seems like a good idea, unless Madrid manages to move extremely quickly to take out the political leadership in Barcelona and break up organised pro-independence resistance.

While talk of civil war is increasing, many are suggesting that a breakdown of the Spanish state similar to what happened in the 1930s may occur. This would be a misreading of history. The Spanish Civil War was a complicated internal struggle that only grew in complexity as it became a proxy battleground for European fascist and anti-fascist forces.

The current struggle may evolve into something akin to that which took place with the Basque region – a long standing ‘low-level’ insurrection against Madrid.

Spain is not well placed to fight such a conflict considering the country’s dire financial situation.

The Catalan region, unlike the Basque region, is wealthy – the wealthiest province in Spain. Its ability to sustain a defensive guerrilla-style resistance is good.

All eyes will be watching the Spanish government’s next moves. If deadly force is used against Puigdemont and his supporters, the potential break-up of Spain may well be accelerated.

Passions are known to run very high in the politics of Mediterranean states where vendetta is part of the political culture.

The only outlier that may alter the balance of power between Madrid and Barcelona is if other international actors were to weigh in to give succour to Catalan separatists. Here, the only likely taker is the Russian Federation. Watch this space.

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