Roger Boyes has a well intentioned but amusingly flawed column in the New Statesman on the war and what it means for Vladimir Putin’s future. The problem with comparing this to the 1968 invasion signifying the “death knell of communism” – is precisely that it took another 23 years to actually happen. I highly doubt that even Mr. Putin himself would still want to be in power in the year 2031, but alas, we are in the days of war, and we should really try to build up a tolerance for flippant and ill-considered historical allegory.
But Russia’s invasion of Georgia was a sign of weakness rather than strength. My guess is it will mark the beginning of the end for Putinism, just as the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 sounded the death knell of communism. Something is going seriously wrong in Putinland. The Russian economy chips in barely 2.5 per cent to the total global gross domestic product. Oil revenues are being earmarked for modernisation, but the investment is likely to be mismanaged and trickle away. Last week I was in Sebastopol to witness the pride of the Russian Black Sea fleet, which has just seen action in Georgia. Expecting a superpower force, I saw nothing but rust-bucket vessels. Oil cash may be going to the armed forces of the “resurgent” Russia, but most of it is spent on pensions. China’s investment in R&D now accounts for 1.42 per cent of its GDP. Russia, well ahead of China a decade ago, barely invests 1 per cent. It is a country in decline.