The old adage “With money comes power” is all too prevalent in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Ever since seizing power through his appointment as prime minister by President Boris Yeltsin in 1999, the ex-KGB colonel has climbed into the uppermost echelons of power in the Russian government, and thus has secured an impressive amount of power.
With the recent events that have unfolded in Ukraine and Crimea, the United States and other Western powers are concerned about the future of Eastern Europe. Many European leaders are concerned that Putin is making an attempt to seize power by putting back together the satellite states of the former Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries.
This would essentially create a massive government rooted in socialism with Putin and his allies in command, something the West feels must be avoided at all costs.
The real motivation for all of this, however, is not power. Power is simply the byproduct of the successes of Putin’s government.
The real motivation for threatening the West, Ukraine and Crimea is money.
Putin’s government has a tendency of basing nearly all of its military and policy decisions on making a profit. For starters, the Russian Duma (Russia’s equivalent of the U.S. House of Representatives) has passed legislation giving subsidies to state-owned petroleum and natural gas companies for years, much to the benefit of Putin’s close friends and allies.
Another example of this is all too prevalent in the uppermost levels of the government. After ousting the oligarchs that claimed control over much of Russia’s business sector, another tight-knit group of Putin-backed men took control of the state-owned companies.
These companies operate a majority of the public-owned economy, and these men make massive amounts of money backing Putin’s government financially.
Money was also the primary motivation for the Ukraine-Crimea crisis. The conflict began after the people of Ukraine rebelled against Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych. Putin relied heavily on Yanukovych’s socialist government in order to hold control of key natural gas pipelines that run through the country and serve the majority of the European continent. If Yanukovych’s government fell, then Ukraine would most likely become a member of the European Union, and Russia would lose tens of millions of U.S. dollars in natural gas revenue.
The ousting of Yanukovych’s government thus prompted Putin to invade Ukraine and antagonize Kiev to the point of submission. Of course, the byproduct of his move to annex the peninsula-state of Crimea into the Russian mainland had its political benefits, with the majority of the peninsula’s citizens being ethnic Russians themselves. In recent weeks, Putin has spun the move as one “supporting all ethnic Russians.”
Since the annexation of Crimea, Kiev and the West have become much more nervous as to what country will be next.
Given Putin’s motivation of making a profit on the world economic stage, it is likely that the eastern provinces of Ukraine could be next if the Ukrainian acting government does not tread carefully.
If the United States, Kiev and its allies truly want to bring down Putin’s regime, or at least force them to step down from the world stage militarily, it needs to attack the root of the problem rather than its byproduct.
Attacking Putin politically will do little to nothing, since Putin and his allies are more concerned with money than having absolute control over the West. The truly crippling alternative to political mudslinging would be to attack the Russian government with natural gas boycotts and crippling sanctions on those who control the Russian economy.
Putin’s government may be powerful, but that power comes from money. It may take time, but if Putin understands one thing about international politics, it is that a government without money is no government at all.
Eric Vining is a freshman political science and journalism double major from Houston. He is a copy editor for The Lariat.