12 June 2022: Interesting local sites; Endless obras; Understanding BJ; And Putin; & Other stuff.

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Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable
Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

Cosas de España

Nice to hear of the discovery of a 2,000 year old Roman villa here in Galicia – in Vilantime, near  Arzúa.

And amusing to read of a (very) ugly block of flats – near Valdoviño beach –  which has been the subject of a legal case that’s been going on now for more 60 years. ‘Legal limbo’ the paper described this as. I’ll say.

By coincidence, both Vilantime and Valdoviño are in the province of La Coruña. Not that this is at all significant. Just nice to know. Maybe.

In the article on noise I posted the other day, it was alleged that local councils engage in endless public works(obras) in order to show residents that their money is being well-spent. This, said the author, is the line promoted by the local media. Quite possibly, in my view, because they’re kept afloat by municipal subventions and taxpayer-funded ‘ghost’ subscriptions and advertising therein. The Diary de Pontevedra certainly can look like a town-hall rag.

There’s certainly plenty of obras in Pv city, most particularly in respect of the roads. I was interested to read yesterday that someone who’s going to stand against our car-hating mayor has promised to re-open one of the major routes into town that was ’temporarily’ closed – ‘because of Covid’ – by said mayor a couple of years ago. And isn’t being re-opened under his stewardship of the city.

The ‘controversial’ Saudi-financed LIV golf tournament was played over the last few days in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire. For at least one Spanish reporter, this town and county had moved to ‘London’. But then, who can blame him? I’ve just seen a headline on LIV’s web page saying this is where it was taking place. Possibly for the benefit of Americans who’d have no idea where HH was. And who can blame them too?

The UK 

A pretty apt take on the Prime Minister’s challenges:-

And a nice overview of The man Who Must Go Soon.

Russia

See below for an analysis of Putin’s imperial ambitions – and his (in)ability to implement them.

The Way of the World 

Another apt cartoon:-

Interestingly, someone has decided enough is enough and has formed the ‘4T’ organisation – Time to Tame the Trans Twats, aimed not at trans folk but at the zealots who – like 15th century religious bigots – destroy the lives of others who don’t accept their beliefs about themselves.

Spanish 

I saw, in an article about some proposed obra, that there’d be a período de alegaciones. Which I guess, caters for objections, rather than allegations.

English

A very modern sentence from a Times reader: I look forward to the day when you reach out to your fellow human beings with cervixes and prostates and publish the narrative of your lived experience.

Finally . . .

To raise another smile . . .

For passing readers: If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here. If you’re passing through Pontevedra on the Camino, you’ll find a guide to the city there.

Finally, finally: Write to me here, if you want to see a FREE memoir of my first 15 months in Spain, 2000-2001, entitled So, you fancy moving to Spain. (I’ve added FREE as the grand total of takers to date is just 1 person . . . 

THE ARTICLE

‘Putin the Great’ and his budget empire can only deliver a fake victory: Professor Mark Galeotti – director of the consultancy Mayak Intelligence and author of A Short History of Russia. The Times

The fighting in east Ukraine has never been fiercer but it seems increasingly clear that neither side will be able to win this war for a long time to come. Meanwhile, the political costs for Vladimir Putin will only grow. As a result, the hunt is on inside the Kremlin for a viable strategy to present him as a victor anyway.

One idea gaining traction is to hoover up a number of ragtag former Soviet territories that already depend on Moscow’s authority for their existence, and then hail Putin as a “gatherer of the Russian lands” in the old Tsarist tradition. The Russian president hinted at this last Thursday when marking the 350th anniversary of the birth of Peter the Great. In his campaigns against Sweden, Putin noted, Peter “did not take anything from them, he returned [what was Russia’s]”. He then added that “apparently” the same task fell to him today because “it is our responsibility also to take back and strengthen”.

Yet, while this acquisitive approach worked for the emperor who founded Putin’s home city of St Petersburg and, long before that, for Ivan the Great, the medieval prince of Muscovy who laid the foundations of the Russian state, it will prove rather less successful in the 21st century.

Stalemate looming

While the Russian offensive in Ukraine is making slow progress it is also running out of steam. As Putin dithers over whether to admit that his “special military operation” is a full-scale war and mobilise reserves — something that would alarm and alienate most Russians — his generals do not have the troops to launch another big push this summer.

As for the Ukrainians, while supplies of equipment from the West are allowing them to keep fighting, they are taking heavy losses, are already fully mobilised, and probably will not be able to score a major victory on the battlefield either.

The onset of autumn will make any military operations harder, as bad weather hinders the use of airpower and rains swell rivers and turn dry soil to thick, sticky mud. Come September, the odds of any Russian breakthroughs will therefore become even longer, just as the real costs of the war will be hitting home in Russia: inflation, unemployment, a growing awareness of the casualties, dwindling hope.

Inventing a win

So, Putin may find himself shopping around for something else that he can proclaim as a triumph. One characteristic of his regime is that it is rarely the president himself who generates initiatives. Instead, he expresses broad interests and waits for people inside and outside government to pitch him ideas, from which he can choose.

Now that expectations of a quick and easy victory have been dashed this is what is happening in Russia. A range of behind-the-scenes debates are under way, as “political entrepreneurs” from government ministers to insider think tanks propose various options, in the hope of catching Putin’s eye and winning his favour.

One discussion is over whether to annex outright those portions of Ukraine under Russian control. For some, though, this would not go far enough. As one presidential administration insider put it: “The Kremlin needs a big bang, to do something truly dramatic, even shocking, if it wants to distract a public wondering where its savings have gone and why it can’t afford the things it got used to.”

These are not the technocrats who simply want the war to end, nor the real hardliners, who think the war is not being fought hard enough, that it is time to mobilise and strike again for Kyiv. Instead, this group wants national glory — but quickly, and on the cheap.

Annex ‘people’s republics’

They advocate the annexation of the two rebel “people’s republics” in Donbas — whose pliant leaders have already advertised their wish to formally join Russia.

Indeed, recent visits by the deputy head of the Russian presidential administration Sergei Kiryenko — Putin’s main political fixer — and Marat Khusnullin, deputy prime minister for regional development, suggest that plans are under way to annex at least the rebel republics formed in 2014 and possibly also Ukrainian territories conquered since the invasion began in February. [There are reports of Russian passports being issued]

Tellingly, on Wednesday, Denis Pushilin, head of the “Donetsk People’s Republic”, reshuffled his cabinet and introduced a number of former Russian officials, while the next day his counterpart in the “Luhansk People’s Republic”, Leonid Pasechnik, appointed the former deputy governor of Russia’s Kurgan region as his deputy prime minister.

But there are those — and the ambitious Kiryenko may be among them — who want to go further.

Pound-shop empire

They suggest this is a good time to snatch up other Russian-backed regions and advocate a general annexation — framed as acceding to local requests — of the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia.

Beyond that, they even toy with the idea of either swallowing up Belarus or, less dramatically, building on the existing treaty between Minsk and Moscow to turn the existing “Union State of Russia and Belarus” into something that looks much more real.

Then, the argument goes, this could all be presented to the Russian people as a reversal of the badly-thought-through fragmentation of the Soviet state at the end of 1991, a fixing of artificial and discriminatory boundaries and a national triumph.

Putin could then be painted as a modern-day Ivan the Great, who defeated the Tatars and “gathered the Russian lands” under Moscow at the end of the 15th century. Yet this would be the pound shop equivalent, snapping up the cheap, the desperate, the bankrupt, the available.

Long-term costs

Putin’s propagandists would duly spin this as a victory, of course, but this would be one bought at massive further long-term costs.

Internationally, this would be seen as proof of an insatiable imperialism, a determination to restore the tsarist or Soviet empires. Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister, called Putin’s Peter the Great remark last week “a recipe for years of war”. Even China might be uncomfortable given its formal commitment to the sovereign rights of nations (under which it claims sovereignty over the “province” of Taiwan).

Money would have to be found from Russia’s creaking federal budget for lifting up these new acquisitions to demonstrate some material advantage to the locals. Given that Moscow would have to work through existing elites in these areas, most of whom are thuggish gangsters, much of that investment would simply be stolen.

Administratively, it would also put renewed pressure on a state machine that is already struggling. Mikhail Mishustin, the Russian prime minister, is an ardent advocate of modern “techno-authoritarianism” with unified databases and standardised systems. The complications of mass annexations would undermine his vision of future governance.

There are also security challenges: the armed forces of these regions, many of which are really militias, would not necessarily be enthused about going to fight in Ukraine. If anything, Russian military and Federal Security Service (FSB) resources might have to be diverted to them in order to maintain Moscow’s writ on these new possessions.

The Crimean precedent

Advocates of this policy may be mistakenly extrapolating from the enthusiasm with which Russians greeted the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and with which many Crimeans greeted it, too. But that was a very specific case. Crimea had been a part of Russia until 1954 and most Russians genuinely considered it “theirs”. One cannot say the same of Donbas, let alone Abkhazia.

Already there has been some resentment at the £10 billion of subsidies lavished on Crimea, while subsidies to Chechnya were once controversial enough to spark protests with racist overtones against “feeding the Caucasus” that even the now-imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny supported.

Likewise, it is not clear that these regions would welcome the motherland’s embrace. Even in Crimea, there is a new mood of disillusionment, not least because much of the promised investment there was stolen or wasted.

In South Ossetia the previous president, Anatoly Bibilov, favoured a referendum on annexation as it would finally unite the area with North Ossetia, a Russian region, but Alan Gagloyev, who defeated him to win election last month, has backed away from the idea.

As for Belarus, although President Alexander Lukashenko is now in effect dependent on Moscow’s support, he would demand a high price for acceding to any such plan, especially as the days when Putin had the muscle to replace him with a more deferential proxy are probably over.

Not so ‘Great’

Nonetheless, Putin has form buying an apparent short-term gain at the cost of long-term pain (arguably, annexing Crimea was an example of this). Besides, given the persistence of rumours about his health, these days he may not care so much about the long term.

He clearly has not yet decided on his next move, but his aspirations to follow in the footsteps of those “Greats” Peter and Ivan may yet lure him toward bolder and ultimately more expensive policies that, ultimately, could prove his undoing.