Keith E. Rice
It’s difficult to write an article triggered by, but not about, an ongoing crisis that has no obvious outcome in any predictable timeframe. The Ukrainian army may be gaining ground but the United Nations’ concern about a growing humanitarian crisis may force them to slow down their assaults—perhaps helped by rockets fired at them allegedly from across the Russian border. The brutal fact is that West is not going to go to war over the low-level but brutal civil war in eastern Ukraine. The West is likely to continue to support Kiev diplomatically and with military supplies and intelligence and there will be reluctant incremental upgrades to the European Union sanctions on Russia (and retaliatory Russian sanctions on the West); but no American or European soldiers are going to die for Donetsk or Luhansk, even if there were to be an overt Russian military incursion.
Russian militiamen causing trouble in the Baltic states could be a very different proposition, though. Treaty obligations would almost certainly mean any of the Baltic states suffering a secessionist insurgency driven by Russian irregulars and powered by Russian arms would be able to call on NATO to help defend its territorial integrity—provided it could be demonstrated convincingly that a ‘foreign power’ (Russia) was threatening that territorial integrity. And, while no one in their right mind would want it, military skirmishes on the borders of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania could easily spiral out of control and into real war.
Part of the challenge, then, is to undermine the Russian ultra-nationalism which is fuelling the insurgency in eastern Ukraine before it spreads further.
A second part of the challenge, though, is to find ways for Russian nationalism to be expressed safely and healthily without terrorising Russia’s neighbours.
For these things to happen, the West has to understand Russia and respect its interests. Western media need to stop treating Vladimir Putin like some neo-Adolf Hitler and Western governments need to support Putin in reigning in the ultra-nationalists by ameliorating those factors which feed Russian ultra-nationalism.
Putin himself will need to take substantial risks.
A socio-psychological context
When the Soviet Union finally collapsed in 1991, the West—and the United States in particular—read this as Communism having been vanquished by Capitalism. It was a simplistic narrative that suited the ultra-free market views of George H Bush in the White House and Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street. In subsequent free market fantasies, it was assumed that Russia, her satellite countries and her former Warsaw Pact partners would become fertile breeding grounds for capitalist memes — memes, essentially, are ideas which infect minds, from individuals to whole cultures. The opening of the first MacDonald’s fast food takeaway in Moscow in 1990 was lauded in the Western media as the first sign of the capitalist infection taking hold.
However, if we dig a little deeper, using sociopsychological tools, we can see that the West pretty much got it wrong in the last days of Mikhail Gorbachev’s rule and has largely been getting it wrong about Russia ever since.
A key sociopsychological tool for this exploration is Spiral Dynamics, developed by Don Beck & Chris Cowan (1996) from the work of Clare W Graves (1970, 1971). Graves himself was a correspondent and sometime collaborator of Abraham Maslow. Graves influenced Maslow (1971) in his final formulations on the famous Hiearchy of Needs; and Spiral Dynamics incorporates key ‘Maslowian’ principles, while also building on and extending the Hierarchy concepts quite considerably.
The basic concept is that vMEMES, motivational systems, emerge in hierarchical order and ebb and flow in their influence on thoughts and behaviour in synchrony with the life conditions being experienced at the time. Many developmental psychologists of Graves’ era were coming to similar conclusions about values, needs and emergence—not least Jane Loevinger and Lawrence Kohlberg—though Graves/Spiral Dynamics provides the most complete model. See the graphic below. (There are several basic introductions to vMEMES and Spiral Dynamics available on the web. My own is at http://www.integratedsociopsychology.net/vmemes.html. A comparison map of Spiral Dynamics and similar models is available at http://www.integratedsociopsychology.net/comparison_map.html.)
In Spiral Dynamics terms, the ultra-free market radical Capitalism that emerged in the West during the time of Thatcher and Ronald Reagan was driven by the ORANGE vMEME. The focus was on individuals achieving strategic goals such as wealth creation and having the better things in life. The assumption made in the West was that, with the collapse of the ordered and repressive Communist police state (BLUE), ORANGE entrepreneurialism and strategic enterprise would emerge as people enjoyed the freedom to better themselves.
However, there seem to be few Western leaders with much real understanding of how human motivational systems develop. Maslow established clearly in the original Hierarchy that, when a lower level is in trouble, focus goes down the Hierarchy to deal with the problems. Thus, when the BLUE order of the Soviet totalitarian state was dissembled, it was not so much (higher) ORANGE that dominated in the new freedoms but (lower) RED. This vMEME is self-centred, lives primarily for the moment and does exactly what pleases it with little or no conscience or thought of consequences. In so many ways, it is the epitome of what Sigmund Freud (1923) meant by the Id. Russia suffered years of chaos, instability, corruption and gangsterism as a result of losing so much Soviet BLUE order which then allowed RED to flourish.
The inability of Western leaders to read potential scenarios accurately has led to the catastrophic mishandlings of Afghanistan and Iraq. The failure to understand the nature of tribalism, driven by the PURPLE vMEME’s need to find safety in belonging, led to the muddleheaded attempts to implement Western-style Democracy (a ‘vMEME harmonic’ of BLUE, ORANGE and GREEN working together) in those countries with disastrous consequences. People in those countries voted in the interests of the tribe/sect to which they belonged and as the tribal elders instructed, rather than weigh up the issues and vote on merit in the national interest as true democrats are supposed to do.
The anthropological psychologist John Berry (1969) calls this the ‘imposed etic’. This is when, a local or regional cultural norm (emic) is treated as a universal norm (etic) when it is not (imposed etic).
Closely connected with the imposed etic is the ‘False Value Consensus’, a term Lee Ross et al (1977) came up with to describe the assumption that everyone else thinks the same as you and holds the same values you do. Moreover, Ross et al identified the cognitive pattern that, when it becomes inescapable that others do not think the same as you and do not share your values, you regard those who deviate or even oppose your viewpoint as defective. There is something wrong with them because they do not think as you do.
Thus, Western leaders denigrate fundamentalist Muslims who have no interest in Afghanistan becoming democratic and are confused as to why Sunni and Shia slaughter each other in Iraq rather than reach a ‘sensible’ compromise through the ballet box.
Unwittingly, perhaps, they have made similar types of mistakes with Putin and Russia.
Putin: saviour and nationalist
In the year before Putin became Boris Yeltsin’s prime minister, Russia seemed to have reached its nadir of chaos. The state had defaulted on its debt and salaries for public sector workers and pensions were being paid months late, if at all. Basic infrastructure was collapsing and the country’s most prized assets belonged to a handful of well-connected oligarchs who ran much of the country like private fiefdoms. Putin recognised that all that (RED) indulgence and dissipation needed (BLUE) order—and that was what the restoration of Russia began with. For Putin, the former KGB officer, putting order back into society—forcibly, if appropriate—was something he prized.
International economist Anders Aslund (2008) points out that, in his early years as president and/or prime minister, Putin implemented reforms that cut down crime and corruption, enabled economic growth, cut the cost of the state, created conditions to exploit Russia’s massive gas and oil resources and enabled small-to-medium enterprises to grow year on year by an average of 7%. By reintroducing a more-than-moderate degree of BLUE, Putin facilitated the growth of healthy ORANGE.
Anders did note latterly—and with concern—some reversal of Putin’s early reforms, with growth of the state apparatus and increased corruption in some circles — often those somehow connected personally to Putin or his interests. A slew of articles more recently—eg: The Freedom Network’s Bill Gertz (2014)—have made lurid allegations about Putin’s personal fortune being strongly linked to corrupt practices. If true, then this would indicate RED regaining traction in the upper echelons of Russia’s government/business relations.
Whatever levels of corruption Russia has endured under Putin in more recent times, the impetus for economic growth seems only to have slowed rather than reversed, with the country a gas and oil powerhouse supply (particularly to the Europeans). As the Daily Telegraph’s Stephen Dalziel pointed out back in 2011, though, Russia’s dependence on gas and oil exports can only be reduced by building up its base of small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)—just 20% of businesses, compared to 80% in the UK. According to Dalziel, SMEs in Russia are hampered by too much old Soviet-style (RED/BLUE) bureaucracy and there is nowhere near enough development in infrastructure to maximise trade.
Of course, not everyone has benefitted to anything like the same degree and Russia suffers from huge social disparities, with unbelievable wealth shared amongst a tiny few while whole swathes of the population are around or below the poverty level. (But the UK has similar disparities, though to generally lesser extremes, with the gap between rich and poor at its greatest since the 1960s.)
Militarily, at the time Putin came to power, the once-mighty Russian army had recently lost a war in the would-be breakaway republic of Chechnya, a place with fewer inhabitants than Russia had soldiers. (According to Carlotta Gall & Thomas de Waal in 1997, Russia lost more tanks in the 1994-1995 Battle for Grozny than it did in the 1945 Battle for Berlin!) Three former Warsaw Pact allies had joined NATO, bringing the Western alliance up to Russia’s borders. This was in contravention of Gorbachev reputedly agreeing to German reunification within NATO after being promised that NATO would not expand «one inch to the east» (Johanna Granville, 2000).
And it is this expansion of NATO—see graphic below—which nationalists like Putin perceive to be the existential threat to Russia’s sense of self, according to commentators like Stephen Wayne Kasica (2014). Kasica asserts that Putin believes the break-up of the Soviet Union was a catastrophe for Russia and that he wants to turn the clock back and make a new Russian Empire in the territories of the former Soviet Union.
It’s doubtful Putin actually wants that—even if it were possible (which it isn’t). But there is no doubt Putin is a Russian nationalist. Among his influences, the National Post’s Joseph Brean (2014) notes, are such philosophers of Russian destiny as Vladimir Solovyov, Ivan Ilyin and Nikolai Berdyaev. Putin laid out his beliefs when he told the Douma on his appointment as prime minister in 1999: “Russia has been a great power for centuries, and remains so. It has always had and still has legitimate zones of interest …. We should not drop our guard in this respect, neither should we allow our opinion to be ignored.”
Putin has wanted to give Russian back its national pride—a RED/BLUE harmonic. For a people deprived of order and plunged into chaos for so many years, Putin’s rebuilding of Russia also brought in a degree of safety-in-belonging to meet the PURPLE vMEME’s needs.
Nationalism in itself is primarily driven by a harmonic of the PURPLE and BLUE vMEMES—usually facilitated by an individual RED/ORANGE self-aggrandiser. Putin has certainly used nationalism in this way to build up his own popularity.
The Russian diaspora has given him the means to do this—all those ethnic Russians who found themselves located in the breakaway states when the Soviet Union suddenly imploded. They have often been treated as second-class citizens in their ‘new’ countries—and still are in places like Latvia and—surprise, surprise!—Ukraine (Damien McGuinness, 2014).
Putin served notice that Russia would pursue its national interests and the interests of Russian nationals—militarily, if necessary—when he went to war with Georgia for the ethnic Russian enclave of South Ossetia in 2008.
2nd-Tier thinking and the ‘Putin Paradox’
Putin is increasingly pilloried in the West as a stereotypical egomaniacal tyrant, totally ruthless in pursuing his policies and callous about their human cost. In some tabloids the tragic shooting-down of MH17 has been attributed to him almost as if he personally—and very deliberately—pressed the button. See example below.
There are, of course, a number of errors in such caricaturing.
Firstly, Putin is a pretty smart operator. So smart it seems he might be capable of what Spiral Dynamics terms ‘2nd Tier thinking’. Both Graves and Maslow drew a sharp distinction between deficiency (Maslow) or subsistence (Graves) thinking and ‘being’ levels of thinking. Both researchers attributed greater complexity in thinking as you ascend the Spiral/Hierarchy, with Graves finding that YELLOW had four times the problem-solving capability of GREEN.
Putin has demonstrated what might be 2nd Tier thinking in his approach to the Middle East and the so-called ‘Arab Spring’. Rather than join the Western rush to support the supposedly ‘democratic’ revolutions, Putin hung back, observing. If anything—and certainly in Syria—he tended to support the status quo. As the horrifyingly-fundamentalist Islamic State is being carved out of the remains of Iraq and Syria, Egypt is back in the hands of a repressive military regime and Libya teeters on the verge of a second civil war… and the West dithers as to what to do about any of it, Putin’s restraint looks far more the better strategy. A 2nd Tier thinker, weighing up all the competing forces acting upon the players in the various ‘revolutions’, might have discerned that ‘Democracy’ was an ideal to be grasped for but not really grounded in peoples whose thinking was tribal (PURPLE) and who were used to autocratic rule (RED) as the way power works.
Last Summer Putin demonstrated particularly-sophisticated thinking in the way he rescued Barrack Obama from his infamous ‘red line’ debacle on the use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces. While Obama’s government dithered painfully on whether to launch what would probably have been an ineffective missile strike, Putin saved Obama’s face by using his leverage with Bashar al-Assad to push his government into handing over their chemical stock to the United Nations.
The virtually-bloodless takeover of Crimea was so masterful it could be argued as another example of 2nd Tier thinking. The BBC’s veteran World Affairs editor John Simpson was so impressed he described it as “the smoothest invasion of modern times. It was over before the outside world realised it had even started.”
The paradox then comes: if Putin is a 2nd Tier thinker—and that is ‘if’—and can demonstrate such complex thinking in international matters, how can he have allowed corruption and restricting bureaucracy to have so re-infected Russian government and business?
Many with a limited understanding of Spiral Dynamics struggle with this paradox as 2nd Tier thinking is so often assumed to be beneficent. However, the little evidence of 2nd-Tier thinking available does not support this assumption unequivocally. Also, as co-developer Don Beck has pointed out numerous times, the model is about systems within people, not types of people—and those systems work in relation to the life conditions being experienced.
Beck & Cowan (1996) use the concept of ‘vMEME stack’ to illustrate how different vMEMES will ebb and flow in relation to changing life conditions.
The illustration left shows how vMEME dominance can change in an individual even by the hour, as the life conditions change. Like an audio graphic equaliser, the strength of each vMEME rises and falls according to the input being received. (The ‘graphic equaliser’ analogy was given to me by Steve Gorton of Enabling Development for my 2006 book, Knowing Me, Knowing You.)
Thus, it is perfectly possible that early in his leadership Putin approached Russia’s domestic problems from a 2nd Tier meta-perspective, seeing the need to restrain RED indulgence and strengthen healthy BLUE disciplines to facilitate the emergence of ORANGE. Later, as life conditions offered him the opportunity for personal aggrandisement, that will have appealed to his RED and perhaps, with the Russian economy reasonably stable, allowed him to focus on his personal opportunities—even to the partial detriment of his country.
This will be particularly so if Putin is high in the temperamental dimension of Psychoticism, as per Hans Eysenck’s Psychoticism-Extraversion-Neuroticism model (Eysenck, 1967; Eysenck & Eysenck, 1976). While the relationship between temperament and motivation is relatively unexplored, there is some evidence—eg: N N Trauel, 1961; Rice, 2006—that temperament can influence the lower vMEMES.
Profiles of Putin—such as those by Kassica and Oliver Bullough (2014)—certainly indicate, with Putin’s ruthless, sheer physicality, demonstrations of ‘machoness’ and an ‘eye for the ladies’ that he could be high in Psychoticism. If so, then, as Psychoticism seems to facilitate the RED vMEME particularly, then Putin will always experience a natural self-orientation even if, when he’s thinking in 2nd Tier, he knows another approach is needed.
Nationalism and the ‘dictator’ meme
In the wake of Crimea, Gallup’s Julie Ray & Neli Esipova reported Putin had polled 83% approval, a massive gain from 54% the previous year—see graphic below. Clearly the Crimean takeover made Russians feel good about their president!
Also interesting is the way approval slowly but surely dropped from 83% in 2008 to its low point in 2013. Was this drop a reflection of growing public awareness of corruption, the slowing of economic growth, restricted opportunities for personal advancement and widespread poverty? If so, it indicates Russians squarely put the blame on their president.
From the same set of surveys, Ray & Esipova—see graphic below—found that Russians reported greater confidence in their institutions after Crimea.
Again there is a high in confidence in 2008 for national government and the electoral process, followed by a decline in confidence in the following years. Only the military bucks this confidence trend. However, all three institutions receive a significant boost in 2014.
What is that much more interesting about the second set of results is that it allows us to see that, all institutions received a boost in 2008—the year of the war with Georgia. Perhaps Putin is smart enough—2nd-Tier thinking?—to realise that infecting the wider population with the meme of nationalism by championing ethnic Russians outside the motherland, even to the point of (successful) military intervention and being prepared to defy Western critics, deflects from domestic controversies and boosts confidence in him and his government.
If so, he won’t be the first politician to benefit from a successful patriotic war. Margaret Thatcher went from being the UK’s most unpopular 20th Century prime minister to a landslide electoral victory on the back of the Falklands War in 1982.
The problem for Putin may be that Crimea has enabled the ‘beast’ of Russian nationalism to escape from the leash. The day after the Crimean referendum The Guardian’s Oliver Laughland, Conal Urquhart & Alan Yuhas reported Russian nationalists streaming across the border into Donetsk and other eastern cities to stir up their sizeable ethnic Russian populations. We now know that Igor Strelkov, former Russian intelligence officer and now overall-commander of the pro-Russian forces in the Ukraine, was one of them.
What has happened in the Ukraine since March does not resemble 2nd Tier thinking at all. Rather, it is a bloody mess, born of RED-driven demagogues exploiting PURPLE/BLUE nationalism. It lacks Putin’s sure touch in international affairs… which, in turn, suggests either that 2nd Tier thinking has eluded Putin in this context or that he is not in absolute control of Russia… which, in turn, suggests he is not the egomaniacal tyrant the Western media have been portraying him as.
A second problem with the way Putin and Russia are reported in the West is that lazy Western journalism has been content to portray Putin as a dictator for years—this stereotype being expedient every time Russia is at odds with the West. Accordingly, Russian internal politics is chronically under-reported in the West. The lack of sophisticated thinking amongst Western leaders means that they all too often seem infected memetically with the media stereotype, rather than working to decipher the information that hopefully is being collected by their intelligence agencies about what is really happening in Russian internal politics.
Like most rulers in fact, Putin has advisers who jockey with each other and compete for influence. And since Russia is a faux-democracy at least, many of those competing advisers have genuine independent influence in the Douma and even their own electoral bases. Others occupy senior positions in the civil service and the military. Yet others are philosophers and political ideologues who publish their views in all kinds of social and formal media with little or no restraint but are often able to tap into and amplify popular feeling.
On the ‘doves’ side, Putin has Dmitry Medvedev. Their closeness was demonstrated 2008-2012 when, to comply with the constitution inhibiting a third successive term, Medvedev subbed as president while ‘prime minister’ Putin continued to pull the strings behind the façade. According to blogger Pietro A Shakarian, Medvedev opposed Russian intervention in the Crimea and has been instrumental in counselling Putin against military intervention in eastern Ukraine.
On the ‘hawks’ side, there are ultra-nationalist writers like Aleksandr Dugin and Aleksandr Prokhanov and politicians like Dmitry Rogozin. Some of these have taunted Putin publicly for cowardice, for not intervening militarily in eastern Ukraine, reports the Associated Press’ Vladimir Isachenkov. In late June Putin’s economic adviser, Sergei Glazyev, topped a series of bellicose statements with the proposal to send Russian military jets to protect the rebels in eastern Ukraine from government air raids. The Kremlin disavowed his words, saying Glazyev was expressing his private opinion.
Just how much Putin supports the Ukrainian rebels philosophically we might never learn but, once the caricature of the absolute tyrant is done away, it is clear that Putin is under pressure from multiple sides and that he does not have total control. Thus, it is more than likely sympathisers and ex-colleagues in the Russian military, are enabling Strelkov to access old but still formidable technology like the T-64 tanks and BUK SA-11 missiles—one of which is widely presumed to have brought down MH17.
How much Putin is aware of this and how much he is for or against it is a moot point; but the current non-reporting of government aircraft brought down by rebel missiles indicates the supply may have been cut off.
The West and the False Value Consensus
Western leaders have to realise that Putin is not an absolute dictator but has to balance all kinds of pressures on him. Just as they do… but, through history and values, some of those pressures are very different.
In the 11 years from 1999 to 2009, NATO has expanded East to incorporate a number of the former Soviet Union’s former Warsaw Pact partners, eventually even the Baltic states, once an integral part of the Soviet Union. Whether Gorbachev was misled over Germany or not, this expansion provides an in-your-face challenge to the nationalist Putin who declared: “Russia has been a great power for centuries, and remains so. It has always had and still has legitimate zones of interest ….”
Do any Western leaders have the sophisticated thinking to ponder how NATO expansion plays out to Putin’s electorate—and particularly the nationalists…?
Keeping the Ukraine out of NATO’s and the European Union’s hands, then, is vital if Putin’s talk of Russia’s ‘zones of interest’ is to have any credibility left in Europe—and with his own nationalists back home. The insensitivity of Western leaders to the Russian’s leader’s needs is epitomised by the June partnership deals the EU signed with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova—all once integral parts of the Soviet Union. Whatever he thinks of the mess Strelkov and the rebels are making, Putin simply cannot afford to let Ukraine go easily.
It is part of the Assimilation-Contrast Effect, developed by Don Beck (2003) from the work of Mazafer Sherif (Muzafer Sherif & Carl Hovland, 1961; Muzafer Sherif & Carolyn Wood Sherif, 1968) that, when differences occur, the RED vMEME pushes the other party away by exaggerating the differences (contrasting) while ORANGE and GREEN draw the other party closer by minimising the differences (assimilating). See graphic below.
Thus, when Russia appeared to embrace Capitalism in the mid-late 1990s and joined the G8 in 1998, Russia was now perceived by ORANGE and GREEN dominated Western leaders to be ‘one of us’—the False Consensus Effect. When PURPLE/BLUE Russian nationalists, led by RED-driven demagogues, broke the BLUE rules of international law seized Crimea and then agitated violently for secession in eastern Ukraine,, Western leaders came down the Spiral/Hierarchy in true Maslowian fashion to exaggerate their differences with ‘dictator Putin’ and portray him and Russia as defective.
In fact, it seems Putin never truly embraced the ORANGE/GREEN liberal democracy values that have increasingly dominated the mindsets of many Western leaders over the past 40 years. As The Independent on Sunday’s Fareed Zakaria (p36) writes: “The crucial elements of Putinism are nationalism, religion, social conservatism, state capitalism and government domination of the media. They are all different from and hostile to Western values of individual rights, tolerance, cosmopolitanism and internationalism.”
While ignoring the effects of and levels of corruption, Zakaria is describing the Russia Putin and his governments have developed post 2008. There may be a question here of whether the boost in popularity the government gained from the Georgian war gave Putin and his chief ministers the confidence to decelerate the trend towards Western-style Capitalism and reintroduce certain aspects of the Soviet system…but that is beyond the immediate scope of this article.
Zakaria almost certainly exaggerates the hostility between Putin’s socio-economic approach and that of the Western liberal democracies… but it does show the ORANGE/GREEN’s assimilating effect of what has been really more a BLUE/ORANGE approach. Viktor Orban, prime minister of EU member Hungary and an admirer of Putin, now terms this approach ‘illiberal democracy’. Orban’s naming of the approach gives it a sheen of philosophical credibility which requires it to be investigated and classified by the social sciences…and that is likely to lead to more of a contrasting effect with the liberal democracies.
Managing the differences
Western leaders need to gain the understanding offered by tools like Spiral Dynamics so that they can understand and manage difference.
They need to understand not only that not every government supports their values but that the other culture’s values may, in fact, be appropriate for them. Then they should be able to accept that Democracy-for-everyone is an imposed etic and the emic of tribal government is appropriate for countries like Iraq and Afghanistan where PURPLE and RED are the dominating cultural vMEMES.
If George W Bush and Tony Blair had employed such understanding in 2001 and 2003, Iraq and Afghanistan may well not have turned into the life-consuming catastrophes they have become.
If today’s Western leaders had such understandings, the EU would never have entered into the partnership agreements with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. A second referendum would be held in Crimea under UN supervision to almost certainly confirm the March referendum and thus legitimise the Russian annexation. As for Ukraine, it would become a neutral state in the way that Switzerland is assertively neutral and the rights of ethnic Russians in the Ukraine would be constitutionally protected.
Putin the nationalist has to restrain the ultra-nationalists. To do that, his more moderate approach has to be seen domestically as working and it has to both enhance his personal reputation and increase his power base. On a Maslowian basis, if Putin is capable of thinking 2nd Tier but life conditions are activating his RED and we want him to think 2nd Tier, then we have to help him resolve issues of power so that his mental energies can focus at 2nd Tier. That will facilitate him in isolating the ultras.
To a degree Western displeasure at Russia’s nationalist aspirations and European Union sanctions have been helpful in that the flight of capital has been enormous and a number of Putin’s connections in the elite have been their assets in the West frozen. This is irritating for the elite in the short term and seriously threatening to their wealth in the longer term, with the result that they are likely to put the pressure on Putin to ‘normalise’ relations with the West sooner rather than later. However, as the effects of sanctions, etc, are felt more in the general population, the results are likely to be counter-productive as the PURPLE/BLUE vMEME harmonic of nationalism is likely to rally them to the cause and people conform to the old meme of being victims of Western aggression.
More helpful to Putin in reigning in the ultra-nationalists would be Western collaboration in addressing the issue of the Russian diaspora. Without this being addressed, Russian nationalism will always have a cause.
Such was the anti-Russian feeling in those countries that broke away from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991 that the ethnic Russians—termed ‘occupiers’ by some—were not automatically granted citizenship of the newly-independent countries even though they were born there. Many who worked in the public sector lost their jobs and were discriminated against in other ways. In Latvia, for example, even now ethnic Russians cannot vote or work in the public sector unless they pass a citizenship test. This requires them to be fluent in the Latvian language and demonstrate knowledge of Latvian culture. Many of the older ethnic Russians do not speak Latvian and so could not pass the citizenship test. Others, according to the BBC’s Damien McGuiness, refuse to take the test on principle because it clearly discriminates against their heritage.
Yet the Baltic states—Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania—are all members of NATO! They are also members of that ultimate advocate of ‘human rights’, the European Union! Where was the West’s GREEN, one might ask, when countries were signed up which openly discriminated against ethnic Russians born on their territory to ethnic Russian parents who simply happened to live in the country when it seceded from the remnants of the Soviet Union?
NATO and the EU collaborating with the Russian government to ensure ethnic Russians in the breakaway countries are guaranteed equal rights constitutionally would undermine the ultra-nationalists by showing diplomacy and cooperation work better in the ethnic Russians’ interests than secessionist violence.
NATO and the EU need to recognise and respect Russia’s traditional interests in eastern Europe and encourage countries like Ukraine and Moldova to adopt a Swiss-style neutrality. That needn’t preclude certain trading agreements but it would prevent them being seen to be in one camp or the other. Remove the threat of encroachment and the ultra-nationalists lose another cause.
A key principle in both Maslow and Graves/Spiral Dynamics is that needs which are ‘felt’ need addressing. Russians need to feel good about their country and about its place in the world; and they need to feel good about their president and their government. The more the West can help Russia address those needs while respecting the differences in culture and tradition, the more Putin and Russia are likely to be cooperative partners.
It also should be said that Western cooperation with Russia needs to be from a position of strength, not weakness. The kind of dithering Obama indulges in or the kind of bombastic name-calling David Cameron has gone in for only serve to convince the ultra-nationalists that the West’s threats are empty and their sanctions can be ridden out – thus weakening Putin’s position as a moderate nationalist.
Putin has shown himself capable of complex thinking and of being a worthy partner to the West providing Western leaders can get beyond the imposed etics of Capitalism and Democracy and accept that Russia has some different values.
Western leaders desperately need to up the complexity of their thinking so that they can see what Putin needs and then give him a modicum of support.
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About the Author
Keith E. Rice, self-styled ‘sociopsychologist’, is the author of the acclaimed 2006 book Knowing Me, Knowing You: an Integrated SocioPsychology Guide to Personal Fulfilment & Better Relationships. His mission in life is to align and integrate the behavioural sciences around Spiral Dynamics and a core set of interrelated models and theories. The “Integrated SocioPsychology” he (and others) are working to develop is intended to provide practical and useful tools to improve all kinds of situations, from self-esteem issues and personal relationships to major geopolitical conflicts.