Can social media defeat Russia?

  •   5 min reads
Can social media defeat Russia?

Vladimir Putin's imperialist ambitions can be thwarted by economic power and can be defeated by galvanising Russian people with social media as their friend.

In 1991 tanks rolled into Moscow, and one man stood in their way. No Russian soldier was willing to be the man who shot Boris Yeltsin and the attempted military coup that rocked the Soviet Union, and indeed the world, saw the temporary imprisonment of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, was thwarted.

Today, some defend Russia and say the West could have done more, and they are right, but only if you go back to 1991. That was when the West should have provided Russia and former Soviet countries with a Marshal type plan. If they had done so, Francis Fukuyama's famous quote about the end of history might have been proven right. Fukuyama says his books, The End of History and the Last Man Standing, is cited by people who didn't understand the book's message. And that is a fair comment, but memes stick, and whether it is justified or not, he will always be remembered as the man who talked about the end of history and the permanent victory of Western ideology. (In a way that has happened, at least no one can seriously call Russia or China communist anymore; capitalist, maybe crony capitalist, would be a better description but these are not communist countries.)

Now, forward wind to 2010 when Tarek el-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, set himself on fire. That event sparked the Arab Spring.  For a while, it seemed like social media was sparking off a revolution across the Arab world, which would lead to greater democracy and less authoritarian rule. It is far from clear that the initial hopes associated with the Arab spring were realised.

Russian discontent

The West does not have a grievance against the Russian people. Instead, its grievance is with Vladimir Putin and frankly, should have known there was trouble brewing right when Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003. But the Russian people are not happy with their leader; they are taking to the streets in protests across Russia.

And social media is supporting their protests, just as it supported protests that seemed less democratic in their intent, such as Capitol Hill on January 6th 2001.

And study the images of protestors  waving their smartphones, taking photos and sharing on social media.

The Russian government has responded by ordering people to "refrain from unsanctioned protests" because, and you will love the reason, because of Covid.

The Russian economy has deep problems; its stock market lost half its value at one point on Thursday, February 24th, before staging a mild recovery. The Russian stock market rout recalled memories of 1998 when at one point, the total value of the Russian stock market was worth less than Sainsbury's.

The Russian ruble has crashed.

Joe Biden said: "We've already seen the impact of our actions on the Russian currency, the ruble, which early today hit its weakest level ever.

"The Russian stock market plunged today.

"And the Russian government's borrowing rate spiked above 15 per cent."

The Russian economic crisis is sowing discontent in Russia amongst a people who have no desire for their country to engage in war. This is on top of the near 30% shrinkage of the Russian economy since their first incursion into Ukraine in 2014.

The oil scandal

There is a quite magnificent TV series airing on BBC at the moment called 'The Rise of the Nazis'. The latest episodes focus on the Russian campaign, as two dictators, surrounded by 'yes' men who were afraid to speak the truth, took it in turns to make catastrophic errors. The series also tells how Hitler, supported by Goebbels, chose to engage in 'total war.'

However the Western effort to counter-the Russian move with economic war is not total and it's not war; still, the West imports Russian oil and gas; indeed, Russia is the biggest exporter of gas in the world.

To defeat Putin and further galvanise the brave Russian protestors, the West must engage in total economic war, which means the end of Russian oil and gas imports.

It will hurt the West, but it will hurt Russia more and we have alternatives.

A poignant question is whether the West can achieve this economic miracle by scaling up renewables.

As Auke Hoekstra, one of the world's leading experts on renewables, Tweeted: "700 studies (and # growing fast) of many researchers and research groups are now showing 100 per cent RE (renewable energy) systems are  possible and cost-effective."

The fear, of course, is that some of the metals and minerals that make the renewable revolution possible are found in regions of the world that are not 'totally' friendly to the West.

As Anas Alhajji points out, even when materials essential to renewables and energy storage are not mined in China, much of the refinery is carried out there.

But China doesn't have a monopoly on refineries, nor does it have a monopoly on rare earth minerals. Brazil and Vietnam combined have similar levels of rare earth Minerals as China, and there are significant levels in Australia, Greenland, the US, and India. So far, investment into rare earth minerals has been modest because they are cheap. So there is no reason why the world needs to rely on China for its supply.

And while many fear a Putin and Xi alliance – it is no coincidence that the invasion of Ukraine occurred after the Winter Olympics had finished – recall that China has deep economic problems. China has massive debts, a property bubble of gigantic proportions, weak productivity, premature deindustrialisation, and a demographic time bomb. Many economists such as George Magnus believe that China can not move past the middle-income trap that has so bedevilled developing nations.

So does that mean the West is beholden to a weakened bear and a struggling dragon?

Can technology, in particular, the internet and social media, give the Russian people the encouragement they need?

Our biggest hopes right now lie with the Russian people, social media spreading the message of their discontent and then, in the medium term, scaling renewables to eliminate reliance on Russian oil and gas.

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