Vanity thought #1233. Geopolitics cont’d

Now I remember what I was obsessed with before New Year struck – geopolitics and its influence on devotees. Last time I got to the point of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s success in the US and there was more to come.

What reminded me of this topic was another Stratfor article on Geopolitics of Russia. It’s been written in the last decade, when Russia was seen as a promising part of the world community, but maybe it’s a good thing to compare their current situation with how geopolitics described it back then.

Turns out, it was all totally predictable – the annexation of Crimea, the Donbass situation, even the Eurasian Union that just added Armenia to the list. This amazing accuracy made me appreciate geopolitics even more, it’s nice to have an accurate tool to see in the future, though probably not for the same reasons it’s usually assumed.

People are always fascinated with predictions – astrology, palmistry, even casual remarks by strangers. Anything to do with one’s future is bound to arouse that person’s attention. On the second thought many would say they do not really want to know their coming fate but the initial interest is always there.

I do not advocate pandering to these interests. Knowing the future is useful only as much as it takes away out obsession with it, and with our present by extension. Then, I hope, we will be able to chant in peace instead of sitting on the edge. One comedian on TV made a point how on he was only on his first day of work of this New Year but the media was already bombarding the public with what’s going to happen in 2016 (there will be presidential elections in the US). That’s precisely the kind of worries that knowing the future should help us to avoid.

What will happen to us? What will happen to our jobs and economy? What will happen to our families? What will happen to our countries? Over at BBC they had a series of articles dedicated solely to predictions, I read one from 1930s, some of that stuff they got right but what hasn’t changed is the tone the Brits use to pontificate about the future. There will be this and there will be that, and there will be robots to do all kinds of things for us. Eighty years on and the continue in exactly the same vein.

If, however, we know how the world works we would know what is supposed to happen and so nothing comes unexpectedly. “Ah, that..,” would be all we’ll ever have to say about practically anything. Revolutions, regime changes, coups, wars, terrorism, epidemics – nothing would surprise us.

One could say that lots of people do not pay any interest to these news as it is so what’s the advantage? The answer is that if we understand the subject right, it would scale down to our level of worries very nicely. Sometimes devotees look completely blissful and worry free but if you look closely, everyone’s life is full of problems (or they are not living it right), and dealing with these problems requires knowledge that gradually expands to include geopolitics as well. It’s nice to be a simple minded devotee but those are really rare. Simple minded and small minded are not the same, btw.

“Small minded” sounded like an insult but I didn’t mean it that way. Some people move mountains, some only talk about moving mountains, some don’t think beyond their immediate surroundings – everyone is different and every service is valuable but mountains or not, everyone should develop sufficient knowledge to understand his own situation and his own impediments to progress. If this required knowledge is confined to inter-family relations rather than international relations then so be it.

OTOH, we have Śrīmad Bhāgavatam talking about affairs of the entire universe or Mahābhārata dealing with entire history of India, so dabbing in big scale knowledge is not foreign to us.

Anyway, about Russia – its heart lies in a relatively small territory surrounding present day Moscow. That kingdom’s early history was life under Mongol occupation and once they shook it off, they took to defending themselves seriously. Their geopolitical problem was, and still is, is that they do not have natural boundaries they can use as defense lines.

So the first thing they did was to expand their territory until they reached a comfortable anchoring point. In the East it was Ural mountains, in the South it was Black and Caspian seas, and in the West it was Poland.

Ukraine had to be incorporated to set Russian Empire frontiers at Carpathian mountains (even though it wasn’t an empire then yet). Caucasus needed to be conquered to guard against invaders from the direction of Turkey and Iran. Siberia was taken because no one was there and it’s a special case – no one really wants it, even Chinese are not excited about governing such a large and inhospitable mass.

Poland happened to sit on the narrowest stretch of flat lands from Carpathian mountains in the South to the Baltic Sea in the North. Setting defenses to the East of that line would require covering a lot more land, and that was also the case for moving borders beyond Poland.

Having country’s core, Moscow, so far away from its desirable frontiers also determined how the empire was governed – through strong vertical bureaucracy. Russians couldn’t afford countries and nations on the periphery to grow independent and pursue their own interest. Russians needed them as buffers against invaders while these countries didn’t want to see themselves sacrificed for the great Russian cause.

The empire just wasn’t made for democracy – its constituents would never agree on anything, they had too many different interests pulling in all sorts of directions.

Another important factor in determining Russian fate is the sheer size of the place and the fact that most food grows pretty far away from Moscow. There need to be strict control over food growing regions (sorry, Ukraine), and there need to be strict control over food distribution – because transporting food for hundreds and thousands kilometers away doesn’t make sense economically.

This food problem manifested in another way, too – Russia proper could probably still feed itself but its countryside couldn’t support urbanization. People still had to live close to food or at least food routes, there’s just not enough stuff to support massive urban populations many kilometers away.

One outcome of that is that while Russians have a proud tradition of local intelligentsia, the bulk of the population is still essentially rural and therefore conservative in outlook.

There you go – it’s easy to understand why Russians are so sensitive about Ukraine, or why they fought tooth and nail for Chechnya (historically their first outpost in Caucasus). It’s also easy to understand why they so desperately need to surround themselves by satellite states like Kazakhstan and why they want to develop friendly relationships with China.

And here we are being fed largely irrelevant narrative about despotic Putin squashing democratic revolution in Ukraine, and even devotees got caught up in it, as I remember there was an official GBC warning to devotees to stay clear off politics there. Many of our temples were, of course, affected, many devotees evacuated, HH Nirañjana Swami posted several updates on the situation there.

It’s all just geography, and completely irrelevant to our literature. At best we can say that Russia’s south-eastern frontier (in Central Asia) is set at the other side of Himalayas. Still, once we learn the geography, everything follows and nothing becomes new and unexpected.

The only reason it should matter, as I said, is that now some of us can now chant in peace. Even if Ukraine’s fate never worried you, it’s just an example how everything in this world is only a small cog that fits perfectly with everything else, and I bet one can always find a connection between his own problems and the problems manifestin in Ukraine in just a few short steps.

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