Putin, Mahinda and Gotabhaya
Posted on March 19th, 2018

I have to say that I am very happy indeed about the resounding victory scored by President Putin. If not for him, there would be no multi-polarity in the world; no chance of a global equilibrium; no ally for the rising economic power of China which would have been encircled by the West. There would be a unipolar world under Western hegemony. It would have been a return to the imperialist world order during colonialism—something our generation had never experienced. The Middle East would have gone the way it did in Iraq and Libya. Syria has held because of Putin. Had Putin been President of Russia at the time, Yugoslavia would still exist and the world would have been a better place.

Fidel Castro had warned about what the world would be without the Soviet Union. In 1973 at the Nonaligned Summit in Algiers, he contradicted Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi who had equated the USA and the USSR as two superpowers both of which should be opposed by the Third world. Fidel, who had never been a camp follower of the USSR and often criticized it, blazing his own path, nonetheless warned Gaddafi that if the USSR did not exist the western world would carve up the Middle East in the context of the rising oil prices with the activism of the OPEC. He urged OPEC to establish banks and other facilities to share its new wealth with the Third World. Not for the first time, Fidel proved prophetic. After the USSR fell, the US and its allies did carve up the Middle East as it did during colonial times. Gaddafi was lynched. Saddam executed.

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It was the arrival of Putin that enabled Russia to save itself and grow strong again. He had to start where we in Sri Lanka had to in 2005, by confronting and defeating a powerful, separatist, suicide bombing terrorist militia, arising from among the Chechens. If he didn’t do so, it would not only have been the USSR that was extinct but Russia too would have shrunk; its periphery broken off. The world had a taste of what things would have been like, when Yeltsin was in charge and Russia was a weak, wobbly fellow traveler of the West; giving itself away with nothing in return.

I was in Moscow in 1985 at the World Festival of Youth and Students at the beginning of the Gorbachev period—he opened the Festival–and shared the hopes of that moment. By 1987 at the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Russian revolution in Moscow, Fidel Castro who was hardly unsympathetic or unkind to Gorbachev, however warned that “we shall not be surprised if one day we awake and find the Soviet Union has disappeared”. Again he was right.

The West never wanted to stabilize Gorbachev’s reformist socialism which stood for cooperation with the West. It wanted the USSR to go and beyond that it wanted a weak Russia. In recent years Gorbachev has revealed that the West reneged on all the solemn pledges it made to him and went ahead with the expansion of NATO and the deployment of strategic weapons around Russia. Earlier Fidel had identified the western strategic method and cautioned countries against falling or it: “You give them your finger, they take your hand; you give them your hand they take your arm; you give them your arm they take your whole body!” This is what the West did to Russia even under their ally Yeltsin. It never wanted a capitalist Russia as its partner in a new world order. They merely wanted Russia to capitulate.

Western policy was so perfidious that the Chechen separatist insurgency, one which deployed pure unalloyed suicide terrorism as a tactic, had a sympathetic ear in certain European capitals. Not too much fuss is made about the Boston marathon bombings because the trail leads to the open door policy the USA had to the Chechens. Things were getting so bad for Russia, and the public opinion pressure was so great, that it was Yeltsin who brought in Putin, after repeated attempts at a peaceful settlement with the Chechens had failed.

Those who criticize Putin must realize that he is a consequence, not the cause. The Russian people vote for him because they remember what it was like before him and without him. He epitomizes Russian self-respect. The Russian people, whose collective efforts had been primarily responsible for beating Nazi Germany, found themselves losing the Soviet Union without a shot being fired, and then reeling from terrorism in Moscow itself. The repeated vote for Putin is Russia echoing the words of the song by the rock band The Who: “we won’t get fooled again!”

Russia is a lesson for the Sri Lankan civil society intelligentsia. Never forget what the Buddha taught about cause and consequence. When reacting against the return of Mahinda Rajapaksa or the possibility of a Gotabhaya candidacy, remember that these are consequences not causes. The Rajapaksa revival (of which I have been a participant) has been the search by the Sinhala people for a Putin. That search is a consequence of a cause—the capitulation, retreat and weakening of Sri Lanka under a pro-Western neoliberal regime.

This was true of the Mahinda candidacy of 2005, which followed Ranil Wickremesinghe’s enforced retreat in the face of the Tigers. The re-run was in 2015 to date. These are the Yeltsin episodes, with President Sirisena as a well-intentioned Gorbachev. Wherethere is a Gorbachev, there will be a Yeltsin and where there is a Yeltsin, there will be a demand for a Putin. Do not decry the backlash; avoid or rectify or end the situation that generates one.

The same factor of the chain of cause-and-consequence holds true of the rise of Sinhala Buddhist statist nationalism as it does of Russian Orthodox Christian statist nationalism that underlies and powers the Putin phenomenon. I’m no fan of ‘Sinhala Only’ in 1956. Never was and never will be. But at the time, as now, Sinhala nationalism was a reaction to the nature of the existing regime; the existing establishment; the nature of the existing elite.

No Sir John Kotelawela, no ‘Sinhala Only’. Sinhala nationalism had little traction under UNP Prime minister DS Senanayake. SWRD and DA Rajapaksa broke away and founded the SLFP during his administration but the newly founded SLFP was a social democratic party. Even his son Dudley triggered a socioeconomic uprising, the Hartal of 1953, which united Sinhalese and Tamils. It took the open pro-Westernism and the sociocultural profile and arrogant discourse of Sir John (whose advisor was our present PM’s father) to cause the embrace of Sinhala Only by SWRD Bandaranaike.

The same happened in 1970, when the target regime was a UNP-Tamil Congress-Federal Party coalition. The pendulum swing repeated itself in 2005 and is about to happen again in grand style in 2019-2020. There is a reason that the SWRD Bandaranaike of 1951-1952 and even 1953 was not the SWRD of 1955-56, and that reason is the character of the elite he was opposing.

Now I am not arguing that every backlash is justified or that every consequence is inevitable. But some consequence is inevitable. Its character depends on the time in history and the society in question. Personally I would have preferred had Yeltsin been replaced by the Communist party of Gennady Zyuganov (who has since been replaced in that spot by a millionaire Communist who ran against Putin this week). I am happy that the French turned to Macron’s centrism than Marine Le Pen’s National Front. I am delighted that the alternative to Teresa May is Corbyn rather than Farrage. I would have vastly preferred the US Democrats to have picked Bernie Sanders, who might well have trumped Trump. But all that’s beside the point.

The point is that in some societies, mainly in Eurasia but also in the USA, the hurt caused to national sentiments by the neoliberal elite generates a backlash which is not only socio-economic but is intermingled and overlaid with the culturally majoritarian (sometimes the religio-culturally majoritarian), either because there is no other alternative or that alternative is too weak or not in tune with mass sentiment.

To put it even more simply, pro-western neoliberalism generates a populist backlash, which, depending on time and place, is either left, right or center, and is mixed in, in various degrees with nationalism, which itself is intertwined to this or that extent or hardly at all, with religio- cultural, ethno-religious, ethno-lingual or regionalist (e.g. Italy) sentiment.

The stand you take depends on what you perceive as the main enemy. A tough-minded secularist like Stalin once shockingly wrote that “the Emir of Afghanistan is more progressive than the British Labour Party” (Foundations of Leninism, 1925) because the former, despite his backward ideology, opposed imperialism while the latter, despite its trade union base and leftism, did not. Stalin also went on to name the titanic war against Hitler waged by the Soviet Red Army as the Great Patriotic War, shifted his communist discourse and struck an alliance with the Russian Orthodox church for the duration.

I do not say this with merely the benefit of hindsight or simply because elections are on the horizon. I say this because it flows from my analysis, my perspective and the stand I have consistently taken. I predicted, in print, the rise of someone like Putin and the reasons for it, long before anyone including myself had heard of Putin. In early 1991, when the USSR was teetering before plunging into extinction that December, and while top western policy thinkers were announcing “the unipolar moment” (Krauthammer 1990) of Western hegemony, and the “End of History” (Fukuyama 1989) culminating in the victory of liberal democracy and market economics crowned by Russia’s conversion to that doctrine, I was predicting “the New, New Cold War” and giving reasons why, in a six page article.

“… Underlying this is a battle about Russia’s identity. Is it a Western power? Or is it an Eastern power? Or does it straddle the two?…I think that the pendulum will shift back – if not to those who considered the Soviet Union an Eastern power, at least to the understanding that the Soviet Union is an Euro-Asian power.So in a way, it’s struggle for the soul of Russia.”

“…The possibility of the Soviet Union looking East towards China cannot be ruled out…There may be strong economic grounds for this as well…”

“…We might well see a kind of Soviet Reaganism– reassertion of power…it’s possible that the Soviet ‘Carterite’ period is coming to a close. …What is far more probable is the re-composition of the power bloc in which the Soviet military and the KGB have a greater preponderance…What kind of forces or agencies in the USSR could provide that kind of input? I can only think of the Red Army and the KGB….Public opinion polls also reveal, rather surprisingly, that the KGB is relatively more popular (or less unpopular) than other entities in the USSR. It is seen as a somewhat clean organization; ruthless but relatively clean…So the task of this kind of ideological restructuring may devolve on these forces—the Red Army and the KGB.”

(‘Towards the New, New Cold War’ Economic Review, Colombo, February/March 1991, pp. 45-51)

Thus I predicted the pivot to China and Russia’s adoption of Eurasianism, as well as the Putin phenomenon, referring to the latter as “Soviet Reaganism”. As we know, Vladimir Putin is a former KGB officer as well as officer in its successor structure, the FSB.

I support Putin, just as I support Mahinda, and with more caution and caveats, am willing to support Gotabhaya if the need arises, because I remember what context gave birth to them, what they stand against, and the causes which made/are making/may make the masses turn to them as alternatives.

14 Responses to “Putin, Mahinda and Gotabhaya”

  1. Vaisrawana Says:

    An absorbing article that only a political scientist of Dr Jayatilake’s scholarship and practical experience could ever produce. Very informative. So interesting that I read it through without taking my eyes off the CP screen for a second. Inspiring comparisons that brighten prospects for restoring Sri Lanka to the pre-yahapalana dawn that was deliberately turned to dusk. A brilliant analysis of the Putin victory that explains why it is good for the world, and why it should boost our own hopes in the same direction.

  2. Ananda-USA Says:

    Vaisrawana,

    I agree with you about Dr Jayatilleke’s analysis, while observing that he has sometimes strayed from the Nationalist fold, perhaps in pursuit of personal advancement.

    I also hasten to add that many of us writing and commenting at LankaWeb who have CONSISTENTLY supported the grass-roots Nationalist cause, Mahinda Rajapaksa as it’s consequence and hope for its RESURGENCE, have also said OFTEN the same things.

    Ultimately, we have UNWAVERINGLY STOOD with the Common People of our Motherland in DEFENSE of their LEGITIMATE ASPIRATIONS!

  3. Dilrook Says:

    A misplaced comparison except for 2005. Even Mahinda and Gotabaya (a US citizen) would not like to be compared to President Putin due to their personal circumstances.

    In 2005, Mahinda was called a ‘hawk’ for supporrting a military solution (much like Putin in Chechnya) but today’s Mahinda and Gotabaya are for reconciliation. Putin wants absolutely no reconciliation with Russia’s enemies!

    Putin never took a step back in the military front but all Sri Lankan leaders since 2009 have withdrawn military camps, appeased West and India. If a Sri Lankan leader is anywhere comparable to Putin, they must at the very minimum abrogate 13A (an Indian and western imposition). Otherwise a comparison is an insult to the Russian President.

    President Putin strictly enforced Russian only and upholds his religious (Christian) views in national politics. This is not the case with Sri Lankan leaders unfortunately. Putin made it very clear to non-Russians that they must conform to the majority values or get out. No Sri Lankan leader in the last 25 years comes even close.

    Putin’s economic development is based on building external wealth. Russia is ranked #6 in net external wealth. If the trend continues it will soon get to #5 ahead of Saudi Arabia. He has shunned debt. Mahinda and Gotabaya’s economic model is the complete oppositte which is based on debt accumulation.

    Putin has not promoted his relatives to positions of power and doesn’t plan to bring a relative to his post after him. Lack of nepotism has helped him source the best talent.

    From 1977 to 1989 and 1993 to 2015 Sri Lankan leaders didn’t pay enough attention to Russia. Instead of buying low quality jets (MiG-27), helicopters (Mi-24) and planes (An series Antonov) from Ukraine, we should have turned to Russia. Similarly, instead of buying RM-70 MBRLs from the Czeh Republic the base model could have been purchased from Russian to assemble locally.

    Sri Lanka needs a leader of the calibre of President Putin and honestly I see none.

  4. ranjit Says:

    Though I like Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa both very much more than any other politician or an individual in my country I totally agree with Dilrook ” SRI lanka needs a leader of the calibre of president Putin and honestly I see none”. I hope and pray that Gotabaya Rajapaksa will become our next president in this country and work like Putin of Russia to make our country great again without following para suddas or the Indian parasites. Mahinda Gota combination is good for the country than any other political duo we have in our political arena. They are strong and have the willpower to stand straight in the face of our enemies. Ranil and sira should admit their defeat in LG polls and bow down to the majority decision without acting like Bangladeshi cricket team assaulting, arresting and intimating their opponents. Gotabaya has a better team than Mahinda and I hope he will do a fine job as president of Sri Lanka and make our country peaceful and prosperous for all Sri lankans to live happily ever after.

  5. Vaisrawana Says:

    Ananda-USA and Dilrook,

    I understand and respect your respective positions, but I prefer to adopt a bit more positive view about the writer (DJ) in the case of Ananda and the Rajapkshas in the case of Dilrook.

    Ananda may be right about DJ’s vacillation regarding nationalism. However, I know something about his ‘revolutionary’ past with his adventurous involvement in practical politics running parallel with his academic studies in the same field – a Fulbright scholar, a member of an urban guerrilla movement of the early 80s, but he never approved of or supported the assassinations carried out by the PRA outfit; evaded arrest on suspicion by police having gone underground and was provided with secret refuge by Vijaya Kumaratunga, resigned from the post of economic planning and youth affairs minister in the North-East Provincial Council under Vardharaja Perumal because he refused to go along with the council’s decisions, became UNP president Premadas’s advisor… He had sound ideological explanations for all these actions. He was beaten up by UNP thugs within an inch of his life at the funeral of the assassinated president Premadasa in spite of his having been a trusted and very intimate presidential advisor, because he was wrongly suspected/accused of having been behind the assassination. As far as I am concerned, it is impossible to believe that he engaged in politics for personal advancement.

    Though Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is an American citizen, he is not obliged to accept or promote, neither would he ever accept or promote, American policies that are inimical to the interests of Sri Lanka, his country of birth. As his cultural blood relations, we instinctively know, and know much better than foreigners, what he is. He has not relinquished his Sri Lankan citizenship. He has indicated his willingness to end his American citizenship if necessary in the near future. As for Mahinda Rajapaksa, I too remember him being described as a ‘hawk’ in the Western media. But it was an entirely mistaken description. But in the American vocabulary (in this context), the word hawk is applied to any non-American or non-Western national leader that the Americans do not like or approve of and who offers to fight their enemies in defiance of American/Western advice to the contrary, in their own national interest. MR was not anxious to fight a war with the Tigers, nor was he anxious to avoid a war under external pressure. He gave peace a chance. He continued the peace negotiations that his predecessor Ranil Wickremasinghe had initiated. But it was clear that Mahinda was not ready to mollycoddle the terrorists as Ranil had done. He was all for peace, but did not hesitate to fight if there was no peaceful alternative. Prabhakaran was not ready for a negotiated solution. He was the real hawk. Mahinda took up his challenge. What followed is history.

    Putin is a product of Russia, Mahinda is a product of Sri Lanka, the two countries being the unimaginably complex geographical, demographic, political and historical realities that they are. The two countries are different from each other in many ways. They operate on very different scales, one very big, one very small in comparison – Russia is a vast landmass with a small population relative to its area, while Sri Lanka is one 265th of Russia’s geographical size, and houses a population that is a 7th of the Russian population (145 million). Russia is practically mono-ethnic, being 81% Russian. However, where leadership is concerned there are certain close similarities between Putin and Mahinda: their personalities – athletic, with attention to health and physique, popular among the common people, national minded, independent, humble but dignified, somewhat opinionated, effective leadership. Mahinda leads by pretending to be led by the people, doing so in a benign way.

    If both MR and GR are nationalists, they are not different from the Americans and the Russians. Wherever they go, the Americans seek to serve what they unashamedly call the ‘American interest’, and take it for granted that they have a right to subordinate the national interest of the countries that they come into contact with, especially, that of countries that do not toe their line, to the American interest. The Russians look after their national interest in as non-aggressive a manner as possible, like the Chinese.

    Though I also agree, like Ranjit, with Dilrook that “Sri Lanka needs a leader of the calibre of President Putin and honestly I see none”, I do not share their pessimism in that regard. Russia is not Sri Lanka. The best of our leaders get ham-fisted by our imperial legacy and by Big Brother India’s malign attention. Mahinda proved his mettle by facing off both the West and India. He may not be Putin’s equal, but he came very near that in spite of obstacles. We can be satisfied with such a leader. Gota could succeed him. Besides, we have survived as a sovereign nation for millennia beside the invasive Indian states. The Sinhalese will throw up a Diyasena in the form of Gota or someone else when push comes to shove. Rest assured, friends! We are going to have a good leader of the caliber of Putin.

  6. Christie Says:

    We read English and only see what is written.

    Comparing our political situation to Russia-USSR or any other except to other Indian colonies is like comparing Modi to India’s current president.

    Any comments?

  7. Christie Says:

    “No Sir John Kotelawela, no ‘Sinhala Only’. Sinhala nationalism had little traction under UNP Prime minister DS Senanayake. SWRD and DA Rajapaksa broke away and founded the SLFP during his administration but the newly founded SLFP was a social democratic party. Even his son Dudley triggered a socioeconomic uprising, the Hartal of 1953, which united Sinhalese and Tamils. It took the open pro-Westernism and the sociocultural profile and arrogant discourse of Sir John (whose advisor was our present PM’s father) to cause the embrace of Sinhala Only by SWRD Bandaranaike.”

    India. Indian Colonial Parasites and Nehru personally hated Sir John.

    So they got Banda, financed him and set the foundation to destroy the Sinhalese.

    Ask Chandrika.

  8. NAK Says:

    Congratulations DJ! try and stay the course.
    We don’t really need a Putin, A Gotabhaya would suffice. A good leader is not the problem. The problem is the so called academia of this country who unpatriotic, selfish and self serving.

    Comparing Putin with Mahinda, in building their respective countries is kind of unfair as Putin is sitting on a mass of natural wealth while Mahinda had no other option but to borrow.

  9. Kumari Says:

    These men are a rare breed. They belong to the speacies called “Leaders with a Backbone”. Syrian leader Assad too should be counted in.

  10. Hiranthe Says:

    MR is a product of our own circumstances coming from a 30 year war with an internationally funded terrorist group. The way they managed was tremendous and I don’t think even Putin will have that much courage and patience to proceed the way they did with a poverty stricken society and so many local obstructions, strikes, protests by RAW funded JVP etc etc. Every act of theirs was criticised by the West. The West had gone so mean and removed the GST plus facility to hurt GOSL.
    There was a threat of embargoes against SL by the so called International Community and taking India to our side was a serious diplomatic success of Rajapaksa brothers. I don’t know if Putin has that diplomacy in him. He is coming from a power base and he has no fear of internal uprising of people due to economic hardship like what we had in SL. Besides, he had the backing of big resources what they have.
    One of our main worries is the Indian imposed 13A. Although JRJ was considered a strong leader, he succumbed to Indian pressure and agreed for the 13A for nothing. However despite the hatred for the 13A in their camp, MR did not abrogate 13A may be due to a promise they made with India to continue the war and finish it off.
    Now, after the India and West backed Regime change project, that promise made by MR should become null & void and they should be able to get rid of the PC system and create our own well-structured simple administrative system thus saving millions of rupees per month.
    If MR and Gota are taken out of the equation if they are not good enough, we don’t have any other leader who could at least come closer to that.
    Therefore Dr. Dayan’s political reading is totally correct in my view.

  11. Dilrook Says:

    @Vaisrawana

    During the war, USA (under Bush) and India (under Manmohan) (due to their own reasons) supported Sri Lankan government against the LTTE despite some disruptions. For instance, USA busted Tamil attempts to buy Russian Igla-1 SAM missiles that could have easily grounded our entire air force. This is the missile that ended USA’s much touted F-117 stealth bomber. USA also gave us coordinates of LTTE floating weapons warehouses. Had these massive tonnes of weapons reached the battlefield, the outcome would have been different. USA also froze LTTE and other Tamil terrorist funds. These were done to advance American interests. We benefited as a byproduct. But the point is Mahinda didn’t go against USA or India (at that time) to win the war. Until the war was over we were sailing in the same direction the wind was blowing.

    UK, Norway and France are different as they openly supported the LTTE.

    However, after the war, the wind/tide changed against us. Our leaders failed. They failed to remove 13A federalism, created Vigneswaran, failed to resettle Sinhalese and Muslims in the north, failed to do De-Nazification, demilitarized the north and east to a large extent, failed to punish LTTE war criminals and failed to investigate Tamil/Indian/Diaspora war crimes.

    I agree Russia and China are very large and powerful countries but how about Maldives that stood its ground more than one time since 2010 in the face of very strong US and Indian onslaught.

    I agree with Dayan to the extent he excluded Basil from the comparison which would have been ridiculous.

    My concern is Sri Lanka only and certainly not any politician. Gotabaya is the best available choice for president but the bigger question is, does Sri Lanka deserve better. Yes; but there is no leader in sight.

  12. Christie Says:

    Since 1956 the country has been run by Indian puppets except for a short periods. Banda family, JRJ are the best examples. Mahinda was an Indian selection over Ranil, but he changed later. Sirisena is a direct Indian puppet.

    The Sinhala vote is divided. Indian Colonial Parasite block vote will decide the outcome.

  13. Kumari Says:

    Though India chose Mahinda, they did not take Mahinda’s siblings (especially Gota) in to the equation.

  14. Nanda Says:

    Two more leaders missing here, Kim Jong Un and Rodrigo Duterte. Also we should start developing nuclear arsenal. The way it is going Mr. Rodrigo should be asked to take over Sri Lanka.

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