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Economic Policy or Pick-up Line?
Putin to Eurasia: Lose the Panties

Between the ongoing Olympics in Sochi and the increasingly bloody protests in Ukraine, you’d think that Vladimir Putin would have weightier issues to worry about than women’s underwear. But, as the Guardian reports, a Putin-led economic agreement that would ban lacy lingerie has recently caused a popular outcry in Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus:

A carelessly worded ECU regulation on the absorbency of non-natural materials has sparked colourful protests from wearers of lace underwear in the Kazakh city of Almaty. Experts warn that unless the law is changed by July 1, 90% of lingerie stocks in the union may have to be destroyed. […]

On Sunday 30 women protesters in Kazakhstan were arrested and thrown into police vans while wearing lace underwear on their heads and shouting “Freedom to panties!”

The measure doesn’t deliberately target panties, of course, though the fact that officials reason that lace doesn’t absorb enough moisture probably doesn’t help their case. Instead, the larger ambition is to create a trade and customs zone that can rival the European Union and discriminate against its products. According to the Guardian, 80 percent of the underwear sold in Russia is foreign made, with total sales reaching $4 billion annually.

Such a Eurasian economic bloc would be formidable indeed. The three existing members already combine for around $2.3 trillion of GDP, and they will be joined later this year by Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. Russia will also twist some arms to get Azerbaijan, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan to sign up, with Georgia and Ukraine now looking less likely candidates than when the union was established in 2010.

But what this episode also illustrates is that Putin’s dream of a resurgent Eurasia, united not only by a common market but also by a common culture, distinct from the West, is not shared by everyone. In all too many places, from Vladivostok to Lvov and Moscow to Minsk, people still yearn for the goodies of Western capitalism every bit as much as they did the day the Berlin Wall came down. According to the Guardian:

Photographs comparing sexy modern underwear with outdated Soviet goods began spreading on Facebook and Twitter on Sunday as women and men alike railed against the prospective changes. […]

Many see the underwear ban as yet another example of the misguided economic policies that have become a trademark of many post-Soviet countries [and] as yet another attempt to add regulations and controls to an already byzantine bureaucracy. […] “I think this is just another silly law that shows the ineffectiveness of our government, ”said 22-year-old Muscovite Trifon Gadzhikasimov, noting that most of his friends travelled abroad regularly.

The “panty riots”, as they’ve been dubbed, may  seem silly on the surface, but they are of one piece with a civilizational clash that is manifesting itself in much more serious ways elsewhere.

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  • PKCasimir

    Since when is an economic block of some of the poorest countries in the world with an annual GDP of $2.3 trillion ( 95% of which is Russia) “formidable”? Oh yes, the ECU might add those economic power houses of Armenia, Moldova, and Turkestan. Get real!

  • Reticulator

    I don’t think the Ukraine protests are nearly as bloody as the shooting down of protesters by the government.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Since the World GDP is $83.66 Trillion $2.3 Trillion is 2.7% of World economic activity, how is this “formidable”? To the extent that this Union inhibits trade with the rest of the world, it will be shooting its own economy in the foot.

  • Fat_Man

    As far as I am concerned, the Russians can have Kazakhstan, Belarus,
    Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and
    Tajikistan. Collectively they are not worth a plugged nickle. There is oil in some of those places, but there is plenty of oil, and natural gas, in North America and adjacent waters.

  • Bruce

    Did they cut eye holes in the panties they were wearing on their heads?

  • foobarista

    The problem for Putin is Russia has basically zero “soft power”. It may be able to out-thug just about anyone, but few other than ethnic Russians actually wants anything to do with Russia. And even many ethnic Russians would rather not have much to do with Putin and his merry men. So, you’ll end up with lots of embarrassing scenes (for Putin) of bought-off or thugged-off politicos in surrounding countries followed by Ukraine-style rioting.

  • Andrew Allison

    Putin gets knickers in a knot over lacy panties! On a serious note, with the arrest of the panty-protesters and public whipping of Pussy Riot in Sochi, Putin is telling the world that won’t tolerate dissent and doesn’t give a damn what the world thinks. Those hoping to keep Ukraine independent take note. To paraphrase Uncle Joe: The EU? How many divisions does the EU have? More to the point, does it have the will to deploy them.

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