Political Observer comments.
Understanding Russia’s president:
Headline: Writers have grappled with Vladimir Putin for two decades
Sub-headline: Greyness, greed and grievance have been the dominant themes
First considered, under the rubric of ‘Culture’, as the largest frame for this Ant-Putin polemic! Followed by Understanding Russia’s president: This is a political essay framed as an ersatz psychological analysis, that evolves into …
Not since the publication of ‘Thomas Woodrow Wilson, Twenty-eighth President of the United States. A Psychological Study.’ by William C. Bullitt and Sigmund Freud’s, has there been such a penetrating psychological analysis of a political leader?
The first paragraph of this ‘essay’ sets the stage:
HE WARNED US. Vladimir Putin gave notice of who he was, and what he was capable of, in “First Person”, a transcript of interviews published in 2000, at the start of his overlong rule. In his youth, he recalled, he had been a tough little hoodlum who fought rats in the stairwell of his communal-apartment building and, later, brawled with strangers on the streets of Leningrad. “A dog senses when somebody is afraid of it,” he had learned, “and bites”. He prized loyalty and feared betrayal. He was hypersensitive to slights, to both his country and himself (concepts which, in the decades that followed, became perilously blurred). He bore grudges.
Followed by more ‘History Made to Measure’ , that buttresses the first paragraph: or should it be named self-serving political melodrama ?
One of them was over the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the interviews he reminisced about a jaunt to Abkhazia and a judo tournament in Moldova: the Soviet empire had been his wealth and pride, and when it fell, he took it hard. “I wanted something different to rise in its place,” he said of the lost Soviet influence in eastern Europe. Frantically burning papers as a KGB officer in Dresden in 1989, grieving the “paralysis of power” that seemed to have afflicted Moscow, he came to associate protesting crowds with disintegration. Corruption, meanwhile, was only to be expected in Russia, he implied—“and if somebody thinks that somebody stole something, let him go and prove it”.
That ‘History Made to Measure’ is set aside for Richard Sakwa’s “Putin: Russia’s Choice” (2004) ‘thought the country had shaken off nationalism and imperialism’ and Andrew Jack’s “Inside Putin’s Russia” (2004) ‘noting Mr Putin’s democratic backsliding and disregard for human rights’ that appear as ballast .
Under the rubric of Darkness and the don:
David Satter’s “Darkness at Dawn” provides essential political melodrama: ‘was among the first Anglophone analysts to gauge the evil in the system.’ . Next in order of appearance is Masha Gessen’s “The Man Without a Face” (2012) that presents Putin ‘as a killer and extortionist.’ Then Catherine Belton’s “Putin’s People” (2020).and its “KGB capitalism”. Followed by Steven Lee Myers’ “The New Tsar” (2015) that points to ‘the Orange revolution in Ukraine in 2004’ as the trigger to Putin. Mr. Lee Myers offers more for the writer, and The Reader of this essay, in this:
By 2014, thought Mr Lee Myers, he had found a “millenarian” mission as the indispensable leader of an exceptional power. “The question now was where would Putin’s policy stop?”
The Economist writer/stenographer continues to mine the political commentary of the policy technocrats: “Mr Putin: Operative in the Kremlin” (2015), by Clifford Gaddy and Fiona Hill offer, or is the Economist writer embroidering upon themes?
His bid to undermine Western democracies through fifth columnists, bribery and kompromat was part of the same strategy.
Its almost ‘as if’ The Reader is forced to recall that The New Cold War, and its precursor, operated upon the notion of ‘fifth columnists’ as the enemy within. Without the proper loyalty to what? The American National Security State crimes and its Propaganda Offensives against dissidents?
Mr Gaddy and Ms. Hill—who became the top Russia adviser in Donald Trump’s National Security Council—concluded that he was more than an avaricious gangster. His objective was to survive and overcome his foes, who, in his view, were Russia’s enemies too; to that end he was waging a long, hybrid war against the West. He would pounce on weaknesses, the pair warned, and fulfil his threats. “He won’t give up, and he will fight dirty.” Yet even these authors judged that, if only for reasons of trade, Mr Putin “does not want Russia to end up being a pariah state”.
The Reader might recall that Fiona Hill was one of the primary ‘witnesses’ at the ‘Trump Impeachment’ comedy: she became an overnight sensation. Along with Alexander Vindman, that cemented the relations between the Neo-Liberals and the Neo-Conservatives, as the defining moment of ‘Political Centrism’ re-defined, in the wake of Trump. That she was an advisor to Trump, casts a revelatory light on her ‘testimony’ !
The one place in this essay, that carries weight, is this writers comments on émigré writer Vladimir Sorokin. This kind of writer is a Russian Tradition, from the time of Alexander Herzen. Yet Mr. Sorokin is a Post-Modern writer, sure to raise the hackles of the very Conservative readers of The Economist? But more importantly Mr. Sorokin serves a propaganda purpose.
Russian novelist and playwright considered to be one of the most influential figures in postmodern Russian literature. Sorokin was known particularly for his vivid experimental, and often controversial, works that parody the Socialist Realism of the Soviet Union.
The book that most clearly saw where Putinism was heading was not a history or biography but a novel. “Day of the Oprichnik” by Vladimir Sorokin, a Russian author living in exile, is set in 2028. The Russia it depicts seems to exist in two time-frames at once, futuristic technology jostling with medieval barbarity and obscurantism. The country is walled off from Europe and the tsar has been restored. His word is law, but even he must “bow and cringe before China”, which (along with gas exports) props up the economy. The oprichnik of the title is one of his elite henchmen—the name comes from an order of pitiless enforcers under Ivan the Terrible. Their methods are murder and torture, their sidelines extortion and theft.
Published in 2006, Mr Sorokin’s satirical dystopia has come to seem more prescient than outlandish. The details are grotesque, but also, sometimes, horribly familiar. In the story, when the wall was built “opponents began to crawl out of the cracks like noxious centipedes”—imagery that anticipates Mr Putin’s dehumanisation of his critics as gnats. Chillingly, when the oprichniks gather for a debauch, one of their toasts is “Hail the Purge!”