Monday, 8 September 2014

Vladimir Putin is not Hitler nor a conservative

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“Russia has 1.2 million soldiers, it has one of the most modern armies in the world. By this logic, as Russia can take Kiev, Russia can take Vilnius, Riga, Tallinn, Bucharest and any other city, if we are not united.” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko 

We should all educate ourselves about Vladimir Putin and Russia and I try to do so, by reading and speaking to people who hold pro- and anti -Putin views and better still to people who have lived in Russia. Most important of all, though, is to think.

Much is unclear but some things are clear. Vladimir Putin is not Hitler. He does not intend to recapture the former Soviet republics which became independent. He has done nothing much about this in his fifteen years in power except the short war with Georgia which brought him little benefit. He was provoked by American attempts to spread democracy and human rights to Ukraine, which played some, perhaps a crucial, part in the revolution there. Though that revolution had and has huge popular support. At times a million people are said to have been at the Maidan. In response, Mr. Putin invaded Crimea, held a rigged referendum there in which about a third of the population voted and, of course, instigated and controls the 'rebellions' in Donetsk and Luhansk. War crimes have been committed by the rebels and people on the Ukrainian side. 

Vladimir Putin is not a nice or good man. He is, as the British Ambassador in Moscow said, somewhat undiplomatically, 'a thug and a liar'. He is alleged to have people he doesn't like killed, although the evidence is circumstantial. He is not clever, but he is cunning and completely ruthless. So, of course, was Peter the Great, whom Mr. Putin resembles. Under him, Russia is to a large extent run by the former KGB, which is extremely corrupt. It forms the basis of the 'deep state', to borrow the Turkish expression, which has close links to organised crime. Much of the mafia is said to be run by former KGB men.

Russians are refreshingly lacking in political correctness, or, depending how you look at it, racist, anti-semitic homophobes. This is why the social conservatives in the West like Mr. Putin, sensing that he is one of them. He has cleverly passed a law banning homosexual propaganda in order to garner support at home and abroad. It had the unintended consequence that he thereby lost forever the sympathy of Western leftists and liberals, despite his antagonism to the USA, but you can't have everything.

There is surprisingly strong circumstantial evidence that the former KGB blew up a Moscow apartment block and blamed it on the Chechens. The bombing happened four weeks after Mr. Putin became Prime Minister in 1999.

The West should want to do a deal with Mr. Putin, but he has shown himself to be a pathological liar, so the West probably won't. We should nevertheless aim at finding a modus vivendi that does not humiliate ourselves or him, yet, while he occupies Crimea, something rather like another Cold War looks pretty likely, which is a great opportunity for China. It's also a great opportunity for the United States to hold the NATO alliance together, or, depending on how you look at it, to control Europe.

We have to do business with countries much more unpleasant than Russia, including barbaric tyrannies like Saudi Arabia and Communist dictatorships like China. But we cannot shrug our shoulders when borders, especially in Europe, are rewritten by force, because first this would be wrong and secondly this would encourage further Russian aggression.


I thought I'd post some more links I recommend.

First, let's remind ourselves of what Wikileaks told us the US Embassy was thinking in 2011 about Putin's mafia state. The leaked CIA documents yield such insights as:
Russian spies use senior mafia bosses to carry out criminal operations such as arms trafficking.
• Law enforcement agencies such as the police, spy agencies and the prosecutor's office operate a de facto protection racket for criminal networks.
• Rampant bribery acts like a parallel tax system for the personal enrichment of police, officials and the KGB's successor, the federal security service (FSB).
• Investigators looking into Russian mafia links to Spain have compiled a list of Russian prosecutors, military officers and politicians who have dealings with organised crime networks.
Putin is accused of amassing "illicit proceeds" from his time in office, which various sources allege are hidden overseas.
I have had Timothy Snyder very highly recommended to me by a British friend of Thatcherite politics who lived for years in Russia and Ukraine and speaks Russian well. This review of his recent book reminds us of how the Ukraine crisis started. There's not much point Mr Snyder or anyone else accusing Russians or Ukrainians of fascism, his enthusiasm for the European Union will repel some readers and it doesn't mention what contribution to the groundwork for the revolution in Kiev was laid by American NGOs. Still the article is very illuminating and captures the idealism of the people in the Maidan. 

The revolution in Kiev was an upswelling of hope and gave Ukraine a second chance to have a decent future. No doubt the new people in power will turn out to be compromised and corrupt but let's hope they pull Ukraine together. It reminds older readers of the revolutions of 1989, but these were probably arranged by the KGB not the CIA.

Here is a very interesting article by Angus Roxburgh from April about the mood in Moscow among the well to do and rich. Many Russians on Facebook - friends of friends - resemble these pro Putin nouveaux riches. I suspect they are ringing the bells now but they'll be wringing their hands soon, but no-one knows for sure.


The young, clever, idealistic people who mail journalist Ben Judah to tell him they want to leave Russia are significant but I am sure a small minority. Foreign correspondents are friends with people like themselves, which usually mean Western minded and deracinated. This is why British journalists convinced themselves ten or more years ago that Israel was becoming softer.

A Russian student I met a couple of years ago told me nonchalantly that: 

I have to admit most Russians are extreme racist. 
The Ukrainians are apparently more so, according to a recent poll. I suspect that in fact the percentages in the poll are misleadingly low. The same British friend who lived in Moscow told me
Scratch any Russian and you find an anti-Semite.
This is a very good piece by Angus Roxburgh from March, entitled


Russia's revenge: why the west will never understand the Kremlin  

and here is a recent piece by him counselling against sanctions.


Facebook is an interesting source of information and misinformation. I was struck by these comments by a foreign investment banker long resident in Moscow, a man who passionately admires both Vladimir Putin and Marine Le Pen:

Several weeks ago several of us were very worried that Russia had abandoned Novorossyia. That the proto-Fascist Kievan armies were going to be allowed to crush the resistance, that Russia would look away while war crimes were committed. that NATO's coup d'état had been allowed to succeed. How wrong we were!Mr Putin has once again shown himself to be the consummate political strategist, and played a very weak hand brilliantly, Poroshenko is neutralised, Washington humiliated and fuming, the EU confirmed in its irrelevance, and Russia has, at least, avoided the worst outcomes, and now has a leading roll to play in the establishment of the post-war order.
I am very glad I do not have to play against Vladimir Vladimirovich and I pity those who do.
While an American posted this:

Ukraine is not NATO and we need to be careful stepping into a dog fight when we don't have a dog in the fight. Russia has done more to unify Europe and Nato in last 6 months than than we have been able to accomplish in 6 years. Even France is feeling the need to act and we can expect Germany to start looking very hard for non-Russian energy and every country will be rearming now. So far this has been a big success at very little cost to the U.S.
The truth is that a democratic Ukraine is a direct threat to Mr Putin personally - so he is right that America is seeking to undermine Russia, since he naturally identifies Russia with himself. The crisis gives both Russia and America that useful thing, an external enemy against whom to rally. One has the impression, however, that most Europeans are much more angry with Israel than concerned about Russia. 

America is in relative decline, Europe is in greater decline, Russia is in still greater decline, weak and short of cash. China is rising. Perhaps 1989 was the start of the decline and fall of Western civilisation.



21 comments:

  1. He's not a conservative, but he's certainly a traditionalist. This article is very misleading, especially about the evidence of blaming bombings on Chechens and the mafia connections. Most of the former KGB is now the Russian mafia, and they do have deep inroads in the government. Putin has been a longtime opponent of them. There's about as much evidence of the FSB being involved in bombings as there is of the CIA planning 9/11. A lot of circumstantial evidence exists, but it's all circumstantial.

    I don't know how anyone can say Putin isn't a traditionalist. He's either the best poker-faced lying politician in the history of the world, which I consider to be very unlikely, or he's a very popular president who does love his country and his people and who is loved by them in return. The second seems to be far closer to reality.

    Luke

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    1. "He's either the best poker-faced lying politician in the history of the world, which I consider to be very unlikely, or he's a very popular president who does love his country and his people and who is loved by them in return. " he is certainly one of the best poker-faced lying politicians in the history of the world and he's a very popular president who does love his country and his people and who is loved by them in return. No contradiction there.

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    2. I keep hearing about Putin's dark side without ever actually seeing any evidence other than vague references to his very boring job with the KGB. Moreover, a politician who is truly motivated by love of his people rather than ideology or his own power is a good politician and most likely a good man.

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    3. a man who loves his people and does not want mass immigration. And now the west has decided he's the new bad guy?!!! I see a sinister agenda at work behind this. And who stirred up the Ukraine witches cauldron in the first place?

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    4. We have all lost faith in America understandably thanks to George Bush's wars. Yes I am tempted to say 'we' should leave Putin and Iran to sort out Iraq but we have to save Kurdistan, including the Christians and Yazidis who are mostly in Kurdistan. This time some sort of intervention -against IS - is necessary.

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    5. I worry about a man who loves his people so much that he is willing to murder other people in the name of patriotism. "My country, right or wrong..." was uttered by an American. Immoral.
      marc

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    6. I have always considered the idea ‘my country right or wrong’ immoral until very recently I came across a writer saying that this was the right philosophy within strict limits. And this made me think hard and see that I was mistaken.

      I suppose one does loves ones country right or wrong and should fight for her in a war even if she is wrong. If you don’t agree with that then you think John Amery should not have been charged with treason for working with Germany during the last war. He conscientiously thought England was wrong and Germany right and justified this on the reasonable ground that Germany was fighting Communism. He was perfectly entitled to that opinion but not to giving aid to the King’s enemies in time of war, which he did, and this is why they hanged him by the neck until dead.

      This exchange repays thinking about.

      On one occasion, Mrs Thatcher said that the Bomb was necessary for the defence of our values. Enoch Powell answered,

      ‘No, we do not fight for values. I would fight for this country even if it had a communist government.’

      Mrs. Thatcher: ‘Nonsense, Enoch. If I send British troops abroad, it will be to defend our values.’

      ‘No, Prime Minister, values exist in a transcendental realm, beyond space and time. They can neither be fought for, nor destroyed.’

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    7. The country is just as imaginary and transcendental as the values.

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    8. Really Luke? Love between "the president" and "his country and his people"? Like he loves his dog and his horse? Do you feel the need to love and be loved by your president? Does he know you / do you know him? Sad.

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  2. we must all get a wee bit jittery when the good ole USA decides to bring democracy to a nation. The democracy is usually a TrojanHorse containing a lovely little war for all to enjoy. Instead of NATO at the behest of Obama taking a stance of schoolboy bullying against Putin, it should gather up all its forces for an onslaught against ISIS. That spectre from the Stygian depths of the Dark Ages that threatens the entire civilised world

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  3. There is a twist in the Putin regime which has not been really explored.

    Fascism is a heretical form of Marxism (a kinder way of describing it would be to say that Fascism is a "development" of Marxism). And the Putin regime is normally described as a form of Fascism - private business tolerated as-long-as the businessman is totally loyal to the regime, a fake friendship with the Church (as long as it is supportive) rather than open atheism, and so on. But there is an important difference - Mussolini (like other dictators) tried to crush large scale organised crime (as a potential source of alternative power - which is precisely what a Fascist can not tolerate), but Mr Putin does not do that. On the contrary organised crime in Russia is led by senior members of the security services - and at the top is Mr Putin himself. In short Mr Putin controls both-sides-of-the-law. This is unusual and needs investigation.

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    1. Where does one side of the law stops and the other begins? The difference if any is not substantial. The same thugs controlling everything.

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  4. Agreed - Mr Putin is not like Hitler. Mr Hitler was dominated by a racial ideology (it coloured everything in his world view) - Mr Putin is NOT. Mr Putin may have a casual dislike of Jews (and so on), but he is not dominated by a desire to exterminate them (or any other racial group). Mr Putin is far more like Mussolini - both rejected orthodox Marxism (having been raised as Marxists), but kept a lot of Marxist ideas in their Fascist (Fascist - not Nazi) world-view. Mr Putin will not tolerate independent institutions of civil society (he is not a conservative - although he will USE conservatives if they allow themselves to be used) and he is a lot more competent than Mussolini (there was a bit of the impractical intellectual about Mussolini - an attitude that if he wrote something, or said something in a speech this meant it had happened), Mr Putin is a life-long administrator (a practical KGB man) he knows that to transform a plan into reality needs a lot of hard practical work (not just making a speech to a crowd). Russia is also still the "treasure house of nations" - it has more natural resources than anywhere, this makes it vastly more dangerous that Fascist Italy ever was. It is to be hoped that one day the Putin regime will fall and civil society will re emerge in Russia (as it briefly did after the end of the Soviet nightmare - only to be strangled by Mr Putin). But I see little chance of the Putin regime will fall in the short term - as for making deals with him, that was the policy of both Mr Bush and Mr Obama (both jumped about in a pathetic way trying to be friends with Mr Putin), and it is bad policy. The word of a KGB man is worthless - making deals with Mr Putin makes no sense for the simple, basic reason that he will not keep his word (any more than Mussolini could be trusted). Putin's Russia must be "contained" (I use the Cold War word deliberately) - not attacked, but not should their be any effort to make deals with the regime.

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  5. A sharp distinction must be drawn between Russian (and the Russian people) and the Putin regime. The tragedy is that Mr Putin has managed to hijack Russian patriotism (including cultural patriotism) for his own regime (alas - the Orthodox Church has proved to be as easy to co-opt as it has been since the days of the Byzantine Empire), this makes the situation incredibly difficult. Again Mussolini springs to mind- an atheist who pretended to be a Catholic (and who made an agreement with the Roman Catholic Church - although that agreement has often been mis described, misrepresented, by enemies of that Church) and who privately mocked nationalism as a myth (in the Sorel or William James sense), but in public made it the centre piece of his regime. Also, as I have said before, Mr Putin is a competent administrator - Mussolini was not. This means that the Italian armed forces (dominated by incompetents appointed by Mussolini) and intelligence services (ditto) tended to mess things up - the Russian armed forces and intelligence services are a very different matter.

    Sadly Mr Putin is an enemy and always has been - that has been obvious from the early days of his television station "Russia Today" (dragging in every anti Western person it could to broadcast), whilst Mr Bush was desperately trying to make friends with Mr Putin. It is not a question of whether or not Mr Putin is humiliated - he will try and do us all the harm he can, regardless of our policy towards him.

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    1. To call Putin a fascist is just nuts. Ivan Illyn's "On Fascism" points out the exact differences between the goals of modern Russia, which is at its core a resurgence of the Whites of the Civil War, and the fascists of old. It seems that modern Russia embodies every good impulse of the fascists without a single aspect of the bad, except perhaps the fact that people are a bit overly fond of Mr. Putin. The same was true, however, for FDR, and no one would say that an overly-beloved leader means a system is fascist.

      http://souloftheeast.org/2013/12/27/ivan-ilyin-on-fascism/

      There are plenty of independent institutions in Russia. The press there is actually very critical of the president in a way no fascist country would ever tolerate.

      The idea that he is some master schemer because he worked for the KGB is ludicrous. The vast majority of the people working in intelligence agencies collect and analyze data on the general conditions in countries, which seems to be roughly the job he had in East Germany. He had a boring job because we know what his job was. If it was exciting, we'd never have known anything about it. I love how everyone just assumes that there is some image of the "KGB man", mostly from James Bond films, to which everyone conforms. The average "KGB man" is about like the average CIA man. They can't tell you much other than they analyze data, but their jobs are pretty boring.

      You are crazy to think that civil society does not exist in Russia today. It was in the 90s that civil society ceased to exist. It at least existed, in a strange and twisted form, under the Soviets, which is why so many Russians born in the 80s who never saw the true face of the Soviet Union have so much nostalgia for it.

      I hope you have no friends who work in intelligence work, since you clearly think you can't trust anyone who has ever worked for an intelligence agency. Why do you think you can say that you can't trust Putin's word solely because he once worked for the KGB? He certainly isn't your average KGB man, considering he resigned in 1989 when the wall fell and went to work for the mayor of Leningrad, who at that time was the most radically anti-Soviet player in Russian politics. He didn't return to the reformed FSB until much later, and by that time the actual men of the FSB were largely different, as most of the "KGB men" you speak of, the ones that actually exist, had gone to form the Russian mafia Putin was engaged in fighting.

      Luke

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  6. http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/a-divided-ukraine-europes-most-dangerous-idea

    Some sense even from Cambridge! :))


    Kevin

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  7. Of corse Putin is a conservative/traditionalist, he's just no the type of conservative you like.

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  8. We have to manage Russia's descent and self-destruction. Jim K

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  9. 1989? You are two hundred years too late.

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  10. Very good article Paul, thought provoking, but whereas you start by stating the Putin is not like Hitler, your piece describes someone very like the 'good' Hitler before he began to show true colours.

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